The Late Movies: 9 Performances of John Cage's 4'33"


John Cage's musical composition 4'33" ("four, thirty-three") is considered among his best -- Cage himself thought it was his most important. The work contains three movements, all of which contain no musical sounds at all, although the piece is intended to be performed by trained musicians. There is some time between the movements, so that people may become settled again and prepare for the next movement. During the actual performance, musicians are instructed in the score (yes, there is a score) not to play any instrument, and there are very specific amounts of time in each movement of not-playing. The nature of the piece is that four minutes and thirty-three seconds (plus the time between movements) is a long time to be silent, so the audience naturally begins to respond and participate, particularly as the movements end. What happens is often amazing -- from "nothing" comes something. Each cough, whisper, or snippet of laughter is amplified. There is also an extraordinary shared experience to be had by listening to this piece with a group.

So tonight, sit back and enjoy these performance of 4'33". I promise, some stuff actually happens in these videos. It's just really subtle.

Full Orchestral Performance

From BBC Four, with an introduction from a real presenter. This is a full orchestra with a conductor, and an audience. Stick around and turn up the volume. At around 2:45 in this video, the first movement ends, then things really start to happen. Or not, depending on how you look at it.

Armin Fuchs - Piano

Fittingly, YouTube comments are disabled on this video. It has over 350,000 views.

David Tudor - Piano

"The material of music is sound and silence. Integrating these is composing. I have nothing to say, and I am saying it." -John Cage. Read more about Tudor's initial performance here.

YouTube Art - Sound Disabled

YouTube user AdamLore uploaded this video with an unauthorized music track, specifically so that a copyright claim would be made and ultimately the video's sound would be muted. The video includes this note on YouTube: "NOTICE: This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by WMG. The audio has been disabled." A clever modern take on 4'33".

GVSU New Music Ensemble

With "guest violinist Todd Reynolds." I love that they tune first. Most of what you hear is electronic noise, from the (improperly set up) microphone.

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

Perhaps more active than what Cage envisioned, but the sock puppets certainly bring a lot of visual interest to the piece.

Andy Jones and Christopher McCastle

On guitar and drum.

Michael Munro - Piano

From the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia.

John Cage on Music, Sound, and Silence

"I love sounds just as there, and I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are."

Got a Favorite Performance of 4'33"?

Post it in the comments!