David Tudor performing Bandoneon !

Bandoneon ! uses no composing means; when activated it composes itself out of its own composite instrumental nature.” – David Tudor, from the program notes (5)

There are a number of David Tudor compositions that are unavailable to hear, but arguably the most important historically is  Bandoneon ! (A combine) . Created and performed as part of the 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering this has now been made available for the first time as part of the E.A.T. – 9 Evenings:  Theatre and Engineering DVD series (which can be purchased via Microcinema). I’ve written about 9 Evenings before in context of the first two DVDs released in this series and my overview of the series stands. It is probably worth quoting from the introduction to the primary 9 Evenings archive at the Daniel Langlois Foundation as a reintroduction to the series before examining this specific release:

In 1965, with the help of Robert Rauschenberg, Billy Klüver sought the expertise of some 30 engineers at Bell Laboratories (Murray Hills, N.J., U.S.), requesting that they participate in an interdisciplinary project blending avant-garde theatre, dance and new technologies. For the project, artists John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor and Robert Whitman each created an original performance. The artists were paired with the engineers, and together they produced the technical components used on stage by the participants (dancers, actors, musicians). The event was originally intended to be presented as part of the Stockholm Festival of Art and Technology in 1966. But when the festival’s American program was cancelled, Billy Klüver moved the event to the 69th Regiment Armory (New York, N.Y., U.S.), where it ran as 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering from October 13 to 23, 1966.

Bandoneon ! (A Combine)As per the two earlier releases in the series the DVD is comprised of four sections:  The standard introduction designed by Robert Rasuchenberg, the performance of the piece, a documentary and concluding credits and acknowledgments.  The performance is of course of primary interest to me and I have to say it is quite spectacular.  The video begins with Tudor and several engineers coming on to the stage and hooking things up and getting things ready.  After a couple of minutes of this Tudor begins to play and I have to say based on all of the Tudor I have heard previously I wasn’t expecting this.  Washes of sounding, stuttering out as he squeezes the bellows, layer upon layer of these as the Armory’s 5 -6 second reverberation throws the sound back and forth.  The piece keeps building from this initial assault, each components lashed onto the howling structure previously built. After a bit of this four remote controlled sculptures each with its own loudspeaker begins wheeling around, throwing yet more sound all around the space. Meanwhile a video projection system, designed by Lowell Cross,  is tracing out abstract shapes, lines and patterns that are being generated in direct response to the music. There are portions of the performance where the density is lower than others but primarily it is a hurricane roar of sound. Even so it is not a featureless wash of sound by any means, it is wholly alien, created not from the expected building blocks of synthesis, but of the bandoneon’s natural sound, feedback, amplification, echo, and tortured electronics. It is fractal like, always revealing more detail and fascinating detail at that, the closer you examine it.  But then after just over eight minutes of actual playing it fades away and ends. I personally have a hard time believing that Tudor played for less then ten minutes after all of the effort of setting this up (though I suppose its possible).  The  Bandoneon ! page for this piece at the Daniel Langlois Foundation concludes with this ambiguous statement:  “The length of the performances is not mentioned in the documents that were consulted during the writing of these notes” and as far as my research has gone I can’t determine how long the piece lasted. I had hoped that as they had done on the Variations VII disc they would include the entire piece as a separate audio track, given that they weren’t able to film the entirety of most performances but it is not to be found on this disc. So I don’t know if they have more or not, or how long the performance was or really any more then what we have here.  Of course it is hard to not think that just a few years after this performance Tudor is known to have said ““It’s hard to do a piece any more that lasts for less than an hour.”(5)

Bandoneon ! Generalized Diagram (detail)

Bandoneon ! Generalized Diagram (detail)

The documentary portion of this disc is fantastic, the best yet of the three discs released so far.  In it it describes how Tudor, always technical, realized that few of the artists were really taking advantage of the Bell Labs engineers and equipment and that he resolved to use everything. The video weaves  interviews with engineers, collaborators such as Larry Austin, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma and Lowell Cross describing how Tudor worked up the setup that he used for this performance. Further information on Tudor and his practices and methodologies were gleaned from Merce Cunningham, Matt Rogalsky and many other close collaborators. Gordon Mumma outlines Tudor’s history with the Bandoneon, beginning Tudor seeing Mauricio Kagel perform his piece Pandora’s Box which sparked his interest. He of course learned the instrument and then commissioned friends such as Pauline Oliveros and Gordon Mumma to compose pieces for him. Mumma would later make electronics for Tudor, which Tudor would rework, reverse engineer and reuse for his own systems. All of this, combined with video, with the remote controlled carts and layers of additional electronics, culminated in Bandoneon ! (a combine). The Bandoneon had contact mics on it as well as normal microphones and this were sent to a wide variety of electronic devices. But all highly analog, for instance a device called a Vochrome which was a harmonium in which the sound from the Bandoneon was played which would vibrate the metal tines of each each which would then be used to activate an electronic circuit. So basically a physical device used for spectrum analysis. The documentary fully describes how Lowell Cross worked out his video oscillator out of an old TV set and how Tudor convinced him to make a projection version of it that was used for the performance. The notion of the Combine, a term utilized by Robert Rauschenberg to describe his sculpture/painting hybrids, is absolutely apropos for this piece as it had so many components  in both the music but also in the visual aspects. The documentary I think makes pretty clear that Tudor, more so then any other of the artists, really fully realized the goals of the combination of theater and engineering.

Another piece to the Tudor puzzle and another great DVD from the E.A.T. people. While the most interesting performances from the 9 Evenings have now been released, I’ve become so intrigued by the entire project that I am certainly looking forward to the rest of the DVD’s in the series. Hopefully they will continue to come out apace.

References

1) David Tudor pages at EMF
2) 9 Evenings at the Daniel Langlois Foundation
3) E.A.T. – 9 Evenings pages
4) Bandoneon ! at Microcinema
5) Rembering David Tudor: a 75th Anniversary memoir by Lowell Cross from his  website

9 Evenings Poster