John Cage about Silence

That is why people sit and listen to rain.

Just listen : John Cage – in love with sound / silence -01


Transcript of the interview with John Cage in the film “Ecoute” (Listen) by Miroslav Sebestik:

[part 1]
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 traffic, 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. What it does is it gets louder and quieter, and it gets higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter. It does all those things.

I am completely 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 we think of as being in time, and most of the arts we think of 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 Musicale,” which means: different sounds coming from different places and lasting, producing a sculpture which is sonorous and which remains.

People expect listening to be more than listening. And so they sometimes speak of inner listening, or the meaning of sound.

When I talk about music, it finally comes to people’s minds that I’m talking about sound that doesn’t mean anything, that is not inner, but is just outer. And they, these people who understand that, finally say: “you mean it’s just sounds?” — thinking for something to be just being 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 sound to pretend it’s a bucket or that it is president or that it is in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound.

And I’m not so stupid either. There was a German philosopher who is very well known, Immanuel Kant. And he said: there are two things that don’t have to mean anything: one is music and the other is laughter. Don’t have to mean anything, that is, in order to give us very deep pleasure.

[Cat comes up to Cage; speaking to cat] You know that, don’t you?

The sound experience which I prefer to all others is the experience of silence. And the silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic. If you listen to Beethoven or to Mozart you see that they’re always the same. But if you listen to traffic you see it’s always different. [laughs]

[part 2]
When I try to find in the past something which — oh, I don’t what to say but — something which I love. I don’t make any distinction between my own past and the past of musical culture. I think that what is most invigorating, for me, is the music that has not yet been written. I want something I don’t yet know. And I do my best to make each moment like that: something I am not familiar with.

There is a remark by Marcel Duchamp which I love very much. He states it as a goal. “To reach the impossibility of transfering from one like image to another, the memory imprint.”

We don’t have to have tradition if we somehow free ourselves from our memories. Then each thing that we see is new. It is so as though as if we have become tourists and that we were living in countries that were very exciting, because we don’t know them.

I can’t tell anybody how to listen or how to look. I certainly can’t tell them what to remember, particularly when I don’t want to remember anything myself.

If I look at a coca-cola bottle and then look at another coca-cola bottle. I want to forget the first one, in order to see the second coca-bottle as being original. And it is original, because it’s in a different position in space and time and light is shining on it differently, so that no two coca-bottles are the same.
—John Cage, interviewed in the film “Ecoute” (Listen)


I’ll make a presumptive statement & say that men who truly, deeply love their wives think that they are most attractive without make-up. I believe this is how Cage felt about sound.

The music is a language that we don’t understand, and the fact of not understanding it is what makes it so attractive.

Amazing, John Cage 🙂


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