Organized Sound, Sounds Heard, and Silence

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10 (2023)
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In this paper I argue that composer John Cage’s so-called ‘silent piece’, 4’33”, is music. I first defend it against the charge that it does not involve the organization of sound, which has been taken to be a necessary feature of music. I then argue that 4’33” satisfies the only other condition that must be met for it to be music: it bears the right socio-historical connections to its predecessors within its tradition (Western art music). I argue further that one cannot understand the organized sound condition and the socio-historical condition separately and that understanding their interaction has theoretical benefits—not least of which is providing a groundwork for a more culturally inclusive philosophy of music. Finally, I consider a number of outstanding questions concerning the content of the organized sound condition for Western art music in the wake of 4’33”.

Author's Profile

Douglas Wadle
University of Kansas


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