The sound of silence

Today, the BBC will be “broadcasting” a “performance” of John Cage’s 4’33”. Sorry for the abundance of scare quotes, but in this case they are entirely appropriate.
Craig Ceely of The Anger of Compassion gives this fraud and the fraudster who wrote it the contempt they so richly deserve.



  1. Alan K. Henderson

    I’ve hard about Cage’s compositions that involve actual playing of instruments. His composition-by-penning-random-notes method was so horrid that, as documented by Francis Schaeffer in one of his books, once after a performance he was hissed at by the orchestra he had conducted. 4’33” sounds like an improvement.

  2. dog

    That’s a bit harsh.
    Cage composed a great deal of music. Yes, some of it was strange, unplayable, or even not played.
    What’s missing in your comments, I think, is an appreciation of the context in which Cage lived and worked. At one time, there was indeed an Avant-garde, something that seems incomprehensible, even laughable, in our Internet-connected, post-Post-Modern world.
    Even in the last mid-century, the transmission of ideas and concepts took considerable time, more so for these ideas to be integrated or to have any impact or influence on different societies and disciplines. Hence, those that wished to shape or challenge convention still relied upon extremes of example to make their point.
    Cage was a vital thinker about music, reference, ideas, and communication. The notion that the pauses between notes, and the ways in which they are to be listened to, and how pauses shape sound, both in phrasing and of individual notes, was taken to an illogical extreme in 4’33.” But the ideas behind the piece, were in fact, profound.
    Sadly, if not predictably, it is the sensational that is celebrated, not the substantive, as is the case here.

  3. dog

    Cage was also a writer. His writing was as influential as his musical compositions (more so)?
    And to be clear, the above interpretation of 4’33” is my own, distilled from my own experience and study of Cage, and are not suggested to be those of the composer.
    Yes, it is easy to dismiss 4’33” today, but when it was introduced, it was a sensation, notorious, shocking, hilarious, and bold.
    Read and listen to Cage’s work, I think you will find it fascinating.

  4. Joe

    Theyre also going to be broadcasting these loving little gems:
    an online series about america as empire (even the promos are patently bised)
    a dramatic rendition of the story of an american youngster who finds his family cross-country vacation so lame because of all the dim-witted americans they meet.
    so charming.
    Penis envy? did someone say penis envy?

  5. Mike H.

    “But the ideas behind the piece,were in fact, profound.”
    I will submit, that any piece that has to be explained in advance of the performance, will not be considered classical. The esoteric is strictly that, it’s not known outside of the composers circle.
    Oh well back to the Grand ol’ Opery

  6. MeTooThen

    Yes, you are correct.
    The piece in question is quite esoteric.
    But no, it was not, and is not classical. Cage worked in the realm of the avant-garde.
    Rather, 4’33” was extravagant nonsense. This was my point. Cage’s oeuvre was much more than this.
    The irony is that the sensational only is celebrated today, and not Cage’s thoughtful and complex works.