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John Cage Centennial: These Videos Will Make You Question The Definition Of Music

Betty Freeman/ courtesy of the John Cage Trust

Starting tonight, the New World Symphony celebrates (a little belatedly) the centennial of experimental composer John Cage, who died at age 80 in 1992. (His "centennial" means the 100-year anniversary of his birth, which was on Sept. 5, 1912).

It's fitting, in a way, that this celebration also overlaps with the annual International Noise Conference across the bridge at Churchill's Pub, because Cage was always sort of the hip person's composer. Working far out of the confines of the usual stuffy concert hall, his work explored ideas of chance, confrontation, and the very idea of music itself. Even after his death, he's the kind of avant-garde artist name-checked by rockers and other aesthetes who could only hope to be as totally boundary-pushing.

On WLRN this morning, we explored the New World Symphony's centennial celebration, dubbed Making The Right Choices, as well as the work of Cage himself. You can listen to our stories on it below, and click here for Jordan Levin's in-depth preview of the event in the Miami Herald.

Jordan Levin reports on "Renga," the headlining piece of the festival, to be performed by the symphony on Sunday night.
Christine DiMattei visits the New World Center for a crash (bang-boom) course on John Cage.

But there's another part of the celebration that can only be experienced online -- and focuses on the sort of random interaction that Cage himself would probably love. In advance of this weekend, the Symphony called for performers and fans to submit their own video performances of the composer's most famous work, 4'33."

It's the ultimate Cage piece to name-check, and his most famous, because the number in the title refers to the length of the performance -- and also a length of time during which the ostensible performer plays exactly zero official notes.

At first, it seems like a piece about silence, but then, to the enthusiastic and attentive listener, it turns into something more. Someone might rustle in a seat, or cough, or a door might open -- and all of that becomes part of the piece. Pay enough attention, and 4'33" is about finding music in everyday ambient noise.

As an example, check out three of our favorites from the user submissions below. You can view all of the user submissions on this New World Symphony playlist on YouTube. They'll be turned into an installation by artist Mikel Rouse, which will loop in the SunTrust Pavilion at the symphony building throughout the Cage centennial celebration.

Here it is as performed by a group of musicians at a European Broadcasting Union summit last year in Geneva, Switzerland....


...and another version, in an appropriately tropical Florida setting, "played" by a trio helmed by Virginia Kopelman...


...and here it is for harp!


Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Centennial Celebration includes a nightly performance starting tonight, Thursday, February 7, through Sunday, February 9. Tickets for each performance start at $30. Call 305-673-3330, or visit nws.edu for full details.