On Monday evening during the second program in Sound Reimagined: John Cage at 100, the Juilliard School's weeklong tribute to Cage, some recorded excerpts were played from Lecture on Nothing. Cage gave this famous talk in 1949 at Darmstadt, a hotbed of avant-garde music in Germany. In his soft-spoken, almost expressionless way, Cage was an effective speaker.I'm beating myself up for moving between my sensations and my thoughts about the sensations. Cage is saying that listening is that movement. And to not only to include our thoughts about the sensations, but other thoughts as well.
At one point he says, "If among you there are those who wish to get somewhere, let them leave at any moment." Cage was not just graciously inviting uninterested listeners to leave. His point, I think, was that we all create our own perceptual experiences, including when we listen to music. If our attention flags during a Beethoven symphony, we are not failing the task of listening. Rather, our wandering thoughts become part of the musical moment.
So is it possible to be a bad listener? I wonder what he'd say. Probably, no. Perhaps only if you want to get somewhere else, you can't be here. Or perhaps if you want to gain anything, you can't/won't participate.