Sir: Paul Vallely ("Silence. For two whole minutes. Can this man be serious?", 8 May) is right to emphasise the importance of silence in music as presaged by the groundbreaking innovation of John Cage, yet, erroneously, he states that devotees searching for meaning in Cage's music were "searching in entirely the wrong direction". The point that Cage was striving to make when he wrote 4'33" was that there is in reality no such entity as silence. Ironically, this is a point that Mr Vallely makes early in his article, but fails to apply to Cage's piece.
As the story goes, Cage first realised there was no such thing as silence when he entered a sound-proof room - an anechoic chamber - at Harvard. In the chamber, instead of the total silence anticipated, Cage heard two sounds - one high and one low. The high sound, he was told, was his nervous system in operation and the other was the circulation of his blood. Cage thus proposed that silences in a piece of music could be defined simply as, "sounds not intended". This theory is exemplified by 4'33" and still has a profound bearing on much of the contemporary music being made today.
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