Can Facebook Bring John Cage's 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Silence to the Top of the UK Charts?

I think it's nice to see some forms of what could be called “unique protest” out their in the music scenes today... protests against the mediocrity that's being released in so many cases.

Take the recent Facebook campaigns to get certain songs to the top of the UK charts for Christmas time. The idea is to vote a song outside of the current mainstream to number 1 by the holidays. You could argue that these campaigns say a lot people aren't satisfied with what the mainstream music scene is pushing these days... or maybe in some cases it's just for amusement and fun... but in any case I think they say something. Last year they said something by succeeding with Rage Against the Machine's “Killing in the Name”. This year will they say something with “Surfin' Bird?” or perhaps something a little more avant garde... like 4 and a half minutes of silence?

Truth be told I don't have a whole lot invested in these campaigns as I don't live in the UK, and generally have a tendency to avoid Facebook like the plague. That said, I do think it's an interesting idea for a little fun and maybe a little social commentary at the same time. Plus I gotta admit... they have good taste in music.

As I said, last year's campaign centered around a Rage Against the Machine song... a great one in fact. I don't know all the songs being pushed (or even if there's more than a few), but what I have seen from this year's campaigns, the song choices are even more interesting than last year. First, and possibly the song in the lead, is “Surfin' Bird” by the Trashmen. It's a downright catchy (some might call it annoying, but not me) song that many people's first real exposure to came due to it being used extensively in the television show Family Guy... to great effect I might add. A few might also know this song from a certain Stanley Kubrick film (one of my favorites in fact), Full Metal Jacket. “Surfin' Bird” is certainly a great choice, but there's another one in the race, one maybe not quite as silly, but who's concept is quite unique. In fact, it's a concept that is anything from ridiculous to at least a little intriguing to absolutely brilliant depending on your artistic view... it's just over 4 and a half minutes of silence.

“4'33”” is a composition originally penned in 1952 by avant garde composer John Cage. The composition literally instructs it's performers to remain silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Now I can hear the skeptics already saying “What could possibly be interesting about 4+ minutes of silence?!” Well it's actually a pretty cool idea: As the performers are all silent, essentially all the random ambient noise that happens during the 4 minutes is the composition resulting in a completely unique composition every time it is performed.

Personally I think that Cage's concept behind the piece is pretty cool and this has actually been a composition I've been fascinated with for a while. I like to think of it as a commentary on how everything, even ambient noise, can be music and that music is everywhere, not something to be cleanly boxed up into neat little categories bound by strict guidelines. Although it was surely revolutionary in 1952, I can't help but think that maybe our modern world could use a little reminder of these facts as well... especially in a world where music is dominated by polished, perfectly crafted to sell singles.

It's for that reason that I kind of hope that the John Cage campaign succeeds... no matter how much I may love “Surfin' Bird”. Don't get me wrong, the Trashmen would still be a great choice, but I don't think it'll have quite the same artistic impact.

Anyways, the UK will see who comes out on top come holiday time. I'll certainly keep an eye out just out of curiosity as I think the whole idea is pretty amusing.

If you're into the whole Facebook thing, you might do a search and see if you can find this campaign (or the “Surfin' Bird” one) to which you can add your vote.

- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - www.fifthcolumnmedia.com -