Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cagey update

We went to Santa Monica to see and hear the 24 hour presentation that revived John Cage's performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations."

In the pretty little theatre that is the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica's Reed Park, a baby grand piano sat in a spotlight in the middle of the polished wooden floor, the room dark around it. On such a warm afternoon, the exit doors were open to the breeze, and from outside you could hear kids playing in the park, and the thunk of a basketball game.

The pianist sat on the bench and played, slowly and deliberately, the phrase, first with only one hand, then adding harmony.

On an easel, a set of three notebooks was set up, numbered. When the phrase ended and began again, a young woman flipped down a page, marking which iteration of the Satie phrase had just played. When we arrived, the number was 626, We listened, watching her hands move, looking up at the dark wooden beams overhead, hearing the notes resonate in the room.

Here is a video from a different performance of the piece, at another place. It plays through the 1:36 minute cycle that is repeated 840 times - so you can hear the melody.

Another pianist arrived, and sat down on the bench. After the first pianist completed the phrase, she moved away, and the second put her fingers on the keys. Although it was a seamless transition, you could hear a difference in the notes - the mingling of the harmonies, the phrasing - the difference that another person's interpretation naturally brings.

The young woman marking time seemed to have drowsed off. The numbers stayed at 629 for a long time, unturning. What was it really? 633? 639? [The Man I Love] looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I nodded and we slipped out of the hall.

"Did you see the clock?" he asked me. "Did you see the fly on the clock?"

I had seen the clock - a small table was placed within view of the pianist. On it, a simple round kitchen clock lay, face up - I assume for the pianist's reference. "A fly?"

"It's why I stayed as long as I did. There's a fly, walking on the rim of the clock, going counterclockwise, around and around," he said. "I thought at first it was a trick, or a prop, or something mechanical on the clock. But I watched it and it kept walking around. the rim."

We started to go down the steps. No, wait. I had to see it. I tiptoed back inside and stood in the vestibule, listening again to the plaintive Satie phrase repeated again and again, letting my eyes adjust and focused on the clock.

Yes. There it was. A black dot, wobbly enough to be a living fly, walking counterclockwise around the rim of the clock-face. Walking. I watched it go from the two o'clock mark back to the 8 o'clock mark, where the thickness of the frame obscured it from my view. And then it emerged again into sight, from the four o'clock mark, and back to two and around.

A fly. Methodically walking backwards around a clock-face, while "Vexations" played solemnly for the 645th, 646th, 647th time.

John Cage would have loved it.

UPDATE: [The Man I Love] remembered what the fly reminded him of. It was the clock pieces of the artist Tim Hawkinson. Click on the LINK to read about them.  Very Cagey.


smalltownme said...

Love the fly. A meditating fly?

Aunt Snow said...

[The Man I Love] reminded me the clock pieces of artist Tim Hawkinson:

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Hypnosis and the fly?