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WikiProject Classical music
WikiProject icon4′33″ is within the scope of WikiProject Classical music, which aims to improve, expand, copy edit, and maintain all articles related to classical music, that are not covered by other classical music related projects. Please read the guidelines for writing and maintaining articles. To participate, you can edit this article or visit the project page for more details.


A letter to the New York Times shortly after Cage's death indicates that Harold Acton conceived of the idea of a totally silent piece of music in a prose work, "Cornelian" (1928). This may deserve mention in the "Precursers" section. Bill Jefferys (talk) 01:33, 28 July 2009 (UTC)

Thank you, and I'm sorry this hasn't been noticed earlier. I've added Cornelian to the section, citing the book the NYT reader referenced. --Jashiin (talk) 15:40, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

Missing section[edit]

Where is the section on the critical response? I'm sure at least some observers called this what it was, namely, total bullshit. (talk) 00:47, 10 June 2010 (UTC)

Aside from the fact that this page is for discussion of the article, not the work itself, I think the fact that this piece has engendered so much philosophical discussion and plays a part in a larger movement (see the recent Met exhibition at, I think it's safe to say that we can not determine that 4' 33" is "bullshit." NewkirkPlaza (talk) 13:02, 30 October 2014 (UTC)
This section should be removed as noted above, instead of being left as an unanswered prod. Because as it is, it leaves one with a need to second the notion this work isn't "bullshit" but rather, "self-important, unoriginal, navel-gazing rubbish." And no....I'm not a critic. I'm an expert. Mad Bunny (talk) 00:29, 10 March 2015 (UTC)

Background and influences section[edit]

In the background and influences section there's a paragraph treating Cage's claims about his experience in the anechoic chamber skeptically. All of it is unsourced. I tagged it but I was hoping someone has some ideas. If no sources are forthcoming then that stuff needs to go as it's clearly unencyclopedic OR. SQGibbon (talk) 17:36, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Well, I guess if no one has anything I'll go ahead and remove those lines. SQGibbon (talk) 23:35, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Facebook group[edit]

Whilst Googling Cage, I noticed there is a Facebook group which (and I am not sure how serious they are about this) is called "John Cages 4.33 for Christmas no.1 2010". Is it worth adding a bit to the page about this? I found it rather amusing and kind of interesting in a slightly facile way. What do people think? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Dead celeb (talkcontribs) 22:20, 23 August 2010 (UTC)

Agree; this has since been noted by The Guardian, which should constitute it being mentioned. [1]
~~NaN 10:53, 1 October 2010 (UTC)
I also think that the current Facebook campaign deserves a mention in this article, as there seem to be loads of reliable sources writing about it. I might have a go at including a section on it later, but, if anyone else would like to, here are some of the sources that I've found: The Guardian; The Telegraph; The Sun; The Sun (again); The Daily Mail; MSN UK; The Irish Times; Yahoo! Music; Scotland on Sunday; Kuar; Exclaim; Big Top 40; [2]; [3] A Thousand Doors (talk) 02:27, 23 October 2010 (UTC)
Not so sure about all this. It seems like it's only pop-cultural reference. What I don't see is how this advances the reader's understanding of the piece or of Cage in general. I don't see future Cage scholars even mentioning this incident much less analyzing it to any degree. Like I said, it's just a bit of trivia. Further, the use of 4'33" seems more of an ironic statement and/or an attempt to pull off a prank. In scanning the sources I didn't see anything to indicate that this was a celebration of the piece, John Cage, or 20th century classical music. If it were any of those things then comparing it to a similar campaign to game the "Christmas Number One" program undercuts that assertion. Putting all this together I don't see that it deserves mention in the article, but even if consensus comes out in favor of including it, and in its own section, I definitely do not think it should take up as much space as it does. This is giving undue weight to a passing pop-cultural phenomenon that has little or no value to the article in terms of educating the reader on the significance of the piece. Just because something is well-sourced does not mean it has to be included in Wikipedia. SQGibbon (talk) 03:40, 3 November 2010 (UTC)
I drew a lot of inspiration for this section from the similar "Killing in the Name" article. I felt that the section had relevance to the article as it shows the cultural significance of the piece. Maybe it'll be worth waiting to see what the results of this "campaign" are - if it crashes and burns, then obviously the section should be removed. But if the piece makes the UK Singles Chart, then that should at least be mentioned in a 'Chart performance' table or something. A Thousand Doors (talk) 19:18, 11 November 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure how the "cultural significance" of the piece is being illustrated by what is essentially a prank. Furthermore, in the case of the other song the band became involved whereas with 4'33" neither Cage (who is dead) nor the Cage Trust have said anything about this. Whether it belongs in the article is one thing, whether it deserves its own section and so much space is another. I think that waiting to see "if it crashes and burns" completely misses the point. Either it's something that helps illustrate the piece of music or it isn't. Whether the campaign "succeeds" or not is irrelevant to understanding Cage's work. Also, just having looked at the Facebook page, what recording are they using? I didn't see anything listed. This makes the entire thing seem even more sketchy. SQGibbon (talk) 17:16, 17 November 2010 (UTC)

Plus, the wording for that section is confusing, and this sentence in particular is appalling: 'A recording of the piece by Cage Against the Machine was recorded by several musicians including Suggs, Imogen Heap and the Kooks, who took part in a recording session on 6 December.' A) it barely makes sense, B) the three incidences of the word 'recording' make it painful to read, C) the citation says nothing of the sort, and mentions none of the above artists. I can barely work out what it means, let alone if it's accurate... (talk) 15:01, 17 December 2010 (UTC)

I removed that section as you are correct, the citation does not support the text at all. I'm guessing that whoever made the edit copied in the wrong reference. SQGibbon (talk) 16:38, 17 December 2010 (UTC)

Performance by Bob Dickinson[edit]

Contentious text copied from article:

On December 5, 2010 at 2100 hours (GMT), an international simultaneous performance of Cage's 4'33" took place involving over 200 performers, amateur and professional musicians, vocalists and artists. The global orchestra, conducted live by Bob Dickinson via video link, performed the piece in support of the Cage Against The Machine campaign to bring 4'33" to christmas number 1 in 2010. Made up of many of the fans of the official facebook page promoting the Cage Against The Machine campaign (, the performance was also recorded by engineers at performances across continents This was the first time Cage's piece had been performed at simultaneous venues worldwide. Full documentation of participants and their audio/video input at a multitude of global locations have been collected on an event site[4] for future reference. A second performance is due to take place to coincide with the release of the Cage Against The Machine charity single on Sunday 12th of December 2010, with many more expected to take part. Links to the event can be found at the official Cage Against The Machine facebook page (

These all appear to be primary sources thus there is not a reliable source establishing the notability of the event (needs to be reported by a reliable source such as a newspaper). The claim that this was the first such performance also needs a reliable source to back that up (otherwise it's original research). I do not doubt that this event happened but that it was notable. Until a reliable secondary source establishes notability I do not believe this paragraph belongs in the article. SQGibbon (talk) 18:02, 7 December 2010 (UTC)

I agree that the paragraph, as it currently is, relies far too heavily on primary sources. But I think that enough secondary sources exist to justify its inclusion in the article, for example: The Independent, The Guardian, BBC News, Metro, Spinner and Yahoo! Music. Hopefully, these sources should be enough to verify any contentious material about the performance. Given the pedigree of acts that have come together to produce this recording, I think that it qualifies for inclusion in the article. Although, given also its link to the Facebook campaign, maybe it would be better placed for inclusion as part of the section below it. A Thousand Doors (talk) 01:13, 8 December 2010 (UTC)
These aren't the same things, though, are they? The original paragraph was about a world-wide collaboration whereas what you've linked to (at least the two I checked) are about a different recording. I could be missing something though. SQGibbon (talk) 03:51, 8 December 2010 (UTC)
Yes, you're right actually. My apologies, I should've checked the sources a bit more carefully - I assumed that, since they were both connected to the Facebook group, that they were the same thing. I've had a look for some reliable third-party sources regarding the Bob Dickinson performance, but I can't find any, so I guess that the above paragraph should be omitted. I think a mention of the other recording would be appropriate though. A Thousand Doors (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 23:32, 8 December 2010 (UTC).

OK, now that a source has been found for the Dickinson performance (establishing notability) it should be combined with the the Christmas campaign section. Then all of it needs to be seriously trimmed down. It's a prank and a single recording and doesn't need over 600 words to describe it. Obviously this latest addition needs to have the inline citations converted to references, some of the prose toned down, and less detail. Update: Right now all this text is just under 25% of the total text in the article. That's a clear case of undue weight for a prank and two recordings related to the prank. SQGibbon (talk) 00:21, 12 December 2010 (UTC)

I was wondering whether it'd be worth having information about the campaign in a separate article under the name Cage Against the Machine (currently a redirect to 4'33"), then just leaving a brief summary in the "Performances and recordings" section of this article. I might start drafting it out at some point. A Thousand Doors (talk) 14:10, 15 December 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure if such an article would be able to survive the deletion process. Perhaps better would be an article dealing with all the efforts to get a song to the top of the Christmas chart like the Rage Against the Machine campaign, the "Never Gonna Give You Up" attempt the year before that, and a competing campaign this year as mentioned here. I'm not positive that even that article would stand up to the deletion process but I think it would have a better chance. It might also be the case that putting all the information in the Christmas number one single page would be best. SQGibbon (talk) 22:18, 15 December 2010 (UTC)

Re. 4' 33" I note that in 'Talk' the performance/recording has been described as a 'prank', however, I must take exception to this as further links have been provided to recent comments made by Laura Kuhn director of The John Cage Trust and these, surely, must be acknowledged in an objective manner alongside the link given to The Telegraph article by noted writer and critic, Norman Lebrecht. I do take exception to the rather subjective dismissal of the contributions made to this resource of material on 4' 33" and the performance/recording as a 'prank'. This appears as the expression of a personal opinion on the part of SQ Gibbon who although having an interest in Cage, with all due respect, is not an acknowledged commentator on Cage's oeuvre. An editor should remain neutral and not be judgemental. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with SQ Gibbon. The notable sources clearly counter what SQ Gibbon views as a 'prank' due to the performance/recording taking place in a 'popular culture' context and I now question the authority of SQ Gibbon to continue in an editorial capacity in relation to this article. To whom could I direct my concern (obviously I would provide my full contact details)? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:17, 15 December 2010 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

By the way, it's "SQGibbon" - all one word; it's not a name, just a random set of letters. Anyway, I answered all this on your talk page before noticing that you had posted it all here (in addition to my talk page). If anyone is interested it's there or if someone wants to copy it over here that's fine too. SQGibbon (talk) 22:06, 15 December 2010 (UTC)

Quite interesting that you have removed my criticisms of your judgemental stance? I give up. Quite simply, I no longer have confidence in your understanding of Cage. I've exchanged correspondence with Laura Kuhn on what you describe as a 'prank', and I can assure you, she definitely does not see it in this light. You even reference her comments. But did you read the very final paragraph? Anyhow, you're entitled to your culturally straight-jacketed opinion, that's fine by me. To describe the global performance as a 'prank' is a million miles from the truth . For now, I leave you with these words of Cage: "I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry". —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:33, 15 December 2010 (UTC)

I've responded on your talk page. SQGibbon (talk) 22:53, 15 December 2010 (UTC)

Removal of the Kuhn reference from the 4'33" article[edit]

(Note: this is copied verbatim from a message I left on another editor's talk page and I'm not bothering to edit it anymore here). In no way was my removal a slight against Ms. Kuhn or the Cage Trust. Let's look at the text I removed "Additionally The John Cage Trust, and in particular, Laura Kuhn, executive director of the Trust, have documented the Cage 4' 33" campaign taking place in the UK." All this is is another source documenting that the recording happened. Nothing in this text added to the understanding of the recording (or more importantly to the subject of the article 4'33"). For instance the bombing of Pearl Harbor was probably documented by thousands of newspapers all over the word but we don't need to cite all of them if they're essentially saying the same thing. We are justified in just citing some of them. Likewise the text about Ms. Kuhn added nothing to the section so removing it doesn't hurt anything. If you want to add her back as an additional reference then that's fine (or I could do it if you're unfamiliar with the process) but I don't see that we need to mention her acknowledgement of the recoding of the text itself. If you think that mentioning her acknowledgement adds to our understanding of then I would be interested in your argument noting that the text I deleted was not an endorsement of the recording just a mention of it. SQGibbon (talk) 00:36, 18 December 2010 (UTC)

Removal of the Beethoven Virus reference from the 4'33" article[edit]

I added the reference to the popular K-drama show, "Beethoven Virus," where there was a highly significant scene in which 4'33" played an integral role. Now, I cannot find an "official" citation in which the scene is shown. Obviously, it's a scene in the show, and the main BV site does not have a play-by-play of the entire drama like DramaBeans. My question is how to include the link from the show, if there is no "official" site that designates that particular scene? I can link to the actual production site, but it doesn't contain the particular context of the actual scene like DramaBeans. The revision for that particular scene is located here: Thanks for your help!

Does the official site at least list all the music performed in each episode? If so that would be enough (we don't really need any context, just evidence that the piece was performed). Sometimes performers do long periods of silence without making any overt reference to Cage's piece so we really need something reliable that specifically states it was 4'33". You can use the show itself for a source. Here's a link to a list of citation templates, just scroll down to the one that says "episode (television or radio): citation templates. Did that episode specifically mention it was performing 4'33"? SQGibbon (talk) 07:41, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for your clarification. The main site (Korean language) does not have a list of non-OST musical selections in the show, such as various Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and Chopin standards. However, the show is available to view online at as of this time, so it is easy to actually see the reference. The official Korean language show site is located at , while the particular episode is located at (the segment with 4'33" starts at the 35:20 mark with English subtitles). Finally, Beethoven Virus was the most awarded television show in Korea in 2008, so it is not a flash in the pan show. The reason that I hesitate to use the actual show at Hulu is that they can remove the online viewing link to the show at any time, therefore negating the link here. One more question: what would Dramabeans have to do to become an "accredited" citation source for Wikipedia? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:04, 11 February 2011 (UTC)

What about the Jazz club from the fast show? surely this warrants a token mention

nice (talk) 21:26, 21 September 2011 (UTC)


Can 4′33″ be categorised as a Minimalistic composition? -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 13:17, 22 September 2011 (UTC)

According to the article Minimal music, "prominent features of the style include consonant harmony, steady pulse (if not immobile drones), stasis or gradual transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells. It may include features such as additive process and phase shifting". If 4′33″ fulfills one or more of these criteria then, yes, it could be categorised as minimalist.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 15:45, 22 September 2011 (UTC)


Why do I think there was a recording of this in the LP days where you "enjoyed" the natural crackle of your LP's groove?
But I don't recall any details at the moment.
Varlaam (talk) 02:51, 9 June 2012 (UTC)

The idea that anyone would want to issue a recording seemed preposterous but checking the Library of Congress Worldcat shows that this has been done at least eight times. One, indeed, dates back to the LP era: Nova musicha, n. 1, on Cramps CRSLP 6101, containing (in addition to 4'33") Music for Marcel Duchamp, Music for Amplified Toy Pianos, Radio Music, and Sixty-two Mesostics Re Merce Cunningham: frammento. It was issued in 1974.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 01:22, 10 June 2012 (UTC)
I'm pretty certain Cage himself released an LP at least once. (talk) 22:59, 11 September 2013 (UTC)

Absolute Zero[edit]

Shouldn't there be a reference to the fact that 4 minutes 33 seconds is 273 seconds, -273 Celcius is absolute zero, the inspiration for the length and name of the piece. User:jgharston 13:28, 11 July 2012 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

If this is documented somewhere, yes, probably, only with "Celsius" spelled correctly, of course.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:30, 11 July 2012 (UTC)
Well, it's sometimes mentioned, as in this article in Die Zeit, "Ob's Gott gefällt", 3 May 2006, but that article also states that Cage was not aware of this connection. (Found article via Talk:4′33″/Archive 1#Findings about the -273°C mystery! Read this!.) -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 10:28, 10 September 2012 (UTC)


It will open with a single idea which I will attempt to make as seductive as the color and shape and fragrance of a flower. The ending will approach imperceptibility.

Shouldn't the adverbial form "imperceptibly" be used here? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:29, 26 October 2012 (UTC)

Most played piece ever?[edit]

This or a shorter completely silent composition would be the most played song ever as it is consistently being played when any instrument isn't in use. (talk) 03:51, 22 November 2012 (UTC)

No. Music is the "Purpose-driven creation and shepherding of tone, in meter." 4'33" fails to convey meter and is subsequently, not music.Mad Bunny (talk) 02:43, 18 January 2016 (UTC)

Article Needs Major Fixing[edit]

A great deal of the information in this article is either incorrect or highly speculative. Beginning with the first sentence: "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds" or just "Four thirty-three") is a three-movement composition..."

First off, 4'33" is NOT a "composition"; it is the name of the premiere performance of Cage's first silent piece: The piece has no fixed name, but takes its name from the duration of each given performance. Thus, the name of the composition changes with every performance. For convenience, critics, historians, and analysts of music usually refer to the piece by the name of its first public performance, which happened to last for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

Second, the silent piece is NOT a "three-movement composition". No "movements" were specified by Cage. The piece can potentially have as many movements as the performer desires, or no movements at all. The primiere performance just happened to have "three movements," because that is how David Tudor decided to present that particular performance. Again, as with their number, the lengths of those "movements" are arbitrary, determined by the performer, and will likely be different for each performance.

As it stands, the initial sentence of this article in not only misleading, it also pretty much completely undermines the concept Cage was trying to convey with the piece.

Premier and Reception: The statement "It is not easy to get a large group of people to listen to ambient for nearly five minutes ... " makes no sense. "Listen to ambient"?? Ambient what?

Versions of the Score: The discussion and speculation in this section is ridiculous and irrelevent. 4'33" is an early example of concept music. As many composers of the day (and since) discovered, publishers at that time hadn't quite figured out how to deal with the copyrighting and publication of concept pieces, many of which were conceived and realized without conventional musical scores -- or any scores at all. This was the inception of the notion of documentation for art events, in which a written description, tape recording, photograph, or film record would be accepted as "the score" for purposes of copyright and publication.

Thus, the statement in the article "There is some discrepancy between the lengths of individual movements specified in different versions of the score" is completely erroneous, since NO MOVEMENT LENGTHS ARE SPECIFIED prior to performance; they are only documented (or not) afterwards.

Further, the statement "The causes of this discrepancy are not currently understood," is utter baloney. There is no "discrepancy" because there is no fixed score for the piece. Cage's various "scores" are his post-facto written descriptions of the piece, prepared after various performances. As each performance was different, each "score" was documenting a different event. Cage himself explained this, multiple times; I heard it personally, from his lips, at a lecture he gave at Union College in Schenectedy in 1978, and again in conversation with him after a performance he gave at an art gallery in Portland, Oregon in 1985.

Furthermore, while "the First Tacet Edition is described in Nyman 1974, but it is not reproduced in that book," it is reproduced in Leon Dalin's Techniques of Twentieth Century Composition: A Guide to the Materials of Modern Music, ISBN-0-697-036146, also published in 1974.

Again, this article, as it stands, pretty much misses entirely the main points Cage was attempting to illustrate with this piece.

Someone please fix it; or I will. THX. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:51, 6 August 2013 (UTC)

I've added a brief explanation of the nature of the title of the piece. Since not only critics and historians, but also Cage himself refer to the piece by the name 4'33" (e.g. in the 1973 Gligo interview: "Implicit in this piece which is called 4’33” and which has three movements...", these are Cage's own words), I don't think much needs to be changed in the opening.
I did acknowledge that, "For convenience [various entities] usually refer to the piece by the name of its first public performance, which happened to last for four minutes and thirty-three seconds." Cage did sometimes avail himself of that same convenience in conversation. More often, however, he refered to it as "the silent piece" or one of "the silent pieces".
Your second point is invalid, since Cage always refers to three movements, both in the Tacet editions and in numerous interviews. (That it would be in accordance with the idea of the piece to have as many or as few movements as one wants, is irrelevant.) The sentence in "Premiere and reception" lacked a word, I've fixed that. (For the record, I'm not comfortable with all those Taruskin references occupying so much space.)
The piece was not composed to have three movements. David Tudor's premiere performance arbitrarily divided it into three sections, and that became sort of the "traditional" version that many subsequent performers chose to emulate: my point is valid.
I don't really understand why you call the "versions of the score" section speculation (it only describes facts), or why you find it so ridiculous. Concept music? Fine, so? Why not have a description of the various "post-facto" scores? Especially since the reader may be interested to know there's a graphic score as well as a simple written note. As for the "discrepancy" issue, I'm afraid you misunderstood, and perhaps the article text wasn't sufficiently clear. The discrepancy is between the descriptions of the first performance – one set of lenghts specified in the Woodstock program and in Kremen, and a different one in the 1st and the 2nd Tacet Editions, all referring to the same performance. You seem to think the article implies a fixed set of lenghts for each movement, but it does not. --Jashiin (talk) 11:06, 12 September 2013 (UTC)
It is speculation beacuse there really is NO score for this piece. All of the items called "scores" in the article are merely post-hoc descriptions of various performances of the piece. The "score" exists in concept only.
A rough analogy would be if someone were to take three different reviews of a single performance of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, and go on about the differences between the reviews as "discrepancies among the scores". The difference being that the Beethoven example there is but one score in question; and in the Cage case there is no score; in neither case are there "discrepancies" among "scores".
  • I was going to post a separate question, but it does tie in with the comments/suggestions made by 74 here. I clearly recall that around the time Cage died (I can't remember however if this was before or after), a performer was actually sued for copyright infringement for "performing" an all-silent piece of music. And I have seen references to 4'33 being copyrighted, which is hard to do if no fixed score exists
It's not hard at all. In this case what is copyrighted is a particular publisher's "score" of the piece, and not the piece itself. For example, Beethoven's 5th Symphony is in the public domain; the piece is not under copyright. But C.F.Peters' or G. Schirmer's versions of the score, are copyrighted. You can reproduce Beethoven's music all you want, even to the extent of copying from the Urtext and publishing and copyrighting your own version of the score. But you cannot copyright the music, nor can you be sued by Schirmer or Peters for publishing your own version of the score.
Similarly, I can write a review (description) of a concert and copyright my review; that does not grant me copyright to the actual music that was performed, but it does grant me rights to subsequent use of my review.
(I'm referring to the actual "composition" itself being copyrighted, not individual performances - I have seen scans of actual "sheet music" for 4'33 which as you can imagine consists solely of rests).
And that "score" (or description) can be copyrighted, but the "score" is not the piece.
I've been trying to find a reference to this suit and whether it was successful or not, but haven't been able to find anything as yet. (talk) 23:02, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
Your question is easily resolved using Google. Search for "4'33" lawsuit" and you'll find things like these.--Jashiin (talk) 11:06, 12 September 2013 (UTC)
Michael Batt placed a one minute silent piece on his album, and credited the piece to "Batt/Cage". This indicent has long since morphed into urban legend status. Batt was not sued by Peters; Batt was not sued for writing or performing his own silent work; Batt was not sued for infringement of any score.
He was threatened with a lawsuit by the John Cage Turst for using Cage's name as co-composer, without permission.
See and also the Talk: John Cage page (Batt Lawsuit) for details.

Requested move 22 July 2015[edit]

The following is a closed discussion of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. Editors desiring to contest the closing decision should consider a move review. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the move request was: not moved. Honestly forgot about this one. I thought it would be uncontroversial, that's why I only gave a link to the MoS. But clearly there's a consensus against it. Jenks24 (talk) 14:20, 30 July 2015 (UTC)

4′33″4'33" – per WP:'. Jenks24 (talk) 14:40, 22 July 2015 (UTC)

So explain in prose what is the punctuation difference, please. Binksternet (talk) 15:59, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Prime and double-prime marks, vs. straight single- and double-quote marks. I used to think I knew how abbreviations for minutes and seconds were done (prime and double-prime marks), but I have seen so many variations over the last few years, including "curly" single and double quotes, that I am no longer sure what the standard might be. I don't believe that the WP Manual of Style addresses this specifically, but it might be nice to consult some authorities on the subject before changing the article title, only later to find we have got egg all over our faces. I hasten to add that looking at the title as it appears on the covers of the various scores is not a reliable way of determining anything, particularly since those Henmar Press editions often made the titles with a typewriter, rather than using more sophisticated means of typography.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 16:36, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
A quick visit to Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Dates and numbers answers the question: Neither of these options is acceptable on Wikipedia. The relevant passage reads:
Do not use ′ (′), ″ (″), apostrophe (') or quote (") for minutes or seconds. Use m for minute only where there is no danger of confusion with meter, as in the hours–minutes–seconds formats for time durations described in the Unit names and symbols table.
From the linked table it may be seen that the only correct format options (on Wikipedia) for the title of the present article are either 4m 33s or [[:]].—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:00, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
You're confusing the title of the piece with its pronunciation. If the title were the written equivalent of saying "four minutes, thirty-three seconds", you'd be right. But it's not; the title is "4'33"". -- Irn (talk) 17:16, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Not at all. The only issue is what those little blips and squeaks are. The first one, for example, resembles little other than the numeral otherwise written as "IV", "four", 四, etc.; the next symbol is potentially more ambiguous, though according to the article it is meant as an abbreviation for "minutes"; and so on for the remaining two symbols. If this is the case (and I am open to hearing arguments against this position), then the Manual of Style says it is improper on Wikipedia (though of course other publishers may have different views on the subject) to use either the prime symbol (′) or apostrophe aka straight quote ('). It has nothing at all to do with the way anything is pronounced. Unless of course you are saying that we should consider Victor Borge's "phonetic punctuation" as an option here, though I don't think even he went so far as to make a distinction between prime marks and apostrophes.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:34, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
"4'33"" is the title of the work. What each symbol within that title means is hardly relevant to what the title is. (Additionally, the text of the article does not say that the apostrophe means "minutes" but rather is pronounced "minutes".) -- Irn (talk) 17:53, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Very well, then. Do you have a reliable source that verifies the title is "4'33"" rather than "4′33″"? If so, then I bow to your superior documentation. Oh, yes: WP:Manual of Style/Music dictates that true titles of musical compositions must be italicized, which in this particular case might have a significant effect on how those little marks appear to mere human eyes, though of course a computer will have no difficulty in discriminating them.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:11, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Speaking of verification, I just re-checked the article, which says (amongst other things), "The title of the piece refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of a given performance, 4′33″ being the total length of the first public performance." I find it difficult to understand how this refers to the pronunciation of the title, though that is of course mentioned elsewhere, probably for the benefit of radio announcers.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:16, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose. I have looked at two dozen books discussing Cage and his pieces, or discussing this kind of performance piece, and it looks like there is not enough consistency to come down solidly in favor of changing the current typography, to dump the prime and double prime symbols. First, the prime and double prime are correctly indicating divisions of time, a piece with a length of 4 minutes and 33 seconds.[5] Secondly, some high quality sources discussing the piece take pains to indicate prime and double prime symbols rather than straight quotes (see Kyle Gann's book published by Yale, for an extreme example.) Thirdly, some quite reliable sources insert a space or a thin space between 4′ and 33″, diminishing what might have been a more complete consensus in the literature to have no space at all.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12] Finally, there is no way I would support a change to the abbreviations m for minutes and s for seconds as this style is not found in the sources discussing the piece. We should not take it upon ourselves to rename the piece in a style visually very different from its given name! Despite the confusion between the various visually similar marks, they all share the quality of being a quick mark, a non-alphabetic indicator of minutes or seconds, feet or inches, etc. That is the typography Cage used when naming the piece, and it is used by all the sources. So let's forget the m and s, there's no need for straight quotes here, no consensus for a space or a thin space, and instead let's keep the current prime and double prime marks. Binksternet (talk) 03:41, 23 July 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose: WP:' says not to use curly apostrophes, but this title isn't using curly apostrophes anyway. WP:' doesn't say anything about how to represent minutes and seconds, and it doesn't say anything about primes, and the Prime (symbol) article seems to say that the prime and double prime are being used properly here, so I see no need for action. MOS:NUM says to use something different entirely, but that's guidance for ordinary text. Here we are talking about a composition title, not ordinary text, and we shouldn't change it to something like 4 min 33 sec. —BarrelProof (talk) 03:54, 23 July 2015 (UTC)
  • Speedy rename WP:TITLESPECIALCHARACTERS do not use special characters -- (talk) 04:43, 23 July 2015 (UTC)
    • That guideline does not support your stance of "speedy rename", as the prime and double prime symbols are easily handled by browsers, and we have redirects in place for when people type various styles of quotation marks. Binksternet (talk) 12:58, 23 July 2015 (UTC)
    • WP:TITLESPECIALCHARACTERS does not say "do not use special characters". On the contrary, it just says that "Sometimes the most appropriate title contains ... characters not found on most English-language keyboards. ... In such cases, provide redirects from versions of the title that use only standard keyboard characters." We're already doing that, so I don't see a problem that requires action. —BarrelProof (talk) 16:52, 23 July 2015 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page or in a move review. No further edits should be made to this section.

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Audio file[edit]

About this edit: I'm not trying to be WP:POINTy, but isn't the question of whether there's "no need for a computer silence file" part of the point of the piece? It's not obvious that it's useless—I, for example, clicked on it and had an interesting experience of suddenly noticing sounds I usually tune out.

The only policy-based problem I can see is copyright violation—Cage's estate clearly thinks they own a copyright on 4'3", so per WP:SAMPLE we can only include an "excerpt" of up to 28 seconds of silence. Is there a policy or guideline opposing this? FourViolas (talk) 00:36, 24 October 2017 (UTC)

I don't think it's a good idea to post an audio file consisting of silence in this article. The Cage piece is not about sounds that are recorded the same way for everybody but about performance impressions and momentary nuances. It's about intention of the performer combined with reception by the listener. So no kind of audio file will help the reader understand. Binksternet (talk) 05:16, 24 October 2017 (UTC)
That's one of several nice interpretations of the piece, although at odds with those who have made studio recordings of the piece. However, even if that's true there could be value in including an audio file, for example in making dramatically clear how much of the subjective experience of attending a concert is lost when listening to a recording.
Essentially, an audio file would serve the same purpose it would on an(other) article about a musical work: making the work more immediate, and giving a deliberately reduced-quality sample of what it's like to experience a performance of the piece. FourViolas (talk) 13:17, 24 October 2017 (UTC)
Interestingly, the John Cage Trust offers an app specifically for recording 4'33":, and publishes the recordings on their website to listen to. YewBowman (talk) 20:37, 24 October 2017 (UTC)

Legal action related to composition[edit]

I recall quite distinctly there being a legal case some years ago - either plagiarism or copyright infringment - regarding 4'33 against someone who had either used a similar idea or had performed/recorded the composition without payment. I don't recall the details but I do recall it generated discussion as to whether one can actually copyright "silence" (or ambient sound, in this case). If someone can find info on this, I think it would make valuable addition to this article. (talk) 17:59, 24 June 2018 (UTC) UTC)

yes, there was indeed a lawsuit for copyright infringement of the “composition” 4′33. It was against a man by the name of Mike Batt, a composer, starting in the 60’s, who wrote songs for the likes of Steeleye Span, Art Garfunkle, and the children’s TV show charector’s The Wobbles. He put out an album the included a piece called “One Minute Of Silence” in which he made credited to “Betts/Cage”. It was The mention of Cage as a co-composer that caught the attention of the Cage estate and led to a copyright lawsuit. Had a just left out Cages name no lawsuit likely would have occurred. The case never went to trial though as he settled the case for a small figure leaving the question of whether you can copyright a silence “song” or not for another day. Here is a link With info on he lawsuit: —-2600:1700:56A0:4680:DC73:E0A7:AEAB:14F8 (talk) 04:52, 27 August 2018 (UTC)
This has been discussed here and at Talk:John Cage#Batt lawsuit. However, it's a hoax by Mike Batt; see "Wombles composer Mike Batt's silence legal row 'a scam'", 9 December 2010, BBC News. -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 11:04, 27 August 2018 (UTC)


Should there perhaps be a category of music that consists only of silence? Benjamin (talk) 14:58, 28 September 2018 (UTC)