The courage to let nothingness sound – Let nothing sound! Tomonari Maeda

From the pamphlet distributed at the "Hiroshi Yokoyama Piano Recital" held on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at the Toyosu Civic Center Hall




John Cage: In a Landscape (1948)

Morton Feldman: Two Intermissions (1950)

Phillip Glass: The Hours (2002)

Morton Feldman: Intermission 6 (1953)


Ryuichi Sakamoto:Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

John Cage: 4'33’’ (1952)

John Cage: 0'00’’ (1962)


Morton Feldman: Palais de Mari (1986)


It comes from nothing; it goes into nothing.

It goes into nothing; it comes from nothing.

The sound fades.

The sound rises. 


There is no

such thing as silence. Something is al-

ways happening that makes a sound.

No one can have an idea

once he starts really listening.

It is very simple but extra-urgent

The Lord knows whether or not

the next

John Cage, 1957


The musician starts to play. With an action, the sound commences and continues. Listeners follow how the sound starts and evolves. The music sheet determines the point of departure and the duration, but the musician shapes the form of the ending.


Where does the musician introduce their own technique and the character? Above all, in the ending of the sound. The notation leaves it open how the sound fades and when it terminates. The musician has freedom here, in how the sound fades and stops. And this freedom is growing. The more instruments develop, the more refined the fading mechanism becomes, and the more the musician’s power augments.  


In a conversation with today’s player Hiroshi Yokoyama, he argued: “A toy piano is not like this. Once you hit a key to play a note, the sound just continues. There’s no way to intervene.” It is easy to see his argument is right. On a toy piano, you can control only how strongly, i.e., with how much pressure, you hit a key. Then a steel bar reacts to determine the loudness and the duration.


Last month, composer Yoriaki Matsudaira presented his works. The last piece of the evening was “Sparkle” (1997). In the final part of the piece, pianist Kazue Nakamura played a toy piano, quoting a phrase from Johann Sebastian Bach’s prelude. It sounded so strongly primitive, radical, but at the same time most sophisticated through the modern instruments of several musicians. These instruments controlled the decrement, not like a toy piano’s freely released notes. In that moment I was so impressed.


I entered one [an anechoic chamber] at Harvard University several years ago and heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.

John Cage, 1957



On the same issue, but from another position, sound engineer Trevor Cox describes his conversation with his colleague Stuart Bradley. Once he was a member of English Antarctic expedition.


I asked Stuart if he had experienced silence in Antarctica, and he told me about his time in the dry valleys, possibly the most barren places on Earth, which lack snow and ice cover: “Sitting up on the valley wall on a still day, there was no sound I could identify (except heartbeat? breathing?). No life (apart from me). So no leaves either. No running water. No wind noise. I was certainly struck by the primeval ‘feel.’ Stuart commented on how different this was to the sound of a silent laboratory, “I didn’t get the claustrophobic feel one can get in an anechoic chamber . . . I suspect this is because, although it was incredibly quiet, it was also a very, very open vista (the valley walls were 1,500–2,000 meters [5,000–6,500 feet] high and the visibility was amazing!).”          

Trevor Cox, The Sound Book, 2014



How, then, is the perception of listeners?

Music critic Manabu Yuasa wrote for the album Taj Mahal Travellers (August 1974).


Better to forget the action you appreciate a musical piece. Or it is more like stop to imagine than to forget, just try to be conscious that you are situated in sound. Being there, your consciousness would vanish and matters just little for you. You may leave that place if it is too boring or can fall asleep. You also could shout loud, but it changes nothing at all. Better not to ask the meaning.


The originator of that Taj Mahal Travellers, Takehisa Kosugi, who later worked for Merce Cunningham Dance Company with John Cage and one of most important figures of Fluxus movement determined musical performance in this Instruction Works.


Performing a piece of music on an instrument;

sudden stoppage of performing an action;

continuance of the stoppage without movements; 


By paying attention to this stoppage, it is possible to be accurate on movements and enrich one’s expressions.


Theatre director Tadashi Suzuki often pointed out to contemporary better choreographer Jo Kanamori;

“Your focus is only to direct motions. Don’t start by making movements. What important is to do stopping, non-movement.” Suzuki’s company, SCOT is well known how the actors express the being by non-movement. Through the hardest training on movement, they also reach their strong expression by non-movement. Suzuki points out, presenting their ability to move in the most elegant way, in the ballet dancing it is not programmed that non-movement is the origin of any action. In general, it is a blind point that performances with beautiful expressions often fail to be conscious of it. The target of any movement it to reach the stoppage. Starting by this ending, directors may design movements “backwards” to the start. Then, action!


The Sanskrit alphabet starts with “a” and ends with “un”.

Islamic studies scholar and erudite Toshihiko Izutsu wrote that for Japanese monk Kukai, “a” was the origin of all sounds, equally the origin of consciousness and being. It is also suggested by the fact the letter “a” is positioned. ”


Before moving, the best performers reveal their talent in motionlessness. The performer stops breathing for a moment, and so does the audience. The audience is drawn into the vacuum created between them. In this mutual motionlessness and suspense, the audience finds something extra-ordinary. 


In Sanskrit, “un” is the final letter in its alphabet. That action, narrowing the throat, is the attitude of preparing for any forthcoming actions. Once after reaching the final movement, the existence, it comes back through this preparation by narrowing the airway. Between this “un” and “a”, nothingness occupies. It is so that in this nothingness, everything is packed.



Nothing more than not-

hing can be said.

Hearing or making this  in music is

not different

only simpler — than living this

way                     .

Simpler, that is, for me, —

because it happens

  that I write music

                           John Cage, 1952


It is not the case if you interpret, by eliminating all being, nothingness appears. There is no connectivity between being and nothingness, only the indescribable gap. Martin Heidegger’s “The nothing itself nothings.” is no correct description. It doesn’t bear any being. There is only nothingness. On this nothingness somehow happened to be non-available. Non-availability of nothing. We may describe this status from the gap is the origin of being. 


We start to dig at that silence, keep digging, just continue through. A solid core appears, but despite this disturbance, we try to dig deeper. Against any resistance, we try to penetrate it, as if we explode ourselves, with all our bodies. We would recognize all beings are destroyed. With all these labours, we may reach nothingness. Immersing ourselves in nothingness, then watching being from that point, we realize that being shines as the result. There are few who can reach here, but they exist, those who went through this process of transformation and are conscious of being.  


Pianist for 4’33” premiere in 1952, Davis Tudor recollects in early 1990’s:


That piece was kind of difficult for the audience then. But still we had around 200 listeners, for experimental music performance it was a lot. The recital itself was my solo appearance. I played nine pieces in that evening that also included some works I never played public before. “4’ 33”” was the second last piece then.


After the recital Cage organized an open discussion with the audience. They seemed very unpleasant, also very angry. An artist suggested “Leave this town immediately, otherwise…”


We performed this piece also in New York City or Tokyo. Rumours after rumours. Then the audience knew the concept of the work to some degree, so the reaction changed on presenting the piece more and more.


The anatomy of ears tells us the process of sound perception; The spiral form cochlear duct receives and transmits the sound vibration in the inner ear. In this cochlear duct there are many hairy cells, each hair catches a specific frequency; the cochlear duct is filled with electrolyte, the vibrations of the hairy cells change electrolytes’ potentials then finally these electric signals are recognized by brains nerve. This is quite interesting, because this really reflects the construction of sounding bodies like musical instruments in reversed way. A sound occurs to change. So far, the pitch or the pressure moves; or the sound stops. Then changes happen to feel the sound. This is also an argument to claim the control of sound decrement is the essence for musicians.




Urgent, unique, uninformed about history and theory, beyond the imagination, central to a sphere without surface, its becoming is unimpeded, energetically broadcast. There is no escape from its action. It does not exist as one of a series of discrete steps, but as transmission in all directions from the field’s centre. It is inextricably synchronous with all other, sounds, non-sounds, which latter, received by other sets than the ear, operate in the same manner.

John Cage (1955)


French Philosopher Jean-Jacque Nancy analysed tactile perception. He points out that the tactile senses start to work just before the hand (skin) reaches an object. We may assert here additionally, as we keep touching, if there is no variation of the force or the position, then the tactile senses cease to work. It is only by leaving that position (to stroke or to rub), or by stopping the touch with the hand or skin, that the tactile sense works again.

This is essentially the same as how the perception of sound works.


Purposefully looking at the sky without focus, away from the most vivid constellations, in the haze that is the night, is where the most striking illumination would be found. Similarly, in total stasis the richest and the deepest details are surfaced.


Any intension to set a work that restricts the actions and how performers express under this restrictions, dancer Fujio Hagiwara considers this issue by introducing the latest work NOWHERE AND EVERYWHERE AT THE SAME TIME, N°3 > by William Forsythe (pictures on this page).


Whether it is dancing to walk through this Forsythe’s work, is not easy to determine. But clearly that is a choreography. With this idea, we may say architecture is choreography. In addition, not only physical existences that regulate body’s movement, but also laws and socially accepted conventions are choreographies. Then, what may we do?”


Structures of musical instruments are surely a choreography. Musical scores are one of the most typical choreographies. Composer Morton Feldman, the second most important figure tonight’s concert, extended this basic idea to invented Graphic notation. It is curious; the fact that he extended the rolls and actions, but with his composition with so less restrictions, he simultaneously put composers’ tasks in void. Feldman seems he enjoyed his immersive position in nothingness and picked up notes which arise around him. He was already in that nothingness at his start.


German composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen once asked Feldman what his secret was. Feldman answered, “My past experience was not to ‘meddle’ with the material. but use my concentration as a guide to what might transpire.” Stockhausen mulled this answer over and asked, “Not even a little?”


Belgian pianist Stephan Ginsburgh, who recorded Feldman’s piano pieces, wrote in the liner note: “As his music slowly draws you towards silence, you realize how useless it is to try to ‘make’ anything.”



By watching the musical sheet of “Intermissions 6” by Feldman, a question would naturally appear; How does it determine the musician to perform? I suggest you check other performances of this piece on streaming services like Sportify or CD recordings. It seems as if a composer renounces the restriction of a structure; but it is not the case, Feldman determines his works in all senses that no doubt to be mistook.


In seeking to penetrate nothingness, we are met with a forceful reaction. In this reaction, sound arises. The sound is a powerful declaration of being. There is no ordinary connectivity between nothing and being. In sound the pulse and beats of time, and the physicality of space, emerges. Herein space itself emerges, not vice versa. “Emptiness” doesn’t need invention.


Composer Toru Takemitsu wrote in 1981


In the actual world’s situation where our freedom is exposed in danger once again, (we) artists should be eager to speak on “freedom”. On this purpose, any honestness would be allowed. Music is the only art form that instructs nothing and limits nothing.


(We) listeners are only have the position to share this. His text obtains its powerful sound back in this actual happening in 2022.


The courage to let nothingness sound demands more of listeners than players. This fruit comes from the richness of nothingness.


The sound rises and passes through our being, then it fades out.

It goes into nothing.

Sound comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. 

Nothing is everything.

Nothing really matters.

Everything is the sound of nothing.


(English by the author)