The rest is silence

Performers at 'Cage Against the Machine' recording. Image:

Performers at ‘Cage Against the Machine’ recording. Image: mixmag.n

First, as a group primarily consisting of Edinburgh University students, it behoves us to write something about yesterday’s events. Is there anybody out there who can put it more articulately than I? In the meantime, one-time OE contributor Mike Williamson and pals have a good line. Oh, and I feel it’s time to apologise for  this, which I wrote way back in May. It was one of those caught-up-in-the-moment type things.

As our actions to express opposition to policy we see as damaging (or to make politicians stick to their pledges) becomes increasingly frustrated at every turn, we might start to see more movements like this year’s Cage Against the Machine. This is not intended as a criticism. The campaign, which has been steadily gathering press attention over the recent weeks, has been a spot of darkness in a broadly dark six months. There is the very real sense that, once again, mass disapproval of Simon Cowell’s musical monopoly could result in something remarkable playing out Radio 1’s Christmas chart run-down. Last year’s effort – Rage Against the Machine’s adolescent shout-fest – was good, but somewhat crude. 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence at the top of one of the most listened-to radio slots of the year would show that this protest movement had come of age.

It would also be pure Fluxus. A group which flourished when hi-jacking capitalist structures through performance and the mass production and dissemination of objects and texts (while searching for examples to show I came across this delicious irony); Fluxus (with whom John Cage was of course intimately bound up) delighted in drifting as close as possible to the types of relationships, based around reification and consumption, by which capitalism survives while maintaining a critical edge. So, as will happen many, many times this Christmas, supporters of the CATM campaign will be led to buy something they don’t necessarily want, but the potential outcome will be very, very critical indeed.

Already people are latching on to the idea that silence is powerful – see the CATM blog for details on Royal British Legion spokesperson Liam Maguire’s own hi-jacking. I suppose the whole p0int about silence – and one of the formal quirks of Cage’s ‘4’33’ – is that it is a void onto which we all project our own reflections. This Christmas, to complement the noise that will continue to be made about the coalition’s ruling on tuition fees, we have a chance to make a very high-profile bit of silence stand for a growing dissatisfaction with things as they stand.

By Luke Healey

You can sign up here to receive a chart-eligible link to ‘4’33’ on Monday 13th. All proceeds will go to charity.


2 responses to “The rest is silence

  1. In the spirit of the frustrated LRB letter-writer that I am, I’d just like to point out that Cage’s 4:33 isn’t actually about silence.

    The three ‘tacet’ movements of the work were intended by Cage to provide conceptual frames for whatever random noises occurred during them. Cage was fascinated with what might be happening in the ‘silences’ between the notes of Western music – the sounds which were not organised by the composer – and how they might be turned into a composition. 4’33” is not a Dadaist prank, and silence was absolutely not what Cage intended us to hear when the work is performed.

    (indeed, in the very spirit of the frustrated LRB letter writer the above comment is composed mainly of a real letter sent to the LRB.)

    Also, any protest movement that doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the NUS’s pathetic candle-lit vigil has my backing.

    And yes, I am gutted that I’m away in Germany and not able to join in the fun of storming the Winter Palace. My comrades seem to be doing a good job without me… Finally, the image of Charles and Camilla looking terrified in their car is definitely going to be favourite image of 2010.

    (Link to the LRB article:

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