Superheated < 4’33”
I’m not really one for devoting a lot of energy to esoteric forms of music and the theory of sound, and I don’t particularly circulate among the devotees of avant-garde where there seems to be just as much air-kissing as there is serious contemplation of the void. That said, in my travels with electronic music over the years, particularly in what we’ve been involved in with our own label*, I have built up a lot of respect for those who have dedicated themselves to expanding our horizons and shaking the foundations of what we classify as art and music.
Mute’s Stumm433 compilation, of its bands and artists offering their take on John Cage’s composition / challenge of four minutes thirty-three seconds’ silence-as-performance, is truly thought provoking**. It’s fascinating to hear each of the 58 different interpretations of Cage’s call to not perform, and thus the 58 different ambient environments captured at their moment of ‘recording’***. I enjoy the synchronicity of this being a release on a label called Mute (that uses Stumm as its catalogue-numbering prefix), and is run by Daniel Miller – one of the true heroes of the indie music scene and quite the music philosopher himself. I also enjoy that this release brings together bands as diverse as Laibach and Erasure, ACR and the ‘Cabs, ‘Neubauten and New Order, and unifies them in the same sonic context. In a way this set could be viewed as an inverse culmination of all that Miller and Mute have achieved over the years.
So is Stumm433 something you’d listen-to regularly? Would it soundtrack your commute or your morning jog? Of course not, and I’d argue that our daily life is already full of back-to-back 4’33” performances; some more enjoyable than others. How do you listen to it? Do you even listen to it more than once? How is one recording of some background noise better than another? Do I approach New Order’s contribution to this ‘happening’ in the context of it being a piece of music to review and rate? No. That these questions even come to mind probably says more about Stumm433‘s intent than anything else.
New Order’s 4’33” sounds to my ears as if finding yourself in a heavily air-conditioned and cavernous wooden-floored warehouse, with people occasionally walking by, doors being closed, and papers (or a bag of crisps) being shuffled. That’s all I can say really. In isolation it is a few minutes of entirely unremarkable ambient noise, (nicely) recorded by who-knows-where? I was secretly hoping to hear 4’33” from New Order’s studio on the Morris farm, with all of their gear switched on and humming but no-one home, and a single window open to the outside to catch a sheep bleating or tank rolling past; but I think that would be too intentional.
The Stumm433 box set is a bold statement, containing exactly four hours twenty-three minutes and fifty-four seconds of something; although what that is I’ll never be 100% sure. I’ve listened to it once, I doubt I’ll listen to it much again, but it has made me pause and think on deeper things. If I see Daniel Miller he’ll get my nod of approval, but an air-kiss is unlikely….
* Particularly through our BNE project which contains a good deal of experimentation. I also have a best mate who produced some excellent drone in the mid-’90s, to which we generated lo-fi video-feedback ‘clips’ back in the day – see here and here; although these are still closer to music than field recording. I defer to another great label based here in Brisbane – ROOM40 – run by Lawrence English, to whom the Australian experimental scene owes a debt of gratitude. I’ll be seeking his punditry on Stumm433.
** Not least of which is Mute’s thoughtful support through this release of charities involved in tinnitus; something suffered by many fans and practitioners of music alike. Unfortunately they never get to hear 4’33” of pure silence…
*** Although I thought that Cage’s intent was for the piece to be the sound of the performer not performing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds – i.e instruments down but on stage (or in the studio), rather than a recording at a bus station or park; unless of course the band brought their instruments to the bus station or park to not play them. Oh dear…
(a pass mark for what it is, but I’m not comparing it to other songs)
Currently available on: Stumm433