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4′33″ (pronounced Four minutes, thirty-three seconds or, as the composer himself referred to it, Four, thirty-three[1]) is a three-movement composition[2][3] by American avant-garde composer John Cage (1912–1992). It was composed in 1952 for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece throughout the 3 movements (The first 30 seconds, the second 2 minutes and 23 seconds and the third 1 minute and 40 seconds). Although commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence",[4][5] the piece actually consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.[6] Over the years, 4′33″ became Cage's most famous and most controversial composition.[2]

Conceived around 1947–8, while the composer was working on Sonatas and Interludes,[2] 4′33″ became for Cage the epitome of his idea that any sounds constitute, or may constitute, music.[7] It was also a reflection of the influence of Zen Buddhism, which Cage studied since the late 1940s. In a 1982 interview, and on numerous other occasions, Cage stated that 4′33″ was, in his opinion, his most important work.[8]


[edit] History of composition

[edit] Background and influences

Silence played a major role in several of Cage's works composed before 4′33″. The Duet for Two Flutes (1934), composed when Cage was 22, opens with silence, and silence was an important structural element in some of the Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48), Music of Changes (1951) and Two Pastorales (1951). The Concerto for prepared piano and orchestra (1951) closes with an extended silence, and Waiting (1952), a piano piece composed just a few months before 4′33″, consists of long silences framing a single, short ostinato pattern. Furthermore, in his songs The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) and A Flower (1950) Cage directs the pianist to play a closed instrument, which may be understood as a metaphor of silence.[9]

The first time Cage mentioned the idea of a piece composed entirely of silence was during a 1947 (or 1948) lecture at Vassar College, A Composer's Confessions. Cage told the audience that he had "several new desires", one of which was

to compose a piece of uninterrupted silence and sell it to Muzak Co. It will be 3 or 4½ minutes long—those being the standard lengths of "canned" music and its title will be Silent Prayer. It will open with a single idea which I will attempt to make as seductive as the color and shape and fragrance of a flower. The ending will approach imperceptibility.[10]

At the time, however, Cage felt that such a piece would be "incomprehensible in the Western context," and was reluctant to write it down: "I didn't wish it to appear, even to me, as something easy to do or as a joke. I wanted to mean it utterly and be able to live with it."[11]

In 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. They are also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, "I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation."[12]

There has been some skepticism about the accuracy of the engineer's explanation, especially as to being able to hear one's own nervous system. A mild case of tinnitus might cause one to hear a small, high-pitched sound. It has been asserted by acoustic scientists[who?] that, after a long time in such a quiet environment, air molecules can be heard bumping into one's eardrums in an elusive hiss (0 dB, or 20 micropascals). Whatever the truth of these explanations, Cage had gone to a place where he expected total silence, and yet heard sound. "Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music."[13] The realisation as he saw it of the impossibility of silence led to the composition of 4′33″.

Another cited influence[14] for this piece came from the field of the visual arts. Cage's friend and sometimes colleague Robert Rauschenberg had produced, in 1951, a series of white paintings, seemingly "blank" canvases (though painted with white house paint) that in fact change according to varying light conditions in the rooms in which they were hung, the shadows of people in the room and so on. This inspired Cage to use a similar idea, as he later stated, "Actually what pushed me into it was not guts but the example of Robert Rauschenberg. His white paintings… when I saw those, I said, 'Oh yes, I must. Otherwise I'm lagging, otherwise music is lagging'." Cage's musical equivalent to the Rauschenberg paintings uses the "silence" of the piece as an aural "blank canvas" to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance; the music of the piece is natural sounds of the players, the audience, the building, and the outside environment.

[edit] Precursors

Cage was not the first composer to conceive of a piece consisting solely of silence. Precedents and prior examples include:

  • Alphonse Allais's 1897 Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man, consisting of nine blank measures. Allais's composition is arguably closer in spirit to Cage's work; Allais was an associate of Erik Satie, and given Cage's profound admiration for Satie, the possibility that Cage was inspired by the Funeral March is tempting. However, according to Cage himself, he was unaware of Allais's composition at the time (though he had heard of a 19th-century book that was completely blank).[15][page number needed]
  • Erwin Schulhoff's 1919 "In futurum", a movement from the Fünf Pittoresken for piano. The Czech composer's meticulously notated composition is made up entirely of rests.[16] Cage was, however, almost certainly unaware of Schulhoff's work.
  • Yves Klein's 1949 Monotone-Silence Symphony (informally The Monotone Symphony, conceived 1947-1948), an orchestral 40-minute piece whose second and last movement is a 20-minute silence[17] (the first movement being an unvarying 20-minute drone).

[edit] Premiere and reception

They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began patterning the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.
John Cage speaking about the premiere of 4′33″.[18]

The premiere of the three-movement 4'33″ was given by David Tudor on August 29, 1952, at Woodstock, New York as part of a recital of contemporary piano music. The audience saw him sit at the piano and, to mark the beginning of the piece, close the keyboard lid. Some time later he opened it briefly, to mark the end of the first movement. This process was repeated for the second and third movements[19]. The piece had passed without a note being played—in fact without Tudor (or anyone else) having made any deliberate sound as part of the piece. Tudor timed the three movements with a stopwatch while turning the pages of the score.[citation needed]

Richard Kostelanetz suggests that the very fact that Tudor, a man known for championing experimental music, was the performer, and that Cage, a man known for introducing unexpected non-musical noise into his work, was the composer, would have led the audience to expect unexpected sounds[citation needed]. Anybody listening intently would have heard them: while the performer produces no deliberately musical sound, there will nonetheless be sounds in the concert hall (just as there were sounds in the anechoic chamber at Harvard). It is these sounds, unpredictable and unintentional, that are to be regarded as constituting the music in this piece. The piece remains controversial to this day, and is seen as challenging the very definition of music.

In the course of interviews which took place in Surrey and London during 1983, Lee Crampton pointed out to Cage the 'coincidence' between 273 seconds and the absolute zero temperature, which resulted in one of Cage's typically playful and mischievous replies, stating that he had never had it brought to his attention before.

In defining noise music and its value, Paul Hegarty in Noise/Music: A History (2007) contends that it is John Cage's composition 4'33" that represents the beginning of noise music proper. For Hegarty, noise music, as with 4'33", is that music made up of incidental sounds that represent perfectly the tension between "desirable" sound (properly played musical notes) and undesirable "noise" that make up all noise music.[20][page number needed]

[edit] Versions of the score

Several versions of the score exist:[21]

  • The original Woodstock manuscript (August 1952): conventional notation, dedicated to David Tudor. This manuscript is currently lost. Tudor's attempt at re-creating the original score is reproduced in Fetterman 1996, 74.
  • The Kremen manuscript (1953): graphic, space-time notation, dedicated to Irwin Kremen. The movements of the piece are rendered as space between long vertical lines; a tempo indication is provided (60), and at the end of each movement the time is indicated in minutes and seconds.[22] Edition Peters No. 6777a.
  • The so-called First Tacet Edition: a typewritten score, lists the three movements using Roman numbers, with the word "TACET" underneath each. A note by Cage describes the first performance and mentions that "the work may be performed by (any) instrumentalist or combination of instrumentalists and last any length of time." Edition Peters No. 6777 (out of print).
  • The so-called Second Tacet Edition: same as the First, except that it is printed in Cage's calligraphy, and the explanatory note mentions the Kremen manuscript. Edition Peters No. 6777 (i.e. it carries the same catalogue number as the first Tacet Edition)

Additionally, a facsimile, reduced in size, of the Kremen manuscript, appeared in July 1967 in Source.

There is some discrepancy between the lengths of individual movements specified in different versions of the score. The Woodstock printed program specifies the lengths 30″, 2′23″ and 1′40″, as does the Kremen manuscript, and presumably the original manuscript had the same indications. However, in the First Tacet Edition Cage writes that at the premiere the timings were 33″, 2′40″ and 1′20″. In the Second Tacet Edition he adds that after the premier a copy has been made for Irwin Kremen, in which the timelengths of the movements were 30″, 2′23″ and 1′40″. The causes of this discrepancy is not currently understood, the original manuscript being still lost.[23]

[edit] 4′33″ No. 2

In 1962, Cage wrote 0'00", which is also referred to as 4'33" No. 2. The directions originally consisted of one sentence: "In a situation provided with maximum amplification, perform a disciplined action." The first performance had Cage write that sentence.

The second performance added four new qualifications to the directions: "the performer should allow any interruptions of the action, the action should fulfill an obligation to others, the same action should not be used in more than one performance, and should not be the performance of a musical composition."[10]

[edit] Performances and recordings

4'33″ has been recorded on several occasions: Frank Zappa recorded it as part of A Chance Operation: The John Cage Tribute, on the Koch label, 1993; in 2002, James Tenney performed 4'33" at Rudolf Schindler's historic Kings Road House in celebration of the work's 50th anniversary.[24] A recording of an orchestral version of 4'33″ by the BBC Symphony Orchestra was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in January 2004; this performance may have been simultaneously televised on BBC Four; it was made available on iFilm in 2006.

A tongue-in-cheek version was recorded by the staff of the UK Guardian newspaper on 2004-01-16.[25]

A performance of 4'33″ was broadcast on Australian radio station ABC Classic FM, as part of a program exploring "sonic responses" to Cage's work.[26]

The BBC series The Fast Show recorded a jazz version of 4'33″ as part of their Jazz Club segment. The fact that their version only lasted roughly 90 seconds was put down to the need for artistic expression and thrusting as part of jazz, and that any piece of music was open to an artist's interpretation.

There was a similar recording titled: "The Best of Marcel Marceau" available in the 1970's lasting a bit longer than 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

On January 16, 2004, at the Barbican in London, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the UK's first orchestral performance of this work. The performance was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and one of the main challenges was that the station's emergency backup systems are designed to switch on whenever apparent silence (dead air) is detected. They had to be switched off for the sole purpose of this performance.[27]

[edit] References by other artists

Several other artists have paid tribute to Cage's work. Some of the more notable include the following:

  • The anarchist punk band Crass alluded to 4'33″ with their song "They've Got a Bomb", which includes a silent gap in the music. The band has acknowledged the influence of Cage, and said that the idea of the space in the song, when performed live, was to suddenly stop the energy, dancing and noise and allow the audience to momentarily "confront themselves" and consider the reality of nuclear war (a film projected onto a screen behind the band continued to show images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). A studio recording of the song appears on their 1978 The Feeding of the 5000 LP. Early pressings of the album also feature two minutes of silence titled "The Sound of Free Speech." The gap was left by a poem called "Asylum" that workers at the record plant refused to press.[28][page number needed]
  • In July 2002 composer Mike Batt (best known for being behind the 1970s novelty/children's act The Wombles) had charges of plagiarism filed against him by the estate of John Cage after crediting his track "A Minute's Silence" as being written by "Batt/Cage". Batt initially vowed to fight the suit, even going so far as to claim that his piece is "a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds." Batt told The Independent that "My silence is original silence, not a quotation from his silence." Batt eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed six figure sum in September 2002.[29]
  • English duo Orbital released a "remix" of their song "Are We Here?" titled "Criminal Justice Bill", which consisted of three minutes and 59 seconds of silence, in protest of the then-proposed Criminal Justice Bill, which sought to ban raves.[30][31]
  • Rap artist MC Paul Barman proclaims in his song 'Excuse You' from the Paullelujah album that he "…can rock the mic to "Silence" by John Cage with the arty flavor".
  • Experimental/Noise act Wolf Eyes included an untitled track on their 2004 album Burned Mind of silence that lasts exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds.
  • Australian rock band Karnivool included a track titled "Omitted for Clarity" on their album Themata consisting solely of silence.
  • Japanese noise rock duo Ruins included a song titled 0'33" on their 1995 album Hyderomastgroningem, which was dedicated to Cage.
  • Seattle sludge-rock pioneers Melvins included their tribute to Cage, titled "Nothing", on a 7-inch compilation record called Son of Bllleeeeaaauuurrrrgghhh!. This record was released on Slap-a-Ham Records in 1992. In keeping with the compilation's theme of songs clocking in at 30 seconds or less, "Nothing" consists of 30 seconds of silence.
  • Composer and violinist Alexei Aigui from Moscow, Russia named his orchestra Ensemble 4′33″.
  • In the Korean Drama Beethoven Virus conductor Kang Mae played 4'33" when a mayor threatened to destroy his orchestra unless they performed when he is sworn in.
  • In 2009 Petri Purho released "4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness", a computer game which can only be won by a player if they are the only person in the world playing it for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.[32]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Solomon 1998/2002.
  2. ^ a b c Pritchett, Kuhn, Grove.
  3. ^ Kostelanetz 2003, 69–71, 86, 105, 198, 218, 231.
  4. ^ Fetterman 1996, 69.
  5. ^ Lienhard 2003, 254.
  6. ^ Kostelanetz 2003, 69–70.
  7. ^ Gutmann, Peter (1999). "John Cage and the Avant-Garde: The Sounds of Silence". http://www.classicalnotes.net/columns/silence.html. Retrieved on 2007-04-04. 
  8. ^ Kostelanetz 2003, 70.
  9. ^ Revill 1993, 162.
  10. ^ a b Pritchett 1993, 59, 138.
  11. ^ Revill 1993, 164.
  12. ^ "A few notes about silence and John Cage". CBC.ca. 2004-11-24. http://www.cbc.ca/sask/features/artist/journal2.html. 
  13. ^ Cage 1961, 8.
  14. ^ Revill 1993, 164.
  15. ^ Dickinson 1991.
  16. ^ Bek, Grove.
  17. ^ See sources and recordings at the Yves Klein article.
  18. ^ Kostelanetz 2003, 70.
  19. ^ The actions of Tudor in the first performance are often misdescribed so that the lid is explained as being open during the movements. Cage's handwritten score (produced after the first performance) states that the lid was closed during the movements, and opened to mark the spaces between.
  20. ^ Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History (2007) Continuum International Publishing Group
  21. ^ This paragraph summarizes some of the findings from Solomon 1998/2002.
  22. ^ Fetterman 1996, 76–78.
  23. ^ Solomon 1998/2002.
  24. ^ Tenney's recording is archived on line via The Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS)
  25. ^ "Guardian recording of 4'33″". 2004-01-16. http://stream.guardian.co.uk:7080/ramgen/sys-audio/Guardian/audio/2004/01/16/silence.ra. 
  26. ^ "ABC Classic FM". http://www.abc.net.au/classic/daily/stories/s376971.htm. 
  27. ^ "BBC Press Office, Cage Uncaged". 2007-02-21. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2004/01_january/12/john_cage.shtml. 
  28. ^ Berger, George The Story of Crass (Omnibus Press, 2006)
  29. ^ "BBC News". http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/2276621.stm. 
  30. ^ "Are We Here?". Discogs.com. http://www.discogs.com/Orbital-Are-We-Here/release/75896. 
  31. ^ "Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33)". Office of Public Sector Information. http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=2156203. 
  32. ^ "4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness". http://www.kloonigames.com/blog/games/4mins33secs. 

[edit] References

  • Bek, Joseph. "Erwin Schulhoff", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 11 December 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • Cage, John. 1961. Silence: Lectures and Writings. Wesleyan Paperback (1973 edition). ISBN 0-8195-6028-6
  • Dickinson, Peter. 1991. Reviews of three books on Satie. Musical Quarterly 75 (3): 404–409.
  • Fetterman, William. 1996. John Cage's Theatre Pieces: Notations and Performances. Routledge. ISBN 3718656434
  • Kostelanetz, Richard. 2003. Conversing with John Cage. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93792-2
  • Lienhard, John H. 2003. Inventing Modern: Growing Up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins, Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195189515
  • Pritchett, James. 1993. The Music of John Cage. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521565448
  • Pritchett, James, and Kuhn, Laura. . "John Cage", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 15 December 2006), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • Revill, David. 1993. The Roaring Silence: John Cage – a Life. Arcade Publishing. ISBN-10: 1559702206, ISBN-13: 978-1559702201
  • Solomon, Larry J. 1998 (revised 2002). The Sounds of Silence: John Cage and 4′33″. Available online.

[edit] External links

[edit] Audio (ersatz)

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