Searching for Silence: John Cage’s art of noise. By Alex Ross


amazon: Silence

“On August 29, 1952, David Tudor walked onto the stage of the Maverick Concert Hall, near Woodstock, New York, sat down at the piano, and, for four and a half minutes, made no sound. He was performing ‘4’33”,’ a conceptual work by John Cage. It has been called the ‘silent piece,’ but its purpose is to make people listen. ‘There’s no such thing as silence,’ Cage said, recalling the première. ‘You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.’ Indeed, some listeners didn’t care for the experiment, although they saved their loudest protests for the question-and-answer session afterward. Someone reportedly hollered, ‘Good people of Woodstock, let’s drive these people out of town!’ Even Cage’s mother had her doubts. At a subsequent performance, she asked the composer Earle Brown, ‘Now, Earle, don’t you think that John has gone too far this time?’ This past July, the pianist Pedja Muzijevic included ‘4’33” ‘ in a recital at Maverick, which is in a patch of woods a couple of miles outside Woodstock. I went up for the day, wanting to experience the piece in its native habitat. The hall, made primarily of oak and pine, is rough-hewn and barnlike. On pleasant summer evenings, the doors are left open, so that patrons can listen from benches outside. Muzijevic, mindful of the natural setting, chose not to use a mechanical timepiece; instead, he counted off the seconds in his head. Technology intruded all the same, in the form of a car stereo from somewhere nearby. A solitary bird in the trees struggled to compete with the thumping bass. After a couple of minutes, the stereo receded. There was no wind and no rain. The audience stayed perfectly still. For about a minute, we sat in deep, full silence. … On a simpler level, Cage had an itch to try new things. What would happen if you sat at a piano and did nothing? If you chose among an array of musical possibilities by flipping a coin and consulting the I Ching? If you made music from junk-yard percussion, squads of radios, the scratching of pens, an amplified cactus? If you wrote music for dance—Merce Cunningham was Cage’s longtime partner—in which dance and music went their separate ways? …”
New Yorker (September 27, 2010)


Cage preparing a piano, in 1947.

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1 Response to Searching for Silence: John Cage’s art of noise. By Alex Ross

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