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Friday, June 2, 2017

Erik Satie/Alan Marks - "Vexations" CD Album, 1990 (Decca)


This piece of music by Erik Satie is one of keen interest.  To quote the liner note:  "It consists of a single page of music, only three lines long, and its full duration is calculated to be a whole day and night."   This, of course, is a masterpiece.  Satie wrote "Vexations" in 1893, yet it took John Cage to give the music its world premiere in 1963.  Cage did an 18-hour performance of the piece using various pianists throughout the day and night.   Which in theory, the piece should last for 24-hours, but alas economics and intensity of the promoters of such a work would be a great challenge.  "Vexations" is made for the CD format.  A regular 12" vinyl usually lasts for 40 minutes, but a CD can last for 80 minutes, and you don't have to change sides, like what you have to do with vinyl.  Still, to be true to Satie's vision, it would take 21 CDs to complete the official work.  Us Avant-Garde fans are waiting for the boxset.  

The late pianist Alan Marks did a 70-minute version, and as far as I know, this 1990 release is the first recording that lasts that long.  There was a vinyl edition made by another artist, and recently there is a recent CD by Stephane Ginsburgh which is one hour and nine minues long.  Nevertheless, all the versions I have heard (Ginsburgh and Marks) are exquisite.  

Whatever Satie meant this piece to be a joke or a serious statement on an aesthetic and the philosophy, we may never know.  The truth is this piece of music is one of the great ambient works on disc/CD.  I play Marks/Vexations to stamp out the world outside my head.  It's a perfect time length to focus on either the music or if you are doing some writing or creative work.  I can imagine just playing the music while you're mopping the floor would be OK as well.  Yet, the piece due to its length is a very demanding work.  For the musician, it must be either a sense of hell or enlightenment. For the listener, it is music that draws you into its world.  There are pieces like "Discreet Music" by Eno that is furniture or wallpaper music, but there is something more demanding in "Vexations."  Perhaps the live aspect that the work lasts so long with a living musician actually following the instructions of the pace, which is slow, or just how one can take so much repetition in a work of aural art.   For me, it's music that makes me both focus on the music lines, but also clears my head to focus on my writing.  It's crucial work.   Joke or art, or both, Satie's "Vexations" is one of the great wonders on this planet.