No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33"
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No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33"

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  109 ratings  ·  26 reviews
First performed at the midpoint of the twentieth century, John Cage's "4'33"," a composition conceived of without a single musical note, " "is among the most celebrated and ballyhooed cultural gestures in the history of modern music. A meditation on the act of listening and the nature of performance, Cage's controversial piece became the iconic statement of the meaning of...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published March 23rd 2010 by Yale University Press (first published 2009)
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Mar 30, 2012 Marvin marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I have yet to read this essay on John Cage's controversial composition, 4'33". I would like to. However I would also like to provide a review of the composition...

Thank you for reading my review.
This, to me, is the epitome of solid, necessary music journalism. None of the info presented here is particularly inaccessible or otherwise unknown, but Gann sifts through the primary sources to present us with a focused look at one specific moment in Cage's musical development, ostensibly his most important, and certainly his most infamous and misunderstood. Although the sections on the lead-up to 4'33" were interesting, my favorite was the chapter of thumbnails about Cage's possible influences...more
Marc Weidenbaum
Simply the best book in the 33 1/3 series of focused books on music that never appeared in the 33 1/3 series. Of course, there couldn't ever have been a 33 1/3 book on John Cage's 4'33", because it was a composition, not a recording -- whether or not it is recordable is another question, just one of the koan-like nuggets that comprise Gann's survey of a piece of music that is seen as a prank by some and a philosophical entreaty by others. That 210-plus pages could be written about a work in whic...more
In "There's No Such Thing as Silence" Kyle Gann argues that 4'33'', John Cage's famous silent piece, is his central and unifying work, the key to unlocking his entire ouevre. Though Cage composed in a bunch of styles throughout his career, his early highly structured and mathematical percussion works, his prepared piano pieces, his chance determined compositions, his chaotic and theatrical performance art pieces, Gann posits that 4'33" is his the fullest realization of his artistic vision.

Gann b...more
Whew, what a relief that this book is here! It's an apology for 4'33, defending it against all of the dumb criticisms: it's a hoax, etc.

The biographical chapter on Cage was lovely, and the explication of his influences was well researched and compelling, but some of the choices confused me. Well, okay, just one-- I understand including Kramer, since he was a dedicatee, but at the expense of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein?

Why this gets 4 as opposed to 5 stars: Gann even admits it in the book: no...more
Influences come together, resonances spread out. 4'33", despite seeming to be the sound of a vacuum, didn't happen in one. Using John Cage's most famous (and infamous (yes, the 'and infamous' bit is kinda obvious and I am a little ashamed of it)) composition as centerpiece, Kyle Gann does a fine job of explaining where Cage was coming from, and where he and those who followed would go. That Gann undertook the work at all shows a bias against those who would dismiss 4'33" as just a prank or a hoa...more
Margaret Sankey
John Cage's 4'33" may be the Platonic ideal of anti-intellectual joke material--an avaunt-garde musical piece in which the pianist opens the lid and sits at the keyboard for three movements. Gann, a music critic and familiar with the experimental music community since the 1930s supplies the context--Cage's friendships with Merce Cunningham and Marcel Duchamp, flirtation with Zen Buddhism, WPA work experience (Job: Entertain visitors to a children's hospital without making any disruptive noise),...more
Bernard Norcott-mahany
Prof. Gann does us all a great service in setting this radical piece by John Cage in its historical and musical context. While it is easy to dismiss the work (4 min and 33 sec of silence) as a joke, it is clear that Prof. Gann feels there is a lot of serious thought that went into the work, and that the work has had serious consequences in what composers consider music. Rather like the Buddha's lecture where he simply held up a flower, and only one student "got it," Gann led me to reconsider the...more
Nov 05, 2010 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010, music
Kyle is one of the smartest, most cogent, most well-read (and well-listened) writers about contemporary music out there right now, better even, in my opinion, than Alex Ross, whom I nonetheless love to pieces. This book is a total joy to read, taking Cage's revolutionary work and delving not only into the philosophy behind it, but using it as a launching point for an overview of Cage's life and a history of American classical music in the 20th century. And, of course, his music.
A marvelous analysis of 4'33'' with the kind of creative insight I have come to love in Gann's writing. The collected thoughts here may at times drill into histories that may be obscure to some, but for me it was a glorious re-view of my Cagean studies. Despite an interesting omission of Pauline Oliveros's "Deep Listening" work in the chapter on Legacy, I was enthralled with the book all the way through.
An excellent fast read. Useful as a compendium of current thinking on Cage's most well-known piece, as well as a warts-and-all analysis of how it came to be and the impact it's had on music and popular culture. Makes a great case for 4'33" being foremost a musical translation of zazen, but also argues that it's not quite that simple. Packed with useful quotes from Cage and his contemporaries.
Jeffrey Bumiller
Excellent book, I read it in a day. Fascinating insight into the legacy of arguably the most important piece in modern music composition. Kyle Gann's amazing writing will leave you enveloped in the story of John Cage and his controversial music long after you finish the last page. Absolutely vital for anyone interested in the music of the 20th century.
Erik Schoster
A very nice read in clear prose - I like Gann's writing style very much. Like the Stanley Fish of music historians, maybe. You'll find all the great anecdotes plus a healthy amount of research into the primary source material Cage was reading at the time that sheds some more light on the way he constructed a path to the creation of 4'33". Way enjoyable.
Interesting entrance into the mind of Cage, combining biographical, musical analysis and philosophy. Excellent and accessible introduction to probably, along with Messiaen, the most profound musical mind of the last half of the 20th century (they both died in 1992).
Very enjoyable reflection on John Cage's conception, and subsequent composition of, 4'33". Although there's a fair amount of biographical information, Kyle Gann keeps his focus on the path Cage took toward his famous (or notorious) "Silent Sonata."
Terri Griffith
Over all excellent book. Surprisingly compelling, except for the big dull section in the middle. You'll know when you get there. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in avant-gaude music or mid-century art.
David Gallin-Parisi
Reads like a long magazine article. Might need to come back to it for the new references (all post 2002) that the author draws from. Not crucial for a John Cage listener/observer/zenner, but not bad.
Jon Hurd
Kyle Gann does an excellent job of describing Cage's influences and the events leading up to 4'33" Gann is an excellent writer and I miss his column in the "Voice."
Evan Cordes
A great, quick read. Nice overview of 4'33" and lots of its trappings, its pre-history, its legacy, etc.

Recommended for anyone interested in Cage and modern music.
An informative, somewhat insightful, somewhat dry analysis of John Cage's seminal artwork "4'33"" Not much more to say than that.
Travis Alford
A must-read for the musically curious, whether or not you're a fan of Cage (full disclosure: I am).
Patrick Wensink
About as good as a book about 4.5 minutes of silence can be. Which is to say, pretty awesome.
Patrick Barber
A fun, easygoing bio of Cage that pretends to be an indepth analysis of his most notorious piece.
Accessible and thoughtful, but I can't say learned that much from it.
What a load of horseshit.
Chris Cander
Chris Cander marked it as to-read
Jul 31, 2014
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