From the casually curious to the autodidact, the information imparted by the voluminous youtube can be (at its very best) transformative / enlightening — nitpicky criticisms aside, of course. Which brings us to the two documentaries featured below; one on the American composer, theorist, philosopher and artist John Cage, and the other concerning itself with the classical avant-garde movement as a whole.

As documentaries go, the two work well in tandem. In The Ocean focuses on composers Philip Glass, John Cage, Steve Reich, Elliott Carter and their contemporaries as it examines and unpacks various motivations and influences. And as this in the Internet, the comments section is well worth perusing for infighting concerning everything from opinions on sound object music, the filmmakers (audacious!) inclusion of Frank Zappa, post-modernism and more. Bring some popcorn.

An example of one’s reputation preceding them, I first heard the name John Cage during a music theory course long before encountering his actual work. I mention this as a matter of context. Not going in cold on Cage was integral to grasping the breadth and depth of his work. As such, the 1995 Frank Sheffer film From Zero is an illuminating portrait of the artist – one that works on multiple levels — both for the well versed and uninitiated. Broken into various sections, the film merges interview material along with performance.

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