Experimental Music and the Political: Performativity in the art of John Cage


  • Ricardo Lomnitz Independent researcher




experimental music, music, political functions of music, performativity of music, John Cage, aesthetics, ethics, ethics of listening, anarchism, silence, noise, Performance Art, Happenings, performative, Fischer-Lichte, Aesthetics, art, music theory, music performance, 4'33'', Musicircus, performativity and theatricality, performative space


This text aims to explore some of the philosophical inquiries that arise from experimental music, focusing on the following question: How is music, without words, capable of producing and enacting political thought? Focusing on John Cage's art an exploration of the performativity of music is proposed, understanding performativity both as the effects that music has on its audience, and its “theatrical” quality. Cage’s work is especially well suited for this objective, inasmuch as it is based upon both an explicit desire to modify the perception of its audience, and an interest in developing an art form that is closer to “theatre” (in a broad sense). As Alejandro L. Madrid has suggested, using performativity as a lens of analysis to study music shifts the question “What is music?” to “What does music do?” and “What does it allow people to do?” Through a revision and discussion of Cage’s art pieces, the author of this text argues that Cage’s work supposes a destabilization of traditional notions and roles, allowing people to listen to their surroundings with greater attention and pleasure (thus questioning Eurocentric and anthropocentric conceptual and sensorial frameworks inherited from the past), and to perform atypical social relations of an anarchist nature.

Author Biography

Ricardo Lomnitz, Independent researcher

Ricardo Lomnitz (1994) is a philosopher, musician and sound artist from Mexico City. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, with a thesis about the political implications of John Cage’s music. He has composed music for film, dance, and theater productions, including La Visita (dir. Clarissa Malheiros, 2022), Medea (dir. María Sánchez and Susana Franck, 2021) and La Peor Señora del Mundo (Seña y Verbo, Mexican Theater of the Deaf, 2020). As a philosopher, he is interested in analyzing the political nature of music and listening, the eco-musical explorations, the connections between aesthetics, ethics, and politics, and performance theory.


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How to Cite

Lomnitz, Ricardo. 2022. “Experimental Music and the Political: Performativity in the Art of John Cage”. Performance Philosophy 7 (2):48-67. https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2022.72357.