Week Six Reading | A Brief History of Interactive Music

This weeks reading was chapter one: A Brief History of Interactive Music from William Duckworth’s“Virtual music: How the Web got Wired for Sound.”  The chapter starts with the origin of interactive music and states that it:

“Did not begin with the internet”

and that

“Even Mozart got involved, writing snippets of music, but allowing others to throw dice to determine which measures they would go in.”

Once you leave the West you find

“[…]There are entire cultures that actively seek to involve the whole community in music making such as the Gamelan traditions of Java and Bali or some of the African drumming traditions.”

The chapter looks in moderate detail at the work of Erik Satie and John Cage

ERIK SATIE (1866-1925)

 Erik Satie

Talking about concert music and the fact that it

“[…]Required not only your full attention, but also your complete cooperation[…]with the applause that was expected and accepted in pre-approved points in the program”

Satie was one of the first musicians

“Who seriously questioned this arrangement”

I believe that due to his questioning of the arrangement of the pre-approved applause, this led him to be

“One of the first composers to play with, as opposed to,  his audience”

I think this quote is quite important as it sets the tone for his work and later performances. An interesting idea that you play with your audience as opposed to it, suggest that the audience has a part to play and that each performance will be different as the audience will be. For example you may have one performance where the audience is mainly over 45 and another where it is mainly men. Both these situations will have different impacts on the performance.

“Satie was not only friends with Debussy but also a friend and collaborator of Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. Cocteau, a leading French literary light and man of the arts, was the central figure around who the younger French composers […] had begun to congregate. From this would emerge Les Six as they were dubbed by the press, a group of composers with Satie as their father figure […] creating “a French music for France””

Satie, Picasso and Cocteau set the standard in 1917 by writing Parade. During its premier it created

“Fights in the gallery and a riot on the street all its own”

“Satie not only welcomed boredom in his music, he made an art out of using it.”

He composed Vexations in 1892

This is a short piece which Satie instructed the performer to play 840 times. One cycle lasting approximately 80 seconds, the full piece can last several hours.

“John Cage gave the first complete performance of Vexations in New York in 1963, he used a team of ten pianists working in shifts, and the performance lasted eighteen hours and forty minutes. The New York Times entered into the sprit of the performance by sending in a relay of reporters to review in two-hour segments”

I’ve listened to one repetition of the piece and don’t know how long I could sit in a concert listening to it. An expert on Satie – Stephen Whittington whose an Australian pianist says that:

“The act pf performing or listening to a complete performance of Vexations cannot be compared to any other musical experience”


In Satie’s own words furniture music is

“[…]Music that would be a part of the surrounding nosies and would take them into account.[…]masking the clutter of knives and forks without drowning them out completely[…]it would fill up the awkward silences that occasionally descend on guests.[…]it would neutralize the street nosies that indiscreetly force themselves into the picture.”

 Satie then created a piece of furniture music and it didn’t go quite as expected

“The audience, once they heard the music begin, sat back down, refused to leave, and listened in silence throughout both intermissions, forcing Satie to rush about encouraging everyone to “Talk, keep on talking. And move around. Whatever you do don’t listen!”

I really like the image of a frantic Satie running around an auditorium shouting “don’t listen!” I feel it’s just something you wouldn’t find today, as if you are going to a furniture music concert you’d be aware of the etiquette of such a performance.

JOHN CAGE (1912-1992)


“Cage[…]came to believe that his proper role as an artist was to seek out new ways in which to create, experiment with, and experience sound”

His father was an inventor and believed

“If he had anything to offer music, it would be, like his father in the area of invention.”

“Cage[…]lived[…]to make artistic use of such technological innovations as the radio, first employed by him in Credo in US in 1942; magnetic recording tape,[…] in Imaginary Landscape No.5 and Williams Mix both in 1952 [and] television as an instrument, in Sound of Venice” [my emphasis]

Cage used these technologies for the purposes of art by finding new sound and musical environments where the sounds could independently coexist, and therefore placing his audiences into new situations where they would experience these sounds differently.

“In 1938 […] he invented the prepared piano, which is a regular piano into which Cage stuck foreign objects – such as wood, metal and felt – between the strings, and from which came the sounds of a percussion orchestra, most notably in the Sonatas and Interludes of 1946-48″

Here is Sonata X – Played by the German Pianist Tim Ovens

It’s a very soft gentle piece which is lovely and then interrupted by a cluck noise, it certainly is unpredictable and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Here is Sonata V

This is a bit more up beat and incorporates the “Foreign” objects more, or at least I feel it does.

A year earlier in Seattle 1937, he said

“he believed the use of noise to make music would “continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard””

This was in 1937! long long before magnetic recording tape was available. At the time there was the debate of what was consonant and what was dissonant and Cage thought that this would to change to what

“was noise and what were so-called musical sounds”


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