A UK campaign aims to rock the Christmas single charts - with the sound of silence. They're using experimentalist composer John Cage's masterpiece of silence, 4'33", to get people listening to the needs around them.
Stop and listen this Christmas, says Cage against the Machine
It all started as a joke.
Last year, a UK campaign succeeded in its aim of preventing the winner of casting show X-Factor from becoming Christmas number one by encouraging people to help "Killing in the Name" by US band Rage against the Machine top the charts.
This year, UK art therapy masters student Dave Hilliard quipped to his friends, "Let's get silence to number one."
"It was meant to be a joke," Julie Hilliard, Dave Hilliard's wife and co-initiator of Cage against the Machine (CATM), told Deutsche Welle. "But it captured the imagination of so many people."
When it comes to getting silence on the charts, the avant-garde work "4'33" by American experimental composer John Cage (1912-1992) is the first that comes to mind. The score calls for any combination of musicians to go on stage and play absolutely nothing for exactly four minutes and 33 seconds. For some, an agonizing exercise in patience; for others, ear-opening proof that escape from the unceasing aural bombardment of our multimedia society is, indeed, possible.
John Cage was fascinated by incidental sound
Open your ears
The Hilliards, along with long-time friend and music PR expert John Rogers, are less interested in making a profound artistic statement and keener raising money for a few underfunded charities.
Starting Monday, December 13, supporters can purchase a specially recorded version of Cage's groundbreaking 1952 work, which included the participation of artists like Aeroplane, Billy Bragg and Kooks - though, of course, they can't really be heard.
They recorded their own version to ensure that the revenue went directly to selected charities, but also because most other editions separate the work's three movements into three tracks - but only single tracks are eligible for the single charts.
Revenue from the recordings and from ads on the groups website go to charities like C.A.L.M., which provides support to young men considering suicide, the British Tinnitus Association, and organizations that offer music education to underprivileged children.
"When you stop talking and you start to look at the world around you, you can see all these other needs that are there, besides your own," said Julie Hilliard, adding that the charities they chose particularly reflected their appeal to stop and listen.
'Cage would approve'
New York-based John Cage expert Richard Kostelanetz said he didn't think the composer would have objected to the use of his work in this way.
"He lived on a very busy avenue and didn't own a record player, because he preferred to listen to the noise outside his house," Kostelanetz told Deutsche Welle.
The Cage expert added that the setting of the work is crucial to making it a work of art and that the irony is so much stronger when it is performed by renowned artists - like those involved in CATM. The audience is bound to listen even more intently, knowing what they could be hearing from those artists, if they were actually playing.
The Black Eyed Peas are number one this week
Taking back the charts
With more than 80,000 Facebook fans as of December 13, Cage against the Machine may be well on its way to rocking the UK's Christmas charts.
They'll have stiff competition from Black Eyed Peas, who top this week's singles chart in the UK with "The Time (Dirty Bit)" and from Matt Cardle, the most recent winner of the UK's popular casting show, X Factor.
The media has largely focused on the Cage against the Machine campaign as a counterpoint to market-tailored pop ballade and, specifically, to X Factor. However, Hilliard said she and her husband have nothing against the casting show, but simply aren't interested in watching it.
"If you don't like it, don't turn it on; if you don't like the record, don't buy it," she said.
And if Cage against the Machine has its way, Christmas Eve in the UK will truly be a silent night - or at least one filled with incidental noise.
Author: Kate Bowen
Editor: Rob Turner