From The Desk Of Light Heat: “John Cage: Composition In Retrospect”

LightHeatLogoIn 2006, Quentin Stoltzfus was forced to retire Mazarin, the dreamy, strummy Philadelphia-based project he debuted in 1999, due to threats from a litigious Long Island classic-rock band of the same name. If not for that, the new Light Heat album would be a Mazarin album, and could have come out years ago. The catalyst for Light Heat’s debut came from Stoltzfus’ friends and former tourmates the Walkmen. That band, minus singer Hamilton Leithauser, backs Stoltzfus on the LP, although Light Heat itself, like Mazarin, is essentially Stoltzfus and whomever he plays with. Stoltzfus will be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on Light Heat.


Stoltzfus: John Cage: Composition In Retrospect, like Los Caprichos, is another essential book that is never far from my side when I’m in writing mode. I picked up my copy on November 15, 1997, at the sadly long-gone but excellent 33 Degrees in Austin, Texas. That very day, I also snagged my copy of Faust IV, MAGNET’s Nov/Dec ’97 issue and a handful of Daniel Johnston cassettes (the receipt still lives in the book!), quite a haul! Published by Damon And Naomi’s Exact Change publishing company, this book is written in an unconventional form, using mysterious-looking mesostics. For example:

of whaT
Is nOt
what happeneD

Mesostics Explained by Cage himself:

“In taking the next step in my work, the exploration of non-intention, I don’t solve the puzzle that the mesostic string presents. Instead I write or find a source text which is then used as an oracle. I ask it what word shall I use for this letter and what one for the next, etc. this frees me from memory, taste, likes and dislikes … ”

This is not an illuminating work in which John Cage directly dishes on how he created his pieces. He instead teaches through his own principles of creation, all outlined in the book like mantras: Method, Structure, Intention, Discipline, Notation, Indeterminacy, Interpretation, Imitation, Devotion, Circumstances, Variable Structure, Non-understanding, Contingency, Inconsistency and Performance.

I’ve always found it to be enough to help me crack through any invisible wall blocking my own creativity.

Video after the jump.