Hermione Hoby, “Nothing Ventured, Something Gained,” The Observer 16 August 2009 (page 3)
As one band asks fans to fill an album of silence, Hermione Hoby looks at the history of blank art
How to proceed when your eight albums have already plundered pretty much every musical landscape out there? The unflaggingly experimental brother-sister duo, the Fiery Furnaces, have an answer: a silent album – or Silent Record to give their recently announced project its proper name. Yet those seeking balm for overstimulated minds and ears might be disappointed – the “record” is in fact a book of music notation, reports and illustrations and includes plans for a series of “fan-band concerts” where fans will “perform, interpret, contradict, ignore, and so on, the compositions that make up Silent Record.” Sounds noisy. But the history of emptiness is a rich one …
John Cage’s 4’33, 1952
The avant-garde composer’s four-minute, 33-second recording of a pianist not playing the piano wasn’t, in fact, the sound of nothing: its unavoidable ambient sounds indicated the impossibility of silence. And, in a stroke of etymological irony, Cage’s explorations of silence paved the way for the genre of Noise music.
Yves Klein’s The Void, 1958
Klein’s empty, white-painted room at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris had just one concession to colour: blue cocktails at its opening. Thousands queued to see it.
Anne Lydiat’s Lost For Words, 2000
The only words in Lydiat’s book of 100 empty pages are those on the dustjacket: “About this book I have promised myself to say nothing,” is the sagely evasive declaration from philosopher Maurice Blanchot. Many parted with £9.99 to own a copy.
My Penguin, 2007
Judging a book by its cover becomes a tempting exercise when the cover’s drawn by the reader. Penguin’s blank-cover editions of eminently illustratable classics – Alice in Wonderland and Animal Farm among the most popular – drew on the irresistible desire to scribble all over a white space.
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul, 2009
It was a legal impasse rather than artistic high-mindedness that prompted this pair to bypass their record company and flog a blank CD, including a note encouraging punters to illegally download their album. No marks for meditations on emptiness but all props for so craftily dodging a lawsuit.