BALIAN, Moses J.: John Cage’s “45′ For a Speaker” and the Linguistics of Musical Syntax

Wikis > Final Projects > BALIAN, Moses J.: John Cage’s “45′ For a Speaker” and the Linguistics of Musical Syntax

By Moses J. Balian

Like many of Cage’s pieces, 45’ For a Speaker raises some important questions regarding what defines a piece of music. The main notation of this piece is not music notes, but words. Cage would certainly argue, however, that this piece as legitimate of a piece of music as a Mozart sonata due to the structural and musical elements it contains – in regards to musical development, rhythmic grouping, and the ability to break the piece down into smaller increments of sound. The secondary musical element of the piece involves the background piano music. In this instance, Cage views the true “music” of the piece, not as a dissectible and precise aspect of the work (like the words), but rather the background noise of a more central focus.

By choosing this topic I hope to more accurately define a series of sounds as a piece of music and (in that deconstruction) to draw a tighter connection between musical and linguistic syntax.

This topic’s relevancy to the cognition musical rhythm is an important one – in that it potentially redefines it. Exploration of this topic could blur the line between the processing of musical and linguistic stimuli to the brain and attempt to determine the distinction between them.

To explore this topic I plan to study in depth the title piece: 45’ for a Speaker, listening to different recordings and interpretations of the work. Through listening to these different recordings I would hope to gain insight into what defines this work as a piece of music, the rhythmic qualities of the piece that stay constant and differ between performances, and how the role of the background piano music is treated between recordings. I also plan to study Noam Chomsky’s work in the field of linguistic syntax as it is portrayed by Leonard Bernstein in his 1976 lecture series The Unanswered Question at Harvard University.

The Unanswered Question. Leonard Bernstein. 1976. DVD. Kultur Vido, 2001.

Bernstein’s lecture series at Harvard University in 1976 delves into and explores the linguistic relationships between speech and music. It describes how each has discrete levels of sound and meaning that can be categorized, devided, grouped together, and manipulated. Referencing Chomsky’s work throughout, he blurs the line between music and speech – leaving us with the unanswered question: is there a difference?

Chomsky, Noam. “Syntactic Structures.” Berlin: Moutin & Co. 1957.

This work would mostly be referenced in order to provide support for Bernstein’s findings and arguments. It provides background to his monogenetic theories of linguistics and founds the basis of Bernstein’s monogenetic theories of music. Each man’s work in conversation with the other form the connection between music and speech that I shall illustrate.

Metzger, Heinz-Klaus and Ian Pepper. “John Cage, or Liberated Music.” October 82: 48-61.

An article providing historical and musical insight into Cage’s work throughout his life. It describes to the listener what affects Cage attempted to achieve while composing – the importance of silence and of observing the musicality of the world around us. It helps the listener to appreciate Cage’s music as legitimate music in itself and as a bold philosophical statement.

Krumhans, Carol L. “Music: A Link between Cognition and Emotion.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 11, (No. 2): 45-50.

As the title very clearly desibes, this article brings to light the connection between cognition and emotion in music. It illustrates how we perceive music and how that affects us psychologically.

Ross, Deborah, Jonathan Choi and Dale Purves. “Musical Intervals in Speech.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104 (No. 23): 9852-9857.

This scientific article links music and speech – by how they’re processed by the brain and executed by the body.