Cage Against the Machine: The Quest for Quiet

Today’s social networking is a joke, or worse: A death knell. Modern technology and the Internet seem determined to bring humankind to a state of complete separateness, determined to destroy civilization, to destroy our ability to fully connect and properly communicate.

We have eyes to see, but we refuse to use them. We have mouths to speak, but we choose instead to text, to tweet, to “like.” As our language deteriorates into acronyms, initialisms, and emoticons, we move deeper into cyberspace and deeper into ourselves, and farther from the material world. We spend our days connected to mobile devices and married to computer screens, slowly going blind, choosing to be bombarded by information, allowing ourselves to be swept away in a flood of digital noise. I predict a sad and dark day when the human face—that thing with which we are so obsessed—becomes stretched taut and featureless and glows iridescent like an LCD screen. No eyes, no mouth. Just a slit where our noses once were, and, somewhere, a USB port for transferring data. Call it the “iFace.”

Now here is something beautiful and worthwhile: In this storm of noise, it seems John Cage, the innovative composer perhaps best known for his silent piece, “4'33",” is gaining new popularity. In “The Growing Sound of Silence,” an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed writes:

Silence is being hailed as the solution. John Cage’s 1952 silent piece, “4'33",” is the theme song. The Brits are calling it “Cage Against the Machine,” and the movement for a silent night this Christmas, or Cagemas, has gone viral. In London, Cage’s picture is showing up on fake million-pound notes and the slogan is on posters with clenched fists and Che Guevara’s image.

What’s this all about?

Mark Swed reports that a new recording of “4'33",” featuring some 60 musicians, from Billy Bragg to Imogen Heap and Orbital, has an outstanding chance of becoming the “Christmas No.1”—Britain’s best-selling single during Christmas week, apparently a big deal on the BBC. The single was released on Monday, the 13th, and its proceeds will benefit charities. “Cage Against the Machine” (which began as a joke in the face of last year’s winner, Rage Against the Machine) will compete in Britain against Simon Cowell and the X-Factor.

Watch and listen:

Can you imagine the tension in that room filled with musicians, instruments in hand, unable to make a sound? The silence makes me smile.

Where to go for more information on “Cage Against the Machine”? There is, of course, a website and a Facebook group and a Twitter feed. (And, yes, I do see the irony. But, as Mark Swed says, John Cage loved a good contradiction.) Also see “The Culture Monster,” where Swed reminds us, “…the quest for quiet and need for stopping to smell the roses has become an increasing urge in modern life everywhere.”

John Atkinson's picture
OMG. :-) Like
drumguy48's picture

Do you need a highly revealing Hi end system to truly appreciate all the nuances of this piece, or would $5 earbuds suffice?

nirodha's picture

I prefer the original ;-)

John Atkinson's picture
Some works come to life when performed "live" in front of an audience.
tmsorosk's picture

There was talking , but no music came through here ?

tzed's picture

After being reminded how much I like John Cage by the recent New Yorker piece and pulling out all the vinyl I own, now this. Most excellent!