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Christian Marclay: Festival

July 1–Sept 26, 2010

For nearly thirty years, Christian Marclay has explored the distinctive fusion of image and sound through collage, performance, installation, photography, sculpture, and video. Although renowned as a pioneer of turntablism (the use of records and turntables as musical instruments) and sometimes referred to as a musician or composer, Marclay notes: “I make music the way a visual artist would. Sound and image are very closely intertwined in my work.” Since the late 1990s, Marclay has made a number of “graphic” scores, which defy the conventions of traditional music composition. Intended to elicit a musical response from performers, these works are created from videos, photographs, found images, and readymade objects culled from our everyday surroundings. Some of the scores on view here include: Ephemera (2009), a collection of printed matter such as restaurant bills, flyers, book covers, and throwaway packaging decorated with musical notations; Graffiti Composition (1996–2002), a portfolio of images documenting the public’s response to blank sheet music pasted around

the streets of Berlin; and Manga Scroll (2010), a new lithograph based on onomatopoetic words found in comic books. During this exhibition, Marclay’s scores will be performed by approximately fifty celebrated musicians, some of whom have collaborated regularly with the artist during the course of the past three decades. These artists will appear in daily performances and in open rehearsals. Marclay’s scores are open to a multitude of interpretations; a single score inevitably yields radically different performances. The scores, instruments, and performance objects are displayed along with video documentation and recordings of past performances. By revealing what prompts the musician—whether the video projection Screen Play (2005) or the marks created by the public in Graffiti Composition—Marclay challenges his audience to play a more active role, altering the traditional dynamic among composer, performer, and listener. The artist’s newest piece Chalkboard (2010), created by visitors marking a chalkboard wall printed with staff lines in the gallery, will be periodically interpreted by musicians during the exhibition. We hope you will join us for multiple performances of these scores; each one will be completely different. Marclay’s unconventional approach to music ensures you will never hear the same thing twice.

Through the Looking Glass, 1985

Ten photocopied pages. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Reversing the usual order in which music is created and distributed, Marclay recorded a mix of brass instruments found on vinyl and then had the resulting composition transcribed in traditional notation by musician Bob James. The resulting score was then given to a brass ensemble—Steven Bernstein, Vincent Chancey, Frank London, and Jim Staley—to perform. It premiered at Roulette, a contemporary music venue in New York. Twenty-five years later, Steven, Vincent and Frank will perform the score at the Whitney with Dave Taylor on trombone.  A new interpretation by TILT Brass, lead by Chris McIntyre, will also be performed during the festival.

Graffiti Composition, 1996–2002

Portfolio of 150 prints from digital files, 13 × 8 7/16 in. each. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol 2006.51.1

In 1996, five thousand posters were printed with staff lines and posted throughout Berlin during a month-long summer music festival. Some people tore or scribbled graffiti on the posters, while others pasted flyers over the posters; many left musical notations. The altered posters were then photographed, resulting in a final score consisting of a portfolio of 150 unbound images. Musicians are free to select any number of them and use them in performances or as inspiration for writing their own music.

Mixed Reviews, 1999–2010

Vinyl letters on wall, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist;
courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

In 1999, Marclay sampled the descriptive, and often colorful, language music reviewers use to describe concerts and recordings, and assembled the fragments as a long, continuous line of text on the wall. Each new presentation of the text is translated into the local language from the previous version. In this process of serial translation, some words and meanings inevitably change and mutate. The text in this exhibition has
been translated from the Swedish text used for its 2002 installation at the Konstmuseum in Ystaad (previous translations include French and Japanese). While it has been interpreted before, this work is less a score than a silent sound piece. At the Whitney, it will be performed by a group of poets directed by Lawrence “Butch” Morris. The only fixed record of this evolving text is a video (on view in the exhibition) showing a deaf actor’s interpretation in American Sign Language.

The Bell and the Glass, 2003

Two synchronized video projection loops, color and black-and-white,
sound; 22 minutes. Collection of Pamela and Richard Kramlich

This work, Marclay’s first endeavor to guide musicians through the use of video, was inspired by two of Philadelphia’s most famous icons, the Liberty Bell and Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23). Aside from being cracked and situated in Philadelphia, Marclay found other surprising and often humorous affinities between them. The double video projection juxtaposes the Liberty Bell and The Large Glass with found film footage, such as Duchamp discussing the cracks in his work and clips from Hollywood movies, and new footage shot by Marclay in Philadelphia. A minimum of two musicians are prompted to respond freely to the two screens, but they must come together in unison to accompany Duchamp’s voice.

Screen Play, 2005

Single-channel video projection, black-and-white with color, silent; 29 minutes. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

This projected musical score is made from carefully edited black-and-white images overlaid with brightly colored computer-animated graphics reminiscent of the dots and lines of traditional music notation. These visual cues suggest emotion, energy, rhythm, pitch, volume, and duration to the musicians. Although no instrumentation is specified, the score is meant for a small ensemble.

This project was made possible with support from Eyebeam's Moving Image Commission

Shuffle, 2007

Deck of seventy-five offset printed cards with box, cards 6 3/4 × 4 3/4 in. each. Frances Mulhall Achilles Library, Archives, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of David Kiehl, 2007

These photographs of musical notations found in mundane settings, such as shop awnings, chocolate tins, and T-shirts are evidence of Marclay’s keen eye for musical notes waiting to be discovered and played. The box contains these instructions from the artist: “This deck of cards can be used as a musical score. Shuffle the deck and draw your cards. Create a sequence using as many or as few of the cards as you wish. Play alone or with others. Invent your own rules. Sounds may be generated or simply imagined.”

Zoom Zoom, 2007–09

Digital slide projection, color, silent; duration variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

This work is a slideshow created from Marclay’s photographs of onomatopoeias found primarily on signs, advertising, and product packaging. During a performance with vocalist Shelley Hirsch, for whom this piece was created, Marclay selects images to trigger her vocal improvisation and presents her with new images in an ongoing call and response.

Covers, 2007–10

Thirty twelve-inch found record covers, 12 1/4 × 12 1/4 in. each. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Thirty empty record sleeves are sequenced and interpreted by a soloist as a series of short sound events. The sleeves may also be interpreted by a group of musicians, each of whom selects different sequences and responds to them in an unsynchronized way, so the sounds may overlap. Inspiration is drawn from the image on the cover, however any musical notations are performed as literally as possible. The memory of the original content may color the interpretation, but it does not dictate it.

Box Set, 2008–10

Commercially printed tin, plastic, wood, and cardboard boxes, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

This selection of found boxes adorned with decorative musical notations is to be played as literally as possible by a solo musician. The boxes are placed one inside the other, like Russian nesting dolls. There are several possible sequences of boxes, and the performer may organize the boxes freely, although the order in which the boxes are played is determined by their size. Opening and closing the boxes is part of the performance.

Ephemera, 2009

Portfolio of twenty-eight offset printed lithographs with slipcase, folios 15 3/4 × 23 3/4 in. each. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Print Committee T.2010.386

Fragments of Marclay’s eclectic collection of newspaper advertisements, magazine illustrations, restaurant menus, candy wrappers, and other disposable printed matter decorated with musical notations were photographed and reproduced as twenty-eight unbound prints. These images constitute a score that can be organized and interpreted using one or more instruments.

Sixty-four Bells and a Bow, 2009

Sixty-four glass, porcelain, and metal hand bells, and a violin bow,
dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Small hand bells, such as dinner bells, decorative bells, and souvenir bells are used as sound sources. Musicians can ring, amplify, or electronically sample and process the bells. The metal ones can also be vibrated with the bow. The only stipulation is that all sounds must originate from the bells.

Manga Scroll, 2010

Lithograph, 16 × 720 in. Collection of Graphicstudio/University of South Florida, Tampa

This vocal score consists of onomatopoeias found in serialized Manga comics originally published in Japan but translated for the U.S. market. These black-and-white newsprint comics have been cut and collaged into a sixty-foot-long handscroll. This type of scroll, which was invented in the eleventh century, is considered the antecedent of the contemporary Japanese graphic novel. Having been stripped of their dramatic context, the sound effects are strung together into one long composition meant for interpretation by voice.

Pret-à-Porter, 2010

Found garments and accessories, a bottle of single-malt whiskey, and glasses, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Marclay has collected clothing decorated with musical notations. These dresses, shirts, socks, scarves, hats, and so on, made from a variety of fabrics, are worn by two models who act as music stands, while musicians read and improvise the music originally meant solely as ornamentation. The clothing is worn and layered and changed as often as necessary, and dressing and undressing is part of the performance. A bottle of single-malt whiskey is available to both models and musicians.

Chalkboard, 2010

Paint and chalk. Collection of the artist, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

For his most recent score, Marclay has turned a wall of the Whitney’s fourth-floor galleries into a gigantic chalkboard delineated with musical staff lines. Museum visitors are encouraged to participate by marking or erasing the chalkboard. Intermittently during the exhibition, musicians will interpret this vast collage of ephemeral notations.