Sunday, June 14, 2015

Five Reasons Why Serious Immobilities Is Being Performed In New York Soon

If you've been one of Mixed Meters' Three Readers for any length of time you'll recognize the names Arthur Jarvinen and Erik Satie.  And, most likely, you'll recognize the names of their pieces Serious Immobilities and Vexations.  Are you up to speed on these topics?  If so, you're cleared to skip the next two paragraphs.

Erik Satie was a French composer, an avant-garde beacon of the early twentieth century.  He is most famous for soothing piano pieces with names like Gnossienne or Gymnopidie.   Vexations is also a short piano piece of his.  It is the opposite of soothing.  In fact it's an aggravating, infuriating, maddening whorl of unsettled melody and twisted harmony.  Exacerbating this effect, Satie instructed that the piece should be performed 840 times.  Your mind will wander and possibly you'll hallucinate if you listen that long (like 18 hours).  I'm sure you will love every minute.  You'll definitely learn the meaning of the word "unresolved".

Arthur Jarvinen, a California composer who wrote music of great originality, had many different influences.  These include, to name just a few, Erik Satie, Captain Beefheart, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the Beatles.  He is often associated with the post-minimal Totalist movement which had strong connections to New York City.  Serious Immobilities, however, is based directly on Satie's Vexations. Art wrote 840 distinct variations on Satie's trope.  These take a full day to perform.  Listening is sort of like being trapped inside Arthur Jarvinen's brain while he is trapped inside Erik Satie's.  You'll love it. (Much more info here.)

The big news is that all 24 hours of Serious Immobilities is getting another well-deserved complete performance, the first in 17 years. This will happen starting at eight in the morning on June 20th (that's next Saturday) through eight the following morning at the West Park Presbyterian Church in New York City.  I wonder if Sunday morning services begin immediately afterwards.  I sure hope their pews are well padded.  More details of the performance are provided here.  Here's the New Yorker listing. (I'm blown away that the New Yorker could condense the high points of this story into just over 100 words, even though they made one big mistake.)

The event is presented by Composers Collaborative, Inc. a New York group with a busy 20-year history of presenting new music.   Their press release for Serious Immobilities lists 16 pianists so I guess each pianist will be playing for about 90 minutes.  Jed Distler, described online as President and Treasurer of CCi and elsewhere as Artistic Director, took part in the 1998 New York premier of Serious Immobilities.  He's the moving force behind this important performance.

Serious Immobilities is more than just 840 variations on Vexations by Arthur Jarvinen.  There is another simultaneous layer of music by a different composer.  Randall Woolf, a friend of Art's, called his Vexation variations Spineless Dog.   He has described Spineless Dog as a guided improvisation and he scored it for Midi keyboard, computer and electronics.

(This post will help you sort through the versions and performance history of Serious Immobilities.)

Did I mention that this performance is FREE.  If you're nearby or within easy striking distance, I hope you'll attend.  Go for an hour.  Or two.  Or ten.  Heck, stay for the whole thing.  Maybe they'll let you roll out a sleeping bag so you can dream along with Serious Immobilities.  Although there are 70 minutes of Art's piano variations available on CD (from Los Angeles River Records and from Leisure Planet Music), attending this event is your first chance to hear the entire Serious Immobilities since 1998.

Since I've written so often about Arthur Jarvinen and since both Mixed Meters' posts about Serious Immobilities are among the most often read, I briefly considered flying to New York.  And then I calculated how much sleep I'd lose.  After all, it's not like I'm fifty years old any more.  I'll have to wait for another L.A. performance.

There must be at least five good reasons why a 24-hour performance of Serious Immobilities can happen only in New York and no where else right now.  Were you expecting me to list them?  What's most important to me is that this performance is a significant milestone in Arthur Jarvinen's musical legacy.  I'd like to congratulate all who are involved and wish their production the best possible outcome.

(To close, here's the text from the final variation of Serious Immobilities:)

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.

1 comment :

Jed Distler said...

Thank you so much for your extremely kind and enthusiastic post. I've been wanting to be involved in a full performance since we did this back in 1998, and I'm really pleased that we're able to put it on this weekend.