4’33” is often regarded as an end, a philosophical cul-de-sac, but over the course of six decades the negation of music has proved fertile ground for many composers. This appears to have been particularly true in the last 20 years or so, as though the noise of the avant garde’s war of words had itself to subside into silence before we could appreciate 4’33” on its own terms.
Today, however, it seems we are all chameleons. Certainly many of the early-career composers I heard last month during the Pharos International Contemporary Music Festival, a generation that has grown up under globalization, with the internet at its fingertips, might be described in this way. Identity, origin, and authenticity have taken on whole new twists in just ten years or so.
As Cassidy talked me through the many stages of planning, sketching, and composing the quartet, it occurred to me that each step was carefully designed to advance the music’s richness without, first, sacrificing the structural propositions of the previous step and, second, requiring him to resort to the limitations of his human imagination.
The technology of the 21st century may have numbed the exoticism that comes with living overseas and rendered the sense of national rootedness more fragmentary and ephemeral. But the creation of identity—a trigonometry of closeness and distance, allegiance and rejection, composition and reception—remains an essential one for any artist.