The Inventor of Silence

Todd Merrell

Merrell writes, "The Inventor of Silence is constructed entirely from radio recordings I made in 2012, except for recordings of Cage himself speaking extemporaneously on his musical philosophy, and the occasional interviewers' inquiry and response. The radio recordings have been sampled and heavily modified, using granular synthesis, pitch shifting, and other forms of electronic processing.

Compositionally, the piece centers around a root position Cadd6 chord, comprised of the pitches CAGE in honor of its subject, and supported by a descending bass line using the same pitches. This chord is played by eight identical parts, but each with different durations lasting 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41 and 43 eighth notes respectively. These prime number ratio durations result in a constantly evolving timbral and harmonic variation of the chord which will not repeat, at the tempo of 120 beats per minute, until 3,451 years later, even though the total duration of all the parts when placed one after the other is only one minute exactly. The evolving chord is then routed through a low pass filter that repeats its cycle regularly at sixteen measure intervals, yielding a self-contained counterpoint, and placing the seemingly eternal within a human scale. This slow, subtle, constant evolution is a tribute to the timeless nature of Cage's work, and to his practice of assigning compositional elements to numeric values in a way that yields forever fresh and changing results.

The recordings of Cage are culled from his 1960 appearance on the television program, 'I've Got A Secret', where he explained and presented his 'Water Walk' at an extraordinary time to a very curious and largely unfamiliar audience hungry for new ideas and experiences, and from Peter Greenaway's intimate and sensitive 1983 documentary, '4 American Composers: John Cage'. From both views, I wanted to show Cage's gentle, whimsical humor, and the very serious, deeply considered dimensions of his work, filled with so much thought provoking contradiction, and such possibility for the state of the musical and philosophical art. Cage's work forever endures: long live John Cage."