Sunday, February 20, 2011


I write to you while listening to a performance of Vexations, a piece by the avante-garde French composer Eric Satie. Known for his music jokes and disdain for the "established" musical ways of doing things, scholars are unsure if Vexations was ever actually meant to be performed. The piece was not published during his lifetime, but was found by the American composer John Cage among Satie's papers.

Set outside tonal harmony, the theme is based largely on repeating various tritones. The music consists of a theme, variation 1, and variation 2 which are to be repeated 840 times; a feat which generally takes over 12 hours to perform. The piece never having been published and the fact that it takes so long to perform has led some to wonder if Satie wrote the piece as a joke.

No instrumentation is given and, given the length, it is common for performers to switch off. There is a slight pause at the end of the theme and the end of each variation, which makes the switch possible.  I have heard a flute choir, string quartet, and a vibe arrangement today.

I performed my half hour slot with another clarinetist and a guitar. Performing the piece was trance like, a kind of outer body experience, and the half hour slot flew by. Looking back now, it might have been nice to have a longer time period to perform.

Over time the melody starts to become oddly familiar. I can hear if a performer makes a wrong note even though the theme is so difficult to listen to on its own.  It is an entirely different musical experience from what I normally perform or listen to.

Of course, I brought my knitting. It seemed like the perfect activity to do while listening to the repetitive nature of the piece. After I finish this post I will pick up my sock knitting. I'm using the vintage dark blue yarn that I wrote about a few posts ago to make a river inspired pattern. Oh, I finished a pair of socks! It's my first finished pair in quite some time. Don't they look like mermaid scales? Lurvly.

They are Pomatomus by Cookie A. She is a genius, in case you didn't know that already.

These were the first pair that I knit on my new size 2 Lantern Moon sock needles. I'm really enjoying working with those needles. They feel like butter. Sometimes I worry they are going to melt while I'm using them.

Knitting to music is one of my favorite things. I particularly enjoy listening to the soundtrack to Lost in Translation for some reason. Luckily for me my homework often consists of listening to music, so I can knit while doing homework!

If you have the opportunity to hear a performance of Vexations you should go! It's so different, and performances don't happen too often. If you go, make sure to smile a little, knowing that Satie probably meant for at least part of it to be silly.

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