Sunday, January 27, 2013

Serious Immobilities (second post)

This is the second of two blog posts on Arthur Jarvinen's gigantic solo piano masterpiece Serious Immobilities.  You might want to read the first one first.

In this segment I'll document as much as possible the performances and recording of Serious Immobilities.  There are audio samples ahead.  And later on there'll be a special offer for Mixed Meters readers who want to purchase the Los Angeles River Records compact disc. So read on.

Spineless Dog

Spineless Dog is a composition by Randall Woolf.   On Randall's website he describes Spineless Dog:
Spineless Dog 24 hours (A 24-hour set of variations of Erik Satie's 24-hour long Vexations. To be played with Art Jarvinen Serious Immobilities (another set of 24-hour variations on Erik Satie's Vexations)) or alone) elec kybd setup (PC88, casiotone, fx processor, sampler)
The composer added a bit more information privately: "It was sort of a guided improv, using a keyboard set up with samples on certain notes, and elec. fx."

In the piano score of Serious Immobilities Arthur Jarvinen offered this explanation:
SERIOUS IMMOBILITIES in its fully-realized form consists of two "layers" of music performed simultaneously.  These are:
1) Serious Immobilities - 840 variations on Erik Satie's Vexations, for piano solo, by Arthur Jarvinen, and
2) Spineless Dog - variations on Satie's Vexations, for MIDI keyboard controller, MacIntosh computer, and electronics, by Randall Woolf.
The performance notes go on to say that if Jarvinen's 840 variations are played without Spineless Dog it is properly entitled Serious Immobilities sans Spineless Dog.  The two pieces can also be played simultaneously with Vexations, Satie's original piece. (I've tried listening to Serious Immobilities and Vexations simultaneously.  The combination works quite well.)

In the previous post we learned that the first 210 variations can be performed for six hours by a single pianist under the title Serious Immobilities, Part One.  Later in this post we'll learn about Serious Immobilities, Petit.

There's a level of confusion about the title Serious Immobilities.  Satie, I expect, would have been proud.

Performances of Serious Immobilities

The piano score to Serious Immobilities also details a performance history of the work.

While still a work in progress, Serious Immobilities was performed on March 22, 1997, at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C.  This concert was a memorial for composer Randy Hostetler, a close friend of Art's, who died at an insanely young age.  Four variations in Serious Immobilities are labeled "for Randy".  All of them involve the use (or misuse) of an old wind-up metronone.

The first performance of all 840 variations was at the Kitchen in New York City, "simultaneous with an incomplete version of Randall Woolf's Spineless Dog." on January 17 and 18, 1997.  Art adds:
This performance could be considered a preview, but not an official premiere, since the staging was not as intended. The piano and electronic keyboard were adjacent [to] one another in a single small room, besides which there was other music happening all around.
Finally, on June 4 and 5, 1998, from 5 p.m. to 5 p.m., Serious Immobilities was officially premiered by nine pianists in Los Angeles CA.  It was part of a festival called Resistance Fluctuations, with the two layers of Serious Immobilities properly positioned in separate but adjacent galleries.

That evening was reviewed by L.A. Times Music Critic Mark Swed.  Here's his mention of Serious Immobilities:
It was a different story down the street at neighboring galleries. At 5 p.m. in Works on Paper Inc., Arthur Jarvinen unleashed "Serious Immobilities," a 24-hour piece in which a relay team of pianists play Jarvinen's 840 variations on a one-page score by Erik Satie, "Vexations." A hundred years ago, Satie had written the instruction on his piece that it be repeated 840 times, but no one took him seriously until John Cage arranged a marathon performance of it in 1963, and it became the avant-garde rage.
Next door, at Dan Bernier Gallery, was Randall Woolf's companion piece, "Spineless Dog." Along with piped-in Jarvinen, a relay team of pianists performs a more conceptual work on an electric keyboard, set up with all kinds of unpredictable samples, taking Satie very far afield.
Well, there's not much actual music criticism there.  Mostly just reportage.

Los Angeles River Records recording

There's another version of Serious Immobilities: entitled Serious Immobilities, Petit, whch (by no coincidence at all) is exactly the length of one compact disc, 77'42" to be exact.)  It was recorded on Los Angeles River Records by the fine pianist Bryan Pezzone.  He also took part in the Los Angeles premier.  The album was released in 2003.

At a website called the New Music Online Library, Art wrote about this version and about one particular variation, number 179, one of the jazzy ones to which he added a special title:
The complete version of Serious Immobilities, for piano solo, consists of 840 variations on Erik Satie's Vexations and takes twenty-four hours to play. For practical reasons, and because the music easily lends itself to such treatment, I have published shorter alternative versions of the piece. Serious Immobilities, Petit is a recital-length version (ca. 78 min.). It was recently recorded by Bryan Pezzone on a beautiful Fazioli 9' concert grand, in Zipper Hall at the Colburn School of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. The recording was funded by a grant from the Los Angeles chapter of the American Composers Forum and will soon be released by Los Angeles River Records.
Ennui In the Martini Lounge is the title I have recently appended to one variation from Serious Immobilities which occurs in all of the various versions. Deliberately evocative of cocktail lounge jazz, it is one of the few "stylistic variations" in the piece. Astute listeners will notice that Satie's original chords are there, but with notes added so as to give them a jazzy flavor, and his "theme of the bass" still occupies the left hand, but dressed up. Of course, all the rhythms have been changed, and extra ornamental flourishes added. But I must confess I was actually a bit surprised at how little it took to turn Vexations into a cheesy lounge piece. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Satie was himself a cabaret musician; bar music was always a part of his oeuvre. In any case, I like to think he would find this particular take on Vexations amusing.
Ennui In the Martini Lounge can be heard online.

Here are some memories Bryan Pezzone wrote about the recording session:
I was extremely honored that Art chose me to to record his CD of this, which was an hour long.  He selected the material from his 24 hour version.  Art was so cool at the recording. We did it at Zipper Hall in one take.  It was a magical experience that I will never forget.
We got the sound dialed in first, then I played from beginning to end, unbroken performance, finished and Art goes ..' I'm happy with that' was incredible. The one and only take.  I loved Art for appreciating that, not beating it up, slicing and dicing, and on my end, I had it pretty well prepared. As time has gone by, I treasure more and more how special an experience it was:)
Here's a link describing the first concert performance of Serious Immobilities, Petit by pianist Judith Gordon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, April 10, 2004 on the Santa Fe New Music series.

You can buy the album!

Do you want to hear Serious Immobilities, Petit?  Well, here's good news: Daniel Rothman, of Los Angeles River Records, has made this special offer to Mixed Meters' three readers:
you may give losanagelesriver[at] for direct sales — with a mixed meters reference I'll sell them at 10/CD plus S+H.
In other words, write to him at that address (substituting @ as appropriate) and mention Mixed Meters.  He'll tell you how much "S+H" is.  Send him that amount plus $10.  Tell him your address.  He'll send you the recording of Serious Immobilities by Arthur Jarvinen.

Such a deal.

Daniel has allowed me to extract an excerpt of the recording and post it here.  I tried to limit myself to just a few minutes of music.  My choice hinged on finding a passage that conveyed both the variety of the music and the sheer repetitiveness of it.

click here to hear Arthur Jarvinen  Serious Immobilities (excerpt), performed by Bryan Pezzone, pianist

© 2003 Los Angeles River Records - 419 seconds

If you remember the text of the first variation in Serious Immobilities (which I included in the first post) and if you remember Art's description of manipulating "language objects" (also in that post), then you might be curious about the final variation, number 840, entitled Transvexions, the one with tempo of quarter equals 6.5.  Here's that text which the pianist reads while playing "Way Damn Slow!"
You aren't likely to do much that's predicated on the depth of a literary fragment, and such a short one at that.
With your total lack of respect for it, and the extent to which you despise it, you were always certain there was ample justification for its moderate brevity, the audiences' not wanting to keep it short notwithstanding.
Denying the possibility of any motif occupying a full twenty-four hours is of course absolutely necessary, although falling even one second short would disqualify it anyway.
As you leave this performance perhaps you can't make up your mind whether or not to plagiarize several rather short works for mixed ensembles, none of which you can actually recall, such as any of those by this composer.
None of them are merely crude approximations of necessarily short motifs, with even one unique, fully-realized idea strictly prohibited.
Serious Immobilities is not deconstructed only from rests and single notes.
You obliterated any new sense of timelessness with widely separated silences; so why Vexations?
And you didn't introduce even one unique event.

Mixed Meters could not have produced these posts without the help of Lynn Angebranndt.  She gave me permission to post excerpts of the piece.  Thanks, Lynn.   Also major thanks to Daniel Rothman of Los Angeles River Records.

Visit Arthur Jarvinen's own website.  His music is available from the Leisure Planet.  Another epic Jarvinen work (very different than this one) is The Invisible Guy.

Mixed Meters wants to do what I can to celebrate the life and work of Arthur Jarvinen.  Here are all MM's Jarvinen posts.

In June 2015 Serious Immobilities was performed in New York City.  Here's MM's promo to that performance Five Reasons Why Serious Immobilities Is Being Performed In New York Soon.

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1 comment :

Patrick Grant said...

It was a real rite-of-passage to play on Art's and Randy's Satie pieces within that 24-hour block at the Kitchen. Art became a friend and was supportive of my work. We had a series of phone calls in in 2006 & 2007 about work in general initiated by me and inspired by his Secret Agent series. He is missed.