Recorded: September 10 2018, 12:08
Place: The Eskal, Ouessant
Interview: February 5 2020, The Strongroom, Shoreditch, London
I’ve been to quite a few performances of 4’33” over the years. It’s profound. It’s a very adventurous, and clever, and thoughtful piece because you hear the rest of the world when the musicians aren’t playing.
I was working with Yann Tiersen in the studio, and Yann got asked by Mute to do a version. This was at his studio in Ouessant, in Brittany, and Yann invited with me to collaborate on it, and I agreed. It was mostly a bit of helpful encouragement to carve some time out of our schedule to do it, because it’s always difficult: everyone’s busy. It was as simple as that really. Yann invited me to collaborate with him and I was delighted to accept.
I’d never performed it before, but I’ve attended performances for piano, and I’ve also attended a performance for a full orchestra. I remember the experience being somehow magnified because of it being a full orchestra.
4’33” is a step into deep listening and also meditation. There’s no sound coming out of the instrument, so it’s a very Zen experience. And, of course there’s lots of sound in the room, even in the average concert hall. A very professional recording studio might have almost no noise in it, but if you perform it in the living room with the window open, it’s absolutely not silent. And that’s obviously part of Mr. Cage’s message. It’s part of the door of perception that Mr. Cage opened with this piece. It’s saying, ‘Listen.’
Yann and I did 4’33” top to bottom without the three movements in the score. The three movements thing is quite good because it gives you the opportunity to page turn. I always imagine the classic version being at the piano: you’re sitting there, you open the lid, and you turn the pages for the movements. It’s Dada, in a way. It’s semi-ludicrous, but it’s not. It’s trivial but deeply profound at the same time.
Where do you go when you want silence?
My wife and I moved out of our Central London flat many years ago. My wife was talking to her meditation teacher and she said, ‘I’m finding it really difficult to meditate in the flat – it’s so noisy.’ Her meditation teacher said, ‘Move’ – very simply, just like that. So we moved to Hampstead, which is a lot quieter.
One of the most important things for us in our day-to-day living was having a quiet bedroom. We chose our house in Hampstead precisely because the bedroom was at the back, off the street, and very quiet. We’re very lucky. There are a few trees and what was a communal garden at the back, and the street is quite quiet. That’s really important to me.
I also like walking in the country on my own. Of course, it’s no more silent than 4’33” is, but I’m not talking, the phones aren’t on, and if it’s reasonably remote, there’s no one else around. The silence that nature offers up to us is really great. I often call it a walking meditation if I’m in the hills or mountains on my own.
There’s a wonderful book called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. In that book a truth is highlighted about meditation, which is that it’s simply the practice that counts. There’s no result, in so far as it’s not something you achieve – it’s just something you practice. Everything else just emerges from that. All it’s saying is, ‘Just do it!’ Don’t worry about it. Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t matter – even if you only have a moment of stillness, that’s awesome. And if it doesn’t, it still doesn’t matter: it’s still practice. And I think that’s what I’ve got from that book. It’s one of those books that won’t go to Oxfam. I can’t keep all of my books, but Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind will stay in my life.
Gareth Jones will release his debut solo album, ElectroGenetic, through Calm + Collect on September 18 2020. https://ffm.to/electrogenetic
Interview: Mat Smith
(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence