My Cage (Silence for Cellphone)

0keatsgo.jpgJonathon Keats is a conceptual artist who is currently exhibiting extraterrestrial abstract artwork at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley. Previously he petitioned Berkeley to pass a fundamental law of logic – A=A (Aristotle’s Law of Identity) and gained notoriety for his attempt to genetically engineer God in a petri dish. In collaboration with the UC Berkeley, he used “continuous in-vitro evolution” to mutate bacteria and fruit fly and make them more godlike. To increase its chances of success, Keats played the MP3 recordings of prayers (the Jewish Shema, the Muslim Allahu Akbar, and the Christian Kyrie Eleison) for seven days and nights — a standard Biblical time period — while flies listened to live talk radio. Back in 2003, the artist even proposed to sell his brain.

Now the artist has digitally generated 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence for cellphone. The ringtone is inspired by John Cage‘s attempt to create a silent interlude.

Cage once famously composed 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, which was performed on a piano, in front of an audience, back in 1952. His silence was imperfect, owing to the limitations of the technology available at the time. “John Cage can’t be blamed,” explains Keats. “He lived in an analog age.”0cagepian.jpgMy Cage (Silence for Cellphone) dispenses with performer, piano and auditorium, instead utilizing a continuous stream of silence produced on a computer, and compressed to ringtone format.

While noting that Mr. Keats doesn’t have a cellphone of his own, and may be less-than-qualified to make global pronouncements about them, the CEO of the company that distributes the ringtone believes that “My Cage” may be a platinum hit. “People want a respite,” he says, “and not everybody has the time or money to go to a spa. The virtues of silence are unsung.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Keats is careful not to take credit for silence in general, and hopes that people will bootleg his creation, just as he was inspired by John Cage. Mr. Cage, who died in 1992, could not be reached for comment.

Note: in 2003 Modtones launched a silent ringtone and last summer the big hype was about the Teen Buzz ringtone which has a frequency too high for most adults to hear.

Image 1: Keats creating a person’s own personal meter stick, including stand and personal conversion table, based on and calculated from her heart rate (beats per minute). Image 2: John Cage playing a children’s piano.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen interviewed Jonathon Keats on Gizmodo.