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Happy Birthday, John Cage! Celebrate What Would Be The Composer's 101st With His Little-Seen Visual Art

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Though John Cage died more than 20 years ago on Aug. 12, 1992, he's still routinely cited as one of the influential avant-garde composers and original sound artists out there. And Thursday, Sept. 5 marks what would be his 101st birthday.

Happy birthday, John Cage!

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"John Cage 1992." Photo copyright Steven Speliotis, courtesy College for Creative Studies' Center Galleries.

Cage is most famous for "4'33,"" composed in 1952 and known as four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The piece instructs performers to not play their instruments for the entirety of the three movements, but was intended to let audiences listen to the ambient noise of their surroundings.

"There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot," Cage said.

He also wrote "Suite for Toy Piano" in 1948, performed here after his death by collaborator Margaret Leng Tan:

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Singaporean classical musician Margaret Leng Tan performs "Suite for Toy Piano" at the Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, New York, July 26, 1993. Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images.

The composer was also a writer and artist. On Friday, a show of Cage's lesser-known visual art opens at the College for Creative Studies' Center Galleries in Detroit.

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"New River Watercolor," Series II, #2, 1988. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy College for Creative Studies' Center Galleries.

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." -- John Cage

Center Galleries' show "Nothingtoseeness: The Visual Art of John Cage" exhibits his drawings, watercolors and prints for the first time in Detroit. According to a release, the show includes "works installed based on a 'Cagean' chance-derived score which will randomly alter the installation on a regular basis."

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"Eninka," #20/50, 1986. Smoked paper and branded print on Gampi paper chine colle. Courtesy College for Creative Studies' Center Galleries.

The composer's visual art was also the subject of 2012 exhibition "It's John. John Cage." at Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany to celebrate his 100th birthday.

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An installation shot from the exhibition "It's John. John Cage," on July 19, 2012. Photo by Daniel Maurer/DAPD/Getty Images.

"In Zen they say, If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, 16, 32, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting." -- John Cage

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An installation shot from the exhibition "It's John. John Cage," on July 19, 2012. Photo by Daniel Maurer/DAPD/Getty Images.

All in all, Cage was a wildly accomplished artist who contributed immeasurably to 20th century music. Read some of Cage's writings here, and listen to a selection of his sound pieces here. In Detroit, "Nothingtoseeness" opens Friday with a celebration of Cage's birthday and performance Stephen Dueweke and continues through Oct. 19.

"I certainly had no feeling for harmony, and [former teacher Arnold] Schoenberg thought that that would make it impossible for me to write music. He said, 'You'll come to a wall you won't be able to get through.' So I said, 'I'll beat my head against that wall.'" -- John Cage

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John Cage in Saint Paul De Vence, France in 1966. Photo by Herve Gloaguen/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

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Around the Web

John Cage :: Official Website

John Cage - About The Composer | American Masters | PBS

John Cage - YouTube

EPC/John Cage Home Page - Electronic Poetry Center

John Cage sayings

John Cage : NPR

John Cage — Songs, Albums, Pictures and Radio — Last.fm

John Cage: An Autobiographical Statement - New Albion Records

John Cage . Indeterminacy - Lcdf.org