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No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33 (Icons of America Series) [Hardcover]

Kyle Gann
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 April 2010 Icons of America
First performed at the midpoint of the twentieth century, John Cage's 4'33, a composition conceived of without a single musical note, is among the most celebrated and ballyhooed cultural gestures in the history of modern music. A meditation on the act of listening and the nature of performance, Cage's controversial piece became the iconic statement of the meaning of silence in art and is a landmark work of American music. In this book, Kyle Gann, one of the nation's leading music critics, explains 4'33 as a unique moment in American culture and musical composition. Finding resemblances and resonances of 4'33 in artworks as wide-ranging as the paintings of the Hudson River School and the music of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, he provides much-needed cultural context for this fundamentally challenging and often misunderstood piece. Gann also explores Cage's craft, describing in illuminating detail the musical, philosophical, and even environmental influences that informed this groundbreaking piece of music. Having performed 4'33 himself and as a composer in his own right, Gann offers the reader both an expert's analysis and a highly personal interpretation of Cage's most divisive work.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (6 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300136994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300136999
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 15.6 x 21.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,118,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Gann's book perfectly proves Cage's belief that putting a frame around silence can be as rewarding as music itself.'
--Andrew Male, Mojo, 1st June 2010

`This is a gem of a outstanding commentary on a controversial subject.'
--Philip Borg-Wheeler, Classical Music, July 2010

About the Author

Kyle Gann is Associate Professor of Music at Bard College, a composer, and former new-music critic for the Village Voice.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sounding silence 3 Dec 2010
Whether you think Cage's 4'33" is one of the key art-music masterpieces of the twentieth century, or whether you think it's a bad joke, the influence of the piece on both art and popular music is undeniable. Gann's book is thus very useful in providing an entertaining, readable, yet still academically credible account of the history of the piece, the meaning Cage attributed to it, and the range of Asian, European, and American sources that Cage used to justify the philosophical, religious, and musical importance of the work. Gann does not slavishly idolise Cage and presents a balanced investigation into Cage's sources, correcting several misconceptions about those sources found in previous texts. Some misconceptions remain - Gann's analysis of Cage's borrowing from Thomas Mace is particularly flawed - but on the whole his grasp of the material is sure. For the general reader interested in 4'33" Gann's book provides a wealth of contextualising information that is sure to illuminate the meanings and history of the work; for the Cage specialist, although there is not a great deal of original material here, it presents an up-to-date synthesis of research on the subject.
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1 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Everyone knows the tale of the emporor's new clothes. So why oh why does this pretentious piece of non-music continue to be so hyped up

OK so if the orchestra is not playing you can still hear some noises. Big deal and so what. A child of 4 or 5 could tell you that but wouldn't have his utterings revered for decades after

If you want to hear an interesting comment on silence go and buy "talking seattle grunge rock blues" by Todd Snider. At least that's funny, especially when on their unplugged record the band "refuses to play acoustical versions of the songs they refused to play in the first place"

So if we have already heard enough of and about the original "work" WHY another book???

Please spare us this waste of our time and money
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whereof one cannot speak.... 15 Aug 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book both because of my interest in Cage and the avant garde as well as my love of the critical insights of Kyle Gann.
And I was not disappointed. Gann's analysis of this seminal work of the avant garde addresses the social context of the piece as well as the various criticisms of it. And in so doing he makes it clear that this is, as he says, the best known work of the avant garde as well as a very important work from which we can understand much of what came later including minimalism, art "happenings" and indeterminate methods. He correctly positions it as a sort of "urtext" piece much like Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring".
Gann does this in an eminently readable style with a very complete set of references and a discography (yes, the "silent piece" has been recorded many times). He even gives strategies by which a performer can approach the interpretation of the score.
This can be read with equal benefit by academics, musicians and general readers.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not just about silence 10 May 2010
By Richard Friedman - Published on
This is an extraordinary book, because by focusing on just one piece by John Cage, Gann brings into the discussion the whole world of art and sensibility of the period, the late 40's to the 60's.

This is a "must-have" and "must-read" for anyone interested in the period.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shhh 23 April 2010
By MV - Published on
Gann does a fantastic job at putting 4'33'' and Cage into context. The book is remarkably well researched. As Gann says, this book could not have been written in the 20th Century, given the amount of books that have come out in the last 15 years. In his introduction, Gann mentions that his interest in Cage started at an early age, and one can't help be influenced by his curiosity. "No Such Thing As Silence" has been very helpful with my own writing on 4'33'' and Cage; and has helped inform me as to why Cage just might be one of the most important composers of all time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Get the print version--Kindle does not have images 7 Nov 2013
By D. Chaloux - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
You can read the 5-star reviews about the content of the book, most of which I agree. It's a fascinating exploration of a controversial work by John Cage. But by the end, you'll realize that many of our presuppositions are vastly misguided.

I have to give this a 3-star rating however because the Kindle edition does not have any of the images in the book. The rights apparently were not obtained for the electronic medium. This is a great disservice to the readers. In addition, there is no warning on the Kindle page that this book is in anyway incomplete, which it is. Yes, the Kindle version is much cheaper, and we pay for it dearly.

I highly recommend the book, but if you get it, get the print version.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All You Need to Know About 4'33'' 7 Jan 2011
By Semih - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like it or not, John Cage's 4'33'' is a monumental event in the history of the arts and this book has everything one needs to know about it. Very well researched and organized. It is also very informative about the persons and circumstances around the event.
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