10 Completely Silent Musical Compositions

Perhaps the most important aspect of music is sound. The Oxford English Dictionary defines music as “the art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony…etc.” When people think of music, they may think of short, melodically pleasing pieces that comforted them in childhood. They may think of squeaky, exaggerated earworms that they constantly hear on the radio. They may even regard avant-garde, deliberately non-melodic experimentation as musical composition.

But what happens when artists release or compose totally silent music? How is it possible to give meaning to these pieces? To answer that question, here are ten silent musical compositions and why their silence gives them artistic or historical value.

Related: Top 10 Crazy and Unconventional Music Genres

ten John Cage, “4’33″”

Perhaps the most famous silent composition, avant-garde composer John Cage premiered “4’33″” in 1952. Originally performed by David Tudor on August 29 of that year, transitions between the three movements of the piece were marked by the opening and closing of a piano lid. The duration of the performance itself was marked by a stopwatch. To no one’s surprise, many were baffled that a piece of what was supposed to be a melodic sound was being played without, you know, the sound.

However, Cage was serious about his intentions. After visiting Harvard’s anechoic chamber in 1950, he discovered that there was no real silence. As such, he decided to show his audience that the sounds they heard in everyday life were actually music. As the composer explains, “the music is continuous. It is only us who turn away.[1]

9 John Denver, “The Ballad of Richard Nixon”

The Ballad of Richard Nixon

Songwriter John Denver has claimed that nuclear disarmament is one of his main goals. President Richard Nixon considered using nuclear weapons four times during his administration. Denver wanted to cut the defense budget. Nixon wanted to raise him. It’s safe to say that the two men have had their fair share of political disagreements.

On his 1964 album Rhymes and Reasons, Denver has voiced its opinions on the Nixon administration twice. He composed a song for Vice President Nixon titled “The Ballad of Spiro Agnew”, the lyrics of which are made up entirely of the lyrics: I’ll sing you a song of Spiro Agnew and all that he has done. Denver didn’t bother to think of anything good to say about Agnew, and his silent song dedicated to the president himself demonstrates that he bothered to think of good things even less. on Nixon. Who knows what he would have done when Watergate happened?[2]

8 Soulfly, “9-11-01”

Now let’s move on to a more serious topic. American metal band Soulfly released their album 3 on June 25, 2002, less than a year after the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Soulfly held a moment of silence for those affected by the event on their first release since the attacks.

Historically, the United States has commemorated the attacks with six moments of silence, all tied to the exact times when the four planes crashed across the country and the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center came down. This piece can be used as a method of mourning during these moments of silence and has hopefully motivated people to commemorate the moment of silence on their own terms.[3]

7 Vulfpeck, “Z”

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There are ten Vulpeck songs eligible for this list, but it’s the opening track of the album they all came from—To sleep, an album of ten excerpts of thirty seconds of complete silence. Here’s Vulpeck’s plan: get users to stream the album, earn enough money to fund a tour, and allow admission to be completely free. Simple, right?

It turns out yes! It took a month before Spotify pulled the album, and they even responded in the meantime, calling the work “derivative of John Cage.” In total, the band earned $20,000 from streams and were able to fund the Sleepify tour. Not bad for an album they called “the quietest album ever”.[4]

6 Taylor Swift, “Track 3”

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At this point, there’s no way a household name like Taylor Swift won’t break records. When she came out Folklore, having only announced the album the day before its release, the physical edition has sold over 1.3 million copies and the digital edition has broken streaming records on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everything Swift releases is discussed, even when that release is a complete issue.

In October 2014, a few days before the release of his synth-pop album 1989, iTunes released a song simply titled “Track 3”. Eager Swifties bought the song only to find out…it was all eight seconds of silence. Despite this, it reached #1 on iTunes in Canada before eventually being pulled. It just goes to show that enthusiastic fans will take whatever they can get their hands on.[5]

5 Brett Black, “Quiet – 5 Seconds”

Brett Black – Silent Tracks of Different Usable Lengths [Full Album]

Again, this is the opening track of a completely silent album – that of Brett Black Silent tracks of different usable lengths. The album is described as the first commercially available album of silence. Black claims to have created the album after waking up one morning and hearing a “catchy” piece of silent music repeating itself in his head.

He cited John Cage and French mime Marcel Marceau as inspirations, saying he wanted to “take silence to new levels” with the album. He hopes that one day Coldplay will be interested in performing the compositions.[6]

4 John Lennon, “International Nutopian Anthem”

Nutopian International Anthem – John Lennon

Threatened with deportation from the United States after a marijuana charge, beloved Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono held a press conference on April 1, 1973 to announce the birth of a whole new nation. This conceptual nation, Nutopia, had no borders or laws, only people.

As the nation’s ambassadors, they requested diplomatic immunity and United Nations recognition, giving 1 White Street in Tribeca as their address. On his 1973 album mind games, John Lennon included a five-second silent track called “Nutopian International Anthem”, demonstrating his true intention of having only people in his civilization. So what, no music either?[7]

3 Yves Klein, “Monotone-Silence Symphony”

Yves Klein’s Monotone Silence Symphony in San Francisco

This entry is slightly misleading because Yves Klein’s symphonic piece does not contain complete silence. It opens with a single D major chord played for 20 minutes straight, then turns into a 20-minute period of silence.

Klein conceptualized this piece in the 1940s, saying it expressed what he wanted his own life to be. In 1960, in the only documented performance of the symphony during Klein’s lifetime, ten musicians participated in the performance of the piece. More than five decades later, in 2013, a New York performance of the play featured 70 musicians and singers bringing this conception of Klein’s wishes to life. If only he could see his work now.[8]

2 Raymond Scott, “Silent Music”

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In 1941, Time Magazine reported on a 13-piece orchestra performing a piece that its audience found rather odd. The brass and woodwind mimicked the playing, the pianist gently pressed the keys, but hardly any sound came from the stage. For conductor Raymond Scott, it was silent music.

We still don’t know why Scott decided to perform this silent piece. However, music philosopher Julian Dodd argues that it could have been either a tongue-in-cheek commentary on effort and failure, or intended for comedic effect. Regardless, audience members were confused during the performance. They laughed, finding the performance amusing. According to the writer for Time, “it was just provocative enough to make listeners wonder if other bands’ silence sounds better than Scott’s. Yeah.[9]

1 Stiff Records, The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan

The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan LP

The closing of the current list of silent musical compositions is another politically charged release. Obviously, someone had a beef with President Ronald Reagan, much like John Denver’s beef with Richard Nixon. The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan was not a song but a completely silent album released by Stiff Records.

The disc contained grooves where you could play it, but it did not include any music. According to the BBC, it was an “ironic alternative to more traditional protest songs”. Despite the album’s silence, the release was obviously somewhat popular as it sold over 30,000 copies upon its release. It’s really crazy what people buy sometimes.[10]



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