If the Auto Has No Tune, Does It Make a Sound?
December 30, 2014 6:07 PM   Subscribe

 
Way more interesting than you'd think.
Also, I love the fact that 4' 33" has *three movements*, something I only learned recently.
posted by uosuaq at 6:12 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sort of tickled by the fact that the movements are in different keys.
posted by pjern at 6:18 PM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


I remember reading at some point that the premiere performance was in fact artificially enhanced: that Cage was worried the audience wouldn't fidget enough, so he put recordings of coughs, rustlings, etc out in the seats.

But Google does not suggest any evidence for this memory, sadly.
posted by PMdixon at 6:30 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, I love the fact that 4' 33" has *three movements*, something I only learned recently.

I think the piano lid is also supposed to be opened (and then closed again) between movements.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:59 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


this needs a really badass like, cut up clips of VHS tapes accompaniment. like blurry, tracking errored clips of old horror movies or something.
posted by emptythought at 7:09 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another one of those fun artworks where I say to myself "I could have done that," and then give myself the instant retort, "Yes, but you didn't." I love this sort of thing.
posted by chimaera at 7:24 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


I like how there are numerous other covers of 4'33" suggested by YouTube (for example, Infestation), largely performed in studios or bedrooms, thus entirely missing any incidental or audience sounds and thus the point of the piece.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:55 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


it really finds itself at about the 1:20 point, except (and this is a big except) it's rather ambiguous as to when it actually begins what with title cards etc and the overall posted 5:12 running time. What are they trying to pull here anyway?
posted by philip-random at 7:56 PM on December 30, 2014


This is so close to my master's thesis it's uncanny.
posted by aloiv2 at 8:22 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the piano lid is also supposed to be opened (and then closed again) between movements.

Oh...I've only played it on guitar. I could do something with the volume knob, I guess.
posted by uosuaq at 9:13 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


copyright 2011 Matthew Reid

*IP lawyer's head explodes*
posted by sylvanshine at 9:21 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


aloiv2, please tell us more about your master's thesis.
posted by moonmilk at 9:23 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm actually infringing on 4'33"'s copyright right now! Don't tell any one!

(I do absolutely respect the piece don't take this as malicious in any way)
posted by Carillon at 11:10 PM on December 30, 2014


Womble vs John Cage
posted by fallingbadgers at 12:56 AM on December 31, 2014


(I do absolutely respect the piece don't take this as malicious in any way)

I don't. Count me as the kid at the back shouting, "the emperor is naked!"
posted by iotic at 1:19 AM on December 31, 2014


I don't. Count me as the kid at the back shouting, "the emperor is naked!"


*Opens Google image search. Closes it immediately.*
posted by louche mustachio at 1:43 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


iotic, the piece is meant to suggest a different way of thinking about musicality, the role of the creator's intent in the artistic process, and the relationship between performer and audience. I'm not sure what clothes you think the emperor claims to be wearing. Find value in it or don't, but you're mistaken if you think someone's trying to trick you somehow.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:34 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


the piece is meant to suggest a different way of thinking about musicality,

Or to get the guy talked about. Seems to have worked.

(FWIW, French wit Alphonse Allais beat him to the punch with Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:49 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or to get the guy talked about.

He was already being talked about.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:22 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Existential Dread: I like how there are numerous other covers of 4'33" suggested by YouTube ... largely performed in studios or bedrooms, thus entirely missing any incidental or audience sounds and thus the point of the piece.

There are also scores of versions that consist of four minutes and 33 seconds of total silence, and I'd actually argue that these are the most faithful to the piece.

4'33" isn't "the sounds in a concert hall", or "the sounds in a bedroom". It's the incidental sounds that you, the listener, happen to hear in whatever space you happen to occupy for the duration of the piece.

It's an invitation to simply sit and listen calmly and attentively to your surroundings for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Cage was deeply into Zen, and much of his work reflects that.

Were I to enact a performance of 4'33" right now in my office, the performance would include: the beeping of a truck backing up somewhere nearby; the hum of the HVAC system; someone around the corner shifting papers around; doors closing on the floor below; my own slightly labored breathing (I'm still recovering from being sick); etc.

But if I were to record that, and upload it to YouTube for you to listen to, it would no longer be 4'33". Listening to a recording that someone made in a different place, at a time now past, is not the same as listening to whatever there is to be heard here and now. The piece is not any particular configuration of sound; it's the experience of being in the sonic moment for a particular duration of time.

In that sense, 4'33" is sort of...immune to being recorded. Or at least, a recording of a performance of 4'33" is something fundamentally different than actual, direct experience of it – even more so than with a traditional composition. Like the difference between taking a vacation, and looking at snapshots of that vacation afterward.

At least that's the way I've always appreciated it, and I've read a fair few books by and about Cage.

IndigoJones: Or to get the guy talked about. Seems to have worked.

You do know that Cage did a lot more than 4'33", right?

From what I know of the guy, I don't think he cared much whether people thought it was genius, a stunt, a joke, whatever. He wanted them to experience it in whatever way was honest for them. When audiences laughed at him (and they sometimes did), he was happy to make them laugh.

People get so hung up on whether or not a piece was difficult to create, or whether its creation required any particular cleverness / genius / virtuosity. It doesn't matter! 4'33" is not asking you to genuflect before the genius of John Cage. It's asking you to stop and listen to the world for a few moments, as you would listen to a piece of music. That's all.

Find value in an artwork, or don't, but I really wish people would stop approaching art like this. All this stuff about whether the artist is a genius or a huckster, or whether they deserve their place in the canon or not, or whether a piece is "worth" whatever price someone paid for it, is peripheral. That's not art; that's the stuff around art. Art is just you, a person, experiencing a thing. Just look at the painting and see whatever is there to be seen. Worry about all the critical stuff around the painting later if you must, but if you don't begin by simply looking at the painting, you're missing the whole point, IMHO.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:26 AM on December 31, 2014 [22 favorites]


(I do absolutely respect the piece don't take this as malicious in any way)

I don't. Count me as the kid at the back shouting, "the emperor is naked!"


I like to think that the composition of this piece was accomplished by rolling 3d6 to determine the proper amount of time.
posted by MikeMc at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's actually entirely possible. "Chance operations" were a huge part of Cage's method – deliberately removing his own authorial intent, and leaving the form of a piece up to random happenstance.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:34 AM on December 31, 2014


escape from the potato planet: Thanks for your comment! I appreciate this work now, and have never before.
posted by el io at 1:19 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


escape from the potato planet, thanks for that perspective. I hadn't considered the piece from that view.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:30 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


thanks for that perspective. I hadn't considered the piece from that view.

you may also want to consider having your mind blown by the entirely arguable notion that Revolution 9 is by far the best thing on the Beatles' so-called White Album.

FROM THE ARCHIVES:

It's spring time, the end of Grade 7, and me and Malcolm Mills have been entrusted with the keys to the school's music room, so we can make a dance tape for the end of year party. Malcolm because he's the class's music geek. Me because Malcolm's a bit wild and maybe needs someone responsible to keep an eye on him.

Among other options, he's dragged along his big brother's copy of the Beatles White Album, intending to extract the pop hits like Back In The USSR and Doh-Blah-Dee-Doh-Blah-Duh. But we end up digging deep into all four sides, at some point wondering why there are two Revolutions listed.

The first one's slowed down and not near as cool as the roaring single version we're used to hearing on the radio. The second one is called Revolution 9 and it's … ? Well, it's not really music, is it? It's just all this crazy noise, and it just goes on and on for almost ten minutes. But then Malcolm gets it. This is the one that all the older kids have been talking about, where it says Paul's dead. Indeed, Revolution 9 is the secret track where all the Beatles mysteries are revealed.

We listen to it all the way through, certain we can decipher various clues. Then we listen to it again, louder, making sure we haven't missed anything. Then we listen a third time, VERY LOUD, which is when Mr. Walton, the Gym teacher barges in, asks us what the hell we're doing.

We never did finish that party tape.

But I did get my little head turned around in a profound way – a question mark imposed upon all manner assumptions I had as to what music actually was. Yes, it was fun for toe-tapping, dancing, singing along to, telling you when to cry at movies, and laugh. But what about other stuff?

What about noise?

Or more to the point, at what point does music become noise? When rock and roll was invented, my grandparents would've said. Yuk Yuk. So turn it around the other way. At what point does noise become music? Or even better, what happens when the two are indistinguishable? And who's making the call?
posted by philip-random at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yay!

You can find similar ideas in Imaginary Landscape No. 4, composed for twelve radios. The score simply tells each of the performers when and how to adjust the volume and tuning knobs on their radio. The content of the performance, of course, depends on when and where the performance is being held, and what's being broadcast at that moment.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:29 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of my newborns is on supplemental oxygen, and so we have an oxygen generator in our living room, which makes a rhythmic pneumatic sound in 7/4. Precisely. If I had any free time whatsoever I'd record it and make something out of it.
posted by Existential Dread at 5:08 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


"One of my newborns is on supplemental oxygen, and so we have an oxygen generator in our living room, which makes a rhythmic pneumatic sound in 7/4. Precisely. If I had any free time whatsoever I'd record it and make something out of it."

Too bad the title "Songs in the Key of Life" is taken, that would be perfect. As to 4'33" I was originally in the "emperor has no clothes" camp but I've come around. Think about it, over 50 years have passed and people are still thinking about it, discussing it, debating and analyzing it. That's gotta count for something.
posted by MikeMc at 6:42 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Existential Dread: I like how there are numerous other covers of 4'33" suggested by YouTube (for example, Infestation), largely performed in studios or bedrooms, thus entirely missing any incidental or audience sounds and thus the point of the piece.
The incidental sounds are not intended to be provided by the performer(s), so, no, they aren't missing anything.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:50 PM on December 31, 2014


Art is just you, a person, experiencing a thing.

Well yes, but then as soon as you begin talking about it, you are in the realm of things which are peripheral to the experience. And there's nothing wrong with that. We can talk about the experience of the art itself, we can talk about its place in the canon or history of art, its genre etc. we can talk about the political and social meanings we may see in the art and artist. It's not wrong that we talk about these things as well as directly experiencing the art itself. It would be wrong if we didn't.

The fact that this artwork was composed by someone who placed themselves in a specific tradition - modern western art music - gives it context. Traditionally, western art music is concerned with producing rarified forms of highly skilled music for the enjoyment of the upper classes. Modernism brought about a questioning of the principles underlying those skilled performances - so profoundly that a piece like this was possible to be created and become well known - but it's worth remembering that the context was still very much one of performers, composers and audience from a traditional upper class musical background. And none of the skill available to these people, and traditionally employed in such contexts, was employed in the performance of the work. Hence, "the emperor has no clothes".

Try to imagine 4' 33" being offered to the world by a poor non-western musician or artist, and consider how different that would have played out. Context is key.
posted by iotic at 9:13 AM on January 1, 2015


In that case, you could argue that Cage was the child shouting that the emperor has no clothes. Except I don't think that he would have agreed with that - maybe he was the child who was pointing at the little flowers growing next to a puddle on the parade route.
posted by moonmilk at 9:22 AM on January 1, 2015


The guy was apparently very talented at securing corporate sponsors for his performances. I for one wouldn't begrudge him that - but holding him up as some pure embodiment of zen seems pretty fantastical. He's clearly the weaver on the loom with invisible thread, in this story.
posted by iotic at 10:05 AM on January 1, 2015


... it's worth remembering that the context was still very much one of performers, composers and audience from a traditional upper class musical background. And none of the skill available to these people, and traditionally employed in such contexts, was employed in the performance of the work. Hence, "the emperor has no clothes".

"The emperor has no clothes" would apply if Cage had claimed to be creating "rarified forms of highly skilled music". But in all my reading, I've never known him to do that. Can you cite a case where Cage made this claim?

Yes, Cage worked in the context, or at least the proximity, of the western art music tradition. But at least part of the point of his work was to question that tradition's assumptions and values.

I mean, the Dadaists presented their work in art galleries and theaters, but you'd be a fool to evaluate their works by the same criteria as the bourgeoisie works they were responding to. (Or do you also dismiss Dada because it fails to succeed as early 20th century landscape art? Do you dismiss punk because they used the same instruments and forms as rock, but had none of the virtuosity that was normally expected of artists in that field?)

It's kind of absurd to act like you're pointing out some grand deceit by pointing to Cage's lack of skill, when Cage himself freely admitted that many of his works were composed by random chance. That was the point.

holding him up as some pure embodiment of zen

...which no one has done.

Do you know much about Cage besides 4'33"? It kind of sounds like you don't. I highly recommend Silence, a collection of his writings. I mean, if you're this determined to believe that the guy's a charlatan, it probably won't change your mind. But if you're willing to open your mind a little, you might learn to understand why his ideas have been so influential.

For that matter, are you familiar with the broader modernist avant-garde of which Cage was a part? Do you reject them too, or just Cage? If it's just Cage, what makes the difference for you?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:10 AM on January 1, 2015


escape from potato planet, I think you've got me wrong - I don't have a problem with Cage's work, and I don't mean to critique his work in general - or, indeed, 4' 33" in particular. I accept his account of it, and I feel there is real meaning there. It is the context within the development of western classical music that I would relate to the story of The Emperor's New Clothes - and I maintain the comparison is apt. The butt of that story is the Emperor, and perhaps those people only wanting to please the emperor. Not the weavers or the truth telling child.

holding him up as some pure embodiment of zen

...which no one has done.


This was a response to moonmilk's comment, which I interpreted as doing that.
posted by iotic at 11:24 AM on January 1, 2015


Hmm? No zen, just the idea of paying attention to something other than what you're expected to be noticing. And not in the service of shame, but just because it's interesting.
posted by moonmilk at 11:40 AM on January 1, 2015


Well, ok. But zen did inform Cage's work, I believe. And he was in the business of making artworks that people would notice, and be a expected to notice.

The piece is not pure silence, but whatever environmental noise happens to be occurring - and most people experience 4 minutes and 33 seconds of that, several times a day, anyway. What makes Cage's piece different is the framing - including the context. The original performer, David Tudor (a classical pianist) decided to lift the piano lid to mark the movements. It's kind of a joke, even, it seems to me, on form versus content in a classical concert - as well as, yes, an invitation to really experience that period of time and the near-silent environment. To miss the joke is to miss some of the meaning of the art. But to get the joke undermines the performance's value as art. Very zen, actually.
posted by iotic at 12:09 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


You do know that Cage did a lot more than 4'33", right?

Yes. So did Alphonse Allais. What of it? Self-promotion is an ongoing process, not a done deal. I don't hold it against Cage any more than I hold it against Madonna.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:51 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend Silence, a collection of his writings. I mean, if you're this determined to believe that the guy's a charlatan, it probably won't change your mind. But if you're willing to open your mind a little, you might learn to understand why his ideas have been so influential.

For that matter, are you familiar with the broader modernist avant-garde of which Cage was a part? Do you reject them too, or just Cage? If it's just Cage, what makes the difference for you?

Fair questions all, and I do try to be open minded. I found Silence suspiciously reader unfriendly, which either means means the author cannot be clear (possibly) or chooses not to be clear (less charitable, but possible) or I the reader am not up to complexities (surely not!). Anyway, a charlatan doesn't really believe in his shtick, Cage I'm willing to believe did, so, not a charlatan. And I actually like some of his more - standard fair, e.g. In A Landscape. It is pleasing.

You cannot, however, put forward something like 4:33 or Water Music and not expect to get push-back from the bourgeoisie. It's asking too much. (To his credit, I doubt Cage ever did ask as much). And once shock and awe becomes the expected effect, then it becomes an open question whether that was the only intended effect. (Or not. Antheil was said to be delighted when his works prompted riots. You tell me what that says about Antheil.)

I like some Satie. Don't like much Zappa. I guess one determining factor is what is intentionally jarring or ugly. I'm a glass half full kind of guy. I like to be at least entertained, and at best exalted. From note one, Bach invites the listener in and does not let up. Too much avant-garde appears to want the opposite, and gets all theoretical to justify the why of it. Which is not to say that the reader/audience cannot benefit from criticism even of Bach, but when a work requires instruction at the outset, then to my mind, it's not getting full marks on the first test.

Too much of avant garde work in all media seems determined to shock or annoy. I'm too old to be shocked, and too tired to be annoyed. If artists can't make it beautiful, well, never mind, you can find me in the garden smelling the roses and listening to the birds. (Except grackles. I hate grackles.)

(Silence, BTW, is available on archives.org.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:40 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older Good videos of live performances of weird musics.   |   46 Times Vox Fucked Up a Story Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments