"...we have to see that chaos and order are not opposed. I feel, for instance, with regard to my own work with indeterminancy and so on, as related to the work of Buckminster Fuller, who wants to see tetrahedrons under every leaf, that there is no opposition betweeen these two."
                           -from John Cage by Richard Kostelanetz, pg 9

"INTUITION: An unpremeditated awareness of an idea, followed by a second intuitive force, which secures and records the thought for mankind for now and henceforth."
                           -R. Buckminster Fuller, written for Mary Ann Scherr, to be used in a commissioned sculpture for James Michener, author of Kent, after the 4 students were killed by the Ohio National Guard, Kent State University, 1970

John Cage: morphological systems for scoring

Just as Poincaré advocated the use of intuitive processes to access solutions which would not have been found in a logical, calculated set of solutions, Cage advocates the use of chance processes to access solutions located outside of the sphere of human intellect, personality, experience and culture. The two differ in the nature of the problems they are solving. Poincaré is seeking solutions to mathematical and physical problems which require a single, exact solution. It is appropriate for him to look beyond his conscious intellect for solutions and to rely on unconscious, intuitive processes. It would not be fruitful to rely on a chance process to uncover a mathematical truth.

Cage, on the other hand, does not seek specific solutions. His goal is to discover new compositions and to evoke new responses in his audience. Cage has an aesthetic philosophy derived from this value of the unique response. As designers, we are concerned with eliciting a specific response from our audience, a quite different goal and a different aesthetic. Chance process is used in design not to elicit a novel response, but to search for solutions which lie beyond our human limitations. We are interested not so much in Cage's aesthetic sensibilities, as in the problem solving techniques which led to those sensibilities.

In the passage at left, on ballet, Cage discusses how some art forms seek to remove individual personality from the composition. Cage feels that a composition must not impose the personality of the artist on the audience, so much as it must create a set of stimuli to which the individual viewer or listener can respond. Cage does not value the communication of a message from one person to another, so much as the discovery of information within ourselves.

I wish to point out that Cage was not the first composer to use chance process, nor is the use of chance process indicative of a non-deterministic aesthetic. According to Cage, exact mathematical structure did not lead musical theory until Beethoven, whom he blames for the stagnation of "modern" music. Rather than working within the confines of standard scoring, Cage creates new music by modifying the language of compositional process. His scores have been derived not only from mathematical procedures, such as rolling dice, but also from nature. Pieces of woodgrain, automatic drawing, and photographs of mountain ranges have served as templates for his scores. Cage not only creates non-determinestic scores, but also non-deterministic instruments such as radio receivers or the prepared piano, a piano with objects such as rubberbands or bones inserted among its strings. Cage's aesthetic and process seeks to introduce as much of nature's patterns and rhythms as possible into the compositions and performances.

Chaos dynamics is the mathematical model for the natural irregularities that Cage is borrowing from rocks and trees. It follows that the use of chaos dynamics, as a design generator, will also produce compositions which reflect a natural aesthetic. The problem for the designer is how to use this natural aesthetic to achieve a specific goal, to transmit a specific message. We must also ask ourselves whether or not this natural aesthetic is an appropriate vehicle for that message. Even if a natural aesthetic is inappropriate for a specific problem, we may still look to Cage's chance methodologies for solutions beyond the usual realm of our intellect and experience.


copyright 2006, M. Blair Ligon, all rights reserved worldwide.