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I’ve only been living in New York City for a few years, but I already feel like there are times when I just simply take the city for granted. Or worse, I don’t take advantage of all that it has to offer. But I think what makes living here so exciting is the opportunity to accidentally stumble onto incredible events, or to go places expecting one thing and end up (pleasantly) at something totally and completely different.

This is exactly what happened yesterday afternoon as I wandered in to the World Financial Center Winter Garden during the third hour of “I Write the Songs.” All I knew was that the event was a drawing installation created by Suzanne Bocanegra, in collaboration with the Drawing Center, paired with spontaneous music composition featuring the FLUX Quartet. Even though I really had no idea what this description meant or what it would look like when I got there… it still sounded pretty cool.

I’m still so impressed with this brilliant idea; let me try to explain how it worked.

Walking through the Winter Garden, you went to one of several drawing stations, each equipped with loose sheets of printed music and colored pencils. You picked a page of music and colored or drew or wrote whatever came to mind, in any way you wanted. When done, the music was handed to a person on a ladder, who handed it off to be clipped to a high strung clothesline, which transported the pages to the stage.

Once on stage, the music was distributed to a member of the quartet, each of whom “played”/improvised what they saw on the page. The added bonus was that each musician had a TV monitor facing the audience, displaying the current page of music on their stand. Everyone could see what the performers saw at any moment—many people waiting excitedly to see their page played… Brilliant!

The sound for four performers playing this music all at once was not as cacophonous as one might imagine; and some clever “composers” asked quartet members to sit quietly and take a break, or to observe the player to their right. Once performed, the music was returned to the person on the ladder to be sent away on a different clothesline. At the end of the line, volunteers from the Drawing Center collected and hand-bound the music into books.

Suzanne’s installation created a 5-hour constant loop of new pages of drawings/music, traveling from “composer” to clothesline to performer and back to clothesline. I have no idea what Suzanne will do with the bound collections of music, but I’m sure she has thought of something fascinating.

5 Responses to “I write the songs”
  1. Joe says:

    What a lovely idea and concept. I’m sure it must have been fun and thrilling for ‘non-musicians’ to have their ideas translated into actual music. What a wonderful way to engage and invest the audience in the performance…

  2. James Holt says:

    I know it’s nearly six-months away, but I forgot to mention that the Drawing Center will be presenting a Xenakis exhibition January 15 – April 8, 2010. Get it on your calendars now. drawingcenter.org

    And, this October 17, the International Contemporary Ensemble will be performing some Xenakis there as well.

  3. Maura says:

    I’d buy the book.

  4. Steve Layton says:

    If they were recording the whole thing and if the pages were bound in order, I suppose you could follow follow the score while listening.

  5. Medora Ebersole says:

    clotheslines for sheet music!

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