Saturday, 16 October 2010

In the eye of the silent storm

Welcome to the blog about the campaign for John Cages 4'33'' to be Christmas number 1 2010, known as "CAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE" on our Facebook group.
The first thing you will notice, is that I'm not typing in caps lock. Caps lock has it's uses, but in-depth reflections on a media storm is not one of them.

The group started as something to amuse myself. I've got a bit of a history of creating ridiculous social networking things, and Facebook is a great platform for this sort of thing. Most of the groups I've set up, like the one that advocated turning all of the worlds rain forests into pizza delivery menus, die on their arses. But, for whatever reason, people responded to the idea of a "silent song" in the top spot at Christmas, and the thing has grown and grown, to it's current level of over 30000 members.

The reason I decided to start this blog is because the media attention to this thing is starting to become a bit of a run away train, and I need some kind of space to lay my actual thoughts down about it rather than the slightly unbalanced CAPS LOCK STATUS UPDATES.

The trigger to get something closer to the truth out there, was waking up this morning to find Liam Maguire representing the Royal British Legion on the BBC, talking about "his idea" to produce a 2 minute silent track featuring celebrities, including, amongst others, prime minister David Cameron.

This development actually puts me in a slightly awkward position. My belief is that because of the Facebook group that I set up, the idea of a silent track around Christmas time has been circulating in media and PR circles for a while now, and I know this because I have been contacted by some of them who were interested in working with me to develop the idea in a way that would raise money for charities. I can't really go into this in too much detail here, since these plans are still developing and should hopefully become clearer soon.

OK, so what exactly is my problem with The Royal British Legion and their 2 minute silence record? Well, nothing. I think the British Legion do a lot of very valuable work, and I wholeheartedly encourage people to donate money to them. And surely, for one thing, 4'33'', isn't even my idea, is it? John Cage composed it, and had a lot of very interesting ideas related to it. And lastly, it's a 2 minute silence, not 4'33'' seconds of it, so these are different ideas, aren't they?

My issue is with the way it's portrayed. If you watch the report, which you can do here, you will notice a high proportion of its running time is taken up with Liam talking about how the idea to produce a silent track is his, about how he came up with it "like all of his best ideas" in the pub. At one point the interviewer even says "Oh, it was your idea" to emphasise Liam's ownership of the concept. And near the end it is further stated as totally unique.
You might wonder, why exactly Liam feels the need to spend so much time talking about how original his idea is. If it's a good idea, it should stand on it's own merits, right? The fact is, he is obviously pretty media savvy, and there is absolutely no way he is not aware of the John Cage campaign. As I said above, there are ripples about this idea in the media world, and this is actually where I believe the idea has filtered through from. Of course, the ideas are slightly different, not least in the running time. But anyone who believes that things are as simple or as honest, even in connection with charity, as they are portrayed in the media is very naive indeed.

So this idea of a "silent track" is out there. It's building momentum and it's only going to get more intense as we approach Christmas. I think whatever I do now, some people are going to decide they don't like me or the John Cage campaign, there will probably be insults and accusations I can't answer, already people make judgements on me and my motivations based on minimal information. Maybe others will get some pleasure out of this whole thing. I hope so.

Here are a few final points.

1) I set up the Cage Against the Machine Facebook group as a way to amuse myself. I didn't expect it to become what it is. The momentum is based on a popular response. The people made it what it is.

2) I'm not looking to turn a profit or become famous.

3) The charity aspect is currently being looked into and should hopefully be announced soon. I think it's a great idea, since rather than effectively paying for "nothing", you will be giving money to deserving causes, which is pretty Christmassy, I think.

4) What you get out of Cage against the machine is up to you. If it's just a joke that makes you laugh, and that's enough for you, OK. If it gets to Christmas number 1, great. If you want it to compete against the X Factor, OK. If you are genuinely interested in Cage and his music and are excited by it gaining a higher profile, that's OK too.

5) John Cage takes ultimate credit for 4'33'', not me.

6) We are NOT in competition or in any way against the Royal British Legion 2 minute silence idea. By all means donate money to them.


  1. Don't get me wrong though, I love this idea as a whole. I'm very much for crushing Simon Cowell...again.

  2. I've always loved the idea of 4'33, and I think it's the ultimate protest over the X Factor.

    What's great about the piece is it gets people talking and indeed thinking about music in ways that they weren't before. I remember walking back from the students' union one evening, having a heated debate with one of my fellow music students about the merits of a silent piece before it dawned on me that our lecturers probably didn't care if we liked or understood the track. They introduced it to us, and wanted us to think about it for ourselves.

    The piece is intended for live performance, but a studio recording leaves us with a very powerful statement. If the studio recording is 4"33' of digital silence, we're paying to download absolutely nothing. And we're also saying that we'd rather do that than buy Cowell's crap.

    If we can raise money and awareness for a good cause, then it's a double bonus...

  3. Number 4) - All of the above!

    Personally I was slightly sickened to hear of the 2 minute 'celeb' silent track. Conspiracy and hypocrisy aside it's ironically a ludicrous idea to attempt to lend some kind of genuine validity to an inherently absurd concept (a silent xmas number 1) and its effect on 'Cage against the machine' is irksome to say the least (but nevertheless further defines the concept itself).

    Then again, it's quite a resourceful attempt to battle the 'inappropriate tune for Christmas No. 1' trend, but probably will only result in X-factor getting the spot in the end which I'm sure most are agreed is worse again.

  4. Hello. Matthew Amadeus Devereux from the internet/Facebook.

    You have inspired me to write a book about silence and literature (at some point in the future; I am currently having a kip)>