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LABELS: Dog W/A Bone
WORKS: The Entire Musical Work: Erratum musical; Sculpture musicale,
PERFORMER: John Cage (voice), Jean Crossman, Lois Winter (soprano), William Lyon Lee (tenor); SEM Ensemble/Petr Kotik


If, as Ruskin claimed, the artist James McNeill Whistler flung a pot of paint in the public’s face, then what can be said of Marcel Duchamp, who exhibited a signed porcelain urinal in a gallery? Duchamp, whose ready-made art objects are among the progenitors of conceptual art by Hirst and others, was also an experimenter in (un)organised sound.

The pertinent figure presaged here is John Cage, and it’s therefore appropriate that Cage performs in the ‘happening’ of Sculpture musicale, one of the three works forming Duchamp’s musical oeuvre, which dates from 1912 to 1915. Recorded in 1987, and now released in digital remasterings, these pieces are subject to realisations by Petr Kotik, director of the SEM Ensemble. Interested only in manipulations of pitch, Duchamp left rhythmic decisions to his interpreters. In La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même. Erratum musical, Kotik’s realisation of Duchamp’s vision includes re-creations both of an ‘apparatus automatically recording fragmented musical periods’ (a funnel, several open-top cars, and numbered balls) and of the incomplete text of the composition for a mechanical instrument.

Written for domestic use, the three-voice Erratum musical needs only a set of cards for performance. A cheap option for publishers, perhaps?


Nicholas Williams