Entries tagged with “Jasper Johns”.


Merce Cunningham Antic Meet


The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) is coming to Seattle for two dates as part of the Legacy Tour later this week (Oct. 27th and 29th) and several local institutions have programmed some corresponding events, beginning with a lecture today at the Henry Art Gallery. This lecture, Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns, by Roger Copeland (Professor of Theater and Dance at Oberlin College) examines the relationship between Merce Cunningham and the artists that he worked with in his dance company. The thrust of the lecture seams to be an examination of how Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns all broke away from the dominate forces on their respective fields and that this rejection of the current paradigm is their “shared sensibility”:

Between 1953 and 1980, the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns frequently designed décor, costumes, and even lighting for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This lecture will examine the sensibility shared by all three artists. Merce Cunningham began his professional career in dance as a member of Martha Graham’s legendary company. But by l953, when he first formed his own company, Cunningham had eliminated virtually every vestige of Graham’s influence from his own dancing and choreography. Significantly, 1953 was also the year in which Robert Rauschenberg created his Erased DeKooning Drawing, a work which -both literally and figuratively – declared his independence from the ethos of abstract expressionism. This lecture will argue that Cunningham’s repudiation of Martha Graham’s approach to choreography is paralleled in precise ways by Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s repudiation of painters like DeKooning, Pollock and the other great abstract expressionists. Collectively, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns (along with John Cage), spearheaded one of the great paradigm shifts in 20th century art: a transition away from the “hot,” anguished, personal energies of abstract expressionism toward the cooler, brainer, more impersonal aesthetic that would eventually manifest itself in minimalism and conceptualism.


2005 dress rehearsal for Ocean, in New York's Rose Theater

On Wednesday the Northwest Film Forum will present the Seattle premier of the Charles Atlas film of the most epic performance of Ocean.

In September 2008 Merce Cunningham staged Ocean, one of the most ambitious works of his legendary 60-year career, within a massive Minnesota granite quarry. Renowned filmmaker and longtime Cunningham collaborator Charles Atlas was there, using five cameras to document this uniquely epic production.

The film was completed last year and has only been shown by dance companies, festivals and in special screenings like this one. While the performance in the Minnesota quarry was seen to be somewhat of a failure by the critics in attendance it was notable (at least to readers of this blog) for several reasons. The first being that it contains the last piece composed by David Tudor (Soundings: Ocean Diary) and John Cage (Ocean 1-96 completed by Andrew Culver). In 1994 it would have still be performed by David Tudor and presumably for the 2008 performance it used recordings or Kosugi’s realization of the piece.  Furthermore it is possible that the issues the critics had with an outdoor staging of a piece in the round may not be an issue with a filmed version.  The five cameras would allow 360 degree coverage and editing and such could make for a more coherent piece than one could experience live. Atlas was a long time Cunningham collaborator and would I think create a film that Cunningham would approve of.

Daniel Squire in RainForest (photo by Tony Dougherty)

Daniel Squire in RainForest (1968) from the Legacy Tour

The week concludes with the two performances of from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour (which almost didn’t make it to Seattle; see this Seattle Times article) , which I wrote up extensively in this blog post: Legacy Tour comes to Seattle. Lots to see and hear for those interested in Merce Cunningham, his dance company and the composers and artists he worked with.  I’m off to the lecture at the Henry and of course have tickets to both the MCDC performances. I hope to make the Ocean screening as well, any chance to hear some unheard Tudor is not to be missed and of course more Merce is welcome. Look for a post on all of these activities after Merce Week concludes.

Merce Week in Seattle Lineup

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011, 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns
Henry Auditorium, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington

Wednesday, Octerober 26th, 2011, 8:00 pm
Ocean a documentary by Charles Atlas
Northwest Film Forum, Seattle  WA

Thursday, October 27th 2011, 7:30 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour
The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

Sunday, October 29th 2011, 8:00 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour

The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

 

 

 

Merce Cunningham RainForest

Merce Cunningham on the RainForest set

When Merce Cunningham died in 2009 the Legacy Plan that he had instituted a few years prior was set in motion. This plan called for a two year world wide tour of the company performing repertoire pieces, concluding with a final stand in NYC after which the company would disband.  For months I constantly checked the Legacy Tour listings to see if they’d come to Seattle and it began to seem if they’d not include the town where Cunningham went to school in the tour. I began to check regularly for dates in Portland or Vancouver and when those didn’t show either, San Francisco,  LA or anywhere on the West Coast. Some LA dates did appear but I held out for something closer and finally, finally Seattle was added to the list for late October 2011.  The program was listed as TBA until the end of the August so I had now idea until just this week what they’d be performing.

I have to say I was immensely happy when I finally saw the list. First off they were playing two dates, the 27th and the 29th, thus allowing for a really nice selection of dances from across the repertory. Three pieces each night, allow for a couple of the shorter dances and a full length, full company dance each night. The music spans the core Cunningham Collaborators: Cage and Tudor but also Bryars, Radiohead, Sigur Rós. The dances in order of creations are:

RainForest (1968)
Duets (1980)
Quartet (1982)
BIPED (1999)
Split Sides (2003)
XOVER (2007)

RainForest would be the piece in the repertory I’d like to see most as it features an excellent David Tudor piece, Andy Warhol’s silver pillow sets and is from the classic 60s period of Cunningham’s choreography.  Quartet from 1982 also features a David Tudor piece, Sextet for Seven, which I had not heard until the fantastic Music for Merce set from last year. This was a favorite from the set and it will be great to hear it in context. Duets from 1980 features improvised Irish drumming arranged by John Cage while XOVER from 2007 utilizes Cage’s Aria and Fontana Mix. XOVER is also a very late Cunningham piece so it will be of interest in contrast to some of the earlier pieces. It, as well as Split Sides, was choreographed with the DanceForms software that Cunningham helped develop and from what I understand gave a pretty distinct flavor to the choreography. Split Sides used contemporary avant-rock in the form of Radiohead and Sigur Rós, a rare departure for the companies music. BIPED from 1999 is a full length work and with a piece from Gavin Bryars that I’m not familiar with (I’ve never seen a recording and it wasn’t part of Music for Merce), so something completely unexpected will certainly be of interest.

Tickets going on sale in a few weeks, but the Seattle Theatre Group, who runs the Paramount among other venues, allows you to put together your own subscription series with as few as three programs in the series. So I did this with the two MCDC performances as well as an upcoming Kronos Quartet performance (whom frankly I don’t really need to see again, but I do always enjoy their shows and it allowed me to get in on the early action). I definitely recommend anyone in the PNW check out these shows and for everyone else to check out where the last few months of the Legacy Tour is playing. The final performances in NYC look to be amazing, with many of the surviving original composers and musicians involved and what is sure to be a fantastic and emotional conclusion to this incredible institution.

Full info on the Seattle programs below, with details from the MCDC pages on these dances.

October 27th

Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Legacy Tour
Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

XOVER (2007)
Music: John Cage, Aria (1958) and Fontana Mix (1958)
Décor & Costumes: Robert Rauschenberg, Plank
Lighting: Josh Johnson

XOVER (“crossover”) reunites the original collaborators, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. The piece is danced with two works by John Cage: Aria, for solo vocalist (1958) and Fontana Mix, for any number of players (1958). Robert Rauschenberg’s décor is based on a 2003 painting, Plank; the costumes are white unitards. Lighting is by Josh Johnson. As the title suggests, the dancers cross back and forth across the stage, interrupted by quartets and duets, including one that lasts seven and a half minutes. XOVER is about 20 minutes long.

Quartet (1982)
Music: David Tudor, Sextet for Seven
Costumes: Mark Lancaster

Despite its title, Quartet is a dance for five, performed alongside Tudor’s score Sextet for Seven. Often described as a somber work, Quartet shows emotional and tangible dependencies and restrictions, with a single male dancer, originally portrayed by Cunningham, in the role of the outsider. The other dancers move for the most part independently of him, though occasionally they mirror his movements, or he is caught between two of them. Toward the end, after a small paroxysm, he passes unnoticed from the scene, but in the few remaining moments the other dancers’ movements revert to the restricted, almost robotic shifts of weight with which they began, as though their existence still depended on his presence. The chilling music is a live electronic composition for “six homogenous voices and one wandering voice,” and Lancaster designed the cosumes in hues of crimson, blue, and green. Quartet premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

BIPED (1999)
Music: Gavin Bryars, Biped
Décor: Paul Kaiser, Shelley Eshkar
Costumes: Suzanne GalloLighting: Aaron Copp

BIPED is a full company work whose duration is forty-five minutes. Cunningham worked on the choreography during 1997 and 1998. Parts of it were performed in Events at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts during the summer of 1998 as a Work in Progress. The first performance took place at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus in April 1999.

Cunningham has written: “The dance gives me the feeling of switching channels on the TV…. The action varies from slow formal sections to rapid broken-up sequences where it is difficult to see all the complexity.” Many people have commented on what appears to be the profoundly elegiac nature of the piece, particularly its closing moments.


The costumes, using a metallic fabric that reflects light, were designed by the late Suzanne Gallo. At one point in the dance the men, clothed in pajama-like outfits in a transparent fabric, bring on tops in the same fabric for the women. Cunningham had asked Gallo for “something different,” and this was her solution. Aaron Copp, the dance company’s lighting designer, devised the lighting, dividing the stage floor into squares that were lit in what looked like a random sequence, as well as the curtained booths at the back of the stage that permit the dancers seemingly to appear and disappear. BIPED was filmed in performance in France under the direction of Charles Atlas in 1999.

 

October 29th
Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Legacy Tour
Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

RainForest (1968)
Music: David Tudor, Rainforest
Décor: Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds (1966)

Sparked by Cunningham’s strong childhood memories of the Northwest, RainForest’s soundscape, choreography, and stage “habitat” evoke flora and fauna while artfully evading literal representation. David Tudor’s score is rich and elaborately layered, reminiscent of birdcalls and animal chattering. Cunningham’s choreography incorporates the creature-esque with keen and subtle insight – moments before his exit, Cunningham’s head pulls back into his neck, like a turtle retracting into its shell. Warhol’s installation Silver Clouds (1966) – a number of floating Mylar pillows – serves as décor. Floating freely in the air, the balloons drift above the roaming dancers. When asked about costumes, Warhol said he would like the dancers to go naked. Cunningham felt this wouldn’t work, so Jasper Johns put them in flesh-colored leotards and tights cut by Johns with a razor blade to give them a roughened look. RainForest differs from Cunningham’s other pieces in that, with the exception of Cunningham’s role, each of the six dancers performs, then leaves the stage and never returns.

Duets (1980)
Music: by Paedar and Mel Mercier, arranged by John Cage, Improvisation III
Costumes: Mark Lancaster

Duets, described by Anna Kisselgoff as a “beautiful and refined” example of Cunningham’s interest in the formal possibilities of movement, comprises of six short pieces, originally choreographed to be included in site-specific Events. To create the stand-alone piece, Cunningham added a brief appearance by one of the other couples in each of the duets, and ended with all of the couples sharing the stage. As if a still photograph were being taken, the ending consists of three short phrases, each followed by a brief stop, closing with a blackout. The Cage score consists of electronic manipulations of Irish traditional drumming by the Merciers, father and son, originally recorded for Cage’s Roaratorio the year before.

Split Sides (2003)
Music: Radiohead, Sigur Rós
Décor: Robert Heishman, Catherine Yass
Costumes: James HallLighting: James F. Ingalls

Split Sides is a work for the full company of fourteen dancers. Each design element was made in two parts, by one or two artists, or, in the case of the music, by two bands. The order in which each element is presented is determined by chance procedure at the time of the performance. Mathematically, there are thirty-two different possible versions of Split Sides. (The coordination of concept and collaborators was by Trevor Carlson, at the time general manager of the Company.) The piece was first given during the company’s 50th Anniversary Season at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), 14 October 2003.

The choreography, also in two parts, each twenty minutes in length, was made, as with all of Cunningham’s dances since 1991, with the use of the computer program DanceForms. There are a number of ensemble (often unison) passages, and also solos, duets that feature much inventive partnering, and trios.

Split Sides was a departure for MCDC in that, for the first time, the music was by two bands: Radiohead, the British alternative rock group, and Sigur Rós, the experimental group from Iceland. Radiohead played live for the first performance only, Sigur Rós for many subsequent performances. At later performances, elements of Radiohead’s contribution were played back in a recording, with some manipulation by MCDC musicians. Neither band had seen the dance company before; the musicians of Sigur Rós constructed a kind of xylophone made of pointe shoes, connected to contact microphones.

Jasper Johns Walkaround Time
Jasper Johns Set Elements for Walkaround Time (1968)

 

Music for Merce (1952-2009)

 

I mentioned in the previous post that rarely do these discs hold up as statements in and of themselves but that it is necessary to focus on the individual pieces.  Those first couple of discs then go on to be the exception that proves the rule in that their structure and the pieces contained therein almost all work.  However this situation does not last and in this second two disc set we definitely find a high degree of discontinuity between the pieces and what for me are some real duds in the set.  Now while disappointing to listen to I do think that the inclusion of these pieces is still with value w/r/t the historical nature of the set. That is to say the company danced with these pieces, sometimes for years, and thus they are as much part of the Dance Companies repertoire as the pieces that worked.  What disappointed me was the number of pieces from composers that I really liked that I found myself really hating here, especially from Takehisa Kosugi. Now again personally I think that anybody who champions any composers entire body of work is a fan boy not really a music fan, for everybody fails at times or composes for a different aesthetic. So taking that into consideration the disappointment here is that of course one always wants to find that great new piece and when someone who has the potential to deliver it fails to do so, well that always is a bit of a let down. But I mention this simply to state that nearly all the composers here have work I love and any criticism is simply of these pieces and performances and not of them. Of course there also are pieces by composers and performers that I simply do not care for and a couple of those make their appearance in this particular set (the Bo Nilsson from the previous set fits into this category more or less, but the music itself I was just rather indifferent toward).  This is simply taste; I’m sure there are those who would enjoy them. I don’t tend to spend much time on these piece except for describing them a bit and perhaps explaining what it is that fails to connect for me.

Disc Three (77’58”)

Walkaround Time performance (1968)
Walkaround Time (1968)

1) David Behrman (b. 1937) “¦ for nearly an hour”¦ (1968) [excerpt] 3:23
Dance: Walkaround Time (1968)
Valda Setterfield, Carolyn Brown, Barbara Dilley Lloyd, Beverly Emmons, voices
Recorded in 1968 in Buffalo, New York

Walkaround Time has to be one of the most visually striking of all of Cunninham’s dances with it’s Jasper Johns created inflatable extracts from Marcel Duchamp’s stunning Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. While I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the dance, it has been filmed by Charles Atlas of which I have seen excerpts from (this should be another candidate for DVD release) and the sets and dance are pretty stunning. The music, by David Behrman of whom I’ve previously enjoyed several pieces from, is part and parcel with the piece in that it is made up of  overlapping recordings of readings from and about Duchamp, notably extracts from The Green Box, which Duchamp considered an integral part of the Large Glass. Among the various texts read that are included in this excerpt is a detailed physical description of the Large Glass. While this is without a doubt a multimedia masterpiece I don’t find the excerpt from this piece in isolation remarkably interesting, but I have no doubts that it adds to the entire experience in context. Text pieces, especially ones such as this which are solely constructed out of text, can quickly wear on me, so for this set a short excerpt is actually preferred in that it gives one the feel for the piece but doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. However this one is really well made, at least in this short extract and the overlapping is exceedingly well done. I definitely think that in context it would add to the proceedings and not become overly wearing.

2) Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) In Memoriam: Nikola Tesla, Cosmic Engineer (1969) [excerpt] 9:44
Dance: Canfield (1969)
John Cage, Gordon Mumma, Jean Rigg, David Tudor, voices, live electronics, acoustical-space sound-activators
Recorded on tour in 1972

Canfield had no musical score. The Composition “In Memoriam: Nikola Tesla, Cosmic Engineer” by Pauline Oliveros consisted of three pages of instructions for the musicians. Tesla once –so legend goes–adjusted an oscillator to the resonances of his studio and nearly brought the building down. In Canfield, the musicians’ ultimate task was to discover the resonant frequency of the building in which the dance was performed but not to go so far as to bring the building down. (A most unlikely possibility.) They had a series of steps to follow, including the describing–in an immediate and personal way, via walkie-talkies and the public address system–the actual performance space, comparing it to other spaces; recording the conversation and the environment as they explored the theater, including backstage, the basement, the lobby; and finally playing back the accumulated sound material along with oscillator-genereted resonant-frequency sounds.-Carolyn Brown (4, p. 531)

Another piece that probably was more interesting in context but doesn’t make for a very compelling recording. It is as Brown describes above,  a bit of really simple electronics – a low level wash from the oscillator, a bit of the telltale squawk and buzzing of live electronics and the occasional rising feedback tone probably from inadvertent microphone feedback whilst the engineers read setup instructions and report acoustical properties over various forms of lo-fi broadcasts. The background live electronics are not without their charm and some of the more degraded broadcasts are of note, but the continuous nature of the instructions reading may ultimately render it fairly uninteresting  as a piece of music, but it clearly was fun to perform as Carolyn Brown relates; citing a particularly memorable performance where the audience seemed to have lost it’s collective mind during the performance:

“John, David, and Gordon always had a field day carrying out Paulie Oliveros’s directions for Canfield, but never had they been the target of such malevolence. In the end, they wreaked their own not-so-subtle revenge. Of course, one can readily understand any audiences’ angry reactions to the pedestrian, inane chatter of the musicians as they discuss the acoustical environment of the theater and ostensibly determine the resonant frequency of the building as they roam about, talking to one another over walkie-talkies. What the audience did not know was that the bad-mouthing and obscenties had all been recorded as they occurred. Then, in the last third of the dance, it was all played back at the audience. Soon realizing it had been caught willy-nilly to become part of the music, the audience –according to Der Zeit–was silenced, embarrassed by its own aggression.”.-Carolyn Brown (4, p. 584)

 

Christian Wolff for 1,2 or 3 People (excerpt)

Christian Wolff For 1, 2, or 3 People (1964) [excerpt]

3) Christian Wolff (b. 1934)  For 1, 2, or 3 People (1964) [excerpt] 12:07
Dance: Tread (1970)
David Tudor, baroque organ, live electronics
Recorded on tour in 1972

“The music is drawn from the interaction of the people playing it.. It requires for its performance independent self-discipline (unpoliced by a score defining fixed relationships and timings) and a capacity and special alertness for responding to what one’s fellow performers are doing, the sounds they re making or changing and their silences. The responding can be variously deliberate (there is time and you are free ) or must be quick and sudden (there are precise requirements which appear unpredictably). At the time (1964) I was concerned to make a lively situation for the performers and shift about the difficult and the free areas of their playing (for example, the more unusual difficulty of articulating timbre change in a situation where you are busy coordinating with others’ unpredictably appearing sounds; or, the freedom to choose any pitch at your leisure). The resulting sounds and silences were to be the music, and the fact of its emerging in this way was to be the source of its expressiveness.” -Christian Wolff (3, p. 492)

This is a great piece and a fantastic realization of it, that I’d previously heard on the Tudor LP A Second Wind for Organ. Overlapped recordings of the baroque organ with a really wide range of sounds extracted from it. Ranges from subtle whistling to massive organ blasts with typical Wolff spacing and silences. There are sounds that evoke a rattling, clacking mechanical device  while others the longer breathy tones you’d expect from an organ.  Really a lot more expressive then one would expect from an organ with Tudor really working the instrument for all available sounds. Previously released on A Second Wind for Organ though this is a slightly longer excerpt (wish the whole thing was released). This is a live recording presumably different from that on A Second Wind for Organ; you can hear the dance and audience. Presumably Tudor is playing with a tape, in the liner notes for A Second Wind for Organ it describes Tudor as playing a superimposed version of him playing the inside of the organ with live recording and this is presumably how they’d do it live.

From the Second Wind for Organ Liner notes:

For 1, 2 or 3 People was written in 1964. was written in 1964. Any instrument(s) may be used. This performance was made on a Schlicker Baroque Organ belonging to the sculptor Richard Lippold. Taking advantage of the special resources of the recording medium, David Tudor has superimposed two versions of the same material, one played on the keyboard and one from the interior of the organ. The selection of material for the superimposition was made in a way which remains faithful to the requirements of the score and admirably realizes the composer’s conceptions.

4) Christian Wolff Burdocks (1971) [excerpt] 16:59
Dance: Borst Park (1972)
David Behrman, viola; John Cage, percussion; Gordon Mumma, horn, cornet; David Tudor, bandoneon; Garrett List, trombone; Frederic Rzewski, piano
Recorded on tour in 1972

“Burdocks is for one or more groupings of players. It’s a collection (from which one can choose what to play) of different, distinctive compositional ideas in ten parts. The ten parts include specific notations on staves; notations indication only durations, often depending on other sounds a player hears; and various verbal directions both explicit and suggestive. Various numbers of performers (no upward limit) can play, using any means of making sounds. Any number of the ten parts can be played simultaneously or overlapped.”-Christian Wolff (3, p. 496)

Burdocks extractA more jaunty piece than the previous and one of the Christian Wollf pieces that is more frequently heard. It has little short segments that can be repeated at the performers discretion so you often hear this little bits over and over as if they are scales being practiced.  Very spacious performance of this piece, with several long segments made up of isolated small events of a very subdued nature. There are a number of sounds derived from extended techniques on these instruments, making for a varied collection of sounds among the more recognizable. Lots of laughter from the audience, presumably in reaction to the dance. The live nature of these recordings adds to them I think.  Applause comes at varying times including the finale whilst the music is still playing.

 

John Cage and David Tudor

David Tudor and John Cage electronics setup from around this time

5) John Cage (1912-1992), Gordon Mumma (b. 1935), David Tudor (1926-1996)  52/3 (1972) [excerpt] 16:39
Dance: Landrover (1972)
John Cage, piano; Gordon Mumma, live electronics; David Tudor, live electronics
Recorded on tour in 1972

This is a really interesting piece in as that it is credited to Mumma, Tudor and Cage and they apparently had a set of agreements and simple rules between the three of them. Carolyn Brown breifly describes the music in Chance and Circumstance thusly:

“The musicians chose an equally simply format: they divided the time of Landrover (whether we did all four parts or only one) into three equal lengths, with each part contributed by one of the three composers — John, David, and Gordon–the oder changing from performance to performance so that we dancer never knew what we might be hearing. All three composers chose soft, nearly inaudible sounds, so that the dance sometimes seemed eerily silent.” – Carolyn Brown (4, p.568/9)

This led to a performance that was always different but stays fairly subdued, at least for live electronics, for most of the length of this excerpt with some greater intensity toward the end.  The inclusion of the piano adds a nice contrast from Mumma and Tudor’s electronics which tend to stay in rather staticy and bleepy territory. The piano (Cage) is clusters of varying length with generous silence between them. The electronics are really subtle at first then a dominating shimmering sound as the piano drops out It sort of sounds like Mumma on horn but that could be electronics of some sort or maybe even bowed piano. After a near silence the electronics become controlled feedback and statcy buzzes and there are some mechanical sounds that could be prepared piano or just using the piano as an instrument. It has this gauzy lo-fi feel to a lot of it, which probably is the case with the electronics but creates it’s own sort of atmosphere The piece becomes pretty intense with this chopping aspect to it from the feedback though it isn’t peircing. Some gutteral blasts drive it back into silence. This excerpt ends with almost organ or train whistle like blasts and a low rumble. Great piece, again wish this was the whole piece which apparently would have been around fifty minutes. Of course the character of the entire piece seems like it’d be different if we heard the whole thing as Gordon Mumma describes it in his essay From Where the Circus Went:

“For this contribution Cage chose to read a short fragment from his Mureau, which he would place somewhere in the large, remaining silence of his section. For the entire length of his section Tudor presented seismological signals, which he speeded up to an audible range and modified gently with electronic equalization. I made a set of verbal instructions, in the event that someone else wanted to perform my section thought I invariably performed it myself. These instructions specified “a phenomenon unarticulated insofar as possible and sustained at the threshold of perception.”  Though that phenomenon doesn’t necessarily have to be a sound, for my section of Landrover I created a kind of supersonic blanket with special electronic equipment. In accordance with instructions I adjusted this phenomenon at the threshhold of perception — my perception. Of course, since everyone’s perception thresholds are different. It was above some and below others. I could barely hear it, Cage said he never heard it, and Tudor found it obnoxiously audible. Critics described it variously as “absolute silence,” “intolerable roaring,” and “something like crickets.” – Gordon Mumma (2, p.276)

From Mumma’s description it seems pretty clear that we are hearing his or Tudor’s section of the piece. With Cage’s being spoken word amidst silence, the whole piece clearly will have a gentle outline overall but would differ from what this excerpt leads us to believe.

 

6) Gordon Mumma Telepos (1972) 18:27
Dance: TV Rerun (1972)
Gordon Mumma controlling sounds activated by dancers with telemetry-accelerometer belts
Recorded September 12, 1972, Venice

Sort of like Variations V in that the dancers trigger the action but in this case it is even more tied into their movements. Mumma’s live electronics works in a wider range then Tudor’s but sometimes includes some of the cheesier sounds that seem more dated. It is interesting how prescient Tudor seemed to be in his choice of sounds.  Overall though most of Mumma’s electronics are great, second only to Tudor in his use of them.  This piece is a bit bleepy, perhaps tied to the dancers movements but also perhaps to what is triggered by what. Some good crackly sounds sort of akin to brillo pads on guitar pickups along with the swoopy and bloopy sounds. It captures the spacious nature of the dance nicely, with these sounds seeming to move around in space and change dynamics based on activity. Sounds of the dance come through as well. The later half becomes even more interesting with a continuous high slightly distorted whistling sound and burbling of perhaps resonant filters.  Rather subdued even with continuous sound and the audience and dance more present. Nice piece overall and good to hear an entire piece of this nature.

“TV Rerun depended for its impact on the counterpoint and almost fugal correspondences of the choreographic material and Gordon Mumma’s score. A curious addition to the costumes was three “telemetry belts” (closely related to the belt Merce wore for his solo Loops) that we took turns wearing. Attached to the back of each wide white belt, designed by Gordon Mumma for his accompanying score, Telepos, was a small box of technical gadgetry. Signals were generated in the belts by a lattice of sensors that responded to acceleration and were relayed by transmitters to Gordon in the orchestra pit. He arranged the interactions of these signals for the audience, but any attempt to relate what one was hearing with what one was seeing was a futile experience.” .-Carolyn Brown (4, p. 570)

 

Disc Four (68’44”)

 

Sounddance (revival)
Sounddance (revival)

1) David Tudor (1926-1996)  Toneburst (1975) 17: 45
Dance: Sounddance (1975)
David Tudor, live electronics
Recorded March 12, 1976, Perth, Australia

“Eventually you discover certain critical points in a circuit, and its those that you pay attention to when things are misbehaving. The last resort is always to cut it off completely and start over – that’s perfectly acceptable. As a matter of fact, that’s part of the whole operation. I found that very rarely did I feel that there was an unacceptable situation, even though I don’t like it when feedback takes off. But after all, having so many points with which to create variation… I guess what I’m trying to say is that since it’s suppose to be an unpredictable oscillation, that’s the condition in my mind. So when it stays in a so-to-speak static state, then that’s when I have to grapple. If I get it balanced, it’s constantly producing a variety of itself. That’s the image that I have… that it should be producing this variety”. -David Tudor in interview with John Fullemann (10.31.84)

A great piece, perhaps the definitive Tudor live electronics piece. A raucous piece constructed of networks of feedback, it arrives with the intensity and drive of an approaching freight train and while retaining that drive, goes through a range of densities and sounds.  Great deep buzzing feedback at the beginning with a continuous steam engine like sound running through it. Fantastic squealing section in the middle, like a slipping belt. Good use of space with several silences coming at various times. Not even slightly dated this music is as revolutionary now as it was in the 70s. Fantastic; a set highlight.

This piece was previously released on David Tudor: Live Electronic Music (Leonardo Music Journal CD Series 14) but thankfully it is a different performance. Considering that this was always performed live and that it utilized an unpredictable feedback network it is great to hear it in another version. It has a recognizable shape but the details are different. This is the aspect that really defines a live-electrionics performance – the electronics configuration is the score but it is always indeterminate in realization.

Toneburst turned out to be a very important piece for Tudor: He described it in 1994 as being a direct translation of his mind into music. Toneburst represents the culmination of a decade of experimentation and is considered to be the definitive Tudor composition. It wraps up in one complex package the mysterious ideas and elusive philosophies behind the conception, realization and performance of his music. Toneburst is David Tudor. – John D.S. Adams (6)

Squaregame (1976)
Squaregame (1976)
(photo from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Flickr)

2) Takehisa Kosugi (b. 1938)  S.E. Wave/E.W. Song (1976) [excerpt] 13:03
Dance: Squaregame (1976)
Takehisa Kosugi, violin, voice, live electronics
Recorded December 15, 1976, Tokyo

The first real dud on the set. Nearly every time that Kosugi opens his mouth it’s an embarrassment but none more-so then on this piece.  Basically making mouth noises into a delay it is beyond cheesy. Incredibly hard to listen to and impossible on headphones. When its just violin into the delay this piece is okay but far too much vocalizations. A case where one wishes the excerpt had been a bit more strategic and much shorter.  I’ve really liked a lot of Kosugi’s stuff that I’d heard prior to getting this set but really hate virtually everything he’s involved in here. Disappointing as I do think his instrumental stuff is solid and I was really expecting some new and interesting pieces from him..

 

3) Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009) Remainder (1976) [excerpt] 14:55
Dance: Torse (1976)
Tape

“Time corresponds here to life of the space, to sense of being there. Approach and disappearance of what is sounding in the environment. Vibration in air heard 3 minutes before the actual sound of a plane is heard. Changes in air vibration as different boats approach. Seagulls sensing these changes in air – their anticipation, announcement of arrivals and disappearances, before the sound of the change is heard at the site. Patterns within air.” – Maryanne Amacher (8)

Maryanne Amacher’s music is woefully underrepresented on disc so the inclusion of this piece, even in an excerpt, is quite welcome. Part of the reason so little of her music is released is that she was primarily interested in the acoustics of spaces and the psychoacoustic effects of sound, neither of which is very amendable to recording. Her music was best experienced live on sound systems that could reproduce what she was trying to do.  Often she worked with highly multi-channeled systems where she would place speakers all around a space to activate certain properties of the space directly. This piece, though was made for a touring dance company and was realized onto tape. It’s source material was the sound of Boston Harbor via a microphone transmistting over a telephone line for two and half years:

“A five year live transmission of the Boston harbor was transmitted to Amacher’s studio everyday for 2.5 years from a microphone she installed on a window at the New England Fish Exchange, overlooking the ocean at Pier 6. An open 15kc telephone link to her studio (at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute for Technology) provided continuous, live 14 hour a day transmission of the harbor sound environment.”(8)

She used material from this telephone work in a number of pieces including her accompaniment to John Cage’s Lecture on the Weather as well the this piece for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. It begins with a whistling, very high pitched tone contrasted with a lower pitched sound that comes in and out. The lower sound almost sounds like a rubbed snare or something but with no attack. Its almost like a Sachiko M, Sean Meehan duet but with stronger psychoacoustics.  A great piece that I bet would be all enveloping at full length.

 

4) Jon Gibson (b. 1940)  Equal Distribution (1977)  [excerpt] 12:14
Dance: Fractions 1 (1977)
Jon Gibson, flute and live electronics
Recorded October 8, 1978, New York

Flute with delay, which I have to admit doesn’t do much for me.  The flutework is phrase driven with pauses between the phrases to allow the delay to play out. Sometimes chording with himself via the delay. While conceptually this is not a priori uninteresting (later in the set Stuart Dempster will utilize a long natural delay to build up hypnotic washes of sound from trombone and conch) in execution here it seems cheesey. Interesting that my least favorite pieces of the set so far just seem to be be people screwing around with delay. As that technology became more pervasive, practicable and portable there seemed to be certain musicians who just became obsessed with it. But so much of it just sounds like a stoner sitting in his bedroom screwing around with a delay ala the earlier Kosugi piece.

 

5) John Cage (1912-1992)  Inlets (1977) [excerpt] 10:17
Dance: Inlets (1977)
John Cage, Paeder Mercier, Mel Mercier, conchshells with water; John David Fullemann,  foghorn, tape
Recorded October 27, 1983, Roubaix, France

This piece is made up primarily of conch shells, filled with water that are moved such that the water sloshes around inside them. Due to the nature of the chambers inside a conch shell the water will burble between the chambers with an unpredictable release of air and sound. The above video of a performance of the piece from a fairly recent concert demonstrates this better than any description can. It’s a great piece with its unexpected gurgles and hisses of water in the conch shells. Alone with the burbles, bloops,  bubbles and belches there is this faint staticy sound that is hard to source: from the recording process? some aspect of the performers clothes? or the echos of water in small chambers? Who knows but it sounds neat and compliments the water sounds well. Even more effective at its full length still nice to hear this original version.

 

References and further reading

1) Music for Merce (1952-2009) Liner notes (New World Records)
2) German Celant (editor), Merce Cunningham Milano, Edizioni Charta, 2000 ISBN 88-8158-258-9
3) Christian Wolff, Cues: Writings & Conversations Edition MusikTexte, Köln 1999, ISBN 3-9803151-3-4
4) Carolyn Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham Northwestern University Press, 2009 ISBN 9780810125131
5)  James PritchettThe Music of John Cage (Music in the Twentieth Century), 1996 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521565448
6) John D.S. Adams, Giant Oscillations, The David Tudor pages
7) Maryanne Amacher City-Links, exhibition booklet, Ludlow 38 Künstlerhaus Stuttgart Goethe Institut New York
8) Calvin Tompkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant-Garde Penguin, 1976 ISBN 9780140043136

Websites

1) Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Wikipedia)
2) John Cage (Wikipedia)
3) David Tudor (Wikipedia)
4) Christian Wolff (Wikipedia)
5)  Gordon Mumma (Wikipedia)
6) David Behrman (Wikipedia)
7) Pauline Oliveros (Wikipedia)
8) Maryanne Amacher (Wikipedia)
9) Takehisa Kosgui (Wikipedia)

Jasper Johns Lightbulb, 1958

Jasper Johns Light Bulb, 1958

If Target Practice was a sprawling survey of thirty years of art around a specific theme, then Jasper Johns Lightbulb is almost its direct opposite with its laser tight focus on not only one artist but only one particular piece of imagery within that artists repertoire. That image of course is the light bulb; an artifact that Johns first sculpted in sculpt-metal in 1958 which he would go on to sculpt various versions of this piece as well as create numerous prints of it. Later he created a sculpture of a light bulb, its socket and a twist of wire all laid out as if baubles on a shelf. This was again the subject of numerous prints. In the early 70s on finding an “English Light bulb” with its distinctive “bayonet” style base he again made a sculpture of it in which it was displayed like a seashell. This was the subject for prints and paintings as were the other sculptures. His final works (so far anyway) involving the lightbulb are a return to his original lightbulb this time as prints.

Jasper Johns English Lightbulb 1970

Jasper Johns English Light Bulb 1970

This show originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and pulled together pieces from public and private collections from around the US.  Most impressive to me was the amount of proofs and pieces from Jasper Johns private holdings demonstrating that he was committed to this project.  Inexplicably the sculpture for English Light Bulb (pictured above) only appeared at two of the three museums that ran this show Seattle not being one of them. The fantastic catalog that accompanies this show does have a nice photograph of this piece as it does for each piece in the show. This catalog, unlike the Target Practice catalog, can be purchased online and I’d have to say would be a worthy purchase for the Johns fan. There are four short essays, informative but not overly speculative at the beginning of the book followed by sections for the sculptures and works on paper.  Each piece is give their own page with no other text or  images there. A nice presentation of these works.

Johns has a reputation of coldness (the “Iceman” of modern art) and remove with a Duchamp-ian use of appropriation and (as Target Practice hammered home) a constant questioning of painting.  He picks a common object, selected for its familiarity more than anything else and explore it over and over in a variety of formats: sculpture, painting, prints and so on. All this is well and good but I can’t say that’s what attracts me to the Johns pieces that I like so much. I find his use of these objects to be closer to how Keith Rowe uses the radio – its a “found object” that owes its conceptual basis to Duchamp, but the intention and use is definitively post-Duchamp.  Duchamp’s ready-mades are a commentary on art and being an artist (among other things, sure) whereas I think that Johns and Rowe use the notion of a found object as piece of something greater.  Johns doesn’t simply pick a ligh tbulb and display it, elevated to the status of art by his signature. Nor does Rowe turn on the radio and let it play as the piece in and of it self.  Its the insertion and manipulation of these objects into other contexts that is the key to their art I think.  It adds commentary and it charges the work with other meanings, but they in and of themselves are part of a greater whole.  At least this is how I see it.

Jasper Johns English Lightbulb, 1970
Jasper Johns Light Bulb, 1970

I’ve appreciated Johns for a while now, but only recently have I become especially taken with a number of his works. It has been a project of my own that led me to this wider exploration of his works.  This project has been exploring the notion of “gray” in music and has led to a series of pieces that I qualify as such. These pieces are all paired with color photographs that I have taken that also express this palette.  Its an interesting musical notion, one that became of interest to me in context of live recordings of silence, as Cage of course pointed out there really is no silence the music continues when the musicians aren’t playing.  In recordings, unless there is something else going on, the “silence” takes on this characteristic that I tend to think of as “gray”.  For this project I’ve been trying to abstract this grayness to capture this essence of silence, but through sound.  As I always do when I’m exploring ideas such as this I look at how others have expressed this notions which led me to Johns. Gray is a constant in Johns work, from the sculpt-metal of these early sculptures, to his prints and paintings.  The expressive qualities of his grays I find captivating and his gray on gray pieces suck in my eye in a similar fashion as solid black painting might.  I spent quite some time at this exhibition lost in the swirls of gray that form the background of many of the prints and the neutral seeming surfaces of the sculptures.  Some of the most captivating were black paint on film whose surface and transparency led to a rich dark gray that seemed to have incredible depth.  As I usually do in a gallery I was listening to music on my iPod and in this case I listened to the current pieces in my Gray Sequence and quite enjoyed the correlations.