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42 Vexations (1893)

SR 294CD SR 294CD

Erik Satie's 1893 Vexations; performed by pianist Stephane Ginsburgh. This piece is musique d'ameublement -- literally, "furniture music," the phrase coined by Satie in 1917, where he identifies sound as drapes, tiling, wallpaper -- items belonging to the environment and changing it simply by being in it, by actually becoming elements of the space. This recording is the second installment in a series of furniture music (after Marcel Duchamp's Musical Erratum), and is unique in that it calls for 840 repetitions of a single motif. John Cale recalls a particularly grueling 1963 performance under the direction of John Cage: "Between 9 and 10 September 1963, I was one of a relay team of pianists, under the direction of John Cage, who played Vexations by Eric Satie at Pocket Theatre, 100 Third Avenue near 13th Street, in 18 hours and 40 minutes. The 180 notes of this 80-second work were played 840 times. The whole thing was John Cage's idea. The admission was $5, but members of the audience got a refund of five cents per 20 minutes, and those who stayed to the bitter end got a 20 cent bonus." Had Satie envisioned playing the piece? Who knows. Neither do we know if Duchamp's Erratum musical was meant to be executed. What can be said, however, is that when played in its entirety, Vexations inevitably becomes a performance for both players and listeners. An experience in repetition -- repetition without the slightest variation, except for the unavoidable tempo shifts that occur over such a lengthy performance, alterations in how the piano keys are hit, in other words, everything that falls within the realm of the mechanically involuntary. What would you say about a ritornello that lasts between 18 and 24 hours? Includes a 16-page booklet containing the essay "Cage's Place In The Reception Of Satie" by Matthew Shlomowitz.