Articles

Robert Rauschenberg | HOW TO SEE the artist with composer David Lang


One of the exciting things for me about
Rauschenberg is that he was relentlessly collaborative, so if you look at the
exhibition there are collaborations with scientists, with artists, with writers,
with dancers, with musicians. He imagines that there is a universe of
interconnected disciplines and interconnected thought. He’s in the
middle of this you know to himself he imagines there’s all this exciting stuff
happening in the world and if I put myself there I can be right at the
center of it. Classical music is very small and it’s
very local and it lives in a little tiny box and so for me one of the really
exciting things is that when I see someone who was able to define the world
as on being all these incredible connections that only connect because
they connect in him, it makes me feel like I can do that. It makes me feel like
I can live a bigger life. And it makes me feel like the music which I believe
fundamentally is universal—that the music can be part of a larger kind of
citizenship. The New York School is a historic term.
It means a moment in time in the 1950s when composers started looking at ways
to challenge ideas that came from Europe by incorporating freedom and
indeterminacy and democracy and music And thank you all for coming and for
those of you who haven’t seen the show yet you should rush to see it. It’s
incredible, and this piece, in particular, 4 Minutes and 33… The central figure
in this New York School was always John Cage. One of Cage’s most notorious pieces
is a piece called Four Minutes and 33 Seconds. Cage saw the white paintings of
Rauschenberg and realized how powerful the provocation was to have something on
which you could project anything. So it was given to David Tudor who at the time
was the avant-garde music world’s greatest virtuoso of the most difficult
piano music. The idea that you are asking this incredible virtuoso to sit down at the piano, we expect him to do something. So what he does is he takes out the
music and he closes the lid of the piano for the time specified for this first
movement, and he opens the lid of the piano and he closes the lid of the piano
for the second movement, and he does this for all three movements for four minutes
and 33 seconds. He really is the closest thing that music composition has to a
philosopher. It’s Cage identifying what the core action of composition is.
Composition is the designing of an experience which makes an audience a
better listener. Something happens in sound in front of you and you put it
together and you listen to it. If there’s an emotional reaction that’s not that’s
happening, it’s not that the composer makes you have the emotional reaction—
you are making that emotional reaction yourself. How better to show that that’s
the core of what classical music is than to say there is nothing on stage other
than the opening of the proposition to listen. …and I actually don’t I don’t know enough about lighting technology because I’m a sound guy I don’t know enough about lighting technology, but I know it just has to do with when you know when
you jiggle the two next to each other. Yeah. Okay, so this monitor’s five… And that’s six. Okay, show me what to do. Twelve lights, twelve sounds.
All you have to do is turn them on. There was a moment where David Tudor moved
from being a performer, a recreator into being a creator and that was
something that Rauschenberg did for David Tudor. Rauschenberg invited David
Tudor to participate in a project with him and David Tudor’s idea was he walked
into this gigantic hall where there were two hundred and seventy plus fluorescent
lights in the ceiling and he put a microphone on every single one of the
lights and so then he had a little control board where he would make music
by turning the lights on and off So one of the things that we’ve done for our
show here is that we’ve made a kind of homage to this piece. You don’t want to
dim it? Because that’s sometimes where you get the fun flicker
there’s a problem with the fact that contemporary fluorescent lights don’t
make sound for the most part. They’re lighting modern lighting fixtures are
very very quiet, and so I had to go and find some recordings of vintage
fluorescent tubes and utilize those in a sort of software environment that allows
us to turn on and off fluorescent lights in a way that corresponds with sounds
that would be, you know, as near as we can tell would be appropriate to what we
might have heard in that gallery space Rauschenberg saw that there shouldn’t be
a distance between composer and performer, just as he saw that there
shouldn’t be a distance between artist and choreographer or artist and costumer
or composer and poet. He imagined that somebody could do this job, and that kind
of enthusiasm and an invitation ended up changing David Tudor’s life. The notion
that you should be making your work and also living in a world and giving
opportunities to other people and helping people grow and finding people
who are interesting, who are interesting and supporting them—that’s rare. The
idea that he can be useful to someone else,
that is very beautiful and that goes… that’s a theme that goes through this
entire show.

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