Entries tagged with “Robert Rauschenberg”.


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.

Motubachii

In March 2010 I went to Boston for a series of Christian Wolff residency concerts at NEC and to see a number of concerts involving Keith Rowe. This was the third month of the Eleven Clouds project and the distribution method for that months release (Vertical Landscapes I-V/aeolian electrics) was via in-person trade. Jon Abbey of Erstwhile Records made the best trade: a cd-r of the the forthcoming collaboration betwixt Annette Krebs and Taku Unami. Only having my iPhone for music listening that cd-r was going to sit unplayed for over a week and that immediately began to grate. So I bought a super cheap portable cd player and gave it a listen. My initial impression was threefold:  pretty good, not really groundbreaking and damn these headphones that came with my portable cd player sucked and thus rendered both of the previous assessments pretty much invalid.  I did listen to it maybe three more times in the next few days though and then on my last day in Boston during a free afternoon I stumbled upon Newbury Comics, which included a pretty decent record store where I was able to pick up a reasonable set of Sennheisers.  Well these better headphones really opening up the music for me as did subsequent plays on my home stereo, upon which a month hasn’t passed this year where it didn’t get multiple spins. Since that time I’ve been trying to write about it nearly every month as well but it has always confounded my attempts.  I felt this was okay, that an album like this resisted easy analysis, or a superficial explanation and that more listens would reveal an approach.  But this never happened; I kept listening and becoming if anything increasingly intrigued and beguiled but never really knew what to say. Thus it never appeared in one of my monthly music posts which, while they only covered an aspect of my listening this year, did end up in the end containing a number of my favorites for the year. And it should have because it is by far the best bit of improvisation I’ve heard this year and along with Lost Daylight my favorite album of the year.

Annette Krebs/Taku Unami Motubachii (Erstwhile Records)

Probably not since Keith Rowe’s The Room has there been an album that I think so defies a quick analysis. Like The Room, I enjoyed this immediately, but my snap judgement, as I related above, would have been superficial. Now with Keith I know how much thought is involved with each release, especially a solo album where it isn’t a documentation of a collaboration but is solely his own concerns. The Room perhaps especially so as he spent at least a coupe of years honing his ideas, his structure and performing the piece in his various solo concerts (one of which I saw in 2005). I never really did delve into that album that year; it resisted the easy analysis and I only ended up writing a paragraph about it in my 2007 wrap up. One I revisit frequently and which maybe someday I can find the words to delve into.  Motubachii is in my mind a similar case, but even more difficult.  With The Room one can at least find interviews with Keith, articles on his process, a long history of recording and of course I’ve had the great pleasure of quite a few conversation with him.  This allows one to place it in context, to examine what he and others have said on it and so on.  There are few interviews (in English anyway) with Unami or Krebs and they rarely seem to speak on their own music.  But that of course doesn’t mean that all we have to go on is the sounds on this disc.

Annette Krebs

Annette Krebs at the Goethe-Institut Boston (photo by Danny Gromfin)

I’ve had the opportunity to meet Annette Krebs in Vancouver in 2007 and Taku Unami in Tokyo in 2008 and while I wasn’t afforded the opportunity for long chats I did get to see them perform.  The performances and of course the recordings from these two do allow us to place this album in an historical context.  Krebs in 2007 had come back from a seeming hiatus to begin a series of great releases both solo and in collaboration (Berlin Electronics, sgraffito, SIYU and so on) however by the time of this collaboration with Unami I’d began to feel that she had tapped out her newfound ideas.  She plays tabletop (or laptop at least the times I’ve seen her) guitar with a variety of common objects and preparations: brillo pad, files etc as well as radio and laptop.  She uses the laptop to play samples or simple synth like sounds and seems able to manipulate speed and length of the playback of these samples.  Her approach has always seemed partly random, that is to say while her command of her materials is high she seems as surprised as anyone by what a particular gesture will invoke.  The use of the software sampler was what made it seem like she had reworked her bag of tricks but hadn’t really tapped into an endless flow of ideas; the same sample, manipulated in similar ways began to appear on a number of releases. By the end of 2008 the freshness had seem to have evaporated and at least my interest began to wane. However if there was one collaboration that would mix things up, it would be with Taku Unami.

Taku Unami

Taku Unami in the Book Cafe

Reportedly after I saw the Keith Rowe/Taku Unami duo in Tokyo in the fall of 2008 Unami claimed that was the end of his performance on the computer driven motors and manipulators and as far as I can tell that has been the case.  In the years after that he began using handclaps, cardboard boxes, movement, and guitar. Unami has always defied expectations and has as far as I know never really explained himself.  He seemed in a way to follow on from the ultra-minimal work of Taku Sugimoto but with a wicked sense of humor about it all.  Perhaps more then anything else he is constantly challenging what performance is, what a recording is, fundamentally what music is.  While he will play with people like Mattin and his disciples and follow them where they lead, he never really seems quite the agent provocateur that they are.  Mattin et al always come across as ideologues, pushing their notions first and foremost as dogmatically as any Maoist.  Unami reminds me the most of Bansky really – he’ll cleverly challenge just about anything but he pretty much leaves it up to the listener to figure it all out. And he’s really good at what he does, even when it ultimately isn’t compelling.  Unami by early 2010 had really pushed well beyond what he’d been doing up to that point and a collaboration with Annette Krebs, who was beginning to repeat herself quite a bit was fraught with uncertainty – fruitful ground for Unami.

Etant donnes

Marcel Duchamp Étant donnés at the Philiaphia Museum of Art

Motubachii front cover

The cover artwork for Motubachii is among my very favorites from the Erstwhile catalog and it always makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, the piece he worked on in secret for decades after he “quit art” for chess. A scenic tableau with a meticulously modeled female nude holding a gas lamp, the viewer looks through peepholes at this scene and the splayed out figure therein.  Replacing Duchamp’s carefully rendered idyllic scene with the very real German (I assume) countryside and removing any trace of a figure it may just seem to be a nod, or perhaps even just the long reverberations of the piece in the zeitgeist. But to me it displays the humor that was the hallmark of Duchamp and that I think one can also find in Unami. Self referential in a similar fashion as Ã‰tant donnés is (the mannequin is a cast of a longtime lover, the waterfall and gaslamp reference a note on The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and so on; see this comprehensive book for more on this piece) one can read a lot into that empty countryside and it is I think almost uniquely fitting for the music contained within.

I tend to avoid others reviews when I intend to write on something myself but since I spent the bulk of 2010 attempting to write on this album I did stumble across various impressions and takes on the album. The overriding impressions seemed to be one of confusion (though a joyful confusion for the most part) as though the music was a riddle that the listeners had to work out.  The question in collaborations of who has made what sound, or what the source of a given sound is, or if a sound is a sample a natural occurrence or somehow created in situ is an oft raised one. Is this the result of our minds that are constantly seeing patterns, constantly trying to categorize things to reductively break things down to their constituent parts? It is not an unfamiliar exercise to myself , in fact I’d say its a definite trope amongst those who write about music myself included.  You see someone like Krebs rub the strings on her guitar with a brillo pad and then later you can say on listening to an unrelated album “and a skritchy sound of a brillo pad rubbed on strings”. If one is attempting to describe the music – always a challenge! – then in many ways this is the easiest path, as it relies on the experiences of the listener to fill in the gaps. With this album we only have the prior performances of Krebs and Unami, and not even of them playing together, to utilize and thus it seems natural to try to puzzle out what is making the sounds, who is doing what and how the album was put together.

annette krebs / taku unami
Talu Unami/Annette Krebs at Kid Ailack Hall. Photo by Yuko Zama

It is the sounds that tend to bring people into the current vein of experimental musics.  Turn the focus away from melody, harmony, rhythm and sound becomes the natural element to focus on.  The early experimentalists (Cage, Feldman et al) constantly talked of letting the sounds be themselves, of focusing on sound and so on. But the sounds have been left to themselves for quite some time now, even if most people aren’t paying attention.  The experiements with contact mics in particular in 50s, 60s and beyond (Cartridge Music most famously but 60s AMM and many others as well) were all about bringing sounds to the forefront and using virtually every means to produce them. Sounds have remained the focus of recent endeavors, but what I’d really say has been the innovation has been the structure. This I think is particularly the case with Unami who I think began (at least on record) radically de-emphasizing sound with Malignitat where he allowed the samples to be played at specific times to be pulled randomly from a banal sound effects cd.  The structure is what was important there and I think that it is the structure that has seen the most innovation in the last decade. Unami continued to downplay sound, with his handclaps, table pounding and cardboard boxes.


Robert Rauschenberg Nabisco Shredded Wheat Cardboard

I can’t help but think of Robert Rauschenberg’s cardboard box art when I hear of Unami’s usage of them as a sound source.  It seems to me almost the exact same reason in that they are ubiquitous, cheap, disposable and as far from art as you can get. Rauschenberg transformed the detritus of our consumer culture into art and Unami utilized the same detritus to devalue the notion sound from his pieces. He also reportedly did performances where he used light to cast shadows with the boxes which he then moved around, removing sound completely from its pedestal. Interestingly enough after reading about the shows where he did this I found a Fluxus text score that is in essence “use a cardboard box to cast shadows on the wall. Move it around.” (I alas don’t have a copy of this score and will have to look around to get the full score and citation).  I can’t help but think that there isn’t quite a bit of Fluxus in what Unami does: the subversion of accepted notions of performance and music making, the humor, the stripping down to essentials, the working with very simple scores and the theatricality of his works.

Taku Unami instal09

Taku Unami at instal 2009

I’ve listened to motubachii four times through as I’ve  written this and even with all the other times I’ve listened to it this year it still intrigues. It is the combination of all that I’ve been going on about here: Krebs’ startled jabs on her instruments and Unami’s subversion of, well, everything.  Unami on this recording sounds like he just wandered around the room doing various things as Krebs’ engages in a quite spare performance. There are handclaps, table slaps, dropped boxes, the sound of moving around the room, the rare note on a guitar, brillo pads and files on guitar strings, Krebs’ use of vocal samples distorted, slowed down and sped up, a few plucks of a resonant instrument like a banjo or steel guitar and so on.  It could have been them playing a piece in a room, or it could be individual recordings put together or it could be parts from various recordings randomly selected ala Malignitat to either a defined or random structure. One thing that is known is that it is five recorded in five different locations and track one and five are the same. More playfulness from Unami and Krebs. It also lends some creedence to the notion that it is an assembled piece, in whole or in part, but really as I said earlier that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it all works; it has a flow, a beguiling structure to itself that could be the result of any number of processes.  The sounds, a mix of Krebs who I’d say is still focused on sound and Unami’s seemingly devil-may-care though clearly thought out everyday sounds, create this structure, nurture it and give the listener plenty to hang on to.

the title stems from two original words from Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries, and the process is amusingly analogous to how the record was put together (which I’m not explaining, before anyone asks).

originally this was Unami’s idea, he suggested the word ‘pinckenbahii’, which he defined as a “gravity vortex which causes strange time phenomena, several times within a time at the same time” and he thought that was a good fit for the record. Annette was also a fan of Lem and The Star Diaries in particular, but didn’t like the way this word sounded in German, so she found a second word (‘uabamotu’) from the book and combined the two into ‘motubahii’. I then researched these and found that Unami had made a mistake with the initial word, which should have been ‘pinckenbachii’, hence ‘motubachii’. – Jon Abbey in the Motubachii post on ihm

I also love Stanislaw Lem and while I never would have worked out the reference (having read the The Star Diaries quite some time ago to begin with) that explanation from how this combined word came together does seem to encapsulate the record well. Perhaps Jon is hinting that the album is an assemblage; it certainly does have that feel.  But Unami’s original word defined as “gravity vortex which causes strange time phenomena, several times within a time at the same time” now that captures the essence of the record.  I doubt that the strange phenomena in this one will ever become overly familiar, or tiresome or that I’ll ever make it out of the vortex.

9 Evenings Poster
“In 1966 10 New York artists worked with 30 engineers and scientists from the world renowned Bell Telephone Laboratories to create groundbreaking performances that incorporated new technology. Video projection, wireless sound transmission, and Doppler sonar – technologies that are commonplace today – had never been seen in the art of the 60’s.” – Billy Klüver

I first became aware of the 9 Evenings: Theatre & Enginnering series while searching for information on John Cage’s Variations pieces. Variations VII, which includes the use of telephone lines to bring in sounds from far away places, was only performed as part of this event and was never released.  So I was quite pleased to discover that a documentary on this performance was to be released on DVD via Microcinema. Even better was that it included audio of the complete performance as a bonus feature. I bought this DVD as soon as it was available, but in the interim I did some research into the event. It turned out to be a fascinating collaboration between technologists, artists and modern composers.

“9 Evenings was organized by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, then a research scientist at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. It was held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City from October 13-23, 1966. As Billy Klüver has written: “9 Evenings was unique in the incredible richness and imagination of the performances. The Armory space allowed the artists to work on an unprecedented scale, and their involvement with technology and collaborations with the engineers added a dimension of unfamiliarity and challenge. They responded with major works.” – Billy Kluver

Each of these DVDs begins with an short intro sequence put together by Robert Rauschenberg, with quick cut video and some pretty noisy music which sets the tone pretty well. Then there is an edited version of the performance, followed by a short documentary where they talk about the specific piece. Then a set of closing credits.  All in all the performance part is usually pretty short and at least in the case of Variations VII which was something like 80 minutes long, heavily edited. Personally I’d like to have video of the whole performance there, it is quite entertaining to watch with all the activity and such plus there was usually an interesting visual component even if it was just lighting and low light camera work.  As I mentioned above they did include the complete audio of one of the performances here which is really great and something that I hope they continue for the entire series.

“For his 9 Evenings piece, Variations VII, John wanted to use as sound sources “only those sounds which are in the air at the moment of performance”.  He wanted sounds from all over the city and if possible all over the world. He also wanted to pick up the sounds from outer space.” – Billy Klüver

Variations VIIAlong with ten telephone lines open to various places the piece included an electronics setup controlled by David Tudor, optical triggers that the performers, and in the second performance the audience, could trigger, contact mic’ed up household appliances, plus more contact mics on the platform itself along with “20 radio bands, 2 television bands, and 2 Geiger counters”.  There is also a giant siren that goes off at the beginning and various times throughout the piece. It is a pretty raucous affair as you can imagine, but the palette of sounds is incredible rich and there is tons to listen for.  Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the piece and as I said wish there was more video of it. I think that a real thorough documentation of this event would include the complete video of both performances as well as what is on this DVD. I suppose though that the reality of funding makes that impossible at this time, but it’d be nice if someday all the video is made available.  [Edit: As per Ken Weissman‘s comments, apparently the entirety of each set was not filmed and these present the bulk of what they have. See the comments for more details]

I’ve listened to the audio only portion of this DVD on several occasions and I think that it is a strong piece in the electronic works of Cage and Tudor. Those who appreciate Cartridge Music, Variations II-VRainforest and other pieces from this period will definitely find a lot to like here. It is chaotic, noisy and dense but filled with incredible sounds, chance overlays of great complexity and a deep structure that comes through for all of that.  It is a performance that bears repeated listens and that will reveal more each time.

Open ScoreThe first of the DVDs put out in this series, though the second one that I watched, was Robert Rauschenberg’s Open Score.  This ran through the same format as Variations VII with the intro put together by Rauschenberg, excerpts from the piece, followed by a short documentary.  As I mentioned above I became interested in this event due to the Cage piece, but since that time I’ve become quite taken with Rauschenberg’s art and the events that he staged. I had read Calvin Tomkins The Bride and the Bachelors earlier this year and had become quite intrigued with Rauschnbergs work. With his death in May this year I was inspired to pick up this DVD (and also Calvin Tomkins Rauschenberg biography, Off the Wall).

The piece begins with a man and a woman playing tennis with amplified tennis rackets.  The raised floor they were on also seemed to react to sound. The game wasn’t too intense, they were focusing on long lobbies for the sound aspects. The lights dimmed throughout the tennis game (apparently controlled by the audio of the game) and as it went dark they left the stage. The next segment of the piece was completely different. It involved 500 people who  crowded the floor and did a series of predefined actions that they would change based on flashlight signals from the balcony. This was in near total darkness but it was picked up via infrared cameras and projected onto screens above the floor that only the audience could see. In the second performance Rauschenberg added a third act:

“He had the crowd leave silently in the dark. Then a single spotlight picked up the shape of a girl in a cloth sack – Simone Forti – singing a Tuscan folk song she remembered from her childhood. Rauschenberg picked her up, carried her to another place on the Armory floor and put her down. He repeated this several times as she continued
to sing.” – Billy  Klüver

The effect of these huge crowd doing these very ordinary movements (waving, shaking hands, hugging and so forth) projected in ghostly infrared was pretty impressive. It was hard to tell how edited the piece was, the video section was maybe 15-20 minutes long and you got the impression that it went on for more like 40 minutes. Again it’d have been nice to have seen the whole thing and as this one was not quite so sound oriented it doesn’t include an audio only version of it.  An interesting piece especially in how Rauschenberg used such devices as micro transmitters and infrared cameras which were pretty advanced tech in the day.

While imperfect documents this is an entirely interesting and important series, one that I hope goes on to the full ten releases they have planned. Rauschenberg was one of the motivators behind this series and with his death he obviously will be unavailable in this role. One hopes that as a tribute they complete what has to have been one of his final projects.The artists included the 9 Evenings and who are expeced to appear on the rest of this series are  Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, David Tudor, Yvonne Rainer, DeborahHay, Robert Whitman, Steve Paxton, Alex Hay, Lucinda Childs and Öyvind Fahlström. I’m curious about the whole series, but am especially interested in David Tudor’s Bandoneon! which is one of his major compositions that as far as I’m aware is not available in any form. Hopefully that DVD will again include the complete audio (if not the complete performance). You can expect more reports in this series as further releases are made.

The films were produced by Billy  Klüver and Julie Martin of E.A.T. and directed by Barbro Schultz Lundestam and are distributed exclusively through Microcinema.

References
9 Evenings of Theatre & Engineering
Experiments in Art and Technology
E.A.T. Publications
Microcinema
John Cage Database
John Cage’s WikiPedia page
Robert Rauschenberg’s WikiPedia page
Billy Kluver’s WikiPedia page