Eric J Oswald

Images ~ Music ~ Poetry

*Tracks 7-9 intentionally have no music. For explanation see below.


John Cage’s 4’33”

Tracks 7-9 are a performance of 4’33” (4 minutes 33 seconds) composed by John Cage and arranged for solo piano. This piece is made up of 3 movements, all of which consist solely of rests (pauses in music) so that no notes are played. When I first “heard” this piece I thought it was a funny joke (There is even an arrangement of this for full orchestra that you can see here). As I listened to multiple performances of it I began to understand the importance of what Cage was doing.

Most people refer to this piece as being 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. This is not the case. While no notes are played during the piece, it is not silent. The listener is encouraged (even forced) to be still in his environment. There is no television, no radio, no facebook, no twitter, no youtube. For the duration of the piece the listener is provided with the ambient sounds in the room and those that can be heard from outside of it. It is these sounds that make up the piece, and in this way every performance of it is completely different. For 4 minutes and 33 seconds the listener is encouraged to just BE.

Powerful and impactful art is art that brings about a palpable emotional response in the viewer/listener. When this is performed live, especially for people unfamiliar with it, it creates a strong sense of discomfort and foreboding that after a while turns to acceptance and hopefully some insight into what it is like to experience no preplanned aural input for an extended period.

Whether you are listening to 4’33” in a room or on a mobile device outdoors, keep in mind that the sounds you hear around you – of people, of nature, of machines, of yourself – are all part of this piece.

>> <<