Cage and Tudor as Process

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I mean to isolate here one of the signature concepts ascribed to the music of John Cage, not only in the writings of historians and musicologists, but one to which the composer repeatedly linked hismusic: the concept of process. It is a noun that permeates much discourse surrounding the creative arts and perhaps paradoxically it might be that due to its ubiquity, musicologists feel little compulsion to clarify what they wish it to mean. It is, in a sense, a musicological problem that hides in plain sight. Composers in the 20th century began to use the term process, not as a mere descriptor of creative action but as a defining characteristic of their music. Cage was foremost amongst his contemporaries
in this regard. The fact that the concept may constitute a differentiating stylistic feature of 20th century music is of less interest to me than the promiscuous coupling routinely engineered by commentators between the term and any number of disparate musical practices. However, that is less interesting still
than the fact that Cage’s own use of the term offers an opportunity to discuss, in a systematic way, many of the musicological problems that Cage’s music raises and which it is the task of musicologists to try and answer. I shall explore the concept of process within the context of some of these issues. My thesis is that ‘process’ is habitually linked with the practice of Cage without sufficient regard its implications for our understanding of his music. Close analysis of the term will help elucidate some of the main features that characterise his work and may unearth tools that aid us in crafting answers to questions regarding authorship and ontology in the music of John Cage.

‘If you begin, as I do, not with the notion of making objects, but the idea of making a process, and if that process is in fact, silent, which is to say the sounds are unwilled… then the silence takes on an entirely different significance. In other words, the music is evident constantly, whether there are sounds, or silences’ (Cage, 1963).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)670-685
Number of pages16
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number6
Early online date1 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished online - 1 Mar 2017


  • John Cage
  • David Tudor
  • Process
  • Event Notation
  • Experimental
  • Graphic Text
  • Performance Practice


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