John Cage’s 4’33 remains a much talked-about, but misunderstood piece. Some people see it as a joke. My Italian friend Renzo Pognant told me about a performance of 4′33 in Torino, where the audience literally went crazy when nothing was being played – there was a riot in the theater. Some think, in a rather scholarly fashion, that it relates to silence, a known Cage interest. But what the piece accomplishes is actually much deeper and more radical. It questions the formality of performance in Western music. In many other cultures, music happens in real life, not on stage. Maybe 4’33 is all of the above, but I would hate to see that last aspect ignored. Why do I think of 4’33 now? Because we need revolutionary works. Because there is a judge who sentences minor offenders to weird and unusual punishments like sleeping in a park. Because we could soon be going back 50 years in the women’s right to choose.

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