Composer John Cage was also a philosopher, a writer, and a printmaker, among other things, and a leading figure of the post-war avant-garde in America. He is considered the most influential American composer of the 20th Century. His composition teachers included Henry Cowell (1933) and Arnold Schoenberg (1933-35). In 1937, he formed a percussion orchestra in Seattle, something he did later in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, where he finally established himself in 1942. He was instrumental in the development of modern dance, and worked for a long time as the musical director of the Merce Cunningham Company. He worked as well in the visual art field, in particular with Jasper Johns.
John Cage was a restless explorer and an innovator, always looking for new sounds. He invented the “prepared piano” (a piano with its sound altered by placing various objects in the strings) and used many uncommon instruments (such as tin cans or blenders); he very soon included electric and electronic sounds in his compositions, and gave the notion of silence in music a completely new meaning by composing a work (4’33”), in 1952, where the three movements are performed without a single note being played. His compositional techniques are based upon chance and the non-intentionality of the creator, thus giving the musicians a great freedom for interpretation.
His artistic thought made a big impact on contemporary music: his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism encouraged him to completely dismiss the dogmatism of Western rationality. Many observers assert that Cage was more of a creator (in the wide acceptation on the word) than a traditional composer.