Cage repeatedly claimed that he composed 4′33″ in small units of silent rhythmic durations which, when summed, equalled the duration of the title. Cage suggested that he might have made a mistake in addition. Some have speculated that the title of the work refers to absolute zero, as 4’33″expressed in seconds is 273 seconds, and minus 273 degrees is absolute zero in the Celsius scale; there is, however, no evidence that this relationship is anything more than a coincidence.
The premiere of the three-movement 4′33″ was given by David Tudor on August 29, 1952 in Woodstock, New York as part of a recital of contemporary piano music. The audience saw him sit at the piano and, to mark the beginning of the piece, close the keyboard lid. Some time later he opened it briefly, to mark the end of the first movement. This process was repeated for the second and third movements. The piece had passed without a note being played—in fact without Tudor (or anyone else) having made any deliberate sound as part of the piece. Only then could the audience recognize what Cage insisted upon, that “There is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes a sound."
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