just why 4’33”?

(excerpt from the lecturer “Endlessness and the Empty Space in Music and Architecture”)
John Cage’s three movement composition for any instrument or combination of instruments (1952) is probably his most famous and at the same time most controversial piece. While it nowadays even hits the charts, it was an exciter at the premiere: 4’33” obviously nothing – no music at all. But of course his composition is about the impossibility of silence. In Cage’s sense there is always “music” – the breathing of the audience, cough, sounds of the ventilation, etcetera.

Was it a coincidence that Cage has chosen four minutes and thirty-three seconds for the duration of his piece? For sure not: The time is related to Absolute zero – minus 273°C – in thermodynamics.* As well as absolute silence, this temperature is impossible to reach. This simple calculation explains the theory:

*referring to Peter Kislinger


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