Enjoy the silence: Laibach ‘cover’ John Cage’s 4’33”

Mute Records has just announced a box set with 50 acts ‘performing’ John Cage’s infamous 1952 avant-garde composition 4’33” – which directs musicians not to play any instruments. It’s just the kind of high-concept piece that suits Slovenian industrial art provocateurs Laibach, whose version is the first to be released.

The box set, STUMM 433, features interpretations and a short film from iconic Mute acts such as Depeche Mode, New Order, Michael Gira, Wire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nitzer Ebb, and 40-odd more. Label boss Daniel Miller has even recorded a version by The Normal. But Laibach have predictably set the bar high.

Laibach’s version is a collaboration with Croatian performance artist Vlasta Delimar, recorded during an installation Chess Game for Four in Zagreb, with the conceit here being that the game – also featuring Laibach’s Milan Fras, Luka Jamnik and Ivan Novak – is timed for four minutes and 33 seconds. The only Laibach signifier is the famous cross armband – in Delimar’s case the only ‘clothes’ she’s wearing. Milan Fras even goes without his famous headpiece.

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The austere piece begins with Fras dropping a John Cage record on a floating turntable then assuming his position at the board. The game itself is captured with a slow tracking shot, as each player ponders a move, while the record crackles amid traffic white noise and subtle ASMR shuffling sounds. The tension builds as the time runs out but as 4’33” hits, the record stops without anyone making a move and it all ends in… silence.

The box set will be released in May 2019, with more films hopefully being shared in the coming months. Profits from the release of STUMM433 are to be split between the British Tinnitus Association and Music Minds Matter charities. The project is in tribute to Inspiral Carpets’ founding member Craig Gill, who suffered from anxiety and depression because of his tinnitus in the years up to his untimely death. You can register your interest here.