Happy Birthday, John Cage

September 5, 2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

Composer, philospher, poet, artist John Cage was born on this day in 1912. This video was made last winter, during The Art of Participation exhibition, when we were treated to daily noontime performances (usually with staff performers) of Cage’s seminal work 4’33″. Thanks to Tammy Fortin as always for fantastic video gesture.

4’33″ (1952) is a composition of silence lasting four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Without instrumentation, the score highlights ambient sounds surrounding the performance: noises in the environment and those produced by the audience. Having decided there is no such thing as absolute silence, Cage chose to define it as the absence of intentional sound. In this he was influenced not only by avant-garde composition and Surrealism, but also by Eastern philosophy and Zen Buddhism. Indeterminacy, chance, and nonlinear progression became integral to the structure of his music. By scoring silence, Cage sought to open his listeners to divine influences, making music a process of discovery rather than one of forced communication.

—Melissa Pellico, ‘John Cage’, The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now

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