Whether this is on the level I can’t vouch, but inevitable it surely was. A press release making the rounds on the web (here and here, for instance) claims that a conceptual artist named Jonathon Keats has made Cage’s 4’33” into a ringtone. (After all the goddamned ringtone advertisements that internet robots have tried to post on this blog as comments, I can’t even believe I’m mentioning this.) I consider cellphones an evil technology, and won’t have one: no one answers them, they go off at inappropriate times, they’re a sonic nuisance, their batteries run down and when they don’t you’re out of range anyway, if you hang somebody people use them to photograph it, they’re easy to lose and losing them’s a tragedy – and most of all, I’m already easier to contact than I like being. But, a silent ringtone? What’s funny is the claims trumpeted for the device, which, even in this modest context, can only be called grandiose:
Since the beginning of time, pure silence has been available only in the vacuum of space. [???] Now conceptual artist Jonathon Keats has digitally generated a span of silence, four minutes and thirty-three seconds in length, portable enough to be carried on a cellphone. His silent ringtone… is expected to bring quiet to the lives of millions of cellphone users, as well as those close to them.
“When major artists such as 50 Cent and Chamillionaire started making ringtones, I realized that anything was possible in this new medium,” says Mr. Keats, whose previous art projects include attempting to genetically engineer God. “I also knew that another artist, John Cage, had formerly tried, and failed, to create a silent interlude.”
Mr. Cage once famously composed four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence, which was performed on a piano, in front of a live audience, back in 1952. By all accounts, though, his silence was imperfect, owing to the limitations of the technology available at the time. “John Cage can’t be blamed,” says Mr. Keats. “He lived in an analog age.” [emphasis added]
This kind of reminds me of Monty Burns about to engulf Springfield in perpetual darkness: “Since the beginning of time, mankind has yearned to destroy the sun!” There are many other comments one could make, but the reader can supply them as well as I. (Thanks to Brian McLaren.)