What To Think About John Cages' Opus 4'33"?

by Rapunzel 4 Replies latest jw friends

  • Rapunzel

    John Cage composed 4'33" [four minutes, thirty three seconds] in 1952. For Cage, 4'33" represented the epitome of aleatoric - that is to say random or chance - music; it was the epitome of his notion that any sound constituted, or could possibly constitute, music. 4'33" was composed for any instrument, or any combination of instruments; and the score specifically instructs the musician(s) NOT to play their instrument for the entire four-minute-thirty-three-seconds duration of the piece. They do not play so much as one single note. This piece is sometimes called "four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence", but according to Cage, this is missing the point. For Cage, this piece consists of the ambient sounds in the listeners' environment. For Cage, it was not a question of silence at all, because the random sounds in the environment constituted a sort of music that was as valid as any other kind music. To state it simply, Cage equated any sound or noise whatsoever - no matter how random - with music.

    Although I cannot cite a specific example at present, I have heard the Dadaists performed similar musical pieces at the beginning of the twentieth century. For example, a pianist would approach a piano and sit down. He would put his hands on the keyboard and then do nothing but sit there. Such displays were often not well received by the public, and sometimes riots would erupt.

    Has anybody ever heard John Cage perform? Have you ever heard 4'33" performed? Would you be angry or upset if you paid money to hear a musical performance, only to listen to people breathe, chatter, cough etc. for four minutes and thirty three seconds? Opinions on Cage run the whole spectrum between genius and fraud. What's your opinion of him and what he does?

  • Satanus

    I think i get the point. A few centuries ago, music was a delicacy which only royalty and riches could afford to sample. The common people got some minstrels, later on. W the advance of technology and electric power, people now feel the need for a continuous background fill of sound of some kind. Actually hearing the ambient sounds is avoided, if possible. Nature sounds such as birds singing, rainfall, water falling, etc aren't available to everyone. Artificial noise, like cars certianly are. There is another sound, music, if you will, that is available to all that are still alive. That is the sound of their own breathing. Breath focussing is one of the main forms of meditation. The music of the soul. Perhpaps john cage was suggesting something like this?


  • DubNoMo

    John Cage is to music what Charles Manson is to psychiatry.

  • hamsterbait

    Cage's music can be very good. The Preludes and Etudes for Prepared piano for example.

    I think his big mistake was changing music from a sensuous experience in time, into philosophical statements.

    The same thing has ruined the "serious" art world. Now we have cans of the artists excrement, and unmade beds to expound concepts better written about, than looked at or not listened to.

    Cage is a comedian if nothing else.

    4' 33'' is like sex without the foreplay and without intromission. "Let's sit in the same room and think about it."


  • david_10

    "Opinions on Cage run the whole spectrum between genius and fraud. What's your opinion of him and what he does?"

    I think that John Cage was a visionary who was (and still is) light years ahead of his time. For example, he was scratching turntables 50 years before hip-hop made it popular. When it comes to avant-garde art in all it's forms, I have a simple rule: If an artist can draw a horse that looks like a horse, then I'm inclined to give him my attention and consider what he has to say. Too often, an avant-garde artist has no talent and uses the medium to slop paint around and run over it with a truck and hope to be hailed as a genius. Occasionally, the ruse works. Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp--------------they, among many others, could draw a horse that looked like a horse. I think they had a statement to make, and I try to understand them. Most, I'm afraid, have no talent whatsoever.

    Same with avant-garde music: If an avant-garde musician can play a Mozart sonata and do pretty good with it, then I'm inclined to give him my attention. John Cage could play a Mozart sonata and do pretty good with it. So could Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, Charles Wuorinen, among many others. But most probably just bang around and splice tape and play records backwards and hope to be hailed as a modern genius for our times.

    I have a record of 4'33" and I heard it performed one time by an extremely good pianist. At first, the tension is palpable. Soon it become almost unbearable. By the time it's over, nerves are frayed and everybody is pretty much on edge. 4 minutes and 33 seconds is the cut-off----------------------to go much more than that is asking for trouble.

    I think it's interesting that over the years the John Cage Estate has brought several lawsuits against composers and even rock bands who incorporate silence in their music. In at least one case, the composer had to pay out a couple hundred thousand dollars for his minute of silence. I'm not sure what to think about that.


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