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John Cage, an avant-garde musician from the United States, composed a piano solo with three movements, called 4' 33", in 1952. In August of the same year, David Tudor, a young pianist, performed the piece for the first time at the Woodstock Festival. During the playing time of 4 minutes and 33 seconds exactly, Mr. Tudor opened the piano when each movement started and closed it when it ended, but did not touch a key. Audiences, who were caught unprepared by Mr. Cage's idea that the sound of silence can also be music, jeered at the pianist. However, modern music historians do not hesitate to call 4' 33" the forerunner of things called "happenings."

An American performance artist, Alan Kaprow, held an exhibition entitled "18 happenings in 6 parts," at the Reuben Gallery in New York in October 1959. After the exhibition, the word "happening" became a term used in modern art to describe an event that happens only once and by chance.

An English dictionary also defines the word as "an event or series of events designed to evoke a spontaneous reaction to sensory, emotional, or spiritual stimuli." A funny or unexpected event can also be called a happening. In Korea, an old saying goes that it was only a mouse that caused a great fuss and toppled a big mountain. That is a typical happening.

Last week, the Korean people became nervous because the envelope of a letter from New York was found to contain white powder. The incident ended up as just a simple happening. After the National Institute of Health examined the white powder, it was found to be a preservative that has no connection with the anthrax bacteria. But when it was discovered, policemen and a medical team were dispatched urgently and isolated 16 employees of the office where the envelope containing the white powder was opened and held them overnight for observation. Despite the scare, nothing really happened. It is understandable that the people involved and the relevant authorities reacted as they did to the white powder, but newspapers that devoted a great deal of space on their front pages about the incident before the identity of the powder was determined should win a gold medal for arranging such a happening. It is not clear whether they did so out of misjudgment or out of calculated sensationalism.

There were significant numbers of "happenings" in the past, including the fuss about building a "peace dam" during the military regime in the 1980s. There is speculation that dissident Americans may be behind the anthrax scare there, and the speculation has become increasingly convincing. As art happenings do, other happenings often begin to stir sensations. I hope the anthrax anxiety will end soon as if it were nothing more than a happening.

The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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