Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 1: Jean Dupuy

Jean Dupuy was arguably the headliner of the first night of the 2011 Live Performance Art Festival. 85 years old, French, with close connections to the Fluxus group, he provides the festival with serious street cred. He’s a direct link to one the primary sources of modern performance art, the Fluxus group. (Get a background on the group and Jean Dupuy by checking out their respective Wikipedia pages).

Mr. Dupuy performed three works from the 1980’s at the Western Front after Fortner Anderson (myself) and Dana Claxton.

He presented two sound pieces and a short 16 mm film. The first sound piece of the evening had its first presentation in the mid-1980’s. At that time it used two cassette recorders to replay piano sonatas by Beethoven and by Brahms. The recorders sat on a slowly rotating plinth. A stereo microphone hanging above them recorded their playback and the resulting mix of the two sonatas was replayed to the audience. Portraits of Brahms and Beethoven identified the provenance of the two pieces of music.

In 2011, the cassette recorders have been replaced by two PowerMacs. The 14” displays present full-screen images of the two composers while the Macs transmit the recordings of the sonatas directly to the house sound system. The resulting melding of the two recordings was seamless.

I’m not a classical music buff, and I’m afraid I didn’t note the name of the two sonatas, (unfortunately the identity of the pianists wasn’t identified to the audience) but to me the resulting mix of the two recordings seemed to create a complete and wholly new work, a new four-handed sonata composed by Beethoven/Brahms/Dupuy.

Jean Dupuy presented the work, projecting a copy of a hand-written script from 1985, which loosely described the piece. The text alluded to a method of composition used to create the text, based (as I later learned) upon rules stemming from Dupuy’s study of the French writer, Raymond Roussil (again check out the Wikipedia page and when you get a chance read the books).

One challenge with a work like this is its complexity. To fully understand it, one needs a to spend some time with both the text and the music. In a performance it all passes too quickly to seize and analyze its context.

In particular it would be nice to see that introductory text again. (Hint—could it be posted here?) That said the piece worked for me. It was a both aesthetically pleasing, the music sounded great and it was thought provoking.

I ask myself was this piece scandalous at one time? It certainly wasn’t yesterday evening. The public seemed to enjoy the piece, captured by the virtuosity of the two performances.

Dupuy followed this audio piece with a 16mm film shot in the mid-eighties in Brooklyn.

The film is shot from high above an intersection in an area of Brooklyn that reminded me of Dumbo (District Under the Manhattan Bridge)--disaffected industrial. In the frame, we see an intersection, the surrounding buildings and a vacant lot. From the bottom and the top of the frame, we see two people approach the intersection, a man and a woman. Shortly before they reach the intersection a car passes. They meet in the middle of the intersection, stop, disrobe and exchange each other’s clothes. They then walk away arm-in-arm, the woman dressed in the man’s clothes and the man in the woman’s dress.

Such a simple, beautiful and human performance. The audience was enthralled by the risk these two took, completely naked in the middle of the day in the middle of a New York street and laughed at the difficulty Dupuy had in donning the dress and the shoes of his wife.

The final piece Dupuy presented was a recording of a train trip taken again in the mid-eighties. He dropped a mic into the toilet on one of the first French high-speed trains. From what I understood, at that time, you could drop the mic through the bowl and into the undercarriage of the train providing an excellent vantage to record the sound of the iron wheels rolling on the iron track.

The original presentation of this piece lasted four and a half hours and came with several hundred slides. At the Western Front the piece lasted a mere 15 minutes, the slides were lost in a fire several years ago. Very noisy, the piece pushed a portion of the audience out the door, but a fair number lay down on the carpet between the two speakers and rode it out imagining their private fantasies of French rail travel.

So the festival begins with three foundational works. It’s a strong and propitious beginning.

-- Fortner Anderson

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