John Cale is best-known as a rock artist and producer, but his background is in classical music, and its example has followed Cale into many corners of his musical life. Born the son of a coal miner and schoolteacher, Cale demonstrated natural musical ability in childhood. In 1961 Cale entered Goldsmith's College in London, where he first encountered the music of the avant-garde. In 1963 he received a scholarship to the Tanglewood Festival summer school under the aegis of Aaron Copland. Then Cale moved to New York where he participated as a pianist, along with composer John Cage, in the first complete performance of Erik Satie's Vexations.
John Cale joined the Dream Syndicate led by minimalist pioneer La Monte Young, and this brought him into contact with the musicians associated with Young, such as Tony Conrad and Terry Jennings. Cale continued his efforts in minimalism into the 1970s, but in 1964 he met aspiring pop songwriter Lou Reed and struck up a friendship that led to the formation of the Velvet Underground, arguably the most influential experimental pop group of the 1960s. Cale's first issued solo recording, a minimalist work consisting of electric guitar feedback processed by two tape recorders, was a flexi-disc entitled Loop that appeared in the December 1966 issue of Aspen Magazine.
Cale left the Velvet Underground in 1968, and began his career as a producer of rock artists in 1969. Cale's own albums are primarily made up of highly well-crafted pop songs that sometimes utilize orchestrations, but his catalog also includes occasional departures into classical composition. Among these is a collaboration with Terry Riley, The Church of Anthrax (1971), and an album made in part with the Royal Philharmonic, The Academy in Peril (1974). In 1988 Cale composed The Falklands Suite for chorus and orchestra, which is included on the album Words for the Dying. Cale has also appeared with the Dave Soldier String Quartet performing classical-styled arrangements of his popular songs, such as "Paris 1919." In 2000 a series of CDs of Cale's early experimental music entitled New York in the 1960s began to appear, helping Cale reclaim his status as a minimalist pioneer. John Cale has done far better than most rock musicians in terms of maintaining a respectable profile as a classical composer; he does not make use of hybrid forms, and his stated purpose is in "blurring the boundaries of music."