Although Cage was known for exploring the boundaries between noise and music, 4'33" infuriated his audience when it debuted in 1952 at The Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York.

Instead of watching a typical concert performance what the audience witnessed was pianist David Tudor sit idly at his instrument without playing a note. Cage later said, "What the audience thought was silence, because they didn't know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds."

Tudor sat motionless at the piano when he wasn't opening or closing the lid to indicate a new movement, turning pages in the blank score, or keeping track of the time on a stopwatch. The rear of the theater was open to the sounds of the wooded area which surrounded it. Rustling trees accompanied the first movement while wind and raindrops joined in the second and third.