Happy 100th Birthday to John Cage, Who Made a Lot of People Angry

Sixty years ago, John Cage put on a performance of a piece called 4‘33” or “four minutes, thirty-three seconds.” Today would have been his birthday

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Exactly 100 years ago, the composer John Cage was born. Forty years after that, Cage put on a performance of a piece called 4’33″ or “four minutes, thirty-three seconds.” Here’s what the score looks like.

Yep, nothing. The piece is written for any instrument, and that musician is instructed to not play anything for all three movements of the composition.

Needless to say, the first audience Cage unleashed this on was, well, confused. And unhappy. Alan Rich, author of American Pioneers: Ives to Cage and Beyond wrote:

The audience was taken aback. It was accustomed to shock at Cage events, but of a more aggressive kind; many people took the new work as an insult to their expectations. “Good people of Woodstock,” an artist in the audience stood and exclaimed, “let’s drive these people out of town.”

John Cage reacted to their reactions saying:

They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.

Today, 4’33″ is known as one of the most iconic experimental pieces of music from the 1950′s. People all over the world play it, even people in Second Life.

4' 33"

For huge (but not nearly exhaustive) list of videos of people performing 4’33″ check here.

More from Smithsonian.com:

A Tribute to John Cage
Meet Phillip Glass

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