…of a different sort. “The Sounds of Silence” is the headline of a Wall Street Journal review of a piece of “music” that was “composed” by John Cage. And no, nor WSJ nor Cage were playing off a Simon & Garfunkle song.

Cage’s contribution to a 1952 open-air concert was a four minute and thirty-three second bit of silence in three movements not played on a piano. The pianist sat—silently—on his bench in front of the array of keys and indicated the end of each movement by closing the keyboard lid, subsequently indicating the beginning of the next movement, after the designated period of quiet, by reopening the lid. As the reviewer put it,

All the rest was stillness; throughout the performance he didn’t make a sound.

Then the desperation:

But Cage’s “4’33″” is actually not about silence at all. Though most members of the audience were focused on the absence of music, there were also ambient vibrations they ignored: wind stirring outside, raindrops pattering on the tin roof—and, toward the end of the performance, the listeners themselves making “all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out. Music is continuous,” the composer explained. “It is only we who turn away.”

Nature abhors a vacuum, including that of the absence of sound. Who was the more desperate here, though—the composer, or the audience? Or the WSJ with this review of a piece that premiered in 1952 and died then (at least to my plebian sensibilities)? Or me, for spending a post on this subject instead of something that matters?

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