Module WXM-2155:
Cage and Experimental Music

Module Facts

Run by School of Music and Media

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Prof Pwyll ap Sion

Overall aims and purpose

This module forms part of the Genre/Composer modules according to the School of Music’s Programme specifications. Its main aim is to provide a detailed introduction to the composer and area in question, and to ensure that all learning outcomes are met.

Course content

The aim of this course is to introduce the student to the work and life of American composer John Cage. Although chiefly remembered today for his (in)famous silent piece 4’33”, Cage’s musical output spans six decades and encompasses a wide and diverse range of compositional styles, techniques and ideas. In addition to tracing the development of Cage’s musical language, the course will also evaluate the importance of other areas related to Cage’s work, such as his interest in Zen Buddhism, the I-Ching (or Book of Changes), Happenings and the Fluxus movement, Art, Dance, an important and extensive body of writings about music and aesthetics, his poetry (especially mesostics), letters, and also his work as a mycologist and macrobiotic cook.

Assessment Criteria


Work which displays basic, restricted knowledge of the subject, with simple ability at conceptual thought, and a limited awareness of issues, but has some evidence of a generally intellectual approach, with fair expression.


The work should display a sound grasp of the subject, a good level of conceptual thought, awareness of the main issues, with evidence of intellectual acumen and good expression.


Work which displays a thorough grasp of the subject, with evidence of further study, deeper thought, originality of approach and excellent written skills.

Learning outcomes

  1. Analysed important works in some detail.

  2. Acquired skills of confident verbal presentation and communication, in addition to developing writing skills;

  3. Considered the context in which Cage emerged, and his influence on other composers of his time and beyond;

  4. Understood and appreciated the music and ideas of John Cage;

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY main assignment 75

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study 78

One class of up to two hours each week for eleven weeks. There will be a reading week in the semester (week 7).


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • Musicianship skills – recognition, classification, contextualisation, reconstruction, exploration
  • Intellectual skills specific to Music – contextual knowledge, cultural awareness, critical understanding, repertoire knowledge, curiosity, analytical demonstration
  • Technological skills – digital capture, digital expression, digital innovation
  • Intellectual skills shared with other disciplines – research and exploration, reasoning and logic, understanding, critical judgement, assimilation and application
  • Skills of communication and interaction – oral and written communication, public presentation, team-working and collaboration, awareness of professional protocols, sensitivity, ICT skills, etc.
  • Skills of personal management – self-motivation, self-critical awareness, independence, entrepreneurship and employment skills, time management and reliability, organisation, etc.


Reading list

Cage, John, Silence: lectures and writings (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1966). Cage, John, A Year from Monday (London: Marion Boyars, 1976). Cage, John, For the Birds (Boston Mass.: London Boyars, 1981). Gann, Kyle, No Such Thing As Silence: John Cage’s 4’33” (New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press). Nyman, Michael, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (2nd edition; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Pritchett, James, The Music of John Cage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). Revill, John, The Roaring Silence (London: Bloomsbury, 1992) Rich, Alan, American Pioneers (London: Phaidon, 1995).

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: