The Value of Nothing Part 2
By Gerard Janssen on April 7, 2012
In 2002, the record Classical Graffiti was released by The Planets, a project by Mike Batt, composer of “Bright Eyes” performed by Art Garfunkel and “Nine Million Bicylces” by Katie Melua. On the album the song “A Minute’s Silence” was featured, with authors Batt/Cage in the credits. It was meant as a joke. A nod to John Cage’s 4’33”. But the song came to the attention of employees of the music publisher Peter’s Edition, who represents Cage’s work. They contacted Mike Batt, on behalf of the heirs of John Cage, with the request to transfer a quarter of the royalties to them. A not very humble request. Millions of copies were sold of Classical Graffiti. Serious money was involved.
The result was one of the strangest court cases in history. Batt refused to pay the money and tried to escape the claim. He declared that Cage didn’t refer to John Cage, but to Clint Cage, a pseudonym he suddenly started using. Furthermore, he claimed that the work was completely different from that of Cage. First of all this was real silence, while 4’33” was actually made to to let us hear that it never is completely silent. Secondly, the music score is totally different. Cage’s Silence was a pair of vertical lines and a few time indications, while Batt’s song was written in G and had a more complex structure, ending with rhythm variations. The number went from 5/8 to 3/8 to finish in a 4/4 rhythm. Batt furthermore argued that his silence had a higher silence factor than Cage’s – Batt’s silence was digital and the silence of Cage analogue.
Initially people suspected that all of this was a publicity stunt for both Batt and Peter’s Edition. But it was actually bloody serious. The legal battle ended with a settlement of a ‘six-figure sum’. A lot of money for a publicity stunt.
When the legal issues were settled, Batt released the song as a single from the album, along with the remark that his silence was superior to that of Cage, because he managed to say the same as Cage in one minute instead of 4’33”.