John Cage: The Liberation of Listening through Experimentation and Dissonance

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“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 surround us (the audience) while being silent, which is a necessary 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. Still, it was not just an attack against harmony or tonality, in the footsteps of his master Schoenberg, 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. The aim is to show how Cage’s attitude towards music and listening through experimentation and dissonance as creative strategies have changed our way of thinking about (sound) art and (aural) aesthetic experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy as Experimentation, Dissidence and Heterogeneity
EditorsJosé Miranda Justo, Elisabete M. de Sousa, Fernando M. F. Silva
Place of PublicationNewcastle Upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)978-1-5275-7235-5
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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