Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Here at the house it is so quiet. I can hear the ceiling fan running in my bedroom and I think I can hear raindrops outside, but otherwise it is silent.

I appreciate silence for when I am at Shenandoah I stay in "dorms" that used to be hotel rooms with the H/AC units that have to run non-stop to keep the room bearable. I have never been a fan of what is called "white noise," but that is what I must deal with at SU. It bothers my inner peace. At SU I would often turn off the unit despite knowing it was going to get hot and muggy in the room just so I could have some quiet. Some silence.

Before I left for SU the frogs' croaking was incessant in my back yard. Once the sun would go down they (the frogs) saw that as a cue to start singing. They would be so loud I could hear them though the windows were closed and the TV was on. They were nature's white noise.

John Cage (1912-1992) was one of the most controversial composers of the 20th century. Much of what he composed is not considered to be music by many people. He believed that anything could make sounds and was one of the first to use objects as instruments. Kind of a forerunner of the STOMP sensation. He wrote a book called "Silence: Lectures and Writings ."

He also wrote a piece of music titled 4'33". In this piece the performer - most often a pianist - approaches the piano, sits, poses as though preparing to play, then just sits. He just SITS for FOUR MINUTES AND THIRTY-THREE SECONDS! Those in the audience who know the "joke" get great amusement watching the other audience members as they begin to feel awkward and begin fidgeting and coughing. The music is the environmental sounds created at that moment in time; therefore, the piece is NEVER the same.

Once, Cage put himself into a position of sensory deprivation. He went into a controlled, sound-proof chamber, put ear plugs in his ears and stayed for a period of time. When he exited the chamber he commented to the technician that the room was not sound-proof for he had heard sound when he had expected silence. The technician told him that the "sound" he heard was his own body - his breath, his heart, his blood pulsing, even his eyes blinking.

And so, in the silence of the early morning (2:30am) I write about John Cage. Something about his music appeals to me. I think it is because he was a pioneer, one who was not afraid to do what he believed in despite critics saying his music was trash.

Given below are two videos: the first is John Cage talking about Silence; the second is a cool clip from the 1960s of his appearance on a game show where he performs his piece, "Water Walk." Enjoy...

John Cage about "Silence"

John Cage: Water Walk

Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" is going through my mind...that's a topic for another blog, but not tonight!

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