The title of this book and the exhibition it documents—Sounds Like Silence—is ambiguous. On the one hand, silence effectively “sounds”—or as Cage put it, “There is no such thing as silence.” On the other hand, sound needs silence in order to be heard. Even if complete silence does not exist, every sound implicitly conveys the notion of silence: there is no presence without absence. The double meaning of Sounds Like Silence therefore touches upon the central issues at stake in this project: what do we hear when there is nothing to hear; to what extent do we long for silence; and how much silence can we cope with—provided it even exists?
John Cage’s 4’33” (four minutes, thirty-three seconds) premiered on August 29, 1952. This book presents new theoretical writings and artistic works referring to this groundbreaking work, together with original scores and the composer’s own variations, derivatives, and sequels of the “silent piece” in the years from 1962 to 1992.