the Sound, and Cost, of Silence
Editors note: this is a unique and rare crosspost from my main writing site.
Did you hear that? No? Yup, that was mine. I mean… it’s not like I wrote it. It’s a cover. John Cage wrote it. We aren’t even allowed to play it at gigs. It’s a whole ascap/bmi thing, and we can’t afford even the digital sampling rights. Make sense? Good, it shouldn’t.
This is a true story of a man who recorded 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence for an album. That isn’t even the weirdest part of the story. He titled it, released it, and registered it with bmi/ascap. Bmi/ascap is the company that ALL songs are registered to, and through. They are a publishing company that handles that stuff. If you want to play 'Sweet Home Alabama' with your shitty bar band, technically you need release rights and permission from those two companies. They will charge you, and a LOT. Here is an example you maybe didn’t know. If your bar is playing music through the waitresses iPhone over the pa system in the bar… that is against the law.
If you have a piano in your coffee house, and patrons sit down and sing Bob Dylan songs, that is against the law. Unless… you have paid rights to ascap/bmi. The fees are in the thousands. If you aren’t registered and paid up with them, they can come after you. It’s rare, but they do.
Sound impossible? It ain’t… read here.
This becomes pertinent to our story of recorded silence. Mr Cage did not simply leave 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence between songs. He could have done that, but there is no publishing money it. He had to actually record, and publish, the 4:33 of silence.
Update, we are not even half way to dumb yet. The dumb grows a 1,000 fold in the next couple of paragraphs. Stay with me.
Mr. Cage was a classical composer, and I am guessing a pretentious a-hole as well. Never mind, he’s dead. In 2002, another classical composer recorded silence. He recorded a minute of it. He did this as an homage to John Cage. Cage’s name is even in the title of the song. The songwriter (gee, it feels weird to use that term for a guy who recorded silence) even gave Cage posthumous songwriting credit. Frankly, Cage’s family and lawyers should be touched by the silly homage, right?
Nope. They sued his ass for ripping off 4 minutes of silence. Correction, the composer (Mike Batt) only did ONE minute of silence. That is barely a cover, and much closer to a sample. Sampling laws are different for artistic creativity reasons.
He thought it would be fun to do this with a track called “One Minute Silence (after Cage)”. This was credited to Batt/Cage. Shortly after the album was released (and went to number one in the UK classical charts) Mike was contacted by Peters Edition, the publisher of Cage’s work, demanding one-quarter of the royalties from the sale of the song.
They argued over this for a while – interestingly provoking the kind of discussion which Cage had originally intended when he first performed the piece: does it truly qualify as a work? If not, why not? There was even a side-by-side concert performance of the two pieces in London, so that the, errr, differences could be illustrated. Batt eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum.
Got that? Six figures! I am no math guy, but that is a minimum of $100,000 for also recording a minute of silence. Doesn’t that give awkward conversation pauses at parties new meaning? Now... just sue your host, that fucking thief!
Now, how about you be the judge. Listen to both, back to back, and decide if Batt ripped of Cage's silence, of it Batt's silence is an original composition. Sounds like a stupid fucking discussion... but this went court. So, these were actual conversations being had with lawyers who likely bill north of a $1,000 an hour.
Here is the original ***
and here is the 'cover' from Blatt
*** omg, did you see that? The guy up top has sheet music for the silence... and he is READING it. I hope he has a metronome to keep time. The title also clarifies this piece of silence was composed for a piano. I get the idea of recording silence as art. I think it's cool, in a Dali dada sort of way. BUT... when you are using sheet music, and suing other people for silence... you are just an a-hole. I won't say 'asshole', because that would be mean to assholes.