If there is one thing my lampooning of Conan taught me, it’s that people can turn anything into a religion and can feel persecute over the mere expression of different tastes.
Therefore, let me lead with this disclaimer. I have never heard John Cage music in my life. I have no opinion of his music. I bear him no ill will whatsoever. My only interest in his music is that I was reading a book by Douglas Hofstadter (one of my favorite authors) and came across this passage about John Cage music.
A Cage piece has to be taken in a larger cultural setting – as a revolt against certain kinds of traditions. Thus, if we want to transmit the meaning [of the music to a hypothetical alien culture], we must not only send the notes of the piece, but we must have earlier communicated an extensive history of Western culture. It is fair to say, then, that an isolated record of John Cage’s music does not have an intrinsic meaning. However, for a listener who is sufficiently well versed in Western and Eastern cultures, particularly in the trends in Western music over the last few decades, it does carry meaning – but such a listener is like a jukebox, and the piece is like a pair of buttons. The meaning is mostly contained inside the listener to begin with; the music serves only to trigger it. And this “jukebox”, unlike pure intelligence, is not at all universal; it is highly earthbound, depending on idiosyncratic sequences of events all over our globe for long periods of time.
On the other hand, to appreciate Bach requires far less cultural knowledge. This may seem like high irony, for Bach is so much more complex and organized, and Cage is so devoid of intellectuality. But there is a strange reversal here: intelligence loves patterns and balks at randomness. For most people, the randomness in Cage’s music requires much explanation; and even after explanations, they may feel they are missing the message…. In that sense, Bach’s music is more self-contained than Cage’s music. (Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, p. 174-175)
If Hofstadter is right, then John Cage’s music is a sort of Rejectionism. It’s ‘meaning’ exists relative to the (more) intrinsic meaning in someone like Bach. If Bach were to disappear (and all other composers) John Cage’s music would lose it’s meaning too.
This is what Rejectionism is like in all intellectual or theological schools. It is not devoid of value or meaning, but owes it’s value and meaning in relation to someone else and does not exist as a stand alone point of view.