COULD this year's Christmas Number One really be four and a half minutes of silence? Could be, if the organisers of the Cage Against The Machine campaign get their way.
It's a tantalising prospect. If enough people download John Cage's avant-garde "silent" work, 4'33'', in mid-December then, come Christmas, Radio One will have to go silent for four and a half minutes during its chart countdown.
At time of writing, Cage Against The Machine has almost 16,000 followers on Facebook; not a bad start.
Cage Against The Machine was, obviously, inspired by last Christmas's successful bid to get an old Rage Against the Machine song to Number One. While the Rage campaign was motivated by exasperation at the way the Christmas Number One slot had become the exclusive preserve of X-Factor winners, the Cage campaign seems more about one upmanship.
If it worked for Rage Against the Machine, how far can this go? Could you really get an avant-garde artwork from 1952 to Number One? Let's try.
Since Cage died in 1992, what he would make of all this is anyone's guess. The Facebook campaign, for the most part, seems pretty tongue in cheek, its fans competing to crack the best joke about the absurdity of it all.
"Would it have to be cut to 3'33" for radio airplay?" asks one. "My neighbours keep telling me to turn it down!" quips another. Cage, though, took the whole enterprise very seriously. "I didn't wish it to appear, even to me, as something easy to do or as a joke. I wanted to mean it utterly and be able to live with it," he once said.
So, in fact, 4'33'' is not merely four and a half minutes of silence; it is three separate movements – the first is 30 seconds long, the second two minutes and 23 seconds, the third is one minute and 40 seconds, with pauses between.
Ideally it should be performed by a professional musician or a full orchestra, who don't touch their instruments throughout.
Cage's point was that there is no such thing as silence – a concert performance of 4'33'' consists of the sounds of the auditorium (coughs, shuffling, etc). If it's on the radio, 4'33'' consists of whatever noises you make while listening to it. The point is to pay proper attention to the noise of the world around you. That, I reckon, is a very worthwhile thing to do at Christmas. Turn off the muzak for a few minutes and contemplate.
This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 3 October, 2010