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Thread: Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds

  1. #1
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    Default Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds

    For me, clean is like “Four minutes, thirty-three seconds” by John Cage.

    Note: What I’m not sure about, in this metaphor, is whether the facilitator is the audience or the performer. Or the composer. What do you think?

    For those who are not familiar with this piece, please see the description below (excerpted from Wikipedia):

    4′33″ (Four minutes, thirty-three seconds) is a three-movement composition[1][2] by American avant-garde composer John Cage (19121992). It was composed in 1952 for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece. Although commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence",[3][4] the piece actually consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.[5] Over the years, 4′33″ became Cage's most famous and most controversial composition.[6]
    Conceived in 1948, while Cage was working on Sonatas and Interludes,[6] 4′33″ was for Cage the epitome of aleatoric music and of his idea that any sounds constitute, or may constitute, music.[7] It was also a reflection of the influence of Zen Buddhism[citation needed], which Cage studied since the late 1940s. In a 1982 interview, and on numerous other occasions, Cage has stated that 4′33″ is, in his opinion, his most important work.[8]

    In 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. They are also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, "I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation."[9]

    There has been some skepticism about the accuracy of the engineer's explanation, especially as to being able to hear one's own nervous system. A mild case of tinnitus might cause one to hear a small, high-pitched sound. It has been asserted by acoustic scientists[attribution needed] that, after a long time in such a quiet environment, air molecules can be heard bumping into one's eardrums in an elusive hiss (0 dB, or 20 micropascals). Whatever the truth of these explanations, Cage had gone to a place where he expected total silence, and yet heard sound. "Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music."[10] The realisation as he saw it of the impossibility of silence led to the composition of 4'33″.

    Cage wrote in "A Composer's Confessions" (1948) that he had the desire to "compose a piece of uninterrupted silence and sell it to the Muzak Co. It will be 4 [and a half] minutes long — these being the standard lengths of 'canned' music, and its title will be 'Silent Prayer'. It will open with a single idea which I will attempt to make as seductive as the color and shape or fragrance of a flower. The ending will approach imperceptibly."[11]

    Another cited influence for this piece came from the field of the visual arts. Cage's friend and sometimes colleague Robert Rauschenberg had produced, in 1951, a series of white paintings, seemingly "blank" canvases (though painted with white house paint) that in fact change according to varying light conditions in the rooms in which they were hung, the shadows of people in the room and so on. This inspired Cage to use a similar idea, as he later stated, "Actually what pushed me into it was not guts but the example of Robert Rauschenberg. His white paintings… when I saw those, I said, 'Oh yes, I must. Otherwise I'm lagging, otherwise music is lagging'." Cage's musical equivalent to the Rauschenberg paintings uses the "silence" of the piece as an aural "blank canvas" to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance; the music of the piece is natural sounds of the players, the audience, the building, and the outside environment.

  2. #2
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    Default

    And when
    Note: What I’m not sure about, in this metaphor, is whether the facilitator is the audience or the performer. Or the composer. What do you think?
    , is there anything about
    the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes
    ?


    Phil

  3. #3
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    Default Anechoic Chamber

    Yes, there is something about the walls absorbing all the sounds that is very clean, to me. Echoes can be confusing and disturbing, and at the very worst, distorting. Reverberations can interrupt the flow of the experience and cause me to become aware of the presence of the "other" in the room.

    Imagine being able to hear your own circulatory system working, or what occurs in your inner ear. Quite a miraculous, ineffable experience and one that can have incredible impact!
    Last edited by webmaven; 20 April 2008 at 11:07 PM. Reason: ! added for emphasis

  4. #4
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    Default

    I once visited the BBC sound studio in Birmingham, UK where they used to record 'The Archers' (a long-running UK radio soap). Many scenes are set in the outdoors, fields, country lanes and so on.

    I was interested to discover that for these scenes, the actors entered a very small padded booth which has similar properties to an anechoic chamber, in that when they spoke there was no reverberation as there would be in a normal room. Speaking in the booth simulated what happens outdoors where voca sounds go out and do not bounce back.

    Speaking in there was an odd experience: I found myself pausing frequently, listening in vain for the echo of my voice. Then I became more aware of the qualities of my voice and how it reverberated in my own head and chest. That does seem to me like the effect of clean facilitation: the attention comes back to self.

    The engineers take the raw voice recording and lay it over a 'bed' of sound effects (birdsong, lowing cattle, traffic, etc) and add artificial filters on the voice track appropriate to the environment ( echoey reverb inside the cowshed, more muffled in the car, etc).

    Phil

  5. #5
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    Default Cool

    Phil,

    Thanks for telling us about your experience. I was once in an anechoic chamber at university as part of a physics class. Unfortunately, I was in a rather large group of people at the time, so I didn't really get to try it out by myself, but my impression is that being in there was like no other place I'd ever been, and things sounded so different. It changed my experience of sound.

    There is such a qualitative difference between a regular room and an anechoic chamber--very similar to the difference of experience for the client (and maybe the facilitator too) between regular therapy and clean work.

    webmaven

  6. #6
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    Default Noise mountain

    Robert Rauschenberghad produced, in 1951, a series of white paintings, seemingly "blank" canvases (though painted with white house paint) that in fact change according to varying light conditions in the rooms in which they were hung, the shadows of people in the room and so on. This inspired Cage to use a similar idea, as he later stated, "Actually what pushed me into it was not guts but the example of Robert Rauschenberg. His white paintings… when I saw those, I said, 'Oh yes, I must. Otherwise I'm lagging, otherwise music is lagging'." Cage's musical equivalent to the Rauschenberg paintings uses the "silence" of the piece as an aural "blank canvas" to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance; the music of the piece is natural sounds of the players, the audience, the building, and the outside environment.
    An example of these white paintings can be seen here and other examples of his work here. Thanks to Anthony Williams for the link who quotes Rauschenberg thus:

    "The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history" - Robert Rauschenberg

    How interesting, given the context, that 'rauschen berg' translates from German to mean 'noise mountain' - I wonder if John Cage knew that?

    Phil

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