Monday, January 03, 2011

Sound Quote: No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33"

Inspiration is everywhere, if you're listening for it. The 4'33" phenomenon effectively blew the doors off the established perception of modern composition. The roots and methods are discussed at length in No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" by Kyle Gann, but I was sturck by several passages that seemed to ring for me...with a bit of a nod towards the current practice of game audio.
Printed as the opening of his 1961 book Silence, it would become on of the most famous manifestos. The text, in typically innovative fashion, intertwines two parallel arguments. One in Capitol letters read:
I believe the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard...whereas, in the past, the point of disagreement has been between dissonance and consonance. It will be in the immediate future between noise and so-called musical sounds.
The other text opens:
Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at 50 miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain. We want to capture and control these sounds, every film studio has a "library of sounds" recorded on film. With a film phonograph it is now possible to control the amplitude and frequency of any one of these sounds and to give to it rhythms within or beyond the reach of imagination. Given four film phonographs, we can compose and perform a quartet for explosive mortor, wind, heartbeat, and landslide.
-Cage, "The Future of Music: Credo," in Silence pp. 3-4 
This last text sounds a lot like what we do in interactive audio. The dynamic arrangement of controlled  sounds based on a set of rules that govern their playback. In fact, I think I heard the quartet he mentions in the latest installment of Battlefield Bad Company.

Additionally, this oft qouted passage nailed it on the head when it comes to short loops of musical repition:
"In Zen the say: If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it's not boring at all but very interesting." - Cage Silence pp.93
In an 1982 Interview, Cage sums up the the legacy of 4'33":
Well, I use it (4'33") constantly in my life experience. No day goes by without my making use of that piece in my life and in my work. I listen to is everyday...I don't sit down to do it; I turn my attention tward it. I realize that it's going on continuously. So, more and more, my attention, as now, is on it. More than anything else, it's the source of my enjoyment of life."
My interest was recently peeked by the Cage Against the Machine project. After willingly subjecting myself to the best of holiday music at the end of the year, what I wouldn't give for a bit of about you?

Great book, inspirational, and well paced.


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