Robert Sullivan at Bookforum:
What is perhaps Cage’s most famous work, 4′33″, consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence, and, like a shack on the edge of a transcendental pond (or the idea of one), 4′33″ is a framework, one that reminds me of the way Walden’s structure positions us to hear not just the sound of the wind at the pond but the sound of the wind vibrating the telegraph lines that ran across the edge of Walden’s mostly felled woods, the sound of man-moved sand shifting down the railroad embankment as ice thawed in spring. The world is animate in Walden, Thoreau word-painting what was invisible to the eyes but tangible to the body. I am reminded of Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, heightening the conversation between the visitor and the Great Basin’s sky, and of Charles Burchfield, whose paintings, made in and around Buffalo in the 1940s, don’t depict fields but the feeling of fields, their invisible vibrations. So Thoreau perceived space at the pond, listening to the wind in the telegraph poles, his ear pressed to the pole’s dead wood for sonic transformation—“its very substance transmuted,” he said.