Cage against the machine

November 8, 2010 at 10:51 pm (BBC, Christmas, Jim D, media, music, surrealism, trivia)

Cage: he talked bollocks, didn’t he?

The appearance of  Ian McMillan on Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ seems to have done wonders for the ‘Cage Against The Machine’ campaign. McMillan, an amiable Barnsley poet, chose as one of his eight discs, John Cage’s 1952 “composition”,  4’33” – an exercise in minimalism taken to its ultimate. 4’33” is four minutes thirty three seconds of complete silence. On ‘Desert Island Discs’ all you could hear was McMillan’s stomach rumbling.

For all his down-to-earth Yorkshire persona, McMillan came out with a load of pretentious bollocks about this being a “legitimate” choice, and the value of exploring silence, etc, etc…

This evening’s Radio 4 ‘PM’ programme (with its’ ever-snide presenter Eddie Maire) couldn’t resist exploring the theme further (here: go to approx 0.50.00), with a 1990 interview with Cage (who died in 1992), mumbling on about “the experience of listening…what you hear appears aesthetically…there is no absence of sound,”…but then he was into Zen Buddism and  aleatoric or “chance-controlled music”…

Even more profound stuff came in an interview with one Salome Voegelin, author of Listening to Noise and Silence -Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, which being  informed by the ideas of Adorno, Merleau Ponty and others and engaging with the practice of sound art and the concurrent development of a discourse and theory of sound, as well as establishing an aesthetics and philosophy of sound and promoting  the notion of a sonic sensibility… just has to be a rattling good read, doesn’t it?

The temptation is to simply take the piss, especially when we remember Philip Larkin’s gloating over a Melody Maker review (15 November 1969) of a Lennon- Ono album on which two of the four sides were blank, due (it later turned out) to a manufacturing fault:

“Sides two and four consist entirely of single tones maintained throughout…constant listening reveals a curious point: the pitch of the notes alters frequently, but only by microtones…This oscillation produces an almost subliminal ‘beat’ which maintains interest.” (Quoted in All What Jazz by Philip Larkin, Faber, 1970).

But before we dismiss all this as pretentious bollocks, it’s worth remembering one salient and crucial point: the aim of ‘Cage Against The Machine’ is to keep whatever dreadful “X Factor” crap Mr Simon Cowell has come up with this year out of the No. 1 spot this Christmas, and replace it with blissful…silence. I’d put good money into any jukebox for that.

1 Comment

  1. Alex Ross said,

    I’d be very happy if more people adopted 4’33” as a mobile ringtone.

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