Skip to main content

The joy of homeopathic music

There was quite a lot on the radio yesterday about recordings of silence. It transpires that there is a new CD for the Royal British Legion which features a track of a 2 minute silence. So then they started on about the John Cage piece, 4' 33".

If you aren't familiar with the composition, it consists of (you guessed it) 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. I first 'heard' this when at school - one of our music teachers performed it in assembly. It is interesting, it probably is art, though I'm not sure it's music.

As it happens, I also sell a CD with a silence track - the hymn CD site I run has a Remembrance CD which features on trumpet the Last Post and Reveille with a 2 minute silence in between, so you don't have to time it. It's a separate track because some people like to go straight from Last Post to Reveille, or otherwise shift things around. (We also do the track as an MP3, free of charge. Feel free to drop me an email if you'd like a copy. Please don't be too disappointed, though. It's only 1 minute 54 seconds long to allow for the gaps at the end of the previous track and the start of the following track.)

What struck me while listening is that these tracks are homeopathic music. Just as homeopathic remedies are medicine with no ingredients, these are music with no notes. Apart from wondering if they play these pieces in homeopathic factories to keep the workers entertained, I was struck by another parallel.

Apparently someone (poet with a Yorkshire accent - can't remember his name) had Cage's 4' 33" as one of his records on Desert Island Discs. They played part of it. Now the question is, did they actually play from a CD of Cage's work, or did they just not transmit anything for the period? The parallel is with the suggestion that homeopathic manufacturers could save a lot of money by just taking untreated pills and sticking different labels on them. Not playing a CD would be the equivalent of using untreated pills. No one could tell the difference.

To keep you entertained while reading this post I have been playing a backing track of my silent composition 'In the Void'. (Sheet music available on request.) Or have I?...


  1. I throughly enjoyed the homeopathic music which I drank with my glass of homeopathic wine (or water in a glass that once had wine in it). Delicious.

  2. That's all very well, Brian, but did you really have to write it in 9/8? and in FIVE FLATS?

  3. It only made aesthetic sense in B flat minor. This art, mate.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope