4'33

4 minutes and 33 seconds of composed silence.

Josey Duncan | July 2008 issue

On August 29, 1952, at a concert hall in Woodstock, New York, pianist David Tudor sat down to play avant-garde American composer John Cage’s creation, 4’33’’. The piece requires the performer to stay at the piano for four minutes and 33 seconds without touching a key. “Played” in three movements, 4’33’’ is considered one of the most revolutionary compositions of modern times. What audiences hear may be the pianist turning pages of sheet music, someone succumbing to a coughing fit, or—in the case of the 1952 debut—the shuffling sounds of people walking out in disgust. Nonetheless, 4’33” lives on: in a silent song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and the lyrics of rapper MC Paul Barman, who brags in Excuse You that he “can rock the mic to ‘Silence’ by John Cage.” In case you want to play it at home, here’s the sheet music. Tacet is Latin for “silence.”
 

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