John Cage’s Prepared Piano:
The Nuts & Bolts

178 pages | 6 x 9 inches | paperback | with b&w photographs | $25 | August 2008 | Mutasis Books | ISBN 978-0-9809657-0-4

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At last, a book on the prepared piano of John Cage, dedicated both to the instrument itself and to the repertoire Cage created for it. It serves as an illustrated guide for pianists interested in exploring the world of the prepared piano, as well as an accessible source of information for the innumerable non-musician Cage-lovers.

"John Cage’s Prepared Piano: The Nuts & Bolts is beautifully written and offers Cage aficionados and professional pianists alike a rare understanding of the multi-faceted artistic nature of his work." — From the foreword by Dr. Greg Schiemer

This book was conceived as a comprehensive guide to the prepared piano as formalized and used by Cage, and to its repertoire. Cage invented the instrument in 1940; in the following fourteen years he created a considerable body of works featuring his unique hybrid.

Part One opens with a discussion of the significance of the instrument for performers and audience, and introduces the idea that the prepared piano could be a bridge between pre- and post-twentieth century classical music. Several chapters deal with piano safety issues, technical and aesthetic, and present a complete illustrated guide to suitable objects for piano alteration. All of the objects and experiences are based on personal experiments, as well as on collaboration with an expert piano technician.

Part Two deals with prepared piano performance issues. It covers the various aspects of the instrument’s invention and offers insights into the difference between playing a regular and an altered instrument.

Part Three consists of a complete guide to Cage’s works featuring a prepared (sometimes called a string or muted) piano. These works are appreciated through contextual, rather than formal analysis. Cage based his post- 1940 works on the so-called “rhythmic structures”, which are numeric formulas often given on the first page of a work. Therefore, I chose not to analyze the form of the works, but rather to discuss their music in the context of aesthetic influences and phases in Cage’s artistic development. One particularly interesting aspect proved to be the pieces’ titles, which I came to regard as a rich source for interpretational ideas. Another was the personalities of the dancers for whom Cage wrote most of the prepared music, and their work, which influenced Cage in his choices of themes, rhythms and sonorities.

Where data was missing, I had to piece together fragments of facts, suggestions and implications, and arrive at my own explanations and interpretations.

From my research I conclude that the prepared piano is important for performers and audience alike as it links the avant-garde musics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition, it played a vital role in Cage’s artistic and personal formation.

— T.D., 2008

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