To Whom It May Concern: An Invitation to Silence and Composition

John Cage dedicated his lectures and writing collected in Silence “To Whom It May Concern.” As it turns out, it concerns everyone, though most of us do our utmost to ignore it. Yet Silence is still in print, and the amorphous, variable audience Cage invoked in his dedication continues to grow. But if we can’t ask anything specific about Cage’s intended audience, can we at least ask, what is it that may concern us? When asked what Cage’s Silence is about, I usually say it’s about composition, the way we arrange things.

A recent neighborhood atlas project by students in the CAGE Lab (no relationship to John) contains a noise map of San Francisco neighborhoods. The atlas is a form of composition, an arrangement of nouns and verbs and objects, labeled to “tell different stories.” A map is a composition. Noise is usually heard symmetrically, but some in the audience may hear asymmetrically; concentric noise, proceeding in wave-circles, gets confused, as sound bounces and ricochets (gives and takes), pouring into one ear, squeezing into another. Composition is dynamic; silence is static. Sound is not linear (line-ear).

jOhN cAGE was born in 1912, and there’s much ado about his 100th birthday year at the John Cage site.

Related Post: On the Noise of Argument, where John Cage meets Seneca; or, There is No Silence – Bound to Sound


  1. Dan Hennessy says:

    Cy Lentz . Who ? What about a sound map to get around ? A sound idea . Use the atlas , otherwise , to find me at my resonance .

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Where have you been, Sigh, out of sightes? Sound of mind, rezoning within. I was thinking of getting a map of Poland to find you.

      1. Dan Hennessy says:

        Sounds good . But we will not be there until September . Didn’t God once say He’d save the world if He found just one sound mind ? Maybe I’m thinking of something else . Maybe it was Seneca . Or A. Symmetrica ?

  2. Seneca left a deep impression in me when I was a weird teen. A good reminder… The only true serenity is the one which represents the free development of a sound mind … John Cage is new to me, like the title. Sometimes, to catch a natural interval, it’s worth listening deeper, to sound compositions, maps …

    ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
    and rightdoing there is a field.
    I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass
    the world is too full to talk about.’


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Seneca’s “On Noise” mentions the “sound mind.” There’s an interesting pun there, too. Thanks for the Rumi, a great example of “true serenity.”

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