4’ 33’’: JOHN CAGE’S UTOPIA OF MUSIC Cover Image


Author(s): Michał Palmowski
Subject(s): Music, Aesthetics, Sociology of Culture, Sociology of Politics
Published by: Wydawnictwa AGH
Keywords: John Cage; utopia; poetics; silence; noise;

Summary/Abstract: The present article examines the connection between Cage’s politics and aesthetics, demonstrating how his formal experiments are informed by his political and social views. In 4’33’’, which is probably the best illustration of Cage’s radical aesthetics, Cage wanted his listeners to appreciate the beauty of accidental noises, which, as he claims elsewhere, “had been discriminated against” (Cage 1961d: 109). His egalitarian stance is also reflected in his views on the function of the listener. He wants to empower his listeners, thus blurring the distinction between the performer and the audience. In 4’33’’ the composer forbidding the performer to impose any sounds on the audience gives the audience the freedom to rediscover the natural music of the world. I am arguing that in his experiments Cage was motivated not by the desire for formal novelty but by the utopian desire to make the world a better place to live. He described his music as “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord” (Cage 1961b: 12).

  • Issue Year: 15/2016
  • Issue No: 2
  • Page Range: 17-25
  • Page Count: 9
  • Language: English