"Celebrating a Life"

On Tuesday evening, September 17, 1996, a memorial celebration was held for pianist and composer David Tudor at the Judson Memorial Church across from Washington Square Park in New York's Greenwich Village. While the memorial itself had been scheduled for 8:00, the celebration was already underway informally at least two hours prior. On entering the main hall through the back of the sanctuary, two or three photos of Tudor were posted to the immediate right, along with a newspaper obituary and a schematic for "Ocean," one of his recent electronic works. Across a long table, six video monitors ran tapes that highlighted the preparations for "Ocean" for one of its 1994 performances; headsets were provided for those who wanted to focus in on the action shown on any particular monitor. A few feet away, a web-connected computer displayed a reproduction of Tudor's own handwritten cookbook. Though deciphering the handwriting was itself a challenge, one could still browse its pages and pick up Tudor's personal tips on Buttermilk, Pineapple Chutney, Egg Curry, Coucous and Beans and a number of other exotic dishes. (Entitled "A David Tudor Cookbook," this document may be accessed through: http://lo-cal.music.wesleyan.edu/~matt/device.html). Against the wall opposite the sanctuary entrance, two or three people worked in a small kitchen area, juicing fresh limes and stocking the refrigerator with ice, preparing for the chips-salsa-and-margarita reception that was to follow the memorial ceremonies. To the right of the speaker's podium at the front of the sanctuary hung a mobile sculpture by Jackie Matisse Monnier made of a sheer aluminum-looking metal and entitled "Kite Tail."

Tudor's sound installation "Rainforest IV" was on display in the sanctuary itself. In the four corners of the room, technician-performers manipulated electronic equipment, sending impulses through approximately 18 transducers, each attached to one of the found objects that were suspended from the ceiling and circled the sanctuary, thereby setting each into audible vibration. The objects in this particular installation included a rusted metal jug and two sawed-off wooden organ pipes; other objects were less identifiable. The most popular object seemed to be an overturned metal barrel, and more than one adventurous soul actually stood within the barrel itself, effectively covering the whole top halves of their bodies to enjoy the vibrations in surround-sound. Some of the sanctuary windows were open, and several commented on the sounds that they had heard spilling out onto the streets as they approached the church.

Over the course of the next two hours, the sound of Tudor's installation evolved in a continuous forte as the audience arrived. Ultimately, attendees included Robert Ashley, Earle Brown, Allison Knowles, Jasper Johns, Rafael Mostel, David Behrman, John D.S. Adams, Christian Wolff, M.C. Richards, Petr Kotik, LaMonte Young, Marianne Zazeela and Richard Kostelanetz. The audience also included Cunningham Company dancers past and present, such as founding members Viola Farber and Carolyn Brown, as well as more recent members of the troupe, such as Kimberly Bartosik, Michael Cole, Douglas Dunn, Jean Freebury, Lise Friedman, Alan Good, Meg Harper, Catherine Kerr, David Kulick, Valda Setterfield, Jeannie Steele, Robert Swinston and Carol Teitelbaum. The crowd finally comprised around 250 people, and it did not take long before all seats were taken, latecomers sitting on the staircase or standing in the back.

The memorial itself began around 8:10 and opened with three tangos (one of Tudor's favorite genres) performed by a trio calling themselves the "New York-Buenos Aires Connection." It had rained in New York all that day--and all the day before and much of the morning after--but the weather poetically reserved its thunder and lightning exclusively for the opening thirty minutes of the memorial, and the audience enjoyed several collective grins at the well-timed booms that accompanied the music. The brief tempest seemed appropriate, reminiscent of Tudor's 1952 premiere of John Cage's 4'33" in Woodstock, a performance which itself had been marked by the sounds of an oncoming storm. Later, one of the speakers, Bill Viola, offered another interpretation, suggesting that these opening peals were Tudor's own contribution to the memorial as he fiddled with the knobs of some celestial circuitry.

Merce Cunningham was the first of seven speakers, and most of his comments were limited to anecdotes found in Cage's publications. He spoke of the Black Mountain College summer of 1953, when the Cunningham Company was formed, recalling in particular Tudor's performances of "Banjo" and "Dime a Dance." He also alluded to Tudor's characteristic reticence, retelling an anecdote in which Tudor sat apart at a party, explaining to those who questioned his anti-social demeanor, "That's how I keep you entertained." Cunningham concluded by noting that although Tudor was private to the point of being secretive in his life, "As a musician there is no secret; he is a great one."

Writer, poet and artist M.C. Richards spoke next, recalling her first meeting with Tudor in the summer of 1951, when he had served as accompanist for dancer and choreographer Katherine Litz at Black Mountain College. She spoke of the integrity with which he approached any work, and recounted one of his concerts of student pieces at Black Mountain, his performance unmarred by the slightest trace of irony as he played works by utter beginners. Richards also explained how she came to translate Artaud's "The Theater and its Double," a work which was ultimately quite influential to Cage's evolving conception of music as theater. Tudor had first come across this text while learning Boulez's Second Piano Sonata, telling Richards that while the sonata was difficult, he was actually "not having problems with the notes, but with the music." He therefore read Artaud and Mallarme, since these were the works that had occupied Boulez at the time the piece was composed. Richards subsequently learned of Artaud through Tudor--first through his copy of Jean-Louis Barrault's "Reflections on the Theater" (one chapter of which extols Artaud), and then through his own typewritten copy of "The Theater and its Double" in the original French. Richards finished her remembrances with an original poem.

Christian Wolff was the third speaker, and his remarks consisted largely of lighthearted anecdotes. He praised Tudor's extraordinary pianism, and stated that in the 1950s, the New York School's piano music had been written more for Tudor himself than it had been for the piano. He spoke of Tudor's performance pedagogy, telling of one incident in Darmstadt when students performed Cage's "Cartridge Music." Theodor Adorno was sitting in, who after the performance stood up and gave an unsolicited twenty-minute impromptu lecture on the aesthetic relevance of what the group had just done. When Adorno finally finished, Tudor simply replied, "You haven't understood a thing." Wolff also recalled Tudor's infamous two-minute realization of Stockhausen's typically epic "Klavierstuecke XI" (a performance annoying Stockhausen to no end), as well as his "heroic" return performance of Cage's "Winter Music" at Carnegie Hall only a few years ago.

Billy Kluever and Julie Martin, both scientists with Bell Labs, then spoke about Tudor's work in the field of electronic music. He was, they said, a true collaborator throughout his life--working first with scores, performance spaces and composers, and later with engineers and scientists. Their reminiscences of their own work with Tudor were highlighted by anecdotes about an abortive attempt to create a sound installation on an isolated island off the Swedish coast.

David Behrman spoke next. He had first heard Tudor perform on Dec. 15, 1957 at Harvard, he accurately recalled, a performance Behrman and fellow student Frederick Rzewski had personally petitioned from Tudor. (Tudor not only accepted but brought Cage, Earle Brown and Morton Feldman along with him.) Behrman offered several anecdotes about Tudor's European performances in the 1950s, as well as some from Stony Point in the late 60s, when Behrman moved into this community. He particularly admired Tudor's eclectic musical talents, noting how extraordinary it was that in the mid-60s Tudor abandoned his life as an accomplished pianist and "jumped directly to the essence of the new media" of electronic music.

Bill Viola was the final speaker, representing Composers Inside Electronics, the group that had worked with Tudor since 1973. He spoke briefly about the "Rainforest IV" exhibit, noting that it was its 27th installation and over its 100th performance. He also shared memories of Tudor's pedagogy and finished with two poems, the last by Li Po.

A final set of two tangos concluded the memorial, performed by The Tango Project. At the conclusion of these pieces, "Rainforest IV," the "Ocean" videos and the Cookbook installation were turned back on, and refreshments were served.

Tudor's works and possessions are still being inventoried and archived--a massive undertaking. As the memorial program stated: "The process of completing an inventory and arranging for eventual deposit in an appropriate institution is ongoing. The principal goal is to assure that David's electronic scores and his custom-built and homemade components remain accessible to other musicians." Contributions to these efforts may be made to: The David Tudor Archive Project, Performing Artservices, Inc., 260 West Broadway, NY, NY 10013 (Information: 212-941-8911).


David Patterson is a musicologist in New York City specializing in the works of John Cage and the New York School.

Originally in Musicworks, no. 67 (Jan. 1997), pp. 57-58. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.

back-up to '1926-1996'



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