John Cage, who died recently, worked in a different branch of modernist music from minimalists Philip Glass, Steve Reiss, and John Adams. In fact, Cage's approach was antimusical: He asserted that any object could make music, and that any noise constituted music, even the absence of sound. Cage upended the traditional concept of musical composition. He wrote in 1961, "Nothing is accomplished by writing, hearing, or playing a piece of music."
Cage was an inspiration to the Beat poets of the '60s, and to such artists as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. He studied Zen Buddhism, which gave him the idea that musical "scores" could contain the elements of randomness, and that they should vary from performance to performance. He was drawn to inventing things, and once, when the piano he was playing failed to meet his percussionary standards, he responded by placing objects between the strings.
Cage was the resident composer for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.