Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let's Perform a Piece of Music

You, dear blog readers, are going to perform a world famous piece of music in honor of the 54th anniversary of its first performance. Do not worry if you have little musical talent, it takes little of that but does take concentration and imagination. For an instrument, the composer indicated any and any number of instruments, the more the merrier. If you have none, your voice or a drum will do, even the kitchen sink is a possibility. The piece is short, around 4 minutes, so not much of your busy day will be taken.

You are about to perform 4'33" by John Cage. Cage was an American composer (1912-1992) who revolutionized how we think about and even hear music. Cage composed "chance music", music where some elements are left to be decided by chance. For example in one piece he instructs the performer to toss the loose manuscript in the air and play the pages as they are picked up. He is also well known for his non-traditional use of musical instruments, most famously the "prepared piano" a standard grand that has nuts, bolts, strips of paper and wood attached to the strings, creating unusual percussive effects. His works were always controversial, but he is generally regarded as one of the most important composers of our time.

Ready to start?

Pick up your instrument, sit at the piano, or whatever is necessary to play your instrument. The piece is in 3 separate movements and there is a brief pause between them. It is suggested you get a stop watch or watch the clock closely as the timing must be exactly 4'33", the tempo should not vary discernably from that. If you are playing the piece for a paying audience, please be fully aware that in doing so, you are obligated to pay the publisher any royalties due. I recommend a private performance.

If you are playing an instrument, touch it but do not make a sound. The first movement is short around 1'20". Pause briefly between the movements, and then begin the longer second movement, around 2'5". Again a very brief pause before the last movement of around 1'8".

4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence. A performer(s) not playing a single note, nor making a deliberate sound. The music of silence, of chance sound, the rhythm of street noise, the pulse of a mechanical object perhaps, people stirring, hearing the blood flow in your ear. Wind...rain...nothing.

You have made music, you have changed your perception of music and sound. John Cage would have been proud of you.

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