Avant Garde Research: 4'33"

In 1952 an American composer by the name of John Cage wrote a seminal piece of music - 4'33".


While the composer and name of the piece might not ring a bell, you have likely heard of it. Well, perhaps "heard" is the wrong word to use here. You see, this piece of music is famous for being completely silent. 


For four minutes and thirty-three seconds, a pianist sits in front of a piano, raising and shutting the lid a total of three times throughout the piece (movements). That's it. It's four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence.


It's easy to dismiss this piece of "music" as the work of a bougie composer, going out of his way to be different. And, initially, that's probably what the rest of the world thought, too. As it turns out, that's not the purpose of 4'33". It is music - just a very different kind of music.


No notes - but still music


Cage wanted the audience to think differently about music and sound. He wanted the audience to shift perspective from what they were expecting to hear, to what they were not expecting to hear. Try it now - stop whatever you're doing for 4 minutes and 33 seconds and listen


What do you hear? The hum of co-workers conversing? Examine that sound even more. Notice how their voice pitches up when they ask a question, or how the sound swells in volume as people agree or disagree? Or perhaps the muffled sound of traffic passing outside. Listen to the patterns of sound as multiple vehicles pass. Maybe there is printer chattering in the background, pushing out its short, sharp, staccato-like sounds. This is all music, just music played by different instruments and performers.


Cage's unique composition is incredibly analogous to effective marketing research. It's easy to focus on measuring what we want our product or service to be and exclude those values with which we do not want to be associated. Our we just measuring the positive benefits, or have we included negative ones, too? Are we examining our performance in isolation, or relative to our competition?


I recommend listening to the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast regarding John Cage's work - it's an outstanding production. I also recommend contacting Evolve if you're considering marketing research - we'll figure out those mysterious measurements for you. 

Posted by EvolveKev

Kevin is all about research. Qualitative, quantitative, UX, you name it. When he's not researching, he's to be found laying down beats in his studio and hanging out with his dogs (and girlfriend). Woof.

Topics: Research Tips