Erik Satie: Vexations for piano and reversible record player

Year funded: 2016-2017

Project Leader: Simon Lewandowski (Lecturer in Fine Art Practice)

Vexations was written by Erik Satie in 1893 – it is still as challenging a piece of work as anything to come out of the contemporary avant-garde. It consists of a short theme with the instruction to play this on the piano a total of 840 times. When John Cage and a team of helpers played Vexations in 1963 it took 18 hours and 40 minutes. We calculated that our version would take around 24 hours to complete. The record-player plated in the Calder gallery as a sculptural installation, open to the public, for the first 23 hours with an audience invited to attend the final section to “witness” the point at which the piece stopped, accompanied by a scratch ensemble of keyboards and other instruments which gradually joined in for the last hour.

The piece was open to the public from 11:00 Wednesday 31 May 2017 with a performance starting at 7:00pm.  The work was “performed” by a record-player programmed to play forwards and reverse at controlled but unpredictable intervals that will add up to the 840 repeats the composer requires in the score. The one-off vinyl recording had eight versions of the theme played on the piano by James Telford; four of them were recorded in reverse so that they could be heard continuously as the needle goes backwards and forwards.

This was the latest in a series of workshop performances organized by the Centre for Audio Visual Experimentation (C.A.V.E.) at the School for Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies in partnership with the School of Music. The project was realized with financial support from the Centre for Practice-led Research in the Arts.