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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sound is just sound (John Cage)


"When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear the sound of traffic, here on 6th avenue for instance, I don't have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound. And it gets louder and quieter, higher and lower, longer and shorter... it does all these things. I'm completly satisfied with that. I don't need sound to talk to me.
We don't see much difference between time and space. We don't know where one begins and the other stops. So that most of the arts that we think of is being in time and most of the arts we think of is being in space.
Marcel Duchamp for instance, began thinking of music as being not a time art but a space art. And he made a piece called "Sculpture musical", which means different sounds coming from different places, and lasting, producing a sculpture which is sonorous and remains.
People expect "listening" to be more than listening. And so sometimes they speak of "inner listening", or the "meaning of sound". When I talk about music, it finally comes to people's mind that I'm talking about sound that doesn't mean anything, that is not "inner" but is just "outer". And people who understand that say : "you mean it's just sounds?", thinking that for something to just be a sound is to be useless. Whereas I love sounds, just as they are. And I have no need for them to be anything more, than what they are. I don't want them to be psychological. I don't want a sound to pretend that it's a bucket, or that it's president, or that it's in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound.
Emmanuel Kant said they were two things that don't have to mean anything : music and laughter. Don't have to mean anything, that is in order to give us very deep pleasure.
The sound experience which I prefer to all others, is the experience of silence. And silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic.
If you listen to Bethoven or Mozart, you see they are always the same. But if you listen to traffic, you see it's always different."
New York, 4 Feb 1991

CCC is like John Cage's theoretical breakthrough 4'33" with music. He made spectators self-conscious about the very identity of silence, for itself; not as a buffer or a margin to sound and music, but as an entity in itself.
CCC gives cinema this new paradigm where inaction is powerful in itself, and not just as a prelude to action, where quietness is not a meaningful (unheard) inner monologue we are expected to fill in, but as a mute moment for its own beauty. When John Cage says "sound is just sound" it is not meant in a pejorative or dismissive way, on the contrary it is celebrating the self-worth of sound and silence in spite of any possible added value.
Contemplation doesn't have to mean anything, doesn't have to give sense to a plot, doesn't have to drive the story, doesn't have to give personality to characters... It is an extraordinary moment devoid of intellectualized discourse, psychological manipulation or personal messages. We have to learn to see beauty in emptiness, in dead times, in impersonal sounds... and in silence.

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1 comment:

HarryTuttle said...

"Si les ramifications de l'art du compositeur John Cage apparaissent vivantes dans les domaines plastiques et poétiques, dans la performance et la danse, sa pensée reste très silencieuse pour les compositeurs d'aujourd'hui. Cette rencontre pose les questions de « l'Après-Cage » et de la démarche conceptuelle dans la musique contemporaine. Rassemblant artistes, compositeurs et critiques, cette rencontre tire, avec la contribution du philosophe Elie During, les fils des mutations possibles d'une pensée protéiforme : l'écoute et l'indétermination, l'œuvre-processus et les dispositifs situationnels, le prototype et l'art conceptuel, la perception et la politique du silence.

Avec Bernard Blistène, historien de l'art, commissaire d'expositions ; Bastien Gallet, philosophe ; Carmen Pardo, musicologue ; Olivier Quintyn, poète et philosophe et Peter Szendy, philosophe.
Une rencontre conçue et animée par Elie During, philosophe."
4'33'' Portrait chinois. Hommage à John Cage. (France Culture, Juin 2010) 57'