John Cage’s Silent, Avant-Garde Piece 4′33″ Gets Covered by a Death Metal Band

When we think of silence, we think of med­i­ta­tive stretch­es of calm: hikes through desert­ed for­est paths, an ear­ly morn­ing sun­set before the world awakes, a stay­ca­tion at home with a good book. But we know oth­er silences: awk­ward silences, omi­nous silences, and—in the case of John Cage’s infa­mous con­cep­tu­al piece 4’33”—a mys­ti­fy­ing silence that asks us to lis­ten, not to noth­ing, but to every­thing. Instead of focus­ing our aur­al atten­tion, Cage’s for­mal­ized exer­cise in lis­ten­ing dis­pers­es it, to the ner­vous coughs and squeak­ing shoes of a rest­less audi­ence, the cease­less ebb and flow of traf­fic and breath­ing, the ambi­ent white noise of heat­ing and AC…

and the sus­pend­ed black noise of death met­al….

We’re used to see­ing 4’33” “per­formed” as a clas­si­cal exer­cise, with a dig­ni­fied pianist seat­ed at the bench, osten­ta­tious­ly turn­ing the pages of Cage’s “score.” But there’s no rea­son at all the exercise—or hoax, some insist—can’t work in any genre, includ­ing met­al. NPR’s All Songs TV brings us the video above, in which “64 years after its debut per­for­mance by pianist David Tudor,” death met­al band Dead Ter­ri­to­ry lines behind their instru­ments, tunes up, and takes on Cage: “There’s a set­up, earplugs go in, a brief gui­tar chug, a drum-stick count-off and… silence.”

As in every per­for­mance of 4’33”, we’re drawn not only to what we hear, in this case the sounds in what­ev­er room we watch the video, but also to what we see. And watch­ing these five met­al­heads, who are so used to deliv­er­ing a con­tin­u­ous assault, nod their heads solemn­ly in silence for over four min­utes adds yet anoth­er inter­pre­tive lay­er to Cage’s exper­i­ment, ask­ing us to con­sid­er the per­for­ma­tive avant-garde as a domain fit not only for rar­i­fied clas­si­cal and art house audi­ences but for every­one and any­one.

Also, despite their seri­ous­ness, NPR reminds us that Dead Territory’s take is “anoth­er in a long line of 4′33″ per­for­mances that under­stand Cage had a sense of humor while expand­ing our musi­cal uni­verse.” Cage hap­pi­ly gave his exper­i­ments to the world to adapt and impro­vise as it sees fit, and—as we see in his own per­for­mance of 4’33” in Har­vard Square—he was hap­py to make his own changes to silence as well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cage Per­forms His Avant-Garde Piano Piece 4’33” … in 1’22” (Har­vard Square, 1973)

See the Curi­ous Score for John Cage’s “Silent” Zen Com­po­si­tion 4’33”

Stream a Free 65-Hour Playlist of John Cage Music and Dis­cov­er the Full Scope of His Avant-Garde Com­po­si­tions

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (17)
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  • Ric H says:

    Awe­some piece! They par­tic­u­lar­ly nailed the head-bob­bing.

  • Andrew says:

    Five met­al­heads.

  • Steve Hoggart says:

    I agree the amp hiss was mega

  • James Scarbrough says:

    Per­haps next, they could tran­scribe Le Monte Young’s six hour and forty-three minute piece, The Well-Tuned Piano in the Magen­ta Lights, 87, for elec­tric bass, gui­tar, voice, and per­cus­sion. Any­way, this was fun. It’s nice to revis­it a con­cep­tu­al work of “music” that can suc­ceed in mak­ing one aural­ly and gen­er­al­ly aware of where he or she is in the present moment, espe­cial­ly as the means of con­stant dis­trac­tion and being men­tal­ly “else­where” pro­lif­er­ate more and more… but also make see­ing this video and arti­cle pos­si­ble.

  • Geoff Rockwell says:

    Back when there were juke­box­es, I used to wish that they all would be required to include 4′33″ so that it might be pos­si­ble to have a qui­et break every now and then. These days, my dream would be to have this piece manda­to­ri­ly includ­ed in all playlists for stores and radio sta­tions.

  • PP says:

    Just bril­liant.

  • Ben Reddin says:

    Deep lis­ten­ing yields max­i­mum aes­thet­ic enjoy­ment.

  • Alfredo bicho Vargas says:

    Did they get a license to make a cov­er ver­sion? They can’t cred­it John Cage if they did­n’t and might be sued by his estate

  • curt mayer says:

    they’re just a cov­er band.

  • me says:

    it was very loud. they should have done it loud­er, with a more deaf­en­ing silence.

  • Meano Deano says:

    BAH! To describe the work as “John Cage’s Silent, Avant-Garde Piece 4’33”” is redun­dant.

    To cov­er 4:33 sans a live audi­ence is val­ue­less.

  • iLeonD says:

    The genre has nev­er sound­ed bet­ter.

  • Horatio Balamond says:

    Sounds of beer cans open­ing.

  • Megan says:

    Excel­lent cov­er! Inspi­ra­tional per­for­mance. Great job guys 👍

  • Nerdburglar says:

    Nope…not a cov­er.
    4′33″ is about audi­ence reac­tion. The audi­ence is essen­tial to the per­for­mance.

    So.…if you want to ‘cov­er’ it.…


  • Megan says:

    It is hilar­i­ous that the drum­mer is just sit­ting there invis­i­bly the whole time. Even in a sound­less video, we neglect the drum­mer. No won­der they usu­al­ly bang so loud­ly. Lol

  • Joe says:

    Why is nobody men­tion­ing that the vocal­ist is wear­ing ham­mer pants.

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