Category: Lectures

Lecture on Markers for Performed Silence (in Beethoven)

Amsterdam Conservatory, March 2, 2024

These images illustrate embodiments of silence in Beethoven’s opus 111 piano sonata (first four bars):


Barthes, R. (2005). The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978) (R. Krauss & D. Hollier, Trans.). Columbia University Press.

Brooks, W., Hornby, E., & Doctor, J. (2017). Silence, Music, Silent Music (N. Losseff, Ed.). Routledge.

Cage, J. (1961). Silence: Lectures and Writings. Wesleyan University Press.

Hodkinson, J. (2007). Presenting Absence: Constitutive Silences in Music and Sound Art since the 1950’s. Københavns Universitet-Institut for kunst.

Jankélévitch, V. (1961). La musique et l’ineffable. Librairie Armand Colin.

Kahn, D. (2015). Noise, Water, Meat History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts. MIT Press.

Margulis, E. H. (2007). Moved by Nothing: Listening to Musical Silence. Journal of Music Theory, 51(2), 245–276.

Schafer, R. M. (1977). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Simon & Schuster.

Voegelin, S. (2010). Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art. Continuum.

Video: Dead Territory performs 4’33” on YouTube:

Silent Walk @KABK @MAPS

Silent Listening Walk

The Hague is a very unusual urban landscape. I’ve always been intrigued by its discretion. So much is hidden from the public – there is a secretive aspect to this city of politics and walls and diplomats and nobility and discrete wealth. Let’s take a walk together through the centrum, and listen to the city, as if it were a musical composition – it’s a great way to discover more than meets the eye. This ‘silent walk’ is also a ‘slow walk’, and lasts one hour.

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This is a silent walking tour created for KABK students.

walking underneath the Korte Voorhout, on level -2 of the parking garage last year
    We will walk through the city quietly, listening to the sounds around us, for about one hour.

    Turn off your phone, and focus on your senses. Of course the visual, because the architecture is varied and interesting. But also the sound, and the smells…sometimes just close your eyes, and stand still, and LISTEN to the city. 

    Most places in the center of Den Haag share certain sounds: auto and delivery traffic, lots of bicycles, pedestrians, the sounds of trams and their bells. Then there are sounds that are periodic, such as the bells and the carillon which ring on the hour and quarter hour. And there are weather sounds, such as the wind and the rain, and the rustle of trees and leaves. And there are the new covid sounds, like the air-conditioning systems which now run day and night at maximum speed.

    But some spaces also have their own sounds, such as the lapping of water from small canals, or the sound of fountains, the openness of a few large spaces, and the discretion of many small courtyards. 

    What do these sounds say about power? …about segregation between public and private? …about walls, about government, about finance?

    after the walk, we will draw/sketch/remember our experiences. All senses and feelings. Then we will compare sensorial cartographies, and try to create a group map.

  2. MAP of some places we will visit
some highlighted spaces/buildings

3. PLACES OF INTEREST THAT WE WILL VISIT (maybe not in this order)

Kabinet van de Koning 
This is the elegant mansion that houses the King’s Chambers/royal offices. Behind it is a hidden courtyard which you can usually walk into. We will try to go there if we can. Otherwise go there during the week, in the late morning when the light is nicest. The King receives ministers and announces governmental decisions here. The building was begun as a private house in 1635, and is known as the Huis van Pauw. The facade was redesigned in 1724 by the architect Daniel Marot.

The vijfer, or pond, has been this way for many centuries. It’s the largest open space in The Hague, except for the Malieveld, I guess. The sunsets are exceptional from here, and you often see photographers setting up their cameras for that perfect pic on summer nights.

The Houses of Parliament form a wall to one side of the vijfer, resembling a medieval castle, though many of the buildings are more recent. I find it strange that all the buildings are turned inwards, to their courtyard. The Mauritshuis is a private mansion with a colonial burden, which now is public and houses one of the world’s impressive art collections. Normally it’s crowded, but during the covid crisis, it’s been a treat to see the art without all the tourists. 

The pointless Island without a Name (but with a history!)
This island has no name, but has been used by protesters over the years for various causes. There is no way to get there, and nothing to do if you did. Often it looks very overgrown and messy. It’s in plain sight, but kind of doesn’t exist. Why is it there at all?

Lange Voorhout
This allée was inspired by Berlin’s famous Unter die Linden park. I find that the trees are elegant all year round, even when they’re bare in winter. But there is also a lot of traffic. There used to be a cute little tramline which came along here, as far as the Hotel des Indes. Too bad it’s gone now. During the Vietnam War, this was the place for anti-american protests. Unlike Paris or Berlin, the allée doesn’t really go anywhere, and there are no visual focal-points. So it’s oddly static. The best time to walk here is early on a Sunday morning, when it’s really peaceful.

Parking Garage
Like most medieval Dutch cities, The Hague has made a big effort to keep cars off the streets, and this is part of it, one of several new underground parking garages. But there is a counter argument that these enormous spaces also encourage driving, because they make it so easy to park near shops and restaurants. On weekdays the garage is full of expensive Mercedes, BWMs, and Lexus’, driven in by the bankers and lawyers and politicians who work in this area. On weekends, the brands are more democratic, with visitors to the shops and theater.

former US Embassy
This building was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1955. It’s a famous example of the ‘brutalism’ style of architecture. Originally the structure was open to the public, and Dutch people could come here to watch American movies and eat hamburgers. But gradually it became fortified against terrorist threats and protected against demonstrators. I have a studio on the third floor, along with a group of other artists. The bottom floors of the building are managed by Museum West. If you have a museum card, you can visit their exhibitions for free. (otherwise it’s 10 euros). There’s a student discount.

Ministry of Finances (fountain)
Thousands of people walk by this subtle fountain every day, and no one notices it. You have to get really close to appreciate it. It’s a shame that the bikes are in the way.

Ministry of Finance (courtyard)
The courtyard is also called the Platanenhof, after the trees. The building has a winter garden (which you can’t visit unfortunately) with a soaring atrium. The public garden has planters shaped like ovals, each with grass and a light and a tree.

Here’s one possible version of this walk:

[GuyLivingston is a pianist and podcaster, specializing in the history of the avant-garde]

Lecture @ NYU February 20th, 2021

Silence revisited: framing and re-framing John Cage’s 4’33” on YouTube

Just as John Cage was influenced by diverse and non-musical sources from Zen to Thoreau so did his creation of the silence piece (4’33”) have effects far beyond the world of classical music. Amateurs, pranksters, death-metal bands, architects, and students have embraced it, each finding their own meaning. Hundreds of these versions are available on YouTube, and have been a rich source in my recent research.

As part of my artistic practice, I have been attempting to unpack the ‘black box’ of Cage’s composition. In addition to performing the piece many times myself, I’ve analyzed many YouTube versions of Cage’s conceptual piece. Here are some of my favorites:

Thus I am exploring the markers for silence encoded within this subgenre: YouTube covers of 4’33”. The covers are recorded by professionals, amateurs, rock bands, rappers, individuals, groups, orchestras, and also non-human actors (cats, machines, ‘nature’). Each video contains overt or unconscious markers that represent boundaries for silence, and sometimes develop a visual or embodied importance which may seem unexpected in the context of silence’s ‘absence’. Spontaneous, controlled, or ritualized audience response can enforce, perpetrate or undermine the silence, but most interestingly, it can also frame it.

This confinement situations of the pandemic are extremely relevant to the videos of Cage’s silence piece. The aloneness of watching an online video, the restrictions imposed by the composer, the enforced silence/solitude, all speak to the isolation with which we are all struggling now. Plus they present situations of framing and re-framing which are rich in possibility.

For the purposes of this talk, I will define silence as a perceived absence in musical performance which nonetheless communicates additional information. My research draws on a re-examination of the frame (parergon) (Derrida); and also references Cage, LaBelle, Schafer, Voegelin, Gann, and Jankélévitch.

a classical performance by William Marx
John Cage talking about silence and music and noise
a funny parody – how to play it
David Tudor, who premiered the piece in 1952. This is a performance he gave later in Japan
“death metal” version

Dead Territory plays my favorite cover
Nola the cat
another cat, and a fridge
  • Questions we could ask about silence:
    • is there a performative stillness
    • are there colors?
    • are there signs?
    • are there symbols?
    • how do you show the absence of something?
    • can we SEE silence?
    • or do we HEAR silence?
    • are there markers or frames?
    • are there gestures or bodily poses?
    • how noisy/quiet is the silence?
  • about John Cage’s silence piece (four minutes and thirty three seconds)
    • 4’33”  is also called ‘tacet’, meaning ‘make no sound’
    • For four minutes and thirty-three seconds, the pianist makes no sounds at all
    • Cage was trying to remove the composer’s ego from the process of composing
      • was he successful?
      • what about the performer’s ego?
    • what influenced the piece?
      • Rauschenberg white paintings, 
      • Marcel Duchamp, 
      • Dadaism, 
      • Zen
      • Japanese gardens
  • what’s the possible meaning of the piece?
    • No such thing as silence
    • Sounds are all around us
    • We should listen to them, appreciate them
    • Cage said: open your mind
    • new ways of experiencing music/sound/silence
    • elimination of the fourth wall
    • can we know what the piece’s meaning is?
    • does it change per performance?
  • Suggested reading list on silence
    • John Cage: Silence (this is the bible of John Cage fans – full of insight and anecdotes)
    • Kyle Gann: No Such Thing as Silence (Gann was head music critic for the Village Voice)
    • Salomé Voegelin: Silence and Noise (a modern take on sound art)
    • Douglas Kahn: Noise Water Meat (a controversial rebuttal of many preconceived ideas)
    • Film: Die große Stille (a mystical documentary about a french monastery)
    • Movie: The Sound of Noise (Swedish alternative detective movie, hilarious, cult)
  • Suggested listening list
    • Arvo Pärt
    • Meredith Monk
    • Hildegaard Westerkamp
    • Pauline Oliveros
    • medieval music of the école de Notre Dame: especially Leonin and Pérotin

Powerpoint slides from the zoom seminar

NEC Piano Department Lecture

NEC lecture notes from Guy Livingston, created for a lecture at the New England Conservatory. But these links are useful for all young pianists looking for new romantic repertoire…enjoy!


Gershwin Songbooks (arr for solo piano):

Vanessa Lann – toy piano music:

Lann – entranced by the beckoning light:

Lann – Leaps of Faith:

Bolcom – Serpent’s Kiss:

Frederic Mompou:

Prokofiev -Romeo and Juliet

“Pern” by Yann Tiersen

Cloud Atlas by Mark Fowler:

“One Summer’s Day” by Joe Hisaishi

Ole Miss Blues – James P. Johnson (piano roll)

Lowell Liebermann (an excellent recommendation)

Amy Beach:

Paris 1920s

Paris is a moveable feast

Ernest Hemingway

It is hard not to be intrigued by the period between the two wars, in which Paris flourished, and artists thrived. Montparnasse became legendary for its café life, as expats and locals fought their fights, argued over cubism, fashion, and politics, and lived their love affairs dramatically in the public eye. Key american figures were Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and George Antheil. From the French side, Kiki of Montparnasse, Erik Satie, and Jean Cocteau fueled the passions and artisitic explorations of a generation. Stravinsky, Picasso, and Diaghilev were their heros.
Guy Livingston lived in Paris for 25 years, and is creating this program (detais to be announced) based on artists and writers from the parisian avant-garde ‘entre les deux guerres’…

Designers, architects, poets, and musicians at a formal reception in Paris. George Antheil, known as the “Bad Boy of Music” is at the center.

“George Antheil certainly has genius. I do not believe that he has arrived at the definitive formulation of his art. What he is presently giving us are rather his studies, his researches, which are very close to those of Picasso: without concession, as far as he can in a domain that is often arid. However, I have already been permitted to enjoy the absolutely new pathos of it, the uprooting rhythm, a joyful drunkenness of contradiction, a private discovery such as children sing to themselves— it drives out demons and fixes gods without asking them for their opinion.”

Adrienne Monnier, poet and bookstore owner on the rue de l’Odéon, Paris, in the 1920’s

Music and Outer Space

I’m involved in several projects related to music, sound, silence, and space travel. Aside from the lecture below, I’ve also recently participated in a show at the Leiden Observatory. This is related to my contribution to a conceptual Moon Gallery which could be launched and landed on the Moon as early as 2022. 

poster from a recent lecture at Tufts University, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing…