John Cage Question - 4'33"


Hey Bachido!

Today I got into a heated debate about the piece 4’33", read Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds, with a friend of mine. As a community of musicians, I was wondering your personal opinions on this piece. I do not seek to start a fight. I simply wish to hear your views on the piece.

If you have never heard of the piece here is the wiki for it and one recording.


i bet u nobody did it on shamisen yet!! i like the piece, makes u listen…


mmmh … well at least he was kind enough not to hit the strings with a hammer and a knife so our eardrums don’t bleed :smiley: !


Heated debate? Haha!

Let me put it this way. I’m happy there is fast forward. I realized what it was all about after a couple of seconds…

I read the wiki afterwards and it stated what I was anticipating about the meaning of it all.

Obviously there is no song, no melodies. It’s just awareness of sound. That is important for musicians, but you can’t compare music and this in my opinion since they are two different things.

I would love to know how your discussion could get heated :slight_smile:


Well Karl, without going into the brunt of it, let’s just say she would agree with you and I wouldn’t. That is how it got heated.

Unfortunately I don’t have the musical vocabulary or my position thought out enough to cohesively state my point. I know what I feel and some of how I can speak of it, but beyond that it just comes down to, “I’m sorry, but I disagree.”


Lol, I bet you are right Sid! If I had one I would, but since I don’t you should totally record yourself rocking it for us! :stuck_out_tongue:


Well since you are asking us for our opinions I will give you mine.
Personally I dislike this performance. I much prefer the BBC Symphony orchestra performing this work .


Well Karl, silence in music is one of the most important part of a composition i think, this is what actually makes the song breathe, but 4.33 minutes of silence , is the same as some terrible dark metal song where there is absolutely no changes and not a bit of silence.


Lol, yes Kevin! I watched this earlier today!!! The british presenters crack me up!! They are just sooooooooo serious about the whole affair. I am serious about the piece and see it as a great crossing of zen, music, and sound studies, but come on, It is people paying to sit in silence!


Florian, while I agree with you in part. The reason for the piece’s existence is to point out the fact that what we often call silence is actually full of sound.


yes but everybody was aware of that fact way before John Cage told us ?


I sure would hope so. It seems to me that a lot of people have become disconnected from the information that that “background noise” can provide though and so write it off as unimportant and thus call it silence and try and constantly mask it.


I’ll include for you the reason why I prefer the symphonic performance as opposed to the solo piano. It’s really simple actually. I don’t like the opening and closing of the lid and I further dislike the click of the timer. I am not sure if that is what Cage wrote into his score but to me I think it kinda ruins it. The symphony version on the other hand seems to really embrace the silence. Strange to say it felt exciting to me. I also felt that although I wasn’t in the actual room I could feel what they were talking about when they said you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I like the tension that is built. The anticipation…only to have it revealed that what you are in anticipation of is the very thing that you have been surrounded by the whole time. Silence… But more than that, awareness. The awareness of the electricity in the room. The breath and presence of those surrounding you. The presence of yourself. Within this composition lies the music only heard from the inside out. The sheer brilliance of it is astonishing if you think of it like that. If taken in with deep consideration this piece could potentially produce a moment of enlightenment.

Where does music come from? From within or without? All our lives we are taught one paradigm. One way! That to go to a concert is to let down our gaurd and open up our ears to sounds predetermined by someone else. But has this not been just one way to think about music? The formality of going to a concert alone produces the state of mind that anticipates an enlightening experience. For all of modern history we have given away our own mind to someone else’s experience and have gone home thinking we got to share the musical mind of Mozart, or Beethoven or Messaien or Bartok (whoever!) But here for the first time we are asked to consider where music really comes from. Is it not our own mind creating that music through interpretations of sound waves that only seem to come from without? If so than what is a concert if not the celebration of our own mind’s ability to generate meaning out of abstraction? And if this is the case what wonders might we find if we try, for one moment to switch the gears of the experience completely?

To me this piece makes a Very profound point. Its much deeper than simply to say That even within silence there is music. But of course every person is free to think differently about it. I think there is point to this composition that can be gotten or not and if you don’t get it, there is no point trying to get it. Like trying to laugh at a joke that has to be explained. This is pretty close to trying to explain a DMT experience to someone who has never had it. It’s literally impossible to explain with words…


I don’t mean to respond to every post in this thread, I am just very much happy to have a group of people to talk about this with. If I get annoying just let me know, haha, but seriously.

Kevin I agree with you whole heartedly. When the Buddha achieved enlightenment he sat for 7 days in silence until the gods came to him and asked him if he was going to speak or not. He struggled for 7 days with whether or not he should speak. He knew that enlightenment is not something you can give to another person, not something you can express with words, but merely something you can show others the path to and hope they find it.

I think Cage had to put this idea into a concert hall so that people would be able, according to our western ways of thinking, to listen. But I feel this is also a hindrance to many peoples understanding of it. I wish it was more often performed in various settings so that people can see more easily the point of the piece, without associating it with being just a bunch of people shuffling and coughing, be led to those thoughts which you have expressed and potentially glimpse the ineffable for themselves.

I look at 4’33" as a portrayal of the fact that so many variables had to converge at this point in time to make the present moment possible. I see in this a sense of awe that existence exists. It honestly inspires me to want to study literally everything. To know the way the world works and came to be. For me this is the beauty of the piece, the fact that I exist and am able to participate in this sensorium, as you said Kevin, awareness.


So if you are there and watch this experience (I won’t call it a composition because quite frankly it’s an experiment where you don’t control the outcome), do you think that the audience is sitting there and realizing that music is one-way and that we can all create music ourselves?

I for one already know that and everyone who like to point out that a melody is great, in contrast to saying that they love the song overall, has in my experience showed signs of improvising with their “dililidudulil” when showing that they are thinking about the song. That is to make music on your own. I don’t believe we need a video like this to realize what you are saying Kevin. I’m not saying it can’t help people with that though.

@Florian: Indubitably, if the silence has sound before and after it is simply a long interval between the sound and music is simply intervals. As you say, it can’t be too long because then you lose its worth imo.

I don’t mean to start the same heated debate as Brian had. I’m just challenging the statement that this is something special at all. The fact that it made its way to be performed by several symphony orchestras is a proof that some people do agree with you though, can’t argue with that.

I also just remembered that I’ve seen this before sometime in school way back.


Yes yes. Very interesting stuff.
Well here’s something to consider…when I was in college something very much like this happened. A debate over what the hell is up with Cage’s 4:33 in the first place. I kinda think that its very likely that this same debate has been echoed countless times both verbally and on Internet forums all over the universe.
So then here’s the question again…
What is music? In a sense it is energy. Moving energy. Thought translated into sound…sound translated into thought. Tension. Resolution. Dissonance , tranquility…conflict etc.

Could it be that by engaging in this debate we ourselves are becoming the composition of 4:33? Perhaps the fact that people see this piece in different ways and get into different view points is in a sense John Cage’s brilliant new re- interpretation of what it means to be a composer. What is a composer but one who puts something out into the world that later generates vibrations, thoughts, emotions and tension/release etc.?

Could it be possible that the silence of 4:33 is only there to function as a prelude to the actual movement of energy that comes after?
Could it be that we ourselves have become a new version of the melodies, cadences and progressions that were once expressed through little black dots on paper?

Of course I don’t know what the hell I am talking about and as I said before everyone will have their own take on this and that is probably just as it should be.
It is interesting though that by reacting to this piece everyone so far has revealed some of the basic psychology that makes up who they are. I have a hunch that is yet another function to this piece .
Brian has revealed something about himself by bringing it up in the first place. Sid , Karl and Florian all expose something about the inner framework of their minds and personalities by how they react.

It’s interesting! You gotta admit!
As for me,I seem to be resonating closest to Brian’s perspective. That there is something going on here that has to be understood from a different mind completely.

When something is presented and a group of People react with astonishment and another group is more astonished that that the first group sees anything in it to begin with always points to something that lies outside of the field of rational thought and understanding . This is how the debate begins. Someone says “what the hell? This is plain stupid!” at the same time someone else is saying “My God! I get it! This is brilliant!”
Both interpretations are 100% accurate in terms of expressing the exact resonance of each individual brain/mind unit.

For me this piece is about opening up to a new awareness. To get there however one cannot think about what this piece is. Is it just some weirdos stupid experiment? Does it have any value? What’s the point? All these questions have to be silenced. Once that silence is reached a switch will overturn inside our minds. Suddenly a new series of questions enter the picture. This inevitably leads to another switch and another batch of questions each resonating on a different plane of reality.
If taken all the way to its end one eventually reaches a point where all questions have been exhausted and all that’s left is the felt presence of the reality of the moment. This is the moment when this Peice suddenly becomes the most exciting Peice of music you’ll ever experience! It is within this felt presence of the utter astonishment of the moment that the deepest meaning of 4:33 can be given license to reveal itself to you, the listener…although by that point you begin to recognize that you are not and never have been simply “the listener” but rather an intimate part of the music of which you thought you were simply observing ! Once the revelation hits home that you have always been an intimate part of a Beethoven symphony and not something separate from it, a whole new perspective of music and life begins to unfold. This is what people mean when they say “I get it!” to 4:33!

Cheers everyone! Ahahahahahahahahaha!


And it is this kind of imagined purpose out of nothing that created the belief in divinities.

I see your point Kevin and it is easy to say that we who do not say “i get it!” might not have opened our minds. In exactly the same way I say you might have imagined too much out of nothing.

The only beneficial outcome of this discussion is up to each individual. There will never be a right or wrong answer.

Seems that the whole purpose of it was to make people aware of what they call “silence” is. Time to stop imagining more deep meanings. Watch out, it could lead to new religions!


Wow! I love your response. Exactly spot on! The very reason there are heated debates on this in the first place is that there is no right or wrong answer. In fact there is no answer period. So to debate this could go on forever literally !
I love the words “the imagined purpose out of nothing is what created the belief in divinities!” Very very interesting notion.
And it is true in a sense that I have imagined too much out of nothing but on the other hand I also see THAT as being part of the point as well.

Have you or anyone out there ever taken the time to listen to Terrance McKenna ? I mean really listen? He’s clearly off his rocker as Eric J. Has described in the past but he also brings up many notions of ideas which relate to this discussion both directly and indirectly. It’s easy to miss his point when listening to one of his lectures as he tends to advocate the Psychedelic experience and filters most of his concepts through that but I think in a very real sense the thing that separates peoples view on John Cage’s 4:33 is the Psychedelic essence of it.

The Psychedelic experience when used with respect and wisdom and as an exploration of the soul and infinity can be described as something like what happens in the film the Matrix. Except, the other way around. A spirit appears to you in the form of the plant you have injested and guides you on a journey which requires the relinquishing of your ego and separate consciousness (your personality, opinions and to a degree your memories of who you are) once the slate is wiped clean your consciousness is literally catapulted into the most startling series of revelations. Probably the only comprehensible way to describe it is to imagine you have spent your whole entire life in front of a TV set tuned to one channel… A rather blurry and unimpressive channel at that, and then suddenly one day you are handed a remote to play with and are suddenly aware of the exsitance of an infinite number of channels. Each one filled with so much richness and Astonishment that it blows you away to think that this morphogenetic field of infinite vision has always been here the whole time. The machinery of time itself can be witnessed and observed, the face of God is revealed to be our own face once the ego, and separate personality are gone and each new revelation is more utterly shocking than the last.

When one returns from a serious, deep and transformative experience such as that it becomes absolutely impossible to describe it to anyone who has not shared in the same kind of pycho-exploration. Trying to explain it in words is utterly futile and most resort to simple cliche phrases such as “OH MY GOD!” or “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?” or “THAT WAS A TRIP!”

People on the outside will judge the enthusiastic psychonaut as simply having taken a “drug” and dismiss all claims of having seen and touched the essence of God and life as being as some kind of silly chemical reaction going on inside your brain.
But those of us who have been there know that there really is a morphogenetic field of infinite dimensions of which our 3 dimensional exsitance is only one tiny tiny little slice.

In my opinion the deepest understanding and appreciation for 4:33 can not even be experienced within the limits of 3D reality. It is because the experience offers us a free ride straight into the essence of a mystery so profound that even notes themselves become meaningless to the music.
Once again to try to analyse John Cage’s work here with the ego/mind only leads to questions and puzzlement. It’s only when ones mind can brush past the ego to swim in the halls of infinite imagination that 4:33 becomes perceivable as something beyond a stupid joke by an eccentric old weirdo who calls himself a composer for laughs!


uau kevin… i kinda lost you there, gotta read it again!!!


i think 4’33 is not enough, i reckon everybody should listen at least an hour everyday, just sit or walk or whatever, its great…i recommend it…try not to think and switch on by just observing and listening and watching stuff… (switch on, rather than switch off)