Pushing the boundaries of art is a huge part of its evolution. Whether you agree with this statement or not, it is certainly a driving factor for stylistic change. There was a strong desire in the 1960s and 70s to create conceptual art. Some of these pieces were created with performance in mind; others were conceptualized and meant to stay on paper or in the mind. There is actually a score that sits in the archives in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles that contains these directions: “scoop out one of your eyes 5 years from now and do the same with the other eye 5 years later.” This is from Takehisa Kosugi’s Music for a Revolution. Kosugi (1938 – ) works in group improvisation and event music. Music for a Revolution falls under a genre of music called Danger Music. It is an experimental form of avant-garde 20th and 21st century music. It falls under the umbrella of Fluxus. These kinds of pieces are meant to expand the meaning of music. Are notes necessary? Is harmony necessary? Are notes on a page necessary to create sound? This kind of art gets you thinking about “what is music?” and how far can or should you take performance art? The lines between different art forms can be blurry.
Aus den sieben Tagen, by Karlheinz Stockhausen is another kind of text piece. This piece is intended for performance. It translates to From the Seven Days. It is a collection of fifteen text pieces written in seven days during May of 1968 as a reaction to a personal crisis. Stockhausen was an important avant-garde composer of the 20th century. He is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, aleatory (controlled chance) in serial composition, and musical spatialization. He did some pretty wild stuff including writing a piece for three orchestras all played at once! Each with their own conductor! The piece is called Gruppen:
In Gruppen … whole envelopes of rhythmic blocks are exact lines of mountains that I saw in Paspels in Switzerland right in front of my little window. Many of the time spectra, which are represented by superimpositions of different rhythmic layers —of different speeds in each layer — their envelope which describes the increase and decrease of the number of layers, their shape, so to speak, the shape of the time field, are the curves of the mountain’s contour which I saw when I looked out the window. (Cott 1973, 141)
Here is a movement from Aus den sieben Tagen. Try doing this with some classmates or your family.
TREFFPUNKT (Meeting Point)
Everyone plays the same tone
Lead the tone wherever your thoughts lead you
Do not leave it, stay with it Always return
to the same place
How did everyone feel at the end of this piece? did you try a different tone than your neighbor? Were you using your voice or an instrument? Were you making a tone with an unhitched instrument or object or a pitched one? How did you interpret the piece? How long did the performance last?
Think about these things as you tackle the next movement.
SETZ DIE SEGEL ZUR SONNE (Set Sail for the Sun)
Play a tone for so long
until you hear its individual vibrations
Hold the tone
and listen to the tones of the others
– to all of them together, not to individual ones – and slowly move your tone
until you arrive at complete harmony
and the whole sound turns to gold
to pure, gently shimmering fire
How did you approach the concept of harmony? Did you make a harmonic language? Or where you in harmony with others in the sense of feeling together? Did you see gently shimmering fire? If not how would you describe what the sound felt like? if you didn’t achieve pure shimmering fire do you think you performed the piece well still?
Make your own text piece! You and your fellow classmates can act as the performers. Be as creative or uncreative as you’d like. You could write anything from hop on one leg and hum, to some complicated mess of notes and directions. Whatever floats your boat! Just think about what you would like to express, and try to describe it in words.