Red Note recreates 4'33" by John Cage
- Carol Main
- 22 June 2020
A 49-strong ensemble led by some of Europe's finest professional musicians come together for a live online performance
Written in 1952, American avant-garde composer John Cage's 4'33" is guaranteed to provoke controversy whenever it's performed. A score in three movements, there is no fixed combination of instrumentalists required to play it. Indeed, the performers are instructed not to play their instruments at all for the entire duration of the piece, the four minutes and 33 seconds of its title. Cage did not, however, regard his cause célèbre as a time of silence. Rather, the sounds that are in the air each time it is performed are, in themselves, the music.
But what might Cage have thought of his iconic 20th century classic being performed as a live-stream 'come and play' on Zoom? Inviting applications from members of the public to take part alongside professional players, Red Note are bringing together a total of 49 instrumentalists in what is likely to be the first ever online mass-participation performance of the work. 'It's already caused controversy,' says Artistic Co-Director Robert Irvine, 'but that's what John Cage would have enjoyed.'
At a time when artists have effectively been silenced due to lockdown, is it fitting that Red Note should be putting on a piece that no one plays? 'It takes talented musicians to do it,' says Irvine, 'or everyone might be rolling about on the floor in laughter. That, of course, could actually be a valid response to something which is contentious.' For the Zoom performance, the rules are that everyone's instrument has to be visible on the screen and no-one is allowed to mute themselves. 'We've no idea what the audio on Zoom will do with silence, but that in itself brings the sense of randomness that the piece is about. It's a bit crazy. It might of course be a total disaster and that's a valid response too.'