The Instigator
Pythasis
Con (against)
Tied
0 Points
The Contender
TAW
Pro (for)
Tied
0 Points

Is John Cage's 4'33" "Music"?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/29/2015 Category: Music
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 844 times Debate No: 76655
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (1)
Votes (0)

 

Pythasis

Con

4'33" is the most famous (or infamous) piece by John Milton Cage Jr.

It's four minutes and thirty-three seconds...of not playing a single note. Broken into three movements.

I believe that John Cage was a talented musical composer, but I also believe that 4'33", though it is an important piece, is not a piece of music. The latter of the two is what will be discussed in this debate.

First round is for acceptance only.
TAW

Pro

It depends how you define music.

According to many definitions of music, admittedly the piece is not music.

But if you define music as anything which provides interest to the human ear, or which gives the listener a heightened sense of aural reality, then it could be called music. Because drawing the attention of the listener to the background noises (and they are always there in the context of a concert performance) turns those noises themselves into music.

Another approach: Consider a great composition that most people would agree is music. For instance, Beethoven's 5th symphony. After the fourth note, Beethoven wrote a dramatic pause. Silence! Is that silence not part of the great piece of music which we call Beethoven's 5th? Of course it is. The symphony would not be the same without it. So here is a clear example of silence being music according to all opinions.

So, if Beethoven's silence is music, why is John Cage's not?
Debate Round No. 1
Pythasis

Con

Pro either misunderstood or ignored the "First round is for acceptance only" part...ah well, it happens. On with the debate.

TAW brings up the presence of the "background noise," which does bring up Cage's point of the piece. T
he point of 4’33’’ is not to be four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence by the performer, rather to be sound produced by the listening audience and the environment around them. This is what Cage wanted people to see, which they didn’t at first; he is quoted as saying about the original performance, “They missed the point. There's no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds.” However, music has certain rules behind it for it to be called music, which cannot be ignored for 4’33’’. Music can be defined as an organized art of the production of sound, composed by a composer and played by a performer. 4'33' does not fit this definition. It is quite close in a few respects, but it doesn’t quite make the cut, so to speak. As Julian Todd, a professor of philosophy, expressed during a 2013 TEDx Talk, “It's an important, maybe even profound work of art, but not a piece of music. [...M]aking an artwork looks to be a matter of organizing elements of a medium. A work is a work of music only if it is made up of sounds organized by the work's composer. A little more precisely... it is a necessary condition of a work's being a work of music that it's performances can only compromise sounds produced by performers of the work as a result of their following the composer's instructions” (slide 4).

There are those that argue that the audience makes the music, but not only does this not fit an “organized” production of sound, but it forsakes the fact that it is specified that the audience members are not performers; not willingly making this noise for the sake of entertainment due to direction from the composer.

If this doesn't answer why this makes Beethoven's piece music and makes Cage's piece not, then this may: the silence in Symphony No. 5 in C Minor is within the context that music came before it and will almost definitely come afterwards (and it does), and to enhance said music. Not only that, but it is an actual written out silence, specifically it is an eighth rest. John Cage just gives a period of time to not play, an unorthodox way to play (or to not play)

I would also like to point out that pro outwardly admits that "According to many definitions of music, admittedly the piece is not music." I doubt most of these definitions fit under "as anything which provides interest to the human ear," especially dictionary definitions.

With that said, pro may still have a case that has yet to be said. Therefore, back to pro! :)
TAW

Pro

Con: "Pro either misunderstood or ignored the "First round is for acceptance only" part...ah well, it happens. On with the debate."

Sorry about that. First time here.

Con: "However, music has certain rules behind it for it to be called music, which cannot be ignored for 4"33""."

You would have a very hard time stating what those rules are and getting everybody to agree with you. Traditionally, birdsong has been called music. No rules there.

Con: "Music can be defined as an organized art of the production of sound, composed by a composer and played by a performer."

It can be, but that is a very limited definition of it! Again, take birdsong as an example. For that matter, take musique concrete (https://en.wikipedia.org...) -- an important 20th century genre. Pierre Schaeffer, one of its originators, says: "Instead of notating musical ideas on paper with the symbols of solfege and entrusting their realization to well-known instruments, the question was to collect concrete sounds, wherever they came from, and to abstract the musical values they were potentially containing".

If you agree that musique concrete is validly called "music", it is a small step from there to John Cage. He, instead of previously collecting sounds, recording them on tape, and playing them back to the audience, chose to do a "live performance". That is, allow chance in the form of the background noise that the audience produces, to become his "collected sound".

Con (quoting Julian Todd): "A little more precisely... it is a necessary condition of a work's being a work of music that it's performances can only compromise sounds produced by performers of the work as a result of their following the composer's instructions""

The performer in 4"33 was following the composer's instructions. By remaining silent, the performer was allowing the background noise of the audience to come through. Hence, Julian Todd is not necessarily providing a solid argument against calling 4"33 a piece of music.

Con: "the silence in Symphony No. 5 in C Minor is within the context that music came before it and will almost definitely come afterwards (and it does), and to enhance said music"

Please note that (if memory serves), John Cage instructs the performer to open the lid of the keyboard, and to close it afterwards. Those two actions will create a sound, and I think are intended to. This percussive sound is not unlike the timpani roll at the beginning of Haydn's "Drumroll" Symphony. So, John Cage's piece can be described as: A pp percussive opening (somewhat in the style of Haydn), followed by several minutes of "the sound of an audience listening" (in the style of musique concrete), concluded with the final slam of the piano keyboard lid. Surely a riveting musical experience for anyone, though not, in my opinion, on par with the music that comes before and after that rest at the beginning of Beethoven's 5th.
Debate Round No. 2
Pythasis

Con

Pythasis forfeited this round.
TAW

Pro

Do I take Con's silence as consent?
Debate Round No. 3
Pythasis

Con

No problem with the acceptance round, that can be odd to people who are new here (I know that I personally didn't know what it meant at first). Also, I sincerely apologize about my forfeit. I've been very busy, so I can only hope the voters can be merciful on this breach of conduct.

The issue with the percussive sounds and with musique concrète (a popular example of the latter would be The Beatles Revolution 9, for anyone who's wondering) is that, for the former, Cage specified that the audience was the producer of the music, and, for the latter, musique concrète still has specific sounds put into it that have been made by the composer(s) of the piece. So this brings us to the performers "following the composer's instructions." The fact that the "sounds produced" are not by the performers as a result of the instructions provided to them but rather the audience, who is still referred to as an audience and not an orchestra or any other type of group of performers, the sound produced is noise and not music.

I still believe that 4'33' acts as a profound work of performance art, but for the listed reasons I would not go so far as to call it music.
TAW

Pro

I don't think that it an integral part of the definition of music that it be performed by "performer's following the composer's instructions". That just doesn't chime with so much of what is called music today. Plenty of music has no performers at all. And musique concrete also has no performers, unless you call an electronic music-producing gadget a performer!

With 4'33 John Cage was certainly able to anticipate the sort of sound that would be heard between the start of the pianist's performance and the end. The details of that sound are clearly random, but surely this is no different to aleatoric music, which I have mentioned previously but you failed to pick up on.

Would an 18th century, or even 19th century, concert goer consider the piece under discussion 'music'? Certainly not. But we, in the 21st century, have the entire 20th century to look back on: a century where the boundaries of art music were expanded considerably. In the 20th century, forward-thinking composers showed us that almost any sound, presented in the right context, can be considered music. Our definition of music is far in advance of anything those ancient audiences might have anticipated!

Think of the riots that followed the first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The early 20th c. Parisian audience was scandalized by what they heard. The work was dismissed by many as barbaric. Yet today, who wouldn't consider the Rite of Spring music, and great music at that!

Let us not be Luddites. Let us admit that John Cage is challenging us to recognize that by creating within the audience a heightened sense of hearing within the structured and controlled framework of his brilliantly original 4'33, he has created one of the great musical edifices of the twentieth century.
Debate Round No. 4
Pythasis

Con

Pythasis forfeited this round.
TAW

Pro

Perhaps Con is trying to convince us that if John Cage's 4'33 is music, his silent arguments are a debate?

In any case, to conclude, there is no question that we may feel uneasy about calling 4'33 music. Nevertheless, it has always been the role of the artist in society to take us out of our comfort zone, our complacency, our easy way of thinking, and blaze a new trail for others to follow. With 4'33, John Cage is remembered as expanding our concept of the very term 'music', and for that he deserves gratitude rather than imputations against his legacy as a creator of ground-breaking 20th century music.
Debate Round No. 5
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by Pythasis 1 year ago
Pythasis
Sorry about that, I've been very busy this past week. I'll post in the new round ASAP.
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