Another short rant about music.

Today is the day that twitter got excited about 4’33” and the campaign for John Cage to be Christmas number one. I didn’t. I think it’s patronising.

Last year’s success of Rage Against The Machine pipping whoever won X Factor to number one in the corporate sales chart was a fun, if childish, thing. It was a petulant two-fingers to a culture-sapping initiative of recycle and resell, and a man who is just a tiny bit better at exploiting consumers than most people. It irked some people who believe in the charts and the divine right of destiny an X Factor winner has, but they could still enjoy the song. 

It was funny the first time.

4’33” is a wonderful composition and very important. It is a human composition, for people. It’s as much a request for self-contemplation as it is for simply taking the time to listen to your own environment — the sound of stifled coughs, creaking chairs, breathing, your blood circulating. It is not a fucking joke. It is not for a collection of smug no-names to huddle around in a recording studio and pat themselves on the back for “getting it”*.

The vast majority of people could still enjoy 4’33” if it were not being promoted in the most skin-crawlingly awful manner. It has reinforced the most binary of divisions, between them and us (“them” who are thick, and “us” intellectuals). It is making something that should be for everybody, unapproachable, pretentious and elitist.

It is one thing for a mega-rich corporation to pass another dead-eyed single, satisfying a crowd who have invested time, money and emotional space into a TV character’s development. What Cage Against The Machine is doing is pretty bad**. It’s a snobbish campaign that wilfully derides the legitimate enjoyment of a massive amount of people for a smug tongue-in-cheek, self congratulatory smirk by some absolute divvies. It’s also disrespectful to John Cage’s legacy and intentions.

Whether you like it or not, the charts still mean something to a lot of people and I think it’s pretty mean-spirited to spit on them.


It’s not even supposed to be recorded. The individual performance, performer and context is what matters.
** Yes, they’re donating the proceeds to many good charitable causes, but that doesn’t legitimise the approach.

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2 thoughts on “Another short rant about music.

  1. I can understand and agree with the notion that these actions at best ignore and at worst degrade the original meaning of John Cage’s composition (although I don’t think that should be a barrier to redefining it for a contemporary purpose), but I couldn’t help but feel that you are a little guilty of the smugness that you accuse them of, as your description makes their efforts sound like sacrilege.

    With this approach, surely we just end up being more divisive: “them”, the pop-culture idiots; “the other them”, the pseudo-intellectuals; and “we few”, the ones who actually, truly get it.

    • This is something I was mindful of when writing, so maybe I haven’t been clear enough. I’ve grown up in punk/hardcore/indie scenes and, over time, into the more experimental areas of music/sound.

      I have always been frustrated at the proprietary nature of scenes and their cultish exclusivity. There is a massive amount of snobbishness in them.

      My points are that it a) ignores the composition for in-joke at a lot of people’s expense; and b) it is done in such a way as to forever exclude those others from wanting to listen, know more or engage with things beyond the mainstream. I’m not for either. I’m not a missionary, trying to convert pop fans to modern composition; people should be allowed to like what they like without being mocked by others. I do think that if you’re going to do something, you should at least do it with the best intentions and understanding.

      Ultimately, this goes back to a post I wrote on Sunday about the mindless recycling behaviour — this is no more valid than the Biffy Clyro cover and shouldn’t be seen as superior. Both should be for anyone and everyone.

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