The thought crossed my mind a few weeks ago to do a performance of 4'33" using digital technology, modern sound equipment, and music production software. A recent event focusing on performance art at the Bag Factory, called RE/Action, gave me the opportunity to take advantage of this happy idea.

4′33″ is an experimental musical work by former Fluxus member and avant-garde composer John Cage (1912 - 1992). The original piece was composed for piano and consists of about four and a half minutes of silence with an introduction by Cage saying: “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it”. Even though its first manifestation was for piano, Cage had originally composed 4’33” for any instrument, giving me allowance to perform a digital version in two parts in front of an audience at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg.

Cage structured 4’33” in three randomly selected movements, depending on the action, performer, and setting. Thus, the beginning an end of each movement is not dictated by the composer. Despite this premise, I decided to compose the digital version in two parts, the first part being the original piece, and the second part taking the form of a remix. Cage did, however, stipulate that the title should reflect the timings for each movement, which is why my performance of 4’33” began at about 19:15 (after all the other performers at the event had finished). Unknown to me this was also about the time that the Imam calls the faithful into prayer at the nearby mosque. The original sub-title of 4’33” was “A Silent Prayer”, which was referred to by the presence of Lerato Shadi, suspended with cloth in a messianic pose on the wall opposite to me, giving the entire room a religious atmosphere of Christian and Muslim, East and West undertones (or overtones; whatever strikes your fancy).

I introduced myself and the piece, and then I sat down in front of my Korg midi controller, MacBook Pro, Tascam audio controller, a marantz amplifier and Sony earphones; surrounded by condenser microphones, KEF monitors, lots of cords and about thirty five people. I readied myself, because in my experience sound equipment almost always has issues, not to mention computers. Each part lasted about 5 minutes, including the breaks between movements and live editing time. As mentioned, the first part consisted of Cage’s original 4’33”, with completely random beginning and ending points for each movement, and 30 second intervals separating the three movements. I thought part one was fairly successful because most people kept as silent as they could, except for some late comers who did not quite catch on to what was going on, but the Imam's sound came totally unexpectedly, and almost perfectly.

After the piece had been successfully recorded in part one of the rendition, there was about a two minute respite before the commencement of part two. The chants of the Imam took up most of movement one in part one, so I decided to focus on that section of ambiance in the remix. I aimed the microphones at the monitors and left them to record whilst the remix was played through the speakers. In this way the remix was recorded as heard by the audience during its live production. Silence and noise was amplified, spliced and fragmented in a totally random manner, bearing no pattern except for some repetitive sections, with no interludes or pauses for about four and a half minutes. Part two was interesting because onlookers did not know they were still being recorded and felt free to speak there minds. Little did they know that I could hear their conversations very clearly with my earphones, with statements like: “what is he doing… Why is he just sitting there?”, and “is there a problem with his equipment?”

Once both parts had been completed, after about 10 minutes, the recording, re-recording, and remix was published immediately on an Ipod Shuffle and put up for sale for R2000. There was no buyer, which completely dumbfounded me, because I was sure that people would give anything for an Ipod shuffle with amplified, broken silence on it. Given this disappointment an edited and mastered version of the two parts will also be made available as a free download in due course.

The full title of this rendition has been settled on as: 4'33" (a silent prayer for Darfur), piece for digital media. This title was influenced by the serendipitous event of the Imam chanting, and also by a friend who answered me when I told him about my performance: "...fuck Shane, why do you perform these meaningless acts when you could be saving people in Darfur or something..."

Thank you to Johan Thom for organizing the event, "RE/Action". Thank you also to all the other performers, Rat Western, Lerato Shadi, Bronwyn Lace and all the rest, you guys were great. And, thank you to the Bag Factory for hosting the event.

Below is a nice rendition of 4'33" by David Tudor, a student and colleague of John Cage.

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