Fluxus on Record

All through my avant-garde-obsessed youth I heard about the notorious Nam June Paik, but there were no recordings of his music, and, given its conceptual nature, there didn’t seem likely to be any: one of his most famous performances was to leap into the audience with a pair of scissors and cut off John Cage’s tie; another (never confirmed) was that he interrupted playing a Beethoven sonata to moon the audience; and one published score consisted of the words: “Creep into the vagina of a living whale.” However, in the early 1980s I finally ran across a record on Block Gramavision, from Germany’s prestigious René Block Gallery, titled “Klavierduett: In memoriam George Maciunas,” by Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys. It’s a three-side (the fourth record side is blank) performance that these two Fluxus artists gave to comemmorate the death of George Maciunas, Fluxus’ chief ringleader. In this crazy but strangely attractive recording, the two improvise on pianos, hit things, make mysterious noises, and mingle Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Chopin’s march from the Funeral Sonata. They decided in advance to play for 74 minutes (since Maciunas died at 47 – typical Fluxus logic), and at 74 minutes an alarm clock rings, ending the performance.

This recording, which is still obtainable on vinyl in Germany but has never made it to CD, can now be heard every 17 hours, starting this evening, on Postclassic Radio. I’ve been putting up some long pieces on the station, and this is the longest yet. That’s one of the problems in presenting new music (for example, trying to publish a book about it with an accompanying CD) – many of postclassical music’s most important strategies and innovations are length-dependent, and if you restrict yourself to pieces under, say, 15 minutes, you just can’t give a representative picture of what’s going on today. I hope listeners aren’t disappointed when a piece they don’t care for runs on forever, but I just can’t fulfill the station’s mission without adding some major works in their entirety. I’ve even been toying with the idea of uploading the five-hour 1981 recording of La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano someday, or Feldman’s six-hour String Quartet II. But to kick off Postclassic Radio‘s second month, this rare Fluxus audio document of Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik is sufficiently momentous.