An excerpt from 4'33" and where in the world John Cage was coming from

We realize that, for those unfamiliar with John Cage's work, some explication is in order. Cage was renowned as an "experimental" composer -- a term he later embraced -- for his willingness to play with sound and examine previous conceptions and definitions of "music." He achieved notoriety for his "prepared pianos" which were modified by jamming all types of materials -- from wood to screws to weather-stripping -- into pianos to alter their sound and then having pianists strike the keys randomly. In other compositions, he was known to use a variety of radios or altered tape recordings all playing simultaneously or microphones attached to human bodies in motion. He desired to break away from the rigid constraints imposed by a "composer," and focus instead on "the activity of sounds."

What you just listened to was a 15 second excerpt from 4'33", the most famous silent composition in history. In performance, the pianist sits silently at the keyboard for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, with the members of the audience likely scratching their heads with befuddlement. Perhaps you felt something similar, as you listened to this short excerpt in silence (that is, if you weren't cursing your computer's speakers for being on the fritz). Cage was interested in opening our ears to the music all around us -- perhaps in this case, to the hum of your computer or the buzz of the lights or the sound of your own breathing. The fusion of these sounds is one aspect of the music that Cage wanted to point out, as he strove to shake the rigid definitions which confine many people's conception of music.

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