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23 October 2009

Silence is Golden

Few events have generated as much press around John Cage as the tussle that arose between Peters Edition, Cage's music publisher, and the British composer and songwriter Mike Batt, in the wake of the now infamous track on the first CD, Classical Graffiti, by Batt's 8-piece crossover band, The Planets, which went straight to #1 on the UK classical music chart on the day of its release (February 2002), where it remained for 3 months.

As Wikipedia tells it, "Batt was sued for copyright infringement over the track entitled A One Minute Silence, which...was credited to 'Batt/Cage'. The publishers of Cage's music alleged that the credit invoked Cage's silent piece, 4'33", and that the Trust was entitled to receive royalties. An out of court settlement was reached, with Batt paying a six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust."

Years later, I was contacted by Lewis Hyde, masterful author of The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (Random House, 1983), who contemplated addressing this altercation in a forthcoming book, Common as Air: Revolution, Art & Ownership (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, fall 2011), using as his basis an essay by Colorado humorist Randy Cassingham, author of True Stella Awards: Honoring Real Cases of Greedy Opportunists, Frivolous Lawsuits, and the Law Run Amok (Penguin, 2002), entitled "Silence is Golden -- for Some".

Intrigued, I sent Mr. Hyde on to the beloved general manager of Peters Edition, Nicholas Riddle, in London. Click here for excerpts from their ongoing dialogue.

And, for added fun, while we're on the subject, here's a little video of Cage's 4'33", performed in Palm Desert, California, by none other than Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx and a marvelous pianist. This clip is drawn from one of the many documentaries made by the California filmmaker, Joel Hochberg.