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Cage Against The Machine: Top musicians fall silent

By | Published on Tuesday 7 December 2010

And so it came to pass that over 60 musicians, yesterday afternoon, crammed into the live room at Dean Street Studios in Soho, and for four minutes and 33 seconds stood in total silence. Actually, it was nine minutes and six seconds, because the group recorded two different versions of John Cage’s silent composition, ‘4’33″‘, as part of the Cage Against The Machine project. 

As much previously reported, the aim is to get the four and half minutes of silence to the Christmas number one spot later this month – beating the customary first single from this weekend’s ‘X-Factor’ winner – while raising money for five lesser known charities, the British Tinnitus Association, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, Youth Music and Sound And Music. 

It’s all the idea of three friends – Dave and Julie Hilliard and John Rogers – who were inspired by last year’s Rage Against The Machine Christmas number one campaign. They were immediately attracted to the perverse idea of forcing silence into the festive top spot, while they couldn’t help but be pleased, and rightly so, with the brilliant name they’d come up with in ‘Cage Against The Machine’. 

Xfm DJ and CMU columnist Eddy Temple Morris stumbled across their campaign on Facebook and, already looking to work on a fund-raising campaign with Ou Est Le Swimming Pool’s Joe Hutchinson, approached the CATM team about getting involved. And so one thing led to another, Eddy spent a few weeks glued to his mobile phone, and yesterday’s recording came into being. 

Among the eclectic bunch of artists taking part yesterday were Mr Hudson, Guillemots, UNKLE, The Big Pink, The Kooks, Enter Shikari, Coldcut, Orbital, Heaven 17 and Jon McClure, plus last minute additions Suggs, Scroobius Pip, Gallows and Pendulum. Imogen Heap and Billy Bragg both phoned their contributions in – Bragg from his tour bus and Heap in the back of a taxi – with telephones in the studio sat on top of the studio’s piano during the recording. Pete Doherty, meanwhile, contributed his silence in the way you’d probably expect, by promising to take part and then not showing up. 

As well as the main track, Alex Metric, Adam F, Hot Chip, Herve and Mr Scruff are all set to create ‘4’33″‘ ‘remixes’ – actually four and a half minute audio snapshots of their own lives – as B-sides for the single release. 

It all took place not long after 3pm yesterday afternoon. After thirty seconds of noise-making to get it out of their system – which Dan Le Sac later described as being “like an orchestra tuning up, but a really bad drunken orchestra of ex-ravers” – the group went straight into the first take. The discomfort of having to be quiet was noticeable amongst some, though there were outbreaks of dancing and arm-waving among others as time went on. What was most striking though was just how long four and a half minutes feels when spent in total silence.

Take two was an altogether more relaxed affair, done more for the video of the venture, being made by film maker Dick Carruthers. Although Mr Hudson later said he felt the second take was “more magical”, the feeling amongst everyone else we spoke to was that the first was the best. 

Temple-Morris said: “It’s all about that first take for me, the second one was for the video, the honesty was there in the first one”, while the man who matters – BRIT winning Producer Of The Year Paul Epworth, who took charge in the control room – said: “It sounded good, everyone performed admirably. Even with the little cough and splutter here and there, it was good”.

Despite the task of standing in silence for four and a half minutes, not to mention the challenge of fitting all the eager musicians into one small studio, there was a real party atmosphere at the recording. A few extra touches were thrown in here and there at the last minute, in particular artist Kilford, best known for making ‘visual representations of music’ on stage at concerts, who was asked to paint a visual representation of the silence. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the session he was signing a blank piece of paper. 

Two challenges now remain for the Cage Against The Machine project. First, the team at Wall Of Sound have to master the track and get it into pretty much every digital music store by Saturday night. And then CATM’s supporters have to buy the track in sufficient numbers to get it to the top of the chart in time for Christmas. 

Of course, in the chart battle, CATM faces competition from both the eventual ‘X-Factor’ winner and other anti-X Factor campaigns. If the former – Matt Cardle is currently favourite to win – can match Alexandra Burke’s first week sales in 2008, then he could still take the Christmas crown. Of the other anti-X campaigns on Facebook, the one to get The Trashmen’s track ‘Surfin Bird’, made popular by its appearance in a particularly fine edition of ‘Family Guy’ in 2008, to the top is almost certainly the most popular in terms of ‘likes’. 

Having come together in a major way somewhat late in the day, the CATM project is behind both the ‘Surfin Bird’ campaign this year and the Rage campaign this time last year in terms of numbers of Facebook followers, though 10,000 were added yesterday alone as media interest began to gain momentum. And the collective fan bases of the artists involved in the recording are considerable, Imogen Heap alone has 1.5 million followers on Twitter. 

And in terms of originality, surely getting an original recording of nothingness to the top of the charts is the most innovative proposal this Christmas. As the core aim of last year’s Rage campaign – on which all these projects are based – was to restore some originality in the uniquely British pastime of caring about who is number one at Christmas, after years of lukewarm ‘X-Factor’ creations automatically taking that prize, the truly sublime Cage project surely best fits the bill. And the odds of CATM taking the top spot are now down to 4/1, putting it in second place behind this year’s ‘X-Factor’ winner.  

Either way, all of this is happening in aid of five brilliant under-funded charities, so whatever happens in terms of the chart race, it is definitely something we’d urge you all to support.

If you want to get involved, sign up at, watch yesterday’s recording at and then get ready to buy yourself some silence (well, four and half minutes of quiet ambience from a very crowded studio) next Sunday. Hurrah.