When Mute first suggested I start a written project based on the STUMM433 boxset, their suggestion was that I aim to interview everyone who contributed a piece, everyone who worked on the box, everyone who designed an image, current Mute employees, former Mute employees, and those Mute artists that didn’t contribute a version of John Cage’s 4’33”.
I hadn’t perhaps appreciated the audaciousness of the suggestion, which, as I now I reflect on its scale and almost certain impossibility, has a certain Cage-iness about it.
Pascal Gabriel first worked with Mute on some of the early Rhythm King releases and went on to produce albums like Inspiral Carpets‘ Revenge of The Goldfish for the label. Gabriel set up the trio Peach with Lisa Lamb and Paul Statham in the 1990s, releasing their solitary album Audiopeach for Mute in 1997. In 2019, Gabriel adopted the alias Stubbleman and released the celebrated album Mountains And Plains for Crammed Discs, followed by The Blackbird Tapes in 2020.
Gabriel did not perform a version of 4’33” for STUMM433, so he recorded a performance to accompany this interview.
Recorded: June 15 2020, 05:00
Place: Islington, London
Interview: May 28 2020 (4’33” performance notes June 15 2020)
My wife Pippa and I went to the launch event for STUMM433 at Café Oto. The whole audience performed 4’33”. It was a really magical experience.
It created this very special sense of communion with all the people who were there. We were all looking at each other. People were walking outside and cars were driving by and stuff, but the whole of Oto was performing 4’33”. It was just wonderful. I’m so pleased I went, for that reason alone. There was an interesting talk by Simon Fisher Turner, and then Alexander Tucker conducted a performance of 4’33”. We just all stood there. Nobody laughed. It was really amazing to all be together in that moment.
I’m a big fan of John Cage. I read his book, Silence, and when Pippa and I made the road trip across America that inspired my Stubbleman album Mountains And Plains, we had Cage’s Four2 in our playlist. The thing that people often miss about John Cage is that he was really funny. He was absolutely hilarious. He had a certain way of performing. It wasn’t just 4’33”. It was also things like his performance of Water Walk (Water Music No. 2) on the American game show I’ve Got A Secret in 1960. That was fucking brilliant. He had great theories, but he was also really funny. He was a Buddhist, and I think that partly explains a lot of what he did in his music.
With 4’33”, it’s about really listening to your environment and nothing else. It’s about really paying attention, and it’s lovely because of that. The withdrawal of sound and distraction suddenly makes you aware of every detail in the environment around you.
Where do you go when you want silence?
I don’t think silence really exists, but the closest thing I can think of would be when I’m on my bike.
I’m really passionate about cycling in France or when I go outside of London. You hear the birds and the wind. It’s very meditative, but it’s not silence.
Notes on 4’33” performance
My performance of 4’33” was recorded at our home in London, in the same upstairs room where I recorded the sounds of birds for The Blackbird Tapes. I was originally going to perform the piece with a theremin, but in the end I used the very rare and super cute Electro Harmonix Mini-Synthesizer, which was made in New York in the mid-70s as it looked and sounded better. The synth is the only on EH have ever made. It’s basic but quite unique sounding. Its most famous sound imprint is the bassline on ‘Sexy Boy’ by Air!
The recording was done on Monday 15th June 2020, around 5 am.
Interview: Mat Smith
(c) 2020 – 21 Documentary Evidence