Alex Ross profiles John Cage and his 4’33”, which taught people how to listen:
It has been called the “silent piece,” but its purpose was to make people listen. “There’s no such thing as silence,” Cage said, recalling the première. “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering on the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”
Marc Weidenbaum explains:
Cage taught us many things, as Ross lists them — he prepared us for laptop music, helped get Fluxus and happenings going, welcomed the contrasting elements of chance and procedural instructions. And he taught us to listen. The inclusion in the two poems of sonic imagery [in the same issue of The New Yorker that contains Alex Ross’ extended piece on John Cage, there are two poems that involve descriptive passages about sound], so to speak, reminds us that we don’t just listen with our ears. Sonic attention in the world also means recognizing sound in what we read.
What would happen if you sat down and did nothing? As Cage put it, “Art is a sort of experimental station in which one tries out living.” What does it sound like?