The silent piece, from stopwatch to inner clock

Through no effort of my own, the manuscript of Cage’s 1990 version of 4′ 33″ for The Whistlebinkies wound up in my email inbox. It made the piece much more real to me and I got very interested in it again. I started having new ideas about it, and, with score in hand, more confidently thought of it as the fifth silent piece.

Memories and Imitations

I spent a recent Saturday morning chatting with Laura Kuhn of the John Cage Trust, a conversation now available online in the latest episode of her program “All Things Cage” for WGXC.

One silent piece or four?

Silent prayer, 4′ 33″, 0′ 00″, One3: are these evolving manifestations of the same work, or are they four distinctly different works? Should we speak of John Cage’s silent piece, or John Cage’s silent pieces?

Silence changed: One3

Unwilling to perform 4′ 33″ for a concert in Japan in 1989, John Cage created a new silent piece: One3. Dark and frightening, it confounds our expectations.

The silent piece, rebooted: 0′ 00″

In 1962, to effectively present his understanding of silence to audiences, Cage wrote a new silent piece and called it 0’ 00” (4’ 33” No. 2). it is a celebration of silence in all the ways that were most meaningful to Cage and which had been missed in the concert performances of 4’ 33”.

Did John Cage regret writing 4′ 33″?

While 4’ 33” is seen as a daring creation that changed music, Cage himself can be seen as its somewhat reluctant creator. Rather than embrace and promote it as the key piece in his oeuvre, Cage seems to have distanced himself from it. By turning his back on it, was he trying in some way to make it just go away? Did John Cage regret writing 4′ 33″?

The composition of 4′ 33″

So how, exactly, did John Cage write 4’ 33”? This may seem like a silly question. But for Cage in 1952, process was very important. In this post, I look at the various possibilities for the composition of 4′ 33″.

Robert Rauschenberg with white painting

The origin of 4′ 33″

The second of Cage’s silent pieces is the one that everybody has heard of: 4′ 33″. First, I will take up the question of “why now?”: Why did Cage write a silent piece in 1952 after having first thought of it at least four years earlier?