UK supergroup records 4'33", hopes to top Xmas charts

A UK supergroup has recorded a cover of 4'33", John Cage's infamous "silent" composition. They're hoping to take their four minutes and thirty three seconds' worth of breathing noises, soft shuffling, and chair creaks to the top of the UK pop music charts this Christmas -- and more importantly, they're hoping to beat out whatever awful earworm the X-Factor TV programme foists on the nation. I say best of British luck to them!
Later today, Pete Doherty, the Kooks, Billy Bragg, Imogen Heap, Orbital and many more will gather in a London studio, collaborating in a bid for this year's Christmas No 1. But the strangest bit is not the team-up: it's that they are not recording a single note. The ad hoc supergroup is assembling in support of Cage Against the Machine, a charity campaign to take John Cage's infamous 4'33" - a composition of pure silence - to the top of the Yuletide charts.

The campaign has been gathering momentum over the past couple of months, winning celebrity endorsements, amused press coverage and around 60,000 Facebook fans. Their inspiration is obvious: last year's successful push to raise Rage Against the Machine's Killing In the Name, released in 1992, over X Factor winner Joe McElderry's The Climb. In 2010, instead of loosing a profanity-laden rap-rock tirade on the British public, Cage Against the Machine organisers want to unfurl the serene sound of silence, taking on whoever wins X Factor next week. The plan recalls a similar star-studded silence for this year's Remembrance Day.

Cage Against the Machine: pop stars to stage silent X Factor protest (via Making Light)


  1. I really hope they play this on commercial radio. They can
    totally replace Chris Moyles show with it, he’s with Kunt as well.

  2. Where will the proceeds go? Or will they sell it for £0.01 or something, just to really demolish the X-Factor winner?

    1. @Usonia – “Shuffling? Breathing? Hardly bloody silence then innit?”

      Old thing, you labour under a misapprehension (albeit one abetted by lazy journalists)…

      “Although commonly perceived as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence”, the piece actually consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.”

      “Cage’s musical equivalent to the Rauschenberg paintings uses the “silence” of the piece as an aural “blank canvas” to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance; the music of the piece is natural sounds of the players, the audience, the building, and the outside environment.”

        1. Both, the sound engineer’s alteration of the recording in post production would be a another stage. Listening to recorded sound involves listening to a multiplicity of different acoustic and temporal spaces in combination.

  3. I’m all for subverting the mainstream etc blah blah – but they’ve made one fatal error in this: they’ve included Pete Doherty. I hate him (actual hate), and therefore I hope this effort fails miserably. Fuck off Pete, you disgusting oxygen thief.

  4. There is already a campaign to make Surfin’ Bird the #1 instead of X-Factor which is far more likely to succeed.

  5. @anon All of the proceeds will go to charity. This is from their Facebook page:

    “ALL PROFIT FROM THIS CAMPAIGN GOES TO CHARITY: be it ad revenue from the site,, or sales money from the release. Details of the benefitting charities can be found here:

    I think its a great idea and will be getting my copy next week. CAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!!!

  6. I’m not sure xfactor has ever created an ‘ear-worm’ – an ‘ear-fluke’, perhaps, but an ear worm? That’s a benefit of the doubt I’m not prepared to give those purveyors of hack karaoke swill.

  7. I used to go outdoors and listen to ‘Cage’s’ 4:33.

    Before Cage wrote it.

    Personally, I say he’s taking composer credit for a cover version.

    That’s not very Zen.

    Going outside for a smoke, will have another listen, see how much ‘Cage’ I can hear in it.

    1. I was thinking that that piece was specifically geared to the context of people trying to appreciate “serious” music at a concert, so it’s a little different conceptually than just going outside and listening to sounds (although I’m 100% sure Cage was all for that too and I’m sure it’s more enjoyable on the whole).

  8. IMO, the idea of actually “performing” a piece that’s really no more than a thought experiment is the kind of thing that gives modern art a bad name, though I grant it’s not as egregious as Manzoni selling cans of his own shit.

    1. I would say that if a form of art doesn’t have a “bad name” with some people than it’s hardly worth participating in. For what it’s worth, I’m a musician and that’s my favorite piece of music, so it’s got a good name with me, at least!

    2. No, the piece was always meant to be performed. That’s the point. You either like the idea or you don’t, but let’s not misrepresent it.

  9. Now’s the time to read Kyle Gann’s new book “NO SUCH THING AS SILENCE: John Cage’s 4’33:”,
    which tells the history of this piece, Cage’s background and ideas for it, how it became a touchstone of twentieth century art. Amazon has pages from it in “Look Inside” if you want a quick look.

  10. I put a YouTube video up of my friends doing 4’33” live. I think that a live recording is closer to (my understanding of) John Cage’s concept than a studio recording could be. This is, as I understand it, because 4’33” is not about silence, it is about ambiance. That is, ambiance of where the listener is, not where the musicians are. The ambiance of my video is of Nabolom Bakery in Berkeley, California. On a Saturday morning, Nabolom Bakery is a happening place. That is the kind of ambiance that people might enjoy.

  11. So I’m the only person in the world that thinks the whole ‘LETS GET A JOKE SONG IN TEH CHARTS TO PISS OFF SIMON COWELL LOL” thing is unbelievably childish, then?

    The fact that all these ‘credible’ (read: less popular) artists are still able to record, and that all their recordings are still available and didn’t immediately cease to function when The X Factor first started shows that what Cowell and his chums get up to *just doesn’t matter*.

    You know, if you want to run some sort of counter-contest or selection process where you all get behind one artist that conforms to whatever arbitrarily-selected measure of quality you’ve got in your head in the run up to Christmas, then that’s fine. But let’s get behind something for what it is- good music- rather than what it isn’t, purely to annoy someone it’s trendy not to like.

  12. @jhhl Yeah, the Kyle Gann overview of 4’33 is a great thing — thorough about its origins, performance, and legacy.

    Also recommended from this year: Kenneth Silverman’s sizable new Cage biography, titled Begin Again (Knopf).

  13. Although I am dedicated follower of contemporary classical music, most of Cage’s output usually left me pretty cold. Then I read his book “Silence”. That opened my mind and opened my ears. Anyone can enjoy what that book has to offer: A world of unheard music that plays eternally. 4’33” can be a joke or a gateway to bliss — it’s up to the listener.

  14. I think I’d rather listen to
    John Lennon’s Nutopian International Anthem.
    (Great fidelity on the remastered version of Mind Games!)

    1. I awoke from a nightmare once in which James Earl Jones and Brian Eno had collaborated on “Indeterminacy.”

    2. I awoke from a nightmare once in which James Earl Jones and Brian Eno had collaborated on “Indeterminacy.”

  15. Coming on this a few days late, but I don’t think I saw anybody mention the artist Mike Batt, who was sued for copyright infringement when he “covered” this song on an album. They settled out of court and the amount wasn’t disclosed, but it was in the six-figure range. It’s by far one of the most ridiculous lawsuits ever. And we thought what U2 and it’s masters did to Negativland was silly, this takes the cake. The letter U and the numeral 2 came off as assholes after that incident. They seemed to support Negativland, at least when they were forced to talk about it, but didn’t have big enough bonos to stop the wheel once it started spinning. Was it the same with Cage? I would think he had more control over his works than the rock rop U2.

Comments are closed.