Watch John Cage’s 4′33″ Played by Musicians Around the World

Make sure to watch the video above with the sound on. In it musi­cians from around the world all play a well-known com­po­si­tion: 4′33″ by John Cage. “I spent weeks ask­ing strangers on the inter­net to send me their rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions, and boy did they deliv­er,” writes the video’s cre­ator Sam Vladimirsky. “My inbox filled with adap­ta­tions by an Aus­tri­an death met­al band, a marim­ba play­er, a bun­ny rab­bit, the Muse­um of Musi­cal Instru­ments in Phoenix, a mid­dle school music teacher, a ver­sion played on Gui­tar Hero and over Zoom.” Though orig­i­nal­ly com­posed for piano, 4′33″ is eas­i­ly trans­posed to all these instru­ments and oth­ers, call­ing as it does for their play­ers to do the very same thing: noth­ing.

“Inspired by Zen Bud­dhism, the Dada move­ment and Cage’s strong dis­taste for the ubiq­ui­tous muzak of the time,” says Aeon, “its score instructs per­form­ers not to play their instru­ments for the piece’s four-minute, thir­ty-three-sec­ond dura­tion.” The result is not silence but “the unique ambi­ent sound­scape of the envi­ron­ment in which it’s per­formed, reflect­ing Cage’s belief that music is ever-present.”

Here the sub­mit­ted per­for­mances take place in such envi­ron­ments as a class­room, a bed­room, a court­yard, a dri­ve­way, a bus, and a sub­way sta­tion. Vladimirsky pairs the videos, allow­ing us to enjoy not just par­al­lel view­ing expe­ri­ences but a lay­ered lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence of these ambi­ent sound­scapes.

“Stuck inside,” writes Vladimirsky, “pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians, ded­i­cat­ed ama­teurs, awk­ward teens and col­lege stu­dents found 4′33″ to be the music of our moment.” If the Rolling Stones could play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in lock­down, each from his sep­a­rate home, then who’s to say this isn’t the next log­i­cal step? Each per­for­mance of 4′33″ reflects not just its imme­di­ate set­ting but its cul­tur­al peri­od: com­pare the clip just above, in which Cage him­self plays it in Har­vard Square in 1973. Most of us haven’t seen the inside of a con­cert hall in quite some time, let alone heard the ambi­ent sounds pro­duced with­in it in the absence of prop­er music. But each of us can, at least, per­form 4′33″ for our­selves when­ev­er and wher­ev­er we like — one way of doing it being sim­ply to play the video at the top of the post with the sound off.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch John Cage Play His “Silent” 4’33” in Har­vard Square, Pre­sent­ed by Nam June Paik (1973)

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

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

The 4’33” App Lets You Cre­ate Your Own Ver­sion of John Cage’s Clas­sic Work

The Grate­ful Dead’s “Rip­ple” Played By Musi­cians Around the World (with Cameos by David Cros­by, Jim­my Buf­fett & Bill Kreutz­mann)

The Vir­tu­al Choir: Watch a Choir Con­duc­tor Dig­i­tal­ly Unite 3500 Singers from Around the World

How to Find Silence in a Noisy World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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