We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation I, Variation II, Variation III, and Variation IV for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!
Well, this small series of Video Watch on Drinking and Hooting Machine has brought up a number of issues about performing indeterminate music. One of the most interesting points made about the UCLA performance was Paul Epstein’s comment on our Facebook page: ‘Frankly, I don’t regard the piece as all that experimental; the instructions seem fairly precise and the concept elegant’. I agree that the piece is precise and elegant. The piece is experimental/systemic, or experimental/minimal, though. It comes from a time when minimalism was a type of experimental music (think In C, Pendulum Music, and so forth). Drinking and Hooting uses compositional indeterminacy or chance, like Cage’s Music of Changes. Unlike Music of Changes, however, Drinking and Hooting also employs performance indeterminacy. We can compare this to Cornelius Cardew’s graphic piece, Treatise, which was very carefully structured and organised syntactically, but played freely. The ‘good’ performances — the ones that I return to and think about — are the ones in which the performers exercise thought and care as to what to do with it. Whether they interpret it syntactically or not is not the issue — Cardew didn’t provide instructions — what matters is that the performers treat it sensitively and creatively.
Paul Epstein obviously takes care about what kinds of bottles he can use in an observant performance of Drinking and Hooting. And given his care and attention, I would like to step back (but not completely back) from my tentative approval —actually an understanding — of any performance using only the two sections of the piece that exist in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Certainly we can say that such a performance is an arrangement of Drinking and Hooting, or a paraphrase or exercise on it. A partial performance is less artistic, though, and probably more educative, analytical, and pedagogical. One of the first mature performances of a graphic piece in which I took part was also an ‘arrangement’: an ensemble reading of Earle Brown’s Four Systems (1954). Four Systems does not specify its instrumentation, but Brown limits it implicitly, first, by dedicating it to David Tudor on his birthday (which begs the question of whether a ‘good’ version could only be played by Tudor, perhaps only on his birthday); second, by explaining that the boundaries of the graphics indicate the limits of the keyboard. But our group at Barney Childs’ New Music Ensemble at the University of Redlands in 1974 — consisting of first-time members — learned so much about playing suggestive indeterminacy (which has limits of pitch and time) that I have used this piece as an introduction to the interpretation of indeterminate music ever since.
And since the last variation, I received an email from the director of the UCLA Contempo Flux group, the pianist Gloria Cheng, informing me about their performance. First, she took care to find the official version of Drinking and Hooting Machine, which meant getting the Scratch Anthology of Compositions through interlibrary loan from Australia. She knew of the student version in Brian Dennis’s Projects in Sound, which would have been shorter, but is also a viable version, but she took that extra step to ensure a good performance. Water bottles were supplied by the concert committee. The Contempo Flux performers rehearsed, then were placed throughout the hall to provide examples for the rest of the audience. One of the students explained the method to the audience, and the piece provided the end to the concert — a happy one, from the video evidence. Now, you can’t fault that preparation, which resulted in our favourite online version of Drinking and Hooting thus far.
But this is the final entry for this Video Watch piece at present. After looking at the variations in performances, we now reveal the theme: the score itself. John White has graciously allowed the EMC to make Drinking and Hooting, in a facsimile of the official Scratch Anthology version, available for download. You can access this piece on the EMC Freebies page. On this page you will also find pieces that Michael Parsons and Chris Hobbs have equally generously allowed us to offer. Just click here: http://www.experimentalmusic.co.uk/emc/Freebies.html . We’d like to pass on the information and any good words you might have for these composers if you do download any pieces, so please get in touch. And whatever you do, keep drinking and hooting!