Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Rozart, Rose Art, Ade!

Lisa Hirsch reports that Brandeis University has decided to close the Rose Art Museum. Above and beyond its importance for the visual arts, the Rose was the site for the premiere of John Cage's Rozart Mix (1965), one of the most exuberant of Cage's happening-like works, requested from Cage while Alvin Lucier was on the Brandeis faculty and premiered on an evening concert which also included the first performance of Lucier's Music for Solo Performer, a work involving enormously amplified brainwaves.

Cage's verbal score requires a large number of tape loops (Cage suggests 88 loops — the same number of keys on a standard piano), each composed of thousands of small pieces spliced together in all possible physical orientations, using any sound sources, but largely speech, played back on a large number of tape machines. Whenever a loop breaks during a performance, Cage instructs that it be repaired and then stored away, not to be reused, a bit of discipline with a zen-like flavor. Anticipating the Rose performance, Cage imagined the possibility of loops stretching over the water fountains, and perhaps requiring some amount of wading.

I had a small part in the preparations for one performance of Rozart Mix, at Wesleyan in 1987, under the supervision of Lucier, Chris Schiff and with the participation of Cage in both some of the splicing and the performance, where he sat cheerfully in the middle of 12 tape machines, each of which was run by pairs of young people with good haircuts. As is too often the case, this electronic music event was largely the labor of males, but the evening splicing and pasta sessions at Lucier's house redeemed themselves somewhat in that they took on some of the spirit and character of a quilting bee. I like to think of this as our Dr. Chicago-meets-Judy-Chicago moment.

3 comments:

Paul A. Epstein said...

As a 1959 graduate I received the same E-mailed apologia from the president of the Alumni Association as Lisa Hirsch. Here's some of what I wrote back:

I have read the E-mail from President Reinharz announcing the the Great Rose Art Museum Fire Sale, as well as a broad sampling of press coverage and reactions from members of the Brandeis and arts communities. My own response? The words that jumped to mind were looting, philistinism, and - in light of the lack of consultation with the most interested parties from the Rose leadership and staff to faculty and students - betrayal. ( I dismissed images of the pillage of Iraqi museums during the Bush-Chaney misadventure as being a bit over the top.)

In honor of my upcoming 50th reunion, I recently made a modest contribution. It will likely be the last if the Reinharz plan is permitted to take place, as I will not support the morphing of my Alma Mater into Brand X University.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That Rozart Mix performance and prep for it sound fantastic.

Gordon Mumma said...

Again institutional stupidity and disrespect with
the push to eliminate the historic and celebrated
Brandeis Rose Art Museum. Brandeis will certainly
loose potential future patronage because of this.

Many classic "contemporary" recordings were
made at the Rose Art Museum, which now
command high prices from collectors of the
original LP versions. E.g., the Mainstream
SONIC ARTS UNION, and the CBS Odyssey
EXTENDED VOICES (with Alvin Lucier
directing the Brandeis University Chamber
Choir). Most recently a British collector told
me he paid 150 Brit.Pounds for a mint quality
SONIC ARTS UNION LP.

Leonard Bernstein, who received an honorary
doctorate (1959) from Braindeis, also
treasured the Rose Art Museum, as did
many other distinguished creative artists.
The list goes on. Sadly, -- Gordon Mumma