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4′33″John Cage’s Twentieth Century Composition
4′33″ (pronounced "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds" or just "Four thirty-three"1) is a three movement composition2and3 by American experimental composer John Cage (1912–1992). It was composed in 1952, for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece purports to consist of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence". The title of the piece refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of a given performance, 4′33″ being the total length of the first public performance.
The first time Cage mentioned the idea of a piece composed entirely of silence was during a 1947 (or 1948) lecture at Vassar College, A Composers Confessions. Cage told the audience that he had "several new desires", one of which wasto compose a piece of uninterrupted silence and sell it to Muzak ko. It will be three or four-and-a-half minutes long—those being the standard lengths of "canned" music and its title will be Silent Prayer. It will open with a single idea which I will attempt to make as seductive as the color and shape and fragrance of a flower. The ending will approach imperceptibility.
At the time, however, Cage felt that such a piece would be "incomprehensible in the Western context," and was reluctant to write it down: "I didnt wish it to appear, even to me, as something easy to do or as a joke. I wanted to mean it utterly and be able to live with it."[12]Painter Alfred Leslie recalls Cage presenting a "one-minute-of-silence talk" in front of a window during the late 1940s, while visiting Studio 35 at New York University.
In 1951, Cage visited the anechy chamber at Harvard University An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. Such a chamber is also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, "I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.
Reference
Gann, Kyle. No Such Thing As Silence: John Cages 433". New Haven [Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010. Internet resource.