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VIDEO: The Visualization of John Cage's "Lecture on Nothing"

While studying film at Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, we were studying the various modes of documentary filmmaking. Govind Deecee and I decided to utilize John Cage's "Lecture on Nothing" and visualize it in a structural mode.

The final product was a culmination of our experimenting with sound/silence and create the visuals and editing through the soundscape.


  • Sound and Silence: Through the use John Cage’s text, we attempted to create our own soundscape from Cage’s deliberate use of language and silence. This can include manipulating the speed, pitch, duration of the text.

  • Visuals: Our visual strategy was based upon the aforementioned sound/silence. Images will be created by the deliberate manipulation of the camera’s digital sensor or the editing equivalent. It is the filmmaker’s intention to move the viewer’s attention away from the narrative and more on the “process”.

  • Editing: Editing had no aesthetic input from the filmmakers. The filmmaker will relied solely on the structural elements of the film. This included cutting on predetermined sounds, silences or images. This also included playing with image opacity


The text in John Cage's "Lecture on Nothing" is composed of four measures per line and twelve lines per unit. There are 48 units with each having 48 measures. The entire piece is divided into five parts, comprised of 7, 6, 14, 14, 7 units. These demarcations are used for the rhythmic structure of the piece.

The filmmakers visualized the first part (7 units). Each measure equals one second, which means the entire piece was composed of 336 seconds (5 minutes, 36 seconds).

"Lecture on Nothing" is comprised of text and silences. The 336 measures were placed on the timeline and then all the silences were carved out, thereby leaving only the "text".

Cage’s silences are represented by “empty” soundtracks on the timeline. Visually the silences are represented by “empty” video tracks.

The first piece engages the ears with tone lengths based on the length of the text. The second piece engages the eyes with flashes of white based on the length of the text. The third part engages ears, eyes and brain (text). The fourth part is ears (spoken text), eyes and brain (text). The 5th, 6th and 7th parts are the reverse of parts 1, 2 and 3.

The text of John Cage's "Lecture on Nothing" can be seen here.

Results and Observations:

By implementing the preceding parameters, we can make the following observations about “The Visualization of John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing””:

  • The flashes of white and text as well of the tones and spoken voice created a sense of “unexpectedness”. Expecting the unexpected.

  • An unexpected result is that Cage’s text can almost be read like a music sheet. The tones and white flashes and text correspond to the film. (See attached sheets).

  • The final timeline shows how structural our film is (see below). Each green marker represents one measure (four seconds).

A screen shot of our Final Cut Pro timeline.
  • The filmmaker’s attempted to bring awareness to the process of this structural film by showing “pixels”. In the middle of the third unit, the fonts of the words are increased. During the “Now he knows he” section, the font is increased over 1,000%.

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