Sound of Silence

And no, I’m not referring to the lack of comments on yesterday’s blog…

There was an article I linked to yesterday that I feel is probably worthy of its own blog entry.

I’ve alluded to this story, or at least the artist and song involved at other times in my blog – and in fact a complete history of Art Rock would be incomplete (and hence not a complete history due to said incompleteness) without reference to John Cage who is a doyen of the postmodern music movement.

The story goes, for those too lazy to click the link, that John Cage wrote a song called 4.33 which contained 4’33 minutes of nothing – or didn’t actually contain anything because that would be more correct… Actually the original score contained a series of actions to be performed within the song’s three movements. John Cage then did what all credible rockstars do and died (albeit at the ripe old age of 80 and several years after penning* the classic opus**). Years passed. Another musician, Mike Batt released a silent song – and made the mistake (apparently) of giving Cage some writing credit. John Cage’s record company sued – and Batt eventually settled out of court.

This story is up there with a bunch of really stupid stories that get emailed around to people on a daily basis. One such story, and a personal favourite of mine, was this one, which has since been debunked.

*Can you pen nothing?

** Can an opus be silent?


Daniel says:

** 4’33 is not silent. That’s the whole point.

Gosh! You Philistine.

Nathan says:

“He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition “4’33″” was totally silent.”

According to CNN who always view and report things objectively… and hence do not fall under the spell of any post modern arguments about “silence” and whether ambient sound and actions constitute non silence (aka noise)… the song was silent.

Any subjective view on whether or not the song was silent is open for debate – or personal interpretation – that’s what subjectivity is.

Nathan says:

Also – an Opus is “A creative work, especially a musical composition numbered to designate the order of a composer’s works.”

So if 4’33 was a numeric representation of order – rather than a nominal description of the song’s length – it could be a silent opus.

AndrewF says:

I don’t think it’s subjective to say that 4’33” was not silent. It was written when John Cage was in his alleatoric stage – the emphasis being randomness and chance. The context of his output and musical ideology give us this.
4’33” is the ultimate in chance music; the sounds you hear are completely unplanned. Cage forced the audience to hone in on those sounds around us.
Dan can elaborate on the significance of the length of time reinforcing the non-silence… I don’t think it has anything to do with the opus no.

AndrewF says:

ah.. just read the said article – now if only someone could sue John Williams.. almost every single film score is a blatant rip-off of an existing classical work!