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

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

4.5 2
by Kyle Gann
     
 

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First performed at the midpoint of the twentieth century, John Cage’s 4'33", a composition conceived of without a single musical note, is among the most celebrated and ballyhooed cultural gestures in the history of modern music. A meditation on the act of listening and the nature of performance, Cage’s controversial piece became the iconic

Overview

First performed at the midpoint of the twentieth century, John Cage’s 4'33", a composition conceived of without a single musical note, is among the most celebrated and ballyhooed cultural gestures in the history of modern music. A meditation on the act of listening and the nature of performance, Cage’s controversial piece became the iconic statement of the meaning of silence in art and is a landmark work of American music.

In this book, Kyle Gann, one of the nation’s leading music critics, explains 4'33" as a unique moment in American culture and musical composition. Finding resemblances and resonances of 4'33" in artworks as wide-ranging as the paintings of the Hudson River School and the music of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, he provides much-needed cultural context for this fundamentally challenging and often misunderstood piece. Gann also explores Cage’s craft, describing in illuminating detail the musical, philosophical, and even environmental influences that informed this groundbreaking piece of music. Having performed 4'33" himself and as a composer in his own right, Gann offers the reader both an expert’s analysis and a highly personal interpretation of Cage’s most divisive work.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gann, a composer, considers Cage’s 4’33”—a performance piece in which the pianist never plays a note—from just about every possible angle, explaining how it can be simultaneously “one of the most misunderstood pieces of music ever written and yet, at times, one of the avant-garde’s best-understood as well.” (To illustrate that latter point, Gann rounds up many of the descriptions of the piece included in Cage’s obituaries after his death in 1999.) Following a biographical summary of Cage’s early musical development, Gann considers the various influences that got him thinking about “silence, meditation, and environmental sound,” from 20th-century composer Erik Satie back to the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, moving on to a sensible reconstruction of the piece’s development—down to telling details like the fact that its length is roughly the same as the temporal space on a 12-inch 78 rpm record. Though Gann clearly respects Cage and 4’33”, he doesn’t worship either blindly, and that critical appreciation makes his argument that this is a radical “act of listening,” not a provocative stunt, all the more compelling. Photos and illus. throughout. (Mar.)
Booklist

“Deftly profiling Cage and his influences in the process, Gann entrancingly communicates his love and fascination with Cage’s musical milestone in a spellbinding chapter of high-cultural history.”—Booklist, starred review

Bookforum

“The former Village Voice new-music critic examines the ways in which Cage's piece was and is boosted and derided, and the result is an easily digestible yet illuminating volume.”—J. Gabriel Boylan, Bookforum

— J. Gabriel Boylan

The New Yorker

“4'33", Gann argues, though often suspected of being merely a ‘provocative stunt,’ is actually one of the best understood and most influential works of avant-garde music. . . . In describing the piece’s premières and reception, Gann recaptures its ‘Promethean’ impact, which cost Cage some friends and prompted his mother to ask, ‘Don’t you think that John has gone too far this time?’ ”—The New Yorker

American Music

"Gann''s book amply demonstrates [that] Cage''s so-called silent piece is as resonant with philosophical, historical, and acoustical complexities as many a noisier composition. . . . Gann''s account so perceptively synthesizes the irreducible disparity about the origin of Cage''s seemingly simple gesture that it will doubtlessly become the (unstable) foundation for many future interpretive engagements with the piece. . . . It is the great merit of Gann''s book to have revealed just how multidimensional even Cage''s most seemingly unidimensional gesture can be."—Brandon Joseph, American Music

— Brandon Joseph

John Luther Adams

“John Cage opened our ears to the whole world as music. In this engaging book, Kyle Gann opens our minds to the deep reverberations of Cage’s most radical, misunderstood and influential work.”—John Luther Adams, author of The Place Where You Go to Listen

Robert Carl

“With composerly imagination and scholarly intelligence, Kyle Gann proves that 4'33" was not an offhand provocation, but John Cage's most important piece and the key that unlocks the composer's entire output.”—Robert Carl, author of Terry Riley’s In C

Larry Polansky

“Music is sound without meaning and Cage's 4'33" is no sound without meaning. Gann's imaginative and thorough scholarship offers us insightful ways to understand Cage's magnificent meaninglessness."—Larry Polansky, Dartmouth University and Frog Peak Music

William Duckworth

"An outstanding book. Gann not only makes 4'33" come alive, but also makes the writing of it feel important and artistically necessary. All in all, a big achievement"—William Duckworth, Bucknell University

Bookforum - J. Gabriel Boylan

“The former Village Voice new-music critic examines the ways in which Cage's piece was and is boosted and derided, and the result is an easily digestible yet illuminating volume.”—J. Gabriel Boylan, Bookforum

American Music - Brandon Joseph

"Gann's book amply demonstrates [that] Cage's so-called silent piece is as resonant with philosophical, historical, and acoustical complexities as many a noisier composition. . . . Gann's account so perceptively synthesizes the irreducible disparity about the origin of Cage's seemingly simple gesture that it will doubtlessly become the (unstable) foundation for many future interpretive engagements with the piece. . . . It is the great merit of Gann's book to have revealed just how multidimensional even Cage's most seemingly unidimensional gesture can be."—Brandon Joseph, American Music

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300171297
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
01/25/2011
Series:
Icons of America Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
788,418
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Kyle Gann is Associate Professor of Music at Bard College, a composer, and former new-music critic for the Village Voice. He lives in Germantown, NY.

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No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JAMANN More than 1 year ago
This book is about John Cage's controversial piece, 4'33''. For those of you who don't know the piece, it is basically four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. The author, Kyle Gann, describes how Cage wanted to illustrate what happened in the silence of the piece, however, his first audiences did not understand his music. Gann relates personal experiences to Cage's work, and describes in detail the thought behind the piece. I like this detail because it gives me insight into what was going on in the brain of the composer. An obvious theme of the book is that there truly is no such thing as silence, as the book's title suggests. As a musician and composer, I can relate to this book because it is always nerve wracking to think that people will not understand or accept your music.