Review of Beautiful Noise: The Music of John Cage

Beautiful Noise: The Music of John Cage Beautiful Noise: The Music of John Cage
by Lisa Rogers; illus. by Il Sung Na
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz/Random    40 pp.
10/23    9780593646625    $18.99
Library ed.  9780593646632    $21.99
e-book ed.  9780593646649    $11.99

A sequence of “what if?” questions pulls the reader into this book about twentieth-century avant-garde composer John Cage. “What if…all the sounds you heard…sounded to you like music?” The answer is always, “Then you’d be like John Cage.” Cage thought all sounds—noises made by appliances, everyday sounds like “dog tags clinking,” and even silence itself—constituted music if you learned to listen. Rogers’s text introduces readers to Cage’s notable and controversial performances, including “4’33” (four minutes and thirty-three seconds of piano silence) and “Fontana Mix” (a staff covered with “curlicues and dots…and squiggles” that invited musicians to interpret into playable notes). Digital illustrations take one sensory experience (sound) and represent it in another (sight) in stunning ways. Bursts of bright colors, shapes, and lines that represent Cage’s music are overlaid onto people, landscapes, and interiors, which are primarily rendered in black, white, and gray; at other times the colorful music peeks through windows or floats in the air, transforming dull backdrops into colorful, riotous expressions that disrupt a stodgy world. Let’s not forget the endpapers, which will absorb the reader’s attention: a table representing sixty different sounds with sixty different representations captures the essence of each. Readers will likely be curious to experiment themselves and “be like John Cage”; author and illustrator notes provide additional context.

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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