This composition is a legend that is often quoted but hardly ever presented in its entirety. For the point is not merely that we now hear the noises of the concert hall as opposed to those of the instrument, as so often simple-mindedly explained – most recently by Douglas Kahn in his book Noise, water, Meat. A History of Sound in the Arts, which focuses primarily on the twentieth century. No, this work by Cage has three movements, just like a proper concerto. Of that we can easily convince ourselves simply by buying the score, which is still to be had for just a few euros. Cage writes in his introductory remarks that at the work’s premiere in 1952 the pianist indicated the three movements by opening and closing the piano lid. He can also put his fingers to the keys but then not start playing. The idea is therefore not that we hear exclusively noises in the short span of time – less than five minutes – but also that we continue to see, that we remain in the image of the concert hall, that we continue to watch the instrumentalist, who has not been eliminated. Though the demarcation of and division into three musical movements, corporeality is staged – the corporeality of the interpreter and of the instrument. The piano lid opens opens, or the hands stop… The instrument is affected. Three whole times, it becomes the producer of possible sound. We remain in the picture, [and] concentrate our perception…
- Schulz, B., & Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. (2002). Resonanzen: Aspekte der Klangkunst = Resonances : aspects of sound art. Heidelberg: Kehrer., In the essay: Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, and an art history of noise
The “image of the concert hall” haunts what 4’33″ tries to accomplish, it is an inherent limitation on the kinds of sounds that the audience can listen to! Because of this choice, Cage’s compositional ego will always be involved in the performance, pulling the audience towards himself, what his writings constantly condescend.
Let us say in life: No earthquakes are permissible. What happens then?
- Cage, J. (1961). Silence: Lectures and writings. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press. (133)
Unfortunately, European thinking has brought it about that actual things that happen such as suddenly listening or suddenly sneezing are not considered profound.
- Cage, J. (1961). Silence: Lectures and writings. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press. (166)
Does profundity equate to art? What about the other way around?