A FUTURE RHYTHM AFTER 4’33’’

ALLISON CRANK

When I think of “future rhythm,” John Cage’s 4’33’’ comes immediately to mind. Split into three movements, the composition lasts four minutes and 33 seconds—it’s also entirely silent.

Like Duchamp’s Fountain, Cage’s 4’33» is widely considered as one of the most famous avant-garde works from the 20th century. The piece, which is completely note-less, is meant to draw attention to the sounds in one’s immediate surroundings. Needless to say, its revolutionary ap-proach in the 1950s challenged the very definition of music.

In the decades since its creation, 4’33” has transformed into a sort of post-war cultural icon, much like Warhol’s soup cans: an occasional punch line in a New Yorker cartoon or the starting point for a socratic dialogue. But two years ago, 4’33” evolved into a new form that took it beyond analysis and discussion when the John Cage Trust released the 4’33” App for iPhone.

Like the original performance, what makes this app so compelling is the utter simplicity of its concept. For 99 cents, you can create your own “ambient noise piece” and experience other 4’33”s recorded by users worldwide. I gave it a try and after I uploaded my own composition, I explored the map inside the app and found myself listening to faint recordings of a bar in Alaska, a busy street in Rio and the soft breathing of a person near a humming fan in Japan.

This ability to create your own 4’33” and share it with others from across the globe is where I think the app takes Cage’s concept beyond that initial performance in 1952—to a new “future rhythm” fit for this media-saturated era. A “future rhythm” that isn’t bound to a particular sound, method of play or beat (or lack thereof), but rather focuses on the moment of creation—the blur of the role between author, listener, performer and spectator.

According to game designer and professor Eric Zimmerman, we are currently living in the Ludic Century, which is the opinion that this century be defined by games and gaming technologies. An era where information is put at play and game-like experiences replace linear media. Where me-dia and culture will grow increasingly systemic, modular, modifiable and participatory—they will become games. It’s a movement being pushed by younger generations. Those who have grown up with the Internet, who have carved out their realities and identities online and no longer want to be passive in the way they consume. They want to see themselves in their possessions and have an active role in the creation and use of their objects, ideas and spaces.

With the rise of the Internet, we know this much; people want to be immersed and not only online, but also within the context of the real world. Many people want to get involved in a story, to carve out a role for themselves, to make it their own (it’s why people film live concerts with their smart-phones). But how is the author or designer supposed to assist them? This audience, one that is participatory and drives the narrative, no longer plays the traditional hierarchal role of passive spectatorship; it has become the hyperaudience.

A hyperaudience system uses technology as a means to orchestrate participatory experiences. The system provides the audience with information and materials that are geared towards mixed reality performances, so the act doesn’t only feature interactive technologies, but also allows for behind the scene collaborations, allowing the spectators to play a role in the design and play of the experience. The technology can span from complex virtual reality interactive space operas to the simple user recordings in the 4’33” app. Regardless, the driving forces behind these systems is very much the same—to create experiences that are dynamic, engaging and generate a desired change, experiences that are total works of art or “Gesamtkunstwerks,” where the synthesis of mass culture, technology and utopia inspire and trigger the audience in pursuit of a sociopolitical agenda.

When John Cage premiered his composition in1952, we already had paint-by-number kits which gave anyone the tools to make their own painted version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Today, we have the 4’33” app, a tool for anyone to create and share their own unique Cage-inspired compo-sition. A “future rhythm” where consumership blurs with authorship ushers in a new age for de-sign in a world where everyone is a designer. Here, designers no longer create consumables they think people want, but are facilitators and directors providing users with an interactive platform for dialogue in a things creation. Where designers sell their knowledge, expertise and taste, using the virtual platform as a stage for anyone to create a personalised reality. Where designers create hyperaudience systems instead of finished autonomous objects. In doing so, through co-designing an experience or product for an individual—providing exactly what that person needs at that particular moment—the designer has the ability to transform the individual in however large or small of a way and give her the ability to revisit the experience through distinct and unique ways.

In this Ludic century, hyperaudience systems like the 4’33” app will increasingly seep into our daily lives from our interactions with products, ideas, spaces, media and culture—a “future rhythm” which blurs the boundary between actor, observer, designer, author, consumer and liste-ner. A future where designers create tools for play and play allows for new stories to emerge.