Ending and Altered (2007)
DV, color, sound, 9:30, 2007
“But the fact is that each increase of stimulation is taken up into the preceding stimulations, and that the whole produces on us the effect of a musical phrase which is constantly on the point of ending and constantly altered in its totality by the addition of some new note.” Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (1896)
Fifteen singers are arranged in an 18th century room. A small pipe organ stands behind them. After a short warmup, the choir takes a collective breath and sings the first note of a Bach chorale. But it doesn’t continue. Instead, the music changes to a wall of dissonant tones. Each singer has been asked to hold the individual note until he or she runs completely out of air. Only then can the next note be started. The singers are getting tired. They seem to fall into a kind of trance, listening and singing intently as their air runs out again and again. At the very end, the two last singers complete the music, breathlessly. After a stunned silence, laughter, coughing, surprise. Ending and Altered draws inspiration from several sources, John Cage’s ASLSP (As Slow As Possible (1985/1987)), writings of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, and Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art, specifically Sentence #29: “The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.” Cage’s famous piece is currently being performed in Halberstadt, Germany, as ASLSP/Organ2, by a programmed organ that intends to perform the work over a 639-year period. The mechanical expectations of the machine in the Cage performance is in direct contrast to the limits of a singer’s physical body in this work. The complex relationships between individual and collective (the choir), mechanical and organic, experiential and measured, and conceptual/chance methods of creative production are also part of this work.
Ending and Altered