John Cage Question - 4'33"

Hey Bachido!

Today I got into a heated debate about the piece 4'33", read Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds, with a friend of mine. As a community of musicians, I was wondering your personal opinions on this piece. I do not seek to start a fight. I simply wish to hear your views on the piece.

If you have never heard of the piece here is the wiki for it and one recording.'33%22

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Porky Pong, I love the point you made about saying nothing says something! As for whether it's music, my personal opinion is that the piece itself is not, but what you heard during that 4 minutes 33 seconds could be.You heard coughing and laughing during 4'33'', which are normally seen as the non-musicals and you seemed to take this opinion, so for you it's not music. But for some, like I remembered an avant-garde musician saying" whatever you intend to listen is music", it's music. The piece itself is like an empty picture frame that directs you to look at the views within, but I wouldn't say a frame is a painting. For me, from another aspect, since the sounds you heard were not produced by the performer according to the score of the piece, like Cage's piece is as well not the origin of the sounds, 4'33'' is not music itself. Does that make sense?


This is a very interesting piece that I can't believe I've never heard of up until this thread was necro'd, haha.

I find it fascinating that this sort of “minimalist music” exists, and is as equally controversial as its counterpart in the visual arts. In regards to both cases, whether they are art, music, etc. I really think the discussion comes down to the fundamental definitions of what (X) is.

Personally I believe that any form of artistic expression is, just that. Art and music exist to act as a form of visual or audible expression of emotion, soul, or any other form of message. Therefore I think that 4'33 is a proper musical piece. Whether the 'performer(s)' are actually performing or acting as musicians is another topic however.

Though I would regard 4'33 as music, based on the definition of music as an audible form of artistic expression, I'm not so sure that it could be classified as 'good' or otherwise enjoyable music. Just as with visual minimalist art, I think there is an amount of effort, speaking in terms of mental effort, that must be apparent in the work. Certainly, various pieces of modern art exude a certain air of lack of care towards the piece, as an attempt to ride on the coattails of real experimental pieces.

4'33 to me seems like it is a very deliberate creation, intended to convey a certain message, and this is clearly audible from the first few moments from the performance. It intends to be a controversial piece, however this does not necessarily mean it is enjoyable.

Overall, it reminds me very much of the whole ASMR movement, medium. Whereas ASMR tends to have a more defined purpose of relaxing sounds, in both ASMR and 4'33, I think the underlying purpose is to evoke some form of appreciation for those sounds that we tend to move into the backs of our minds. Perhaps encouraging us to slow down, and take in that which is around us once in awhile. It makes for a sort of exercise that you can apply to conventional music as well, taking a listen at any piece with multiple instruments for example, and carefully dissecting it, picking out specific instruments patterns and giving a new meaning to a piece depending on which part of the whole you choose to focus on for that moment.

Sorry for the long post.


Tino Piccini, I like the message you take from 4'33'':“ to slow down, and take in that which is around us once in awhile”. And you got a point there, 4'33'' is composed with extreme deliberation. Actually Cage started to conceive the piece in 1946 when inspired by an Indian classical musician , and didn't finish it until 1952. There were a lot of thoughts and intentions in this piece.
As for your definition, I have a question: how to tell whether something is artistic expression or not? It's quite subjective. So do you think whether sounds are music hinges on the composer's intention?


To briefly cover my views, I think that judging things from one's own perspective is necessary to any form of criticism. One should always be observing everything around them and acknowledging the difference in things so that they can expand their scope of understanding, however I don't think that pure subjectivity allows us to get anywhere.

Addressing the actual questions, firstly I believe that something is artistically expressive when you can feel that it is artistically expressive. It is honestly a very difficult to explain phenomena, but I think it's the underlying reason as to why we revere certain works, they feel expressive. It's like a part of a person's soul is impeded in their work. If you think of the most famous works of art, I think you'll understand what I mean. Another why to tell is to find pieces which lack this feeling. For example I have a painting in my room which I am very fond of, however I do not get a feeling of artistic expression when I see it. Something can be visually, rhythmically, tonally appealing, etc. but it becomes clear when it is art because you can immediately understand that it is, art.

So I'm not sure that it is only intention that would make sounds music. Harking back what I said about feeling a soul in a work, I think this is only achievable through somebody pouring themselves into what they are creating. I can take a bunch of random noises, mix them together in anyway that I wish, and claim it is music, but it would not feel like music unless I 'poured myself' into my cacophony of rocks smashing together. I can have the intention to make a “smash hit” (puns), however It would never succeed if I first off lack the understanding of it, and secondly did not dedicate enough will to it.

Here's the painting I refer to. I'm interested to know if you feel expression from it, so hopefully my point makes more sense haha.

Edited Nov 8, 2017 by Tino Piccini

I can recognize the figure and the Chinese characters in your painting! excited…I could feel what you mean by artistically expressive, but I would say the pic in your room is a piece of art though it's rather realistic and not that “profound”. The problem is, and often in contemporary arts, the creator's artistic expression is not recognized by the audience as artistic expression. Like the famous “Fountain”- is it appealing? does a toilet evoke your artistic expressive feeling? does it speak part of your soul? can you immediately take it as art? The scenarios when the artists put artistic intention and the audience felt it are easy to deal with, but what about cases these two don't match? Are we passing on the right of judging whether something is art or not to the audience?

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