Stefan Burger, 2011
bon 1977 in Mühlheim, Switzerland; lives and works in Zürich
The Installation 18h00 begins, as already indicated in the title, at the moment when the exhibition is at its best: at museum closing time, in the darkness of the Grenzraum (Border Room); alone and with a few stray cross spiders as the only audience. In the hierarchical scramble for the ideal feeding sites near the light, those spiders that have slid into the dimly lit Grenzraum, sometimes ﬁnd something useful in their web there, and sometimes something useless, after a good deal of perseverance, according to the laws of chance. Whereas the useless is ignored and perishes in a hopelessly sticky situation, the useful is wrapped up on the spot into immobility and internally provided with a decomposing secretion that transforms the sophisticated form of the individual organs of the parcel into a universal bolus. The resulting bolus is ﬁltered by the spider by means of special feathery bristles around the mouth open-ing and a palatal plate, their ﬁne chitinous scales holding back all particles over 1–3 micrometres in size and then transporting them to the outside. This way only ﬂuid food reaches the mid-gut, where it is stored and/or reabsorbed. Cross spiders masticate their prey with the aid of the fanged claw-like mar-gins of the cheliceral furrow so strongly that a small blob is all that remains of it.
The digested bolus is ultimately excreted to form a black, precise speck approximately 0.1 mm in diameter and, although just visible to the human eye, it remains unnoticed by almost all visitors after the exhibition reopens the next morning.
The exhibition 18h00 is also based on the interpretation and uses of visible and invisible excretions of tangential and overlapping systems. With an onshore breeze behind me, I was inspired to realise a fringe exhibition in the Grenzraum. The repeated experience of encountering the unusual form of display vitrine found in Friedrichshafen; the existence of Zeppelin elements in the Zeppelin Museum Archive converted by former factory workers to everyday things like coat racks and tablecloths − led at ﬁrst to a hopeless amalgamation of cheerful actualities, − that can only be further uselessly amalgamated by realising the exhibition 18h00.
Following the literary genre of hysterical realism – also called cramped post modernism – the complex situation of related involvements referred to above, is also made (in)visible in an equally involved installation.
Imaginary protagonists also pop up, while complete absentees never turn up. The motif of a jointly conceived project is only absent so that it can be found by someone else (the absentee who never appears, for example). The free refund of feelings, big and small, will be complied with. The exhibition is kindly supported by the Federal Oﬃce for Building and Regional Planning with one pair of white ladies boots (bought in Neuss boot paradise). The notion of the smallest common denominator is discussed and excreted in the form of portable sculptures; other artistic excretions are examined for their worthlessness in Abidjan and acknowledged by Hannes Grassegger with a prolonged silence. Joachim Gauck is making a (private) contribution of 100 g of freedom, 50 g to ﬁll each white ladies shoe. The time value of abstract art, the banal action of supplying fresh bought leeks for the home vegetable shelf, and the memory of Christian Morgenstern are stuck together in an amalgam on a wall. Company hierarchies and aching feet, Prosecco and sausage cheer and the criticism of the criticism of the criticism of a child are transformed in an unadorned, minimalist way, full of compromise into the form of a romantic anti-fable.
4’33” and 6 pm or Zero as the Starting Point
“I am here and there is nothing to say.”
John Cage in ‘Lecture on Nothing’
I FIRST ENCOUNTER
During my time in Paris at the IRCAM musical research centre, the Japanese composer Joji Yuasa took me to a festival called East meets West and West meets East in the Cité internationale universitaire. A roundtable with notable European and Asian composers was to deal with mutual inﬂuences. The detail of what was discussed I can no longer remember, but I do remember the concert that followed. The famous piece 4΄33″ by John Cage from 1952 was on the programme. This piece had reached a nimbus in the ﬁeld of music that can best be compared to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in literature and the theatre: everyone knows of it without ever having heard it.
4΄33″ thematises silence. Not a single note is played. However, silence very quickly revealed itself as a sort of fake, as noise is perceptible instead of notes that are played: sounds that are not intentional or predictable, but are always there, die away or suddenly ring out. A noise or sound may be laughter or throat clearing, the clack of a heel or the rustling of branches; it may come from outside or inside – who knows. Even in the anechoic chamber there are noises: a high and a deeper sound from the nervous system and the heart, as Cage maintains.
In the Paris performance a pianist in tails strode onto the podium, took his place at the piano, adjusted his stool precisely, laid the score and a stopwatch on the rest, and took a moment to collect himself, to start the chronometer – only to close the lid of the keyboard. But then he did not play a single note. Given his concentration, it nevertheless seemed like he was performing a piece, although his arms and hands remained motionless. On two occasions he relaxed, opening the lid again after a few minutes, bowed and left the stage.
What was it with the famous non-piece 4΄33″ by John Cage, premiered in 1952, about silence? Not a single composed note sounded. But silent it was not – during the entire duration of the performance. The longer the pianist did not play, the more I became aware of sounds foreign to the piano. All of a sudden, the boy sitting in front of me − he was about ten years old and the son of a renowned French ﬂutist − started to convulse until he could no longer suppress his incipient giggling; and began to laugh so loudly that he ﬁnally fell of his seat. The laughter still did not stop when the pianist reopened the lid, gathered up his notes and watch, bowed and went oﬀ.
The piece in three movements may be performed by any instruments in any combination for any duration. Yes, there is a score, many versions even. If you read them, you will see at once that it is to do with the calculation of time and hence of space. The compositional act involved generating the three movements with the aid of 64 possible hexagrams of the ancient Chinese oracle game I Ching. Their lengths, or more precisely durations, are given as 30′, 143′ and 100′; in another version, for example, as 33′, 2’40” and 1’20”; and for a later version, Cage wrote that they could be of any duration.
In the late 1940s, Cage experimentally found out that in an anechoic chamber silence is not an acoustic phenomenon. Rather, it represents for him a change of mind : “In the late forties I found out by experiment (I went into the anechoic chamber at Harvard University) that silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around. I devoted my music to it. My work became an exploration of non intention. To carry it out faithfully I have developed a complicated composing means using I Ching chance operations, making my responsibility that of asking questions instead of making choices …”
II FROM ZERO
An ancient pond
A frog jumps in
The splash of water!
(Haiku by Basho)
The composer György Ligeti discerningly put it in a nutshell: “To properly understand Cage’s music, you have to break with the established listening habits and concentrate not only on the sounds, but also on the pauses in between. For it is the space, the emptiness that is urgently necessary at this point in history …” And Ligeti continues: “Notes and sounds are for him only framing the silence … ‘Sound’, as Christian Wolﬀ once put it, ‘comes into its own’ … Cage’s rejection of compositional methods is understandable, since everything composed is at the same time produced and thus to be regarded as a product … The aimless and unintentional, the accidental … testiﬁes to the rejection of production. Ritual of the non-intentional. The sublime is thereby destroyed. Gestures and facial expression are just as important as the sounds.” Cage is therefore concerned with non-intention, indeterminacy, chance.
Zero or the null reference point is the start-ing point for measured or calculated values from which the latter are evaluated or counted. At the same time, zero divides real values into two areas, positive and negative. The absolute zero denotes the lower limit for temperature. This deﬁnes the origin of the absolute temperature scale and is speciﬁed as 0 ° Kelvin, that is -273.15 °C. The existence and the extrapolated value of the absolute zero can be derived from the ﬁrst Law of Gay-Lussac. In the case of 4΄33″, as already said, it is a question of number and time. It is not about the composed sounds, but about those that are there in the given time without human intervention. However, they are formed and ordered or unordered. It is the form that brings and holds them together, and number and space are needed for that.
The sum of 273’ or 4΄33″ could therefore correspond to the absolute zero of -273 ° C, but it does not have to. “I always like to start at zero and, whenever possible, make a dis covery”, said Cage. For the original version premiered at Woodstock, Cage notated empty 4/4 measures on the sheets, with 60 quarter notes taking up one minute. What remains for the performers? In order to keep time, you must count precisely or measure the times with a chronometer. Later on, to obtain the correct times, Cage used continuous proportional notation with lines and rests that ﬁrst had to be measured. In the ﬁrst edition, printed several years after the ﬁrst performance, Cage wrote only the Roman numerals I, II and III for the individual parts with just ‘tacet’ underneath (it is silent or paused) – a musical instruction, which is otherwise only used for pausing instruments on orchestral scores. Additionally, Cage made a note that at the premier by the pianist David Tudor, the latter had closed the piano lid at the start and opened it at the end of each movement.
III ON OMISSION
Is everything just theatre or show? Many asked and still ask themselves if, with 4΄33″, the peak of anti-art has been reached by an avant-garde that minimises the art creating subject or ego at zero. Anyway, the founding father of the avant-garde, Marcel Duchamp, had converted him into a musician, said Cage. Once he said that 4΄33″ was his favourite, and at another point his most important piece.
He reports that, at the time it was created, he had thought about why one is active as an artist within society. And he had actually not started from theatre but from music.
Certainly, the piece has an aperient character that liberates awareness. It follows the simple realisation that wherever you listen there is music. And for Cage, noises, everyday noise, random sounds and public reactions belong to music. He draws attention to them by desiring nothing but silence or pauses by the performers, and interprets that what happens during them is actually composed. In his Lecture on Nothing, which he gave two years before the premier of 4΄33″, Cage made the point: “Structure without life is dead. But life without structure cannot be apprehended. Pure life is expressed in and through structure.”
With this piece, Cage created something that had never been before in Western artistic music – composed silence, as an artistic action, music as non-music. 4΄33″ stands as a message for omission as an artistic action.
Cage dreamt of relationships between sounds free of domination, diced for the notes with the aid of chance operations according to the Chinese oracle I Ching, and he reﬂected in his work the musical notion of time; he is post-dadaist, anarchist, Zen Buddhist and avant-gardist rolled into one. He uniﬁes East and West in a single piece. No accident that it was Cage who wrote this simplest of all imaginable music pieces for which his famous quotation holds: “You don’t need to call it music if the term shocks you.”