An app based on a piece of music that doesn’t have any notes in it. It sounds like a gimmick, or a poorly placed joke about the absurdity of modern art. Get it? The app doesn’t do anything, just like the piece!
On the contrary, 4′ 33″ – John Cage, released in the iOS App Store Friday, is as fitting an homage to the iconoclastic composer as I’ve seen. 4’33” is often mischaracterized as a silent work, but it is as much about the small incidental sounds that happen during the performance as it is about the lack of sounds coming from the stage. The app recognizes this, and asks you to record and share the sounds of your immediate surroundings — a personal 4’33 performance. Because, as Cage writes “wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise,” no two recordings can ever be the same.
The app uploads performances to JohnCage.org, where you can to listen to others’ recordings from all over the world, geotagged with locations. I’m partial to a frantic, noisy version that was recorded at the Las Vegas airport. You can hear the slot machines!
For more, there’s also pretty excellent prepared piano app that was released to mark the composer’s 100th birthday in 2012. For the fuck of it, here’s one of my favorite Cage-isms, from “19 Questions,” a film project by the director Frank Scheffer.