Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists

Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists

Kay Larson

Language: English

Pages: 496

ISBN: 0143123475

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A “heroic” biography of John Cage and his “awakening through Zen Buddhism”—“a kind of love story” about a brilliant American pioneer of the creative arts who transformed himself and his culture (The New York Times)

Composer John Cage sought the silence of a mind at peace with itself—and found it in Zen Buddhism, a spiritual path that changed both his music and his view of the universe. “Remarkably researched, exquisitely written,” Where the Heart Beats weaves together “a great many threads of cultural history” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) to illuminate Cage’s struggle to accept himself and his relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Freed to be his own man, Cage originated exciting experiments that set him at the epicenter of a new avant-garde forming in the 1950s. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Allan Kaprow, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli were among those influenced by his ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching.’ Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.

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The door softly shuts and he’s alone here in this cozy, womb-like absorbent-walled chamber of “nothing.” And he’s stunned! It’s not what he’s been expecting! Where’s the silence!?! He’s hearing a dull roar and a high whine! In this moment of voidness, Cage’s ears fill up with sound. He rushes from the anechoic chamber and urges the engineer to explain. The engineer asks Cage to describe the sounds. Cage tells him. The high whine, says the engineer, is the firing of his neurons. The dull roar is

co-creating the Fluxus art group. His notebooks, written in Cage’s class, quote D. T. Suzuki, whose seminars he attended. Brecht’s early event works might even have been shaped by Suzuki’s teachings. By 1959, he was writing “scores” for actions that happen only in the mind. AL HANSEN Brecht’s friend Al Hansen was another combat survivor from World War II. Hansen was serving as a paratrooper in Europe when he pushed a piano off the roof of a building to see what would happen, initiating his

answered, “I just stand”— Cage 1961/1969, 34 and 117–118; the quote is from page 118. 308 In the summer of 1953, feeling empowered— See Vaughan 2000, 73–74; also Brown 2007, 64–65. 309 The form of the music-dance composition— Cage 1961/1969, 88. 309 “Maturing artistically, working with John and Merce”— I Have Nothing to Say and I Am Saying It 1990. 309 The word “Combine” perfectly describes— For Cage’s aesthetic reaction to Tobey, as well as Cage’s reactions to Abstract Expressionism, see

in their hometown brought the sisters’ friend John Steinbeck and his wife into John and Xenia’s life. Xenia, back in familiar territory, settled in for a long stay. Cage drove on alone to San Francisco so he could perform at Mills. Bird showed up at Mills College that summer to present a two-week-long workshop in Graham technique. She asked Harrison if he wanted the accompanist’s job at Cornish. Harrison preferred not to go, but he told Bird about a new friend of his, a young composer named John

silences to the mix of possible chart sounds. The remaining thirty-two numbers out of the sixty-four possible hexagrams would leave pauses of differing durations, when the instruments would be unsounded. In the third movement, piano and orchestra—previously governed by different charts—now have the same chart, the same guidance system. They speak each other’s musical language. “The final movement is one of the great revelations of Cage’s oeuvre,” writes concert pianist Stephen Drury. The piano

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