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Q: THEORY OF SILENCE AND MUSIC ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Category: Arts and Entertainment
Asked by: cocoa-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 28 May 2003 00:00 PDT
Expires: 27 Jun 2003 00:00 PDT
Question ID: 209697
John Cage, while at Harvard University, many years ago was curious
about the nature of silence.  He went into a sound proof booth and
discovered that instead of silence he became aware of his heart beat. 
I heard John Cage talk about this experience on the radio over a
couple of decades ago.  Where can I find a source I can cite for
writing a research paper?
Answered By: politicalguru-ga on 28 May 2003 00:42 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Dear Cocoa, 

The "experiment" is described in Cage's essay "Experimental Music"
(1957) featured in his book "Silence" (reference for this: Cage, John
. Silence. Hanover, NH: Weslyan University Press, 1961, p. 8 and of
course also later in the rest of the book):
"I entered one at Harvard University several years ago and heard two
sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in
charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in
operation, the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will
be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not
fear about the future of music."
The essay could be found online at Michael S. Cohen's site:

However, you could also cite other sources I've found: 

"The trajectory from disappearing mediality to visible theory is
staged in Silence, in which Cage's writing is organized not
chronologically or thematically but musically; sections are often
paired around Cage's well-known "hearing" of silence while sitting in
an anechoic chamber, in order to "exemplify," "a room without echoes,"
deafened by the artist's own nervous system and heartbeat".
Baldwin, Charles A. "Wiring John Cage: Silence as a Global Sound
System", _electronic book review_ No. 4, 1997,

Cage, 1990: "It was at Harvard not quite forty years ago that I went
into an anechoic [totally silent] chamber not expecting in that silent
room to hear two sounds: one high, my nervous system in operation, one
low, my blood in circulation. The reason I did not expect to hear
those two sounds was that they were set into vibration without any
intention on my part. That experience gave my life direction, the
exploration of nonintention. No one else was doing that. I would do it
for us. I did not know immediately what I was doing, nor, after all
these years, have I found out much. I compose music. Yes, but how? I
gave up making choices. In their place I put the asking of questions.
The answers come from the mechanism, not the wisdom of the I Ching,
the most ancient of all books: tossing three coins six times yielding
numbers between 1 and 64." Qouted from the site
<> in which
it is also written "Joe Williams, who sent me these Cageisms, writes:
"My original source for the quotation was the 1990 PBS American
Masters program on John Cage which I have on VHS tape. [Some of these
occur] in a book called Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage,
Wesleyan University Press, 1973."

"In 1951, he visited an anechoic chamber at Harvard University in
order to hear silence. "I literally expected to hear nothing," he
said. Instead, he heard two sounds, one high and one low. He was told
that the first was his nervous system and the other his blood
circulating. This was a major revelation that was to affect his
compositional philosophy from that time on. It was from this
experience that he decided that silence defined as a total absence of
sound did not exist. "Try as we may to make a silence, we cannot," he
wrote. "One need not fear for the future of music."
Source:  Solomon, Larry J., 2002 "The Sounds of Silence: John Cage and
4'33"" online essay <>
[Solomon's site is].

I hope that answered your question. When citing a web-site for an
academic paper, you could use the following sources:
In order to find the information for you, I searched databases and the
net for terms such as "heartbeat" or "nervour system" together with
cage's name.
If you need any further clarifications on this answer, please let me
know. I'd be pleased to clarify my answer before you rate it.
cocoa-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Thank you!

From: markj-ga on 28 May 2003 05:10 PDT
In case you are not already aware of it, here is a link to a
discussion of Cage's famous piece, 4'33", which consists of nothing
but silence.
The Sounds of Silence: "John Cage and 4'33"

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