Yves Klein Monotone Symphony (Religion, Art, Music) (Sonic Nihilation)

yves klein

Yves Klein, famous for his monotone blue paintings composed and conducted a Monotone Symphony. Composed in the 1960s around same time as John Cage’s 4″3, it was recently reprised in New York. A pure D chord by instruments and voice is played out for twenty minutes without break or modulation; and then twenty minutes of silence. The sound is supposed to be “intense and continuous.” Like revelation, like a scream, of a “primordial universe chorus.”

I always follow the way concepts and figures of speech drawn from religion and mysticism are brought to bear, in this case by the NYT music critic, to evoke or conjure a work of art, its mood and its meaning. Reading the Art pages in the New York Times at the start of the new season, it would seem that religiosity has inundated the contemporary art scene. Is it just laziness or is there really no way out of religion when writing about certain kinds of expression?

“You can’t really do a full rehearsal of something like this,” said Roland Dahinden, a Swiss composer and performer who has conducted the piece four times in Europe and will take the baton (and stopwatch) in New York. “It’s too hard. Everyone would just die.”

Of four performances held in a Paris church during a Klein exhibition at the Pompidou Center in 2007, he said he felt that only one was wholly successful. But it worked so well, he added, that a lovely kind of St. Francis moment occurred.

“The door of the church was open, and a pigeon came in and sat where everyone could see him,” he said. “During the 20-minute silence, he did not move at all. It was kind of incredible. And then when the silence was over, he left.”

Here’s some historical footage from 1962 on Youtube. There’s the artist directing, and naked models coated in blue paint in order to mark up sheets of paper as part of the performance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkHoWUwxEFM.  Here is one of the models many years later talking about their participation in the project, also with historical footage. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj9nHa7FtQQ. This sound in this clip is more contemporary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

Of course, it doesn’t record well. But even if you’re there, it must be hit or miss, and I can’t imagine it’s very comfortable to listen to, what with the promise of sonic death and annihilation. I like the portentous theatrics.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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