Jules van Schaijik

“The emperor’s new clothes” put to music!

May. 11, 2010, at 1:27pm

Check out this hilarious performance of John Cage’s (in)famous composition, 4′33″ (pronounced Four minutes, thirty-three seconds), and then ask yourself:  How is it possible?  How can we, human persons, made in the image and likeness of God, be such fools?

Mark • May 11, 2010 - 12:45 pm

But Jules,

This is music. It’s entirely composed of rests. Rests are part of music just as quarter notes, whole notes, etc.  Silence is part of music . . .

Or so someone wrote in the comment section to the YouTube video.

Personally, I’d rather listen to 4’33” then to some of the post-modern compositions featuring various noises, dissonances and the utter lack of structure (preferring silence over noise).  Neither event, however, should require a $75 ticket price.


Jules van Schaijik • May 11, 2010 - 2:36 pm

The funny thing is that according to Cage himself, there is no such thing as silence.  It’s all about the surrounding noises; the role of the orchestra is simply not to interfere.

Unfortunately, they still don’t get it here in Philadelphia.  At a recent performance of La Traviata, the orchestra and singers were so loud that I could hardly hear what the people behind me were whispering.  Very annoying.

Jules van Schaijik • May 11, 2010 - 2:55 pm

I’m glad you read some of the comments under this video.  Some of them really had me in stitches last night.  One of my favorites was by EagleOnTheRhine:

My favorite part of this peice is at about 2:10 where the silence really intensifies.
I think John Cage did an incredible job of combinding the quietness of the strings and the muteness of the woodwinds.
I’ve been working on learning to play this, but I keep bursting into song at about 4:11. Almost there.

Mark • May 11, 2010 - 3:39 pm

Yes—many funny comments.  You have the vitriolic defenders of Cage, raging against us know-nothings and waxing intellectual about the philosophic implications of Cage’s stunning innovation.  And you have the jokesters, inquiring about where they might obtain the digital download version, or the techno remix.

Me, I just think it’s funny that the piece has three movements.

Scott Johnston • May 14, 2010 - 4:32 am

Ironic that we have this in an age when silence is less a part of ordinary life, and less appreciated.

Perhaps, in a society that no longer knows how to listen for God in the stillness, this is one way post-modern cultural elites can be convinced to take silence seriously. Make them pay for it and pretend it is really special and important because a famous artist gives them permission to take note.

On the face of it, it is funny because of the absurdity of it. But, I also thought as I watched it, that there is a kernel of truth beneath the absurdity that Cage, the musicians, and the audience, at least on some level, recognize—that silence is important for a flourishing life, and that it should be taken seriously. It’s just that the way they attempt to do so is so hyper-exaggerated and wrongly contextualized it becomes silly.

This is what happens when we no longer recognize the value of what, for example, happens in traditional monastic life with its built-in structures of communal silence. We still realize somehow that communal, organized silence is a good, but we no longer have an idea of where it properly belongs, or from where to derive inspiration for how to embrace silence fruitfully.

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