Listen & Do: John Cage’s 4’33”

Here are two performances of John Cage’s iconic 4’33”. The piece, of course, challenges the notion of what a “performance” is and who the performers are. The silence forces you to be more aware of the sound around you, your fellow audience. Coughs are part of the music. Rustling programs are part of the music.

The first video is a “live” performance of the piece in the concert hall. The video takes you inside the space of a live performance and focuses on the pianist. Watch this video all the way through and pay attention to what you listen for, what you pay attention to.

This second video is a “virtual” performance of 4’33” The title flashes up, but other than that the screen is black. Your computer, in effect, is “performing” the piece. Listen to this version all the way through, then scroll down for some questions.

Does this experience differ from the experience of watching the pianist in the first video? The sound you’re listening to in the second performance is the sound wherever you happen to be listening to it. That’s also true in the first performance, but the video is also capturing the sound of the audience in the hall. So how does that change how you listen, what you hear? Why does Cage need a formal “performer” at all for this piece? What is the role of that performer? Does this piece make you listen or pay attention differently? Does it change what your definition of what music is?

Comments

  1. I find this fascinating. The pianist is doing nothing. But because he’s there and basically on the clock, he actually focuses the performance even though he’s not doing anything. You can’t help but watch and expect something, anything. It’s like he’s in charge of the performance and we have to wait for him to lead. He actually is leading then.

    On the other hand, “listening” to the second performance I’m more present in my own space. I’m not tuned in to the virtual “performance” because it actually isn’t really leading me. (although I will admit I monitored the little progress bar at the bottom of the video to see how much time was left). This was a terrific demonstration. Thankyou!

  2. For each “performance,” the musical silence permitted the listening environment to come to the foreground so that each felt uncannily like a real performance in its respective medium. Silence is always part of music. In this case it got me questioning whether my definition of music should consider silence to be a non-sounding note or the aural space in which notes occur in time.

  3. ojaijayar says:

    I first heard this piece in a classroom setting in 1974…and from it learned to delvelop the technique of authentic listening. The ambient sounds of Libbey Bowl will give all the pieces this year an unforgettable listening experience.