Later today, Pete Doherty, the Kooks, Billy Bragg, Imogen Heap, Orbital and many more will gather in a London studio, collaborating in a bid for this year's Christmas No 1. But the strangest bit is not the team-up: it's that they are not recording a single note. The ad hoc supergroup is assembling in support of Cage Against the Machine, a charity campaign to take John Cage's infamous 4'33" – a composition of pure silence – to the top of the Yuletide charts.
The campaign has been gathering momentum over the past couple of months, winning celebrity endorsements, amused press coverage and around 60,000 Facebook fans. Their inspiration is obvious: last year's successful push to raise Rage Against the Machine's Killing In the Name, released in 1992, over X Factor winner Joe McElderry's The Climb. In 2010, instead of loosing a profanity-laden rap-rock tirade on the British public, Cage Against the Machine organisers want to unfurl the serene sound of silence, taking on whoever wins X Factor next week. The plan recalls a similar star-studded silence for this year's Remembrance Day.
The Cage campaign's four minutes and thirty-three seconds will be recorded today, at London's Dean Street Studios. Under the supervision of producers Paul Epworth (Florence and the Machine), Clive Langer (Madness) and Charlie Rapino (Take That), the group reportedly includes Doherty, Bragg, Heap, Mr Hudson, Jon "the Reverend" McClure, Dan Le Sac, Fyfe Dangerfield, plus members of the Kooks, Orbital, UNKLE, Enter Shikari, Guillemots, Aeroplane, the Vaccines, the Big Pink, Coldcut, Does It Offend You Yeah?, Heaven 17, Crystal Fighters, Penguin Prison and Fenech-Soler. The finished single, with remixes by Mr Scruff, Hot Chip, Alex Metric, Hervé and Adam F, will be released by Wall of Sound Records on 13 December. Proceeds will go to charities including the British Tinnitus Association, Nordoff Robins Music Therapy, Youth Music, Sound and Music, and the Campaign Against Living Miserably.
Despite its reputation, 4'33" is not actually four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence. Written more than a half-century ago, it is composed of three short movements. For each, the score instructs the performer to sit at his or her instrument, not playing - the "music" consists of the small surrounding noises, the ambient creaks and accidental coughs. Since its premiere in August 1952, 4'33" has become one of the world's most famous pieces of conceptual art.
Famous as it may be, winning the Christmas No 1 remains an uphill battle. First of all, there is The X Factor to contend with. Ladbrokes is offering odds of just 8-1 that John Cage will take the top spot. But the greater enemy, the movement that could split the anti-Cowell vote right down the middle, is a campaign that has gathered 600,000 supporters to Cage Against the Machine's 60,000. Will the ridiculous 1963 single Surfin' Bird be the Cage conceptualists' undoing?