John Cage: The Liberation of Listening through Experimentation and Dissonance

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


“Tacet” is the only instruction repeated in each of the three movements of the score of the infamous composition by John Cage, 4’33”. It is an instruction to the performer as well as to the audience, or perhaps I shall say, the listener. But, contrary to a wide although very wrong opinion, 4’33” is not a piece about silence. Instead, it is a ‘performative’ invitation for listening to all sounds that surrounds us (the audience) while being silent, which is a previous condition for listening. 4’33” tried to overturn our traditional relationship to music: instead of listening to a platonic set of combinations between musical sounds, we should simply listen to (ordinary) sounds all around us and find how musical they are.
This is just an example - even though the most celebrated – of the disruptive work that John Cage conceived against the tradition of (classical) western music. It was, though, not just an attack against harmony or tonality – in the footsteps of his master Schönberg – but a serious blow in the preconceived notions of what music is, what should be the role of the composer and what should we look for when listening to music. In fact, after the initial scandal of Cage’s duchampian plaisanteries, the influence of his philosophical ideas on music and listening has spread not only over a generation of musicians but all over the various artistic fields and even in the philosophy of art and aesthetics. My aim in this presentation is to show how Cage’s attitudes towards music and listening through experimentation and dissonance as creative strategies have changed our way of thinking about (sound) art and (aural) aesthetic experience.
Period8 Feb 2019
Event titleInternational Conference on Practices of Philosophy as Experimentation and Dissidence
Event typeConference
LocationLisbon, Portugal
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Cage, John
  • Sound art
  • Philosophy of Music
  • Listening