The Armchair Musicologist

I sent in the quadruply-revised final draft of my book on 4’33” today: 217 pages, with 325 footnotes and eight pages of bibliography. Wiley Hitchcock would be proud of my footnotes-to-pages ratio. He used to kid me about how many footnotes in my American music book read “e-mail to the author.” But hey, I figure, if you know the composer, why spend hours rooting through a library when you can send an e-mail?

And may I mention how euphoric I am to be writing books in the era of Google? The time-saving features are unbelievable. I read through Silence again, and most of A Year from Monday, and a lot of the articles in Richard Kostelanetz’s John Cage and John Cage, Writer. But there are so many Cage books and books about Cage, and compendiums edited by the indefatigable Kostelanetz, and I didn’t have time to go through them all, but Google found me everything I needed. For instance, I’ve always remembered Cage telling a story about sitting in a restaurant with De Kooning, and De Kooning framing a bunch of bread crumbs with his fingers and challenging Cage to say it was art. But I couldn’t find it in Silence or A Year from Monday, so I kept Googling “John Cage” + crumbs + “De Kooning,” and after a few references to George Crumb I finally found the story retold in a Christopher Shultis article available through JSTOR, and luckily I have JSTOR access through Bard, and of course Chris had the footnote: Kostelanetz’s Conversing with Cage, pages 211-212. I could have spent days looking for it. Naturally I never footnote the internet reference if it’s in a book somewhere, but Cage has been so thoroughly worked over that there’s nothing I can think of that someone hasn’t written about, and some internet reference will lead me to the right place in the books. And Amazon makes most pages of many books available, so I can Google a sentence fragment and get access to the actual scanned book. I’ve got numerous footnotes, with page numbers, to books I’ve never held in my hand. It’s freakin’ incredible. Not to mention Grove and Britannica and Musical Quarterly at my fingertips, plus my illustrations stolen from other web site jpegs and grabbed from PDFs. I can sit here and do blindingly erudite musicology almost without leaving the house. I wouldn’t want you to know how much of my library research I’ve done in my pajamas. A million thanks to Al Gore for inventing this thing.


  1. Dean Rosenthal says

    It’s pretty cool when you can do all that research at home. And it’s good to know. I can’t wait for that book to be out.
    KG replies: Well, thanks, but you know, the book only pulls together a lot of research that’s already out there. Not like I figured out anything about 4’33” that someone didn’t already know.

  2. Paul H. Muller says

    Congratulations on finishing – it must be a great feeling.
    Um, not to rain on your parade, but are you handing your publisher some sort of copyright nightmare with all the Internet cutting and pasting?
    KG replies: You’ve misunderstood something. I’m not doing any cutting and pasting. I’m using the internet to locate footnote citations that otherwise would take weeks to find in all the books I have sitting in my office or at the library. Plus I can get a few public domain images, like the ms. to Vexations, or the original Maverick concert program, as jpegs, and not have to go Xerox them out of books. We’ll still have to apply to C.F. Peters for permission for two or three musical examples. It’s my fourth book, I’ve been through this before.

  3. says

    Amazon’s great, as is Google books. Even Google translate is a darned helpful thing if you have non-English sources – you can get the gist and work out whether it’s worth following up. Thanks, Al.

  4. Jessica says

    You’ve put your finger on the best blessing of Amazon and the Internet. Not only can you find all those half-remembered things, you can see them in situ much of the time.
    Looking forward to the book.

  5. says

    I like how you’re making us either do the research ourselves or wait for the book to be published for the answer to the crumbs question :) Kyle Gann: Marketing Guru.
    It’s funny, my immediate reaction to the questions was “of course it’s art, because he framed it and proposed that it might be.” And I was surprised that De Kooning would have disagreed. I know how you feel about the idea that Cage was a “philosopher,” and I’m not proposing that he was, but I think we can understand to a certain extent why he’s often thought of that way by considering that through his work he was able to change a lot of people’s default presumptions on an important philosophical issue.
    KG replies: I didn’t think there was a crumbs *question*: of course, Cage insisted that it could be art, and that always struck me as relevant to 4’33”. I see your point about the philosophy, but I would also want to insist that artists can also change people’s perceptions, and even critics. Clement Greenberg changed the way people felt about abstraction, and similarly got people to look at the actual paint – yet no one calls him a philosopher.
    Maybe because I studied a lot of philosophy in college, and particularly aesthetics and the philosophy of music, I just have stricter standards for calling someone a philosopher. To engage systematically in an investigation of where art or music fits into human experience, as Roman Ingarden or Thomas Clifton did, seems very different to me from Cage getting inspired by Zen and trying to persuade us all to hear music the way he did – which I think of as an artist’s activity, not a philosopher’s. But you knew that.

  6. N8Ma says

    There’s something about writing a book on 4’33” in your pajamas that is both fitting and poetic.
    KG replies: Ha! My next feat will be to write a book about Clapping Music stark naked.

  7. says

    An NYT blogger had a similar post about managing citations you find online. Apparently there’s a growing number of browser tools to help you with this sort of thing.

  8. says

    So what is a good notes-to-pages ratio? Mine’s presently a tich over 2-1.
    KG replies: Heck, I dunno, and I’m sure it depends on the subject. I just know Wiley thought mine was a trifle low in the American music book. That book *is* full of mistakes, a lot of them things I corrected in the galleys that didn’t get corrected before publication because they downsized my editor the week I turned it in. Cage is difficult because there’s so much written about him, and a lot of errors floating around, so every time I wrote a fact I put a footnote. Luckily, besides fact, the book also contains plenty of rumor, hearsay, and innuendo.

  9. says

    Actually, you should thank Tim Berners-Lee for creating the concept of the World Wide Web. Al Gore did play a major role in making “ARPANet” public and renaming it “The Internet”, but that’s just the plumbing.
    But without content and a framework for organizing and accessing content, the internet is just that, plumbing.
    And all Tim was doing was trying to make the work of the physicists at CERN a bit easier.
    I love it when the press jokes about nerds and engineers. Yet so much of what we do every day is the result of some hard thinking and euphoric moments brought to us by said nerds.
    The general public (present company excluded) have no idea where this stuff comes from. And they don’t care. Whatever.
    KG replies: Rush Limbaugh said Al Gore claimed to have invented it, so I just assumed that must be true.

  10. says

    Dear Kyle,
    1. Writing your next book “stark naked” — made me laugh out loud. How joyous!
    2. Cage & philosophy. That word “philosopher” is a fuzzy one — ironic, ain’t it? I’m with you on not calling Cage one. But I do think of him as a deeply influential musical *thinker*.
    3. Congrats on the book! Can’t wait to read it!