Amy Garapic prepares to ring the closing bell.
At midday on June 21, I posted a report from the Vexations marathon on Wall Street — an eighteen-hour vibraphone rendition of that short Satie piano piece which, if one takes the composer's elusive note at face value, is to be played 840 times in a row. Here are a few more pictures, videos, anecdotes, and thoughts from this year's Make Music New York celebration, which seems to have been an especially successful edition, although gratuitously hot weather may have affected daytime attendance. An overview of the Vexations scene in the morning, with the vibes at bottom center:
The performance aroused curiosity from some passersby, although many walked by without seeming to notice. You could draw dire conclusions from such inattention, in the manner of that 2007 Washington Post article finding significance in the fact that commuters exiting the L'Enfant Plaza subway stop one morning — on their way to jobs at the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, Homeland Security, and other neighboring government buildings — failed to dawdle around listening to Joshua Bell play Bach. But I doubt that Satie, progenitor of musique d'ameublement and grandfather of ambient music, would have minded. In any case, the performers did have all manner of curious encounters with the public over the course of the day; one gentleman, I was told, recognized the piece and joked that he had performed it himself and messed up on the 840th Vexation. (He had a child at Oberlin.)
She had with her a very cool baby (double-click on the photo to check out the sunglasses):
The best-dressed of the dozens of tour groups that trooped by:
As a Vexations veteran, I found the vibraphone version of the piece somehow gentler and more hypnotic than the usual piano version, which, over extended stretches, can jangle the nerves, especially when restless pianists begin to introduce variations. (During the 1993 Roulette rendition, Kirk Nurock made the piece sound like Stockhausen.) There was also something compelling about the choice of location: John Cage, who presented the first "full" Vexations in 1963, would probably have enjoyed the idea of his avant-garde spectacle taking place beneath the pompous façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Although the instigators disclaimed any political agenda, as Jim Oestreich noted in the Times, I couldn't help pondering the juxtaposition, and wondering whether the really pointless, absurd, demented behavior was happening in the foreground or in the background.
At 5PM I went to Central Park Lake for Alvin Curran's Maritime Rites, with members of the West Point Band and the Montclair State University Symphonic Band performing from rowboats. Here's my video of a portion of the piece, with a notable tuba solo by one of the West Point players (begins at 1:38, as the gondola surreally glides by):
I then headed down to Times Square to check out a choral event under the direction of Kent Tritle, with a volunteer chorus assembled via Internet invitation. I took shaky video of the rehearsal of Philip Glass's The New Rule (my camera conked out in the middle). Steve Smith was there for the Times; John Schaefer represented Soundcheck.
After recharging my batteries and rehydrating — the temperature was in the mid- and upper nineties — I headed back to Wall Street for the end of Vexations. It got rather eerie in the final hour, but a handful of devotees stuck with the performers to the end. (There was, alas, no Karl Schenzer who sat through the entire thing.) With Satie as the soundtrack of the night, the movements of scattered pedestrians took on an air of ineffable sadness, as if downtown Manhattan were the set of a particularly slow-moving indie film.
Here, Amy Garapic, the organizer of the marathon, plays the 840th, and last, iteration, at a glacial tempo that took us to the border of unreality:
On most nights, it would be both impractical and inappropriate for a critic to shake hands with each of the performers afterward, but I made an exception in this case. Congrats to the Vexations team — Amy, Matt, Carson Moody, Sean Statser, Ayano Kataoka, Mike Truesdell, and, as chief counter, Rebecca Lentjes — for pulling off a remarkable feat.
"I saw you guys setting up this morning," a very tired-looking man with a briefcase said, just as it ended. He, too, had been at work for eighteen hours. Vexations, indeed.