Tuesday, 9 November 2010

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.