Another addition toArt_Work is ‘In witness time begins’ (plus footnoting pamphlets called Per 1.1-1.4) from A Thing at a Time at Witte de With April 2013. They emerged from an obsessive focus on a phrase coined by an Italian theorist (and/or his translator); “immobile anaphoric gesture”. But these texts are different from those I wrote a few years earlier using a Slovenian theorist’s phrase; “imbecilic contingent intrusion” in which I could materialise or exemplify what an ici would be (see Essential Things in Art_Work, for example, which exhibited Cerith Wyn Evans’ neon Lacanian loop between the ‘pages’ of my ici2, about Willie Lloyd Turner and his ‘smile’).
My little friend and comrade has enabled me [firmly embedded in London for the summer] to catch up on some exhibitions missed, ones I might not get to otherwise and other big-ticketish shows; Miro at Tate Modern [to Sept 11], Emin at the Hayward [now ended], Twombly and the other guy at Dulwich [to Sept 25], Cage back at the Haywood [to Sept 18], etc.
Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing…” made sense, mainly because it was such a great track back in the mid-90s, right? Cage Against the Machine, the attempt to block/buy the No. 1 slot for a recording of John Cage’s 4’33” -a rigorously orchestrated slice of atmospheric sound, often described as silence- was always a bit too clever and so a bit too dumb to work, no?
Kenneth Silverman’s recent biography of Cage, Begin Again, is a pretty straight celebratory record of an entirely remarkable life [and not published in the UK!]. Cage spans [subverts?] or strides [meanders?] the 20th Century in very particular ways, making work from beginning to end nearly and constantly mining the same seam of inventive attempts.
Always beginning again, afresh, anew -so the thesis runs. KS makes an epigram of Gertrude Stein’s gorgeous line from The Making of Americans; “Beginning was all of living with him, in a beginning he was always as big in his feeling as all the world around him.” The way in which this actualises is exemplary even while it creates doubt in me too -as the book goes on dutifully detailing yet another I Ching derived whatever!
4’33” was achieved using a deck of tarot cards, which even Cage said “seems idiotic” but he composed each movement by joining up randomised periods of silence with precise measures which totalled four minutes and thirty three seconds. The point, one made more precise by his subsequent visit of Ryoanji and fuller acquaintance with Zen, was that the ‘silence’ is a pregnant one, like the stone garden’s potent ‘blankness’.
Two thoughts; one links directly to the gorgeous version of Feist’s song, There’s a Limit to Your Love, that James Blake put out a month ago. As you know, the track is a departure from his flurry of promising EPs released this year alone, including CMYK and Klavierwerke, for foregrounding his voice against a piano track redolent of Nina Simone and an electronic bassquake. Apart from just enjoying it and its arguably rather more local newness I was struck by the ‘silence’ it contains. Or near silence, Continue reading “on silence or not, cage blake alÿs and on…”→
John Cage Ryoanji 17 February 1988 -pencil on Japanese handmade paper (ph Guy Mannes-Abbott)
Every Day is a Good Day [just say it, try… ]
This complete show of John Cage’s paintings and drawings is one that you need to go see, be with in real time and place. It’s not only that it doesn’t reproduce well [despite there being a very good catalogue with excellent reproductions newly photographed in it here updated link 2020] or that I’ve badly scanned one of my favourite delicate drawings done -in place of meditation- with more than one pencil around stones that were special to Cage [the allusion is to the famous dry stone garden at Ryoan-ji, Kyoto] but that until you’ve journeyed to stand before them, share their space you haven’t actually seen them.
Dirk Stewen untitled [Bronx Monkey II] at Maureen Paley
I’ve been enjoying quite a few shows recently which are likely to be blown out of the water by the imminent frieze fair and so with mighty respect to the latter I thought I’d flag them up as alternatives…
Otherwise, Liverpool is a far better Biennial than scarce notice of it by lazy old journos suggests; everyone rightly notes the almost painfully compelling acid-Warhol-mashup-vids of Ryan Trecartin’s but there’s much else, including NS Harsha’s very nice installation [right] at 52 Renshaw Street and not least at Tate Liverpool -where a dubiously conceived but actually nicely put together show called The Sculpture of Language by Carol Anne Duffy exhibits some great and rarely aired works.
Dirk Stewen at Maureen Paley [08 October — 14 November 2010] is the most winning new work in town for me. If you do make it to the frieze jamboree then add this show to your bottom-line schedule otherwise you’ll have failed yourself and London. If you’re not friezing it then take advantage and spend some time in a show spread over two floors, beautifully arranged/hung works combining utopian gesture with extraordinary concentration, tentativeness and beauty. The work seems hardly there at all and yet surprises/delights with a precision that makes for indelibility. It’s Stewen’s first show in London, I’d never seen the work before and this exhibition made me happy to be alive; don’t miss it! Continue reading “nb, visual art noticeboard [alternatives to friezing…]”→
I want to share some modest thoughts about the Varèse 360º mini-festival at London’s Southbank Centre 16-18th April.
According to the programme, Edgard Varèse [b. Paris 1883, d. New York 1965] was “a sonic pioneer”. In 1955 John Cage wrote that Varèse had “established the present nature of music … this nature … arises from an acceptance of all audible phenomena as material proper to music.” His entire known work sits happily within 2 cds and has been spread over three concerts here. I caught the two featuring the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton at QEH but not the larger orchestral pieces performed by the NYO.
I know the work quite well in the form of the Chailly and Boulez recordings. There are things to admire and thrill at in all his recorded work, my own favourites fell into the performances I saw and Density 21.5 -composed in 1936 for a specific platinum flute- is on regular rotation in my life. I’ve listened to these recordings with headphones and in a domestic environment but never heard it performed before now.
The first evening included a startlingly precise and mesmerising performance of Ecuatorial, in which a pair of theremin ‘cellos’ were gorgeous contributors, and ended with one of his last works; Déserts, written after 15 years in a wilderness of depression. The tightness of the performance made for a thrilling experience [Gillian Moore writes of a “blazing austerity”] in which I found myself pursuing sounds around the stage in ways unique to Varèse’s invention of what he called “organised sound”.
The second programme included Hyperprism, Octandre, Offrandes, Intègrales, all performed with the same peculiar vigorous purity. Sitting very close to the stage I could hear the instruments themselves more acutely; their timbre, distribution of sounds and peculiar rhythms, the lingering murmur from inside a mute cello at the end of one inverted crescendo.
Witnessing this made me feel as if [or realise that] I hadn’t actually heard the music before. In a related panel discussion both biographer Malcolm Macdonald and composer Julian Anderson described how their respective favourite pieces of Varèse’s [pressed, they offered Ecuatorial and Intègrales respectively] always sounded new or completely fresh whenever they heard them. These differing newnesses may be related but in any case, I felt exactly the same way hearing old favourites of my own live for the double first time.
Varèse’s central notion of creating aural space means that it is particularly essential to hear the music performed. This is obvious as well as not because however improving it invariably is to witness performance there is something completely transformative of the music -and more- in Varèse’s case. In 1958 Morton Feldman wrote that Varèse “alone has given us this elegance, this physical reality, [in which “noise … bores like granite into granite”] this impression that the music is writing about mankind rather than being composed.”
The recording of Poème électronique played over QEH’s pretty good system sounded exactly as it always does, however, therefore comparatively shrunken and dissipated. It was accompanied with an irritatingly weak series of images, used in preference to Corbusier’s montage which was made to accompany the music at its birth in the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair of 1958. I’m including the latter because while the use of images of genocide is problematic, it’s a more convincing attempt to relate to the scale of the music [on Ubuweb here].
There were moments, passages of stunning originality and potency in this second performance, notably of Octande but also Intègrales -an effective condensation of Varèse’s range. It’s an exhilaration that can only be experienced in live performance of the highest standard like this [bad or okay performances of Varèse would be hard to take]. However these are works that should be performed regularly, even in Britain which only caught up with the 20th Century when it ended.
Varèse should be heard widely and regularly not only because of his very clear and often acknowledged influence on a mass of music throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries but also for the force and beauty that it possesses in itself. Macdonald argues that his work represents a comparable step-change to that of Beethoven or Wagner. The absence of Varèse from the British repertoire is equivalent perhaps to letting Emily Dickinson’s poetry fall back into the obscurity of her life and confining Jorge-Luis Borges or Gertrude Stein to dusty national libraries.
Edgard Varèse and Antonin Artaud 1933.
[fingers and pinholes are not mine]
Beyond the music and a panel discussion worth catching, there were also film screenings. I missed Mark Kidel’s early documentary, EV A Portrait, and only caught a few minutes of Frank Scheffer’s very recent documentary which takes its title from a never realised but ever-present all-encompassing notional work of Varèse’s; The One All Alone.
One of the impressive range of potential or partial collaborators that Varèse worked with towards this project was Antonin Artaud. Artaud is the king and fool of the 20th Century for me and it was the discovery of this image of him with Varèse, taken in 1933, just before both men began descents into physical and mental torments lasting a decade and half in each case, that really locked off my interest, passion, even enjoyment of Varèse [something comparable happened with Anne Carson]. A friend of Artaud’s is a friend of mine.
I was able only to see the beginning of Scheffer’s film in which Cage and Feldman discuss the figure who was a major influence or inspiration on and to both. It was one of the free screenings in the RFH and I’d love to be able to see it in full but as yet it has no distributor in the UK. Varèse is only very rarely performed in the UK so no surprise there, but he’s regularly performed and heard across Europe where the film has been screened but distribution is not yet finalised either.
This is the poster for it and below is a pdf of the other part of the flyer with contact details to the production company and a short director’s statement. I knew that the Varèse would be sold out -as it was- which is why I did something very strange for me and booked it months ago. However I had no idea whom it would be sold out to and the audience turned out to be pretty diverse in fact. I believe the panel’s description of teenage members of the NYO’s gradual but then real grasp and excited engagement with the music, but there were very few people under 25 in the audience.
However, the lack of appetite shown by all those really clever, super curious and on-the-ball distributors, festival organisers, British TV lunchboxes might be justified if only 17 people turned up [or, worse, the entire 117] but as it was it’s pitiful and repeats the offence of neglect that Varèse suffered throughout his extraordinary and difficult life.
The best way to encounter Varèse is live in performance, as I now know with indelible clarity, but a documentary is a foolproof introduction to the subject, the most easily negotiated threshold.
Press to enlarge
Varèse: Astronomer in Sound by Malcolm Macdonald [Kahn & Averill 2002 pp 448]
I realised I’d been taking John Cage for granted after finding him in many of the places I looked, listened or wandered in zero nine.
I stacked up his books, enjoyed again his critical acuity and the playful invention in much else, got hold of a copy of A Year From Monday [the volume which followed Silence] in which he mentions the collective building of the Hon at the Moderna Museet [which features in 1039 seconds with brief significance], clocked images of him with Merce Cunningham in the Moderna’s current re-hang, remembered Michael Clark resisting my description of him as an artist [mc is…], saying ‘Merce is an artist’ with affectingly humble respect [but blew it again with the triumphant ‘come, been and gone‘ during November 09], discovered that Tacita Dean filmed Cunningham just before he died for a piece called Stillness, listened again to Cage on Thoreau, etcetera, then was invited to a ‘talk’ by David Antin at Cabinet Gallery one November evening -his first ever performance in London…
Antin talks as he thinks as he performs as he writes as it were, the results being transcribed and published with unconventional conventionality. He’s a living link to the Great Days of an actual avant-garde, of Fluxists, Floating Bears, Something Else Press, a broader deeper bohemia strong enough to exist in opposition to/independent from a ‘culture’ identical with the market and a ‘doing what works’ establishment with its insulating self-congratulation and bottomless complacency.
Antin’s ‘talk’ was fascinating to witness; he ‘strolled’ through it determinedly, digressions cutting back and looping around, enacting a substantial argument for a particular kind of opening out; committed outwards movement, always. I was surprised by his unself-conscious use of the phrase ‘avant-garde writing/poetry’, the way he didn’t play to type -even if context is a great refresher. His London ‘talk’ would read well I think and Cabinet are hoping to be able to publish it. A large collection of his work is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press.
An earlier selection of some texts –i never knew what time it was– is available from University of California Press; here.
Dalkey Archive Press have about half of the interview with Charles Bernstein later published as A Conversation with David Antin [Granary Books 2002], here.