Performance Art

3.2 Music as Performance

Music is performative in the sense identified by Michael Kirby:[6] music is not a theatrical performance in the common sense, for in performance a musician is not playing someone else as an actor might; rather, musicians play as themselves. So, too, did Fluxus artists perform or play as themselves, and hence what they performed can be seen as music. Music’s silent partner has always been the visual; what emanates from the Fluxus aesthetic is the symbiosis of this coexistence. It is only by being aware of the slips and slides between media that the work of Fluxus comes to have meaning: One key assumption of Fluxus works is that there are close analogies among things.[7]

As early as 1913 (and included in the Green Box, 1934), Marcel Duchamp had for the first time employed aleatoric procedures as a principle aesthetic technique in a work of music, his Erratum Musical. Here each note of the piano keyboard is to be played only once. The notes should be evenly spaced, but at a speed determined by the performer. Aleatoric procedures (chance) and the performer’s contribution were to become more aesthetically dominant in the work of Duchamp’s friend John Cage. Cage’s seminal work 4′33″ was first performed on August 29, 1952, at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York, by David Tudor. It is a work in which no sound is intentionally made by the performer for the duration of the three-movement work, the timeframe being arrived at aleatorically by the composer. This work is central to an understanding of Cage’s aesthetic, and was always regarded by him as his most important work: I always think of it before I write the next piece.[8]

Music, for Cage, becomes the model for all performance art.