John Cage's "4'33"

Jul 21, 2016, 6:42 PM |

by HJS

One of the strangest of all musical compositions ever conceived was drafted by John Cage. He wrote it in 1952 and called it "4'33".

Mark Swed explains, "The audience watches a piano virtuoso, say, open the keyboard, start a stopwatch, sit motionless, then close the keyboard when four minutes and 33 seconds are up." That's it! Four and a half minutes of silence.

That was the point John Cage wanted to make. It is impossible to escape sound, whether it is the din or noise of traffic, the wind, the creaks and groans of a forest or the thump of your own heartbeat. 

When Cage released his "4'33" it created a furor to say the least, and it is still controversial today. Some think he might have made a contribution to a social science class or a high school psychology class but not to serious music.

The reality is that we are bombarded with noise from the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep.

God spoke through the Psalmist and said, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength," we read from Isaiah 30:15 (KJV). So where does this leave us today?

The truth is that most of us are afraid of quietness. We turn on the TV even though we don't watch or even listen. We want to have music playing in the background.

God says, "Be still and know that I am God." Perhaps that controversial 4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence John Cage conceived is more valuable than if he had put notes on the composition marked silent.


Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  PSALM 46:10