The Sound of Silence

There was an article published last week about Yves Klein’s Monotone-Silence symphony in the New York Times. Klein is better known for his work with colour and paint, his ‘blue’ paintings are quite famous.

Yves Klein, Monochrome Painting, IKB190, 1959

Yves Klein, Monochrome Painting, IKB190, 1959


In the article, direct reference is made to another famous ‘silent’ piece that I mentioned in class, John Cage’s 4’33”. Although the article notes:

Klein conceived of the idea for the symphony around 1947-48, the same years that John Cage, in New York, was formulating “4’33”,” a landmark work that involves a pianist not playing the piano but instead attuning an audience to the complexities of silence. Though there seems to be no evidence that Cage and Klein were aware of each other at the time or influenced each other later, Klein also came to view silence as the most important part of the musical work. “This is really my symphony,” he wrote, “and not the sounds during its performance.”

You can find several performances of this piece online, although it seems as though these videos don’t capture the experience of the piece. You might also take a look at this short clip of John Cage talking about silence:

Looking at this discussion of silence in ‘art music’, it’s perhaps worth pausing to think a little about the other ways in which silence is used in other genres of popular music. If Cage and Klein are drawing our attention to listening to silence – the theme of this week’s class – it is worth thinking about how this might differ from popular genres. Here’s a clip of Otis Redding singing “I’ve been loving you too long” performed live in 1967, in which he effectively uses pauses but not in a way seems very close to the ideas of Cage or Klein or Schafer.

Any other genres that make use of silences, pauses and breaks (i.e. the ‘drop’ in Hip Hop, various kinds of dance music)?