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Is music happening now?

Pause for a moment and listen to the sounds around you.

Pay attention to all the sounds around you. Are there people talking? What else do you hear? Birds? Cars? Listen to what is happening close to you; listen to the sounds far away. Could these sounds be considered music? Why? Why not? What would make these sounds music?

Is music happening now?

John Cage experimented with this idea after seeing an all-white painting by Robert Rauschenberg. In this piece, the music is the ambient sounds in the room. In effect, this was presenting a formal setting for the audience to perceive reality as art.

Below, read about 4’33” and think about how this could be music.


4’33” is a three movement piece composed by John Cage in 1952. The composition is divided into three movements, the first being 30 seconds the second being 2 minutes and 23 seconds and the third being 1 minute and 40 seconds. In each movement, the music indicates the performer to not play their instrument. The piece was originally performed on a piano, but can be performed on any instrument or combination of instruments. The piece consists of all the sounds in the environment of the performance space.

4’33’ on Google Books

Additional information on the score of 4’33 from the John Cage Trust

The following video shows some reactions following a performance of 4’33” in The McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA. in 2010 by William Marx.

Contribute your reactions in the comments below!

Cage and 4’33” are also present in popular culture:

Consider video recording your own creative performance of 4’33”, publishing it on YouTube and tweeting it with #whenismusic


“Get a pencil and paper. Become aware of all the sounds you are hearing now, this moment, as you read. Make a list of them. Close you eyes from time to time. Swivel your head slightly to change the mix. Make a sweep from nearby sounds to distant. Fall into the distance. Become transparent. Now fall into the nearness. Make a sweep from the highest sounds to the lowest ones. Disappear into the stratosphere, reappear underground. If your space is quiet enough you will hear your own internal sounds: breathing, maybe your blood in your ears. Or the subtle sounds of cloth against cloth, skin against skin. Count everything; write everything down. Use words economically. Later, if you like, you can set the scene and go into detail.

Now make you sweeps into scans so rapid that you have the illusion of hearing everything at once. Now close your eyes and hear everything at once. Now cup your hands behind your ears. Technicolor!

This is the sound of your now, your Symphony of Place.”

Mathieu, W. (1991). The listening book: Discovering your own music. (1st ed., pp. 40-41). Boston: Shambhala Publishing, Inc.

your Symphonies of Place in the comments below.

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