INDETERMINATE-ORIENTED TO RATIONAL-ORIENTED: JOHN CAGE, PAPER IMPERFECTIONS, AND GRAPHIC NOTATIONS
Around 1904, the sociologist Max Weber observed the lifestyle of Protestants and proposed a theory of rationality focusing on the relationship between individuals’ actions and their choices, value standards, and purposes. He then extended this theory to music, positing that the rational features of music are structural, systematic, intentional, functional, and interactive. However, these reasonable features appeared unreasonable when music entered its avant-garde phase—when music became unpredictable, chaotic, and open. Does this mean that avant-garde music was no longer rational? To unpack this question, this paper applies the theory of rationality to John Cage’s Solo for Piano (1957–58) and delves into the compositional process to present rational features within indeterminacy. In the compositional process, Cage employed the graphic compositional system, including a drawing process and a means of translation. With this system, we may discover the process of rationalization, meaning that when chance-oriented material gradually transforms into the value-/purposive-oriented material—from paper imperfections to points, from points to notes—it presents a rationalization of the compositional material. In short, this paper applies the theory of rationality to Solo for Piano to discover its rational features and dissects the transformation of the compositional material to present rationalization.
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