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"Variations on Vexations"

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Published on Nov 22, 2009

"To play this motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.". So wrote Erik Satie on his 1893 composition "Vexations".

In September 1963 John Cage organized the first "full" performance of Vexations in which this short piece of only 3 lines was repeated 840 times. The performance took 18 hours and 40 minutes to complete and made use of a team of pianists: John Cage, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, Philip Corner, Viola Farber, Robert Wood, MacRae Cook, David Del Tredici, James Tenney, Howard Klein, Joshua Rifkin, and John Cale.

John Cale, who later went on to co-found the Velvet Underground, appeared on the September 16, 1963 episode of the TV show "I've Got a Secret." He was accompanied on the show by the one person who was present for the entire marathon performance of "Vexatons": Karl Schenzer. After his secret was guessed, Cage then played "Vexations" just once. It variously puzzled, amused and vexed the show panelists.

Footage from that appearance was edited to accompany "Variations on Vexations", which I recently composed. The piece starts and closes with "Vexations" performed as written except at twice the tempo. The variations along the way are at times subtle, at other times profoundly different from the Satie composition. I hope you find the piece and the video of interest.

However, I'm not totally committed to either the music or this video at this point. The music was done quickly and this is my first attempt at making a video. It's deceptively simple looking -- and making something simple is at times terribly complicated. In the future, the music and video may be further developed or all together abandoned.

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