Day 49: Thursday
Good morning Zak,
Some writers prefer keyboards with strong “key action.” They like the computer to make loud satisfying click sounds as they write. Author John Green says that the rhythmic thud of the spacebar contributes to his flow and drives his writing forward. I’m writing this entry on a Mac computer, which have notoriously soft… Wait a minute. Shhhhh… Do you hear that? That music?
The piece you are hearing is titled 4’ 33’’. It was composed by John Cage in 1952. I’m not sure what it sounds like to you, but where I am sitting, it includes the occasional opening and shutting of doors, the flow of water as a roommate uses the bagno adjacent to my room, and the depressingly quiet trickle of tiny little key clicks.
Okay, so technically these sounds aren’t really John Cage’s 4’33’’. No one’s performing that piece here at the moment. But in a way, 4’33’’ is a song that’s always happening: you see, Cage’s composition calls for the performer to sit at their instrument and do nothing for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. During this period of time, just like during any other period of time, sounds will occur naturally by chance. People will breath, cough, shift in their seats… Someone might fart or drop something… It might start raining outside… Cage claims that all of those collective noises are a piece of music.
“The reason I like the movie so much is because there is just that—commitment to the story: […] the perfect con, where in the end everyone gets just the thing he wants.”
There’s something very compelling about the image of a master con artist insidiously working all things together for some calculated purpose of his. I think at some level we all would kind of like to imagine an artist like that working behind the apparent chaos of our lives. It’s a common thing to wish for—almost cliché. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to know that life is guided by poetic vision and not by mere chance?
“Indeed, when someone said that there was in nature, just as in animals, a mind, a cause of the good, cosmic order and of all the arrangement of things, he seemed like a sober man compared to those before him, who argued otherwise.”
-Aristotle, Metaphysics 984b
Who can say how much truth there really is in this kind of idle fantasizing. I once tried having a conversation with the allegedly conscious “mind in nature.” Then I stopped a moment and thought about what I was doing. I was just a crazy man talking to trees. I could say the trees were conscious if I’d like… if that would bring me some kind of consolation. But what would I mean by conscious then? I could also say that my potato salad is in love with me.
Anywho, the weird thing about John Cage’s piece is… well… John Cage. I mean, did Cage really compose it if he doesn’t have a say in how it sounds? Usually I think of an artist as an individual with some kind of conscious agency in their work. A lot of people find the sounds of nature to be beautiful, but we have difficulty agreeing about whether there is a poetic vision behind them. Poetry normally has an author. Someone rhythmically hammering away at the cosmic space bar, driving the story forward to its end.