Is Alexander Kluge to film what John Cage is to music?: i.e. all art is potential material for film, just as all sound is potential content for composition, as long as they are drawn from Art and Music respectively.

That is; while pretending to be non-discriminatory, they both in fact still retain a distinction between what counts and doesn’t. (Although I don’t know to what extent Kluge makes this claim. It is just that his films appear to be all-inclusive, while in fact (as far as I know) they are highly intellectualistic and do not feature references of any interest to pop culture).

9 thoughts on “

  1. Cheers Jeroen,

    most certainly Cage’s composition was all-inclusive in that it would literally welcome ANY sound, not just “musical” sounds – in fact he most certainly refuted any distinction between musical and nonmusical sound. If he was still very artsy, though, it’s not a matter of sounds, but of the discipline with which they should be welcomed – which was a matter in the end of form.

    I’m planning an essay about this, looking at his formal thought through our friends Badiou and Deleuze – I’ll let you know when it’s done!

  2. Hi there Samuel, thank you as always for commenting. And look forward to reading your essay!

    My comparison of Alexander Kluge with Cage derives from Kenneth Goldsmith’s remark in his interview with Marjorie Perloff. He states here that he ultimately finds Warhol truly accepting of all the interference from the outside world, while Cage retained control of his pieces to the extent of not indiscriminately accepting all noises equally. (Some noises are more equal than others 🙂 This is not a first-hand conclusion, so should have mentioned my source. But better late than never; here is the quote:

    Perloff: ‘There’s so much great language out there for the taking; if we open our eyes and ears to it, we’ll find it in abundance.’ This notion comes, of course, from Cage but we now know that, far from opening his eyes and ears to all those sounds ‘out there’ in nature, Cage took strict control over his forms. What is the process involved in your own work?

    Goldsmith: It’s one of my peeves with Cage. If Cage truly was to accept all incidental sound as music, then that’s what he should have done. Obviously this was not the case and this is where claims for poethics comes into play. I don’t have a problem with an overriding ethical structure guiding an artist’s work, but in Cage’s case, an ethical agenda is in conflict with his philosophical structure of accepting all sounds equally. There were a lot of sounds that weren’t permitted in the Cagean pantheon and a lot of times when the sounds that were permitted happened at inopportune moments, it could ruin a performance. Likewise, Cage’s feathers were easily ruffled at what he considered to be wrongheaded interpretations of his works by musicians and orchestras.
    I find that Warhol took Cage’s ideas much further. And although the results aren’t as pretty (or ethical), I feel that Warhol truly accepts the quotidian world — with all its lumps and bruises (as well as beauty) — into his work. He was completely permeable in ways that Cage could only theorize.
    My own work has tended recently to move more toward the Warholian model than to the Cagean.

    From Jacket:


  3. So it’s not about the sounds themselves – it’s about performance attitudes!

    Cage didn’t like the sounds of jazz, which led him to compose Imaginary Landscape nr. 5, a montage of jazz recordings. Similarly, he didn’t like the sound of the harpsichord, but still wrote HPSCHD. Finding a sound he didn’t like was a challenge.

    However, we was indeed famously not open to any and all interpretations. He often felt people were actually imposing their personal views on his work; certainly there have been many performances in which people simply were not doing what the score said.

    Is Goldsmith more “open”? I wonder. Books like the American Trilogy (Traffic, Weather, Sports) seem extremely controlled to me – to a much higher degree than anything Cage ever did…

  4. “Not about sound, but performance attitude”? Argh, now I’m confused, am I missing something here? Sure, it’s about performance attitude, but isn’t it also about which sounds get to be in which composition, i.e. the fact that for Cage sounds are in-/excluded on the basis of aesthetic judgement?:

    Perloff: ‘.. far from opening his eyes and ears to all those sounds ‘out there’ in nature..’

    Goldsmith: “If Cage truly was to accept all incidental sound as music, then that’s what he should have done.”

    As far as control goes: extreme control, in the form of a concept, is the whole point for Goldsmith. But then the next point is precisely to subsume all language to the consequence of whatever concept organizes the poem. Language poured into the mould of concept.

    So that’s how I understood Goldsmith’s preference for Warhol; as someone who simply reproduced ‘slices’ from his whole contemporary world, in the way that he (Goldsmith) extracts slices, ‘cross-sections’ of language. While Cage allows authorial interference with the content of his compositions. (Subjectivity is of course impossible to eradicate, even for Mr. Kenny G., but that’s yet another question).

  5. Sounds in Cage were never included or exluded on the basis of an aesthetic judgement of *how* they sounded – at best, on the basis of *why* they sounded (the operative concept is non-intention). And I think he’s thereby operating at the limit of any art, including all anti-art. I mean, there’s no way you can further fundamentally disavow choice. Unless you give up form altogether, and you get an anything-goes that ends up revealing nothing.

    By the very fact that they are choices, the choices that Goldsmith makes are just as limited as the ones Cage made, and possibly even more so. The Weather is all about the weather, for example – or in fact, about weather reports, which is an even more limited field. Cage’s “truck driving by a music school” can have a place in, say, 4’33” – but The Weather doesn’t have room for that sort of thing.

    It’s very one-dimensional, which is why he makes the claim (not entirely sincerely, I believe) that you don’t have to read his books; just knowing the project in one sentence will do. Now is that supposed to be the hallmark of inclusiveness? It’s all there – just make sure you don’t pay attention? Which collects all these things for you but asking you not to take them seriously at all? An art which invites you to look the other way? If you would take all of that literally, it’s much more a strategy of exclusion.

    The real difference, I think, is not that Cage was more restrictive, but that the fields from which they (Cage, Warhol) gather their materials is just a different field. In Cage, the point of art is “to imitate nature in her manner of operation” – which of course requires you have some idea of what nature is, what her manner of operation is, and how you might imitate it. I would say in Goldsmith, or Warhol, you could paraphrase this notion of the purpose of art as “to imitate culture in its manner of operation”. Which requires much the same kinds of decision.

    To say however that the latter is more inclusive than the former means that you believe culture always exceeds nature. (And in Cage, actually, there are many instances where culture is a part of nature. That’s the point of the Imaginary Landscape nr. 4.)

  6. Ok. Btw, just to be clear, I wouldn’t try argue anything about Cage’s work myself (since I am not familiar enough with it), this was just my understanding of Goldsmith’s position. All of which still leaves me wondering though, why Goldsmith would be so adamant in his view of Cage.

    I like the nature/culture distinction (although surprised at the word ‘imitate’, since that hints at metaphor/mimesis. Would have expected something like ‘replicate’).

    And although I suppose you could see Goldsmith as someone who charts the present cultural moment, ‘nature’ also plays a role, in so far as his books are also about the working of language. Most obviously, “No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96”, organized around the schwa sound. But I also love the way his other books are such a radical break with representational writing, in that they don’t try to catch the unnameable with, or between, language, but just show language directly as is.

    About there being no option for a “truck driving by a music school” in The Weather; that’s not really true though..Goldsmith likes pointing out his own surprise at noticing precisely this element of contingency also entering his works. He gives the example that for (something like) three weeks in March suddenly the weather report of Irak also appears (in Weather), because the Irak war had just started. In other words, a truck driving by a music school could have entered Weather, for example in the form of an extra news-flash of a truck that has just hit a kid.

    And that is what he means with accepting the whole ‘quotidian world’. But from what you say, it seems the same thing happens in Cage. Goldsmith says: “[Warhol] was completely permeable in ways that Cage could only theorize.” Goldsmith is permeable in showing language as it is (Day). And I think you’re saying Cage’s theorizing is permeable because it creates event-structures that replicate nature? Open-ended, immanent structures if you will, and in that sense permeable?

  7. Also, his pieces are permeable because you can perform them with the window open. Though admittedly, in practice this doesn’t always work equally well for all pieces. There are quite a few pieces that still work best in traditional concert settings, that are actually genre works that abide by the rules of the genre (the parallel would be how Goldsmith still writes “books”.)

    Imaginary Landscape nr. 4 BTW is the piece for 12 radios – Cage had a number of works involving radio, and those pieces were open to anything that could be on the radio.

  8. “..and those pieces were open to anything that could be on the radio.”

    See that I find convincing. Now I’m really starting to wonder if Goldsmith if not simply just off mark with how he sees Cage. Oh well.

    Funny you should use Goldsmith still publishing books as an example; he admits in an interview (I think on the ‘Ceptuetics’ radio show) that this has sentimental grounds. That he grew up with books and still likes the feel of the tangible object in his hands, but that coming generations of writers will have a completely different attitude.

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