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4' 33": Edited Essay

[ Press Release ] [ Program ] [ Essay ] [ Photos 1 2 3 ]

Program on the occasion of fifteen years of Magazin4
Curated by Wolfgang Fetz and Peter Lewis

Catalogue 1
In a series of written works and scores


Unrepeatable affects beyond the score and arbitrary endings

John Cage was a starting point, looking at 4 minutes 33 seconds performance of 'silence', from this point in time. The piece had accrued a litany of interpretations, counter-arguments, reactions, re-articulations, and re-enactments as evidence of the still vivid concerns of musicians and artists alike, as universal concerns, in the broadest sense. The remainders of 4:33 themselves have been carried over to become part of the detritus littering the cultural landscape. We asked could 4:33 be encountered in a kind of free-fall that relieves it of so much baggage? Could it be performed, what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze nominates, from 'any-space-whatever'?

An effect is produced now without a cause. Interruption becomes the subject itself, when considered as a point of departure. What if true beginnings are not at an actual beginning? At any departure there is longing. Here the distance from the work itself might come under a certain scrutiny and be of use, for younger artists not necessarily interested or acquainted with John Cage. They might be alerted to the importance of a work, to which they possibly felt an affinity or little in common, and were drawn to it at a risk to their practice to challenge or test it. The play on expectation of enjoyment and disappointment, as the audience had first suffered at the hands of the composer, became part of an artists' project and brought up curatorial problems and solutions about how to commission new work without letting go of a principle in musical history, and of locating audiences for diverse and difficult work through new fields of practice and distribution, appropriately aligning these to Cage. The work and the structures became meshes of a dissemination of 'silence'. No concert hall, but a stage, what kind of stage? Radio- a radio broadcast - who would do it? Would the city itself become the platform? Would we bring in 'silent' works through transmission from other places? Yes, all these added together to the unfolding of the project into a new realm of activity that also discovered traces and memories of Cage's 'silence' as recorded technically, [with difficulty], or memorably, in the recall of mind. Artists themselves offered proposals. There were risks in how the intended work and its actualisation would match up, but we felt that the failure of aspects within the project between intention and outcome, and the process itself, how it will have taken shape, in retrospect might be equally important in revealing more generally the gaps in the institutional over-simplifications dealt to the work of artists and musicians today. This was the currency of the piece, without any purist and puritanical reverence to be conferred upon the work as 'homage'. Cage's signature work was a catalyst to listening, to materialise silence out of 'inexistence'.

4:33 brought such tautologies and contradictions also to bear on art's lost high ground - questioning the limits of artistic practice altogether. Level with the world, as Cage may have intended, art's use is terminable. The work, coming out of informal conversations as much as pedagogy, was disinclined to support or re-assemble an ideal of a Wagnerian Gesamkunstwerk, and paralleled Cage's original ideas: to break it up and start anew, embrace antagonisms to music and art's formal structures and the nature of composition. The 'open' instruction given in Cage's note on performing 4:33 stresses the importance and difficulty of 'difference' in any interpretation. The motive to return again to the antagonism and incommunicability of 'silence', now incubated in response or extension to the work's scored intention might also expose a romantic desire to go beyond it.

Upon such a premise artists agreed to participate to conceive new works for the project from an inter-disciplinary and conceptual understanding of avant-garde music, acquainted with the art and performance of Neo-Dada and Fluxus, yet to think beyond everything. All the experimental work of that period still yielded a field of possibilities. A stage could for instance be 'used' in less utilitarian and more conceptual ways, not solely in terms of historical 'stages' or 'platforms', but as something that could support and align the multiplicity of temporalities insinuated in the project's remit. Time, Cage's subject, is produced physically yet out of the range of understanding, at another place. Maybe there are black holes of timelessness. Space is silent. Who knows?

Unfounded by the simulacra of theatre, the silence of the pianist now sits at the silent piano to provides the 'vector' for an imagined space and time in the far future, [from his position in the concert hall] for an unknown performer in an unknown performance, after the 'event'. This could be taking place in a number of disconnected contexts, in groupings of visual artists working in sound, or of musicians, without sound, or both by gesture alone and even by the absence of the artist at her 'event'; redolent of silent, cancelled gatherings. Silence is always productive of ambivalence, held at variance with, and indeterminate of any set meaning or outcome. As markers of a chance and a wager, necessary courage in undertaking is connoted by the price of keeping silent, of being overwhelmed, like Orpheus, by clamorous sound.

The 'mute' point between listening and seeing was to condition the collective experience, immersed in the excess of 'information' [or noise] of mass media, paradoxically impoverished by over-capacity. Silence is 'catalysed' by the admittance of its exhaustion.

This was in fact the myth of origin of 4:33. Cage visited an anechoic chamber, a room, in which sound is reduced to its minimum. It is where he first heard in the absolute of exterior silence the deafening sound of its interior: the workings of his own body's organism.

Silence is an affect realised precisely through its impossibility. The important aspect has been to ask: how can the regulation of sound be interrupted by the inverse of its objective of mass-entertainment, silence, without disappointment? Cage insinuated such with the title, which borrowed from the merchandising of music into saleable chunks of time.

If you imagine how the 4:33 legacy has also, in time, subtracted music further from music, from MTV etcetera, then you can see that the situation is one facet of the structure of the 'universal'; something always-already paused, for example, in between conversation and gesture, which articulates meaning through its timbre. Interruption is universal by signalling in-access, and silence is nothing but always present as the discrete exception to its own rule.

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