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The Spirit inside Each Object: John Cage, Oskar Fischinger, and “The Future of Music”


Late in his career, John Cage often recalled his brief interaction with German abstract animator Oskar Fischinger in 1937 as the primary impetus for his early percussion works. Further examination of this connection reveals an important technological foundation to Cage's call for the expansion of musical resources. Fischinger's experiments with film phonography (the manipulation of the optical portion of sound film to synthesize sounds) mirrored contemporaneous refinements in recording and synthesis technology of electron beam tubes for film and television. New documentation on Cage's early career in Los Angeles, including research Cage conducted for his father John Cage, Sr.'s patents, explain his interest in these technologies. Finally, an examination of the sources of Cage's 1940 essay “The Future of Music: Credo” reveals the extent of Cage's knowledge of early sound synthesis and recording technologies and presents a more nuanced understanding of the historical relevance and origins of this document.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Y Levin, Thomas . “Tones From Out of Nowhere: Rudolph Pfenninger and the Archeology of Synthetic Sound.” Grey Room 12 (Fall 2003): 3279.

David Nicholls . “Cage and the Ultramodernists.” American Music 28/4 (Winter 2010): 492500.

Leta E. Miller , “John Cage and Henry Cowell: Intersections and Influences, 1933–1941,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 59/1 (Spring 2006): 97

Brent Reidy , “Our Memory of What Happened Is Not What Happened: Cage, Metaphor, and Myth,” American Music 28/2 (Summer 2010): 211–27

Catherine Parsons Smith , “Athena at the Manuscript Club: John Cage and Mary Carr Moore,” Musical Quarterly 79/2 (Summer 1995): 351–67

Michael Hicks , “John Cage's Studies with Schoenberg,” American Music 8/2 (Summer 1990): 125–40

Richard C. Webb , Tele-Visionaries: The People behind the Invention of Television (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2005)

Olivia Mattis , “Varèse's Multimedia Conception of ‘Deserts,’Musical Quarterly 76/1 (Winter 1992): 557–83

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Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
  • EISSN: 1752-1971
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-society-for-american-music
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