Sunday, May 30, 2010

Passing, smartly

In the recent post about China Miéville's new novel, Kraken, I neglected to note one small but truly cool passing reference, and one which actually has something to do — if via a filial tangent — with experimental music.  It is a reference to John Cage's father.  Yes, the composer's father.  I suspect that this is the first appearance of the senior Cage, an engineer and inventor, in a work of fiction.   In the passage in question, Miéville appears to be referring to John M. Cage Sr.'s work in the design of submarines.

Addendum:  Gordon Mumma wrote:

re John Cage Sr.'s inventions, his work went far beyond
the early submarine projects. Cage Sr. held patents on
many devices and concepts, all the way through the 2nd
World War. And (composer) Cage Jr. assisted his father
with some of that research, even when it was "classified
war-work." That activity was one of several reasons the
composer Cage was not conscripted into military service.

All that above is from what Cage told me privately back
in the 1960s. Now there is excellent research underway
by Richard Brown (at USC) in which he has located
many recently de-classified documents involving patents
for Cage Sr.'s work in the 1940s. Brown gave a superb
presentation of his research on this subject at the 2009
Philadelphia American Musicological Society meeting. 

Now that I think about it, it's actually pretty surprising that the elder Cage has not been a more frequent figure or model for a character in fiction.


No comments: