[Adam Cuerden] 4’33”

Below, if this works right, is John Cage’s 4′ 33″, in a lavish production:

[Edit: Evidently not. Just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUJagb7hL0E – We’ll wait for you to come back.]

I’m sure there are many things that could be said in Cage’s favour. I cannot actually think of them, but I’m sure they exist. However, I myself see this performance as a sign of the complete atrophy of quality control in the modern classical music scene, where pretending to like the indefensibly pretentious and awful is sufficient, and actually liking music a sign that you are hopelessly unhip.

Perhaps one could make this work. For instance, you could suddenly break into Rick Astley after three minutes, treating this with all the respect it deserves. You could announce afterwards, “Well, wasn’t that nice. I’m sure we can all feel very cultured now, now that we actually convinced ourself that something so stupid was worth putting on and paying all these highly talented men and women to be here for. Right, let’s remind these people what good music is. Pull out the Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto scores from last night’s concert.” You could break into one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s songs poking fun of pretentiousness.

Just don’t break into any more songs by John Cage.

7 replies on “[Adam Cuerden] 4’33””

  1. I have to disagree here. I found the performance alternately moving, contemplative, hilarious and uplifting. Listening to this helped me appreciate the little things in life, like a well-tuned central heating system and a kitchen tap that doesn’t drip – neither of which I have right now. I’d have loved to witness this at the Barbican.

    The high point, though, was the conductor wiping his brow between movements. I just love watching musicians who are clearly pushing themselves to their limits.

  2. You are a person of strong opinions. So am I. And I do not agree with you in the least.

    For one, I doubt this was the only thing that was played that night. Aren’t you putting up a false choice? Either listen to Case’s work or listen to Tchaikovsky. What I see is that 4’33” is about actively listening. Is that time wasted? I don’t think so.

  3. Even if we accept much of it as performance art – and, while not my thing, I can accept it as such – I find Cage at best highly variable. Take, for instance:


    Okay, it’s performance art, perhaps, but it’s dissonant and unpleasant, and he’s very pretentious. The BBC’s introduction, talking up Cage extensively and how everyone clearly came for it – makes it go far more into the annoying slot.

  4. And before DFG criticises: I think that there is some interest in my linj, but it goes on far, far too long.

  5. “Very pretentious”? Dude, he just went up a notch in my eyes with the game show fragment. He was willing to take take his ideas to TV-land and bear the ridicule and keep his pokerface throughout that? That took some balls.

    Though I do agree that worked better as performance art than as music. It’s still fun to watch, especially now that it’s 50 years old.

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