Christian Marclay and John Armleder: Not-Hearing John Cage, in Stereo

THE DAILY PIC: At The Kitchen, Marclay and Armeleder's duo act give us Cage's '4:33' (not-)heard as never before.

THE DAILY PIC (#1769): One of my lasting regrets, even shames, has been never having “heard” John Cage’s epochal composition for (silent) piano called 4:33—at least until Saturday night’s performance by Christian Marclay and John Armleder at The Kitchen in New York, as part of their wonderful evening titled “Simultaneous Duo Versions.”

But I guess I can’t really say that I (haven’t) heard Cage’s piece even now, since Marclay and Armleder were really (not) playing their own transcription of it for two pianos.

The two performers sat down at their two grand pianos and, as per Cage’s instructions, proceeded not to play them for four minutes and 33 seconds. Cage always insisted that the piece was far more than a gag or Dada gesture: It really was supposed to lead you to attend, with all the concentration engendered by a classical concert, to the many phenomena—sonic but also social, even architectural—that filled the room as the piece failed to make itself heard.

Last night presented the pudding of that particular proof, since its two-piano version was so visibly and (in-)audibly different from Cage’s original one-man show. For instance, you couldn’t fail to notice the interaction between the two players, as Marclay, the younger of the two, took control of the timer and signaled to his elder when to begin and end—as determined on a smart phone, no less, such as Cage would never have had access to. (Would an “original-instruments” version have used an old egg timer? Or did Cage, classically trained as few “sound artists” now are, count the non-playing beats of the piece as a symphonic triangle-player might have to?)

Simply by virtue of being so different from Cage’s 1952 piece, last night’s transcription proves the there that was there all those years ago.

My new goal: To hear the same work transcribed for piano four hands. (Photo by Lucy Hogg)

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