Sunday, February 27, 2011


I'm doing some research on music like Beethoven's 9th performed over 24 hours, Erik Satie's Vexations, and I happened to come across this BBC Radio 4 concert performance of John Cage's 4'33":

My understanding of the original 4'3" is that, amongst other things, it was a huge prank on an audience who had paid for sound and were being confronted with silence. To a certain extent, the fun of John Cage is that the audience is not in on the joke.

So I watched this 4'33" with interest, to see if it would hold up in a very different scenario where it was basically performed by an audience full of people who are probably mostly in on the joke.

What results, in my opinion, is a wholly different piece -- a satire of the modern orchestra. I direct your attention to 2:44, where the first movement ends. Notice the huge release of tension -- it suddenly becomes apparent how much work classical music is, even when there is no music. The coughing, the shifting, the permission to laugh, all of it comes out in that brief moment between movements when whatever iron-clad dictatorship of the orchestra eases.

And then, utter silence again, until 5:20, when the next movement draws to a close.

And watch at 6:30 when the conductor signals that the piece is done. Obviously no one has any idea when the piece is "done." They wait until they're told to clap, and then the go crazy.