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frederic rzewski Plan for Spacecraft

Frederic Rzewski was born April 13, 1938, son of Emma Buyniski and Anthony Rzewski, Form for a music that has no form. We begin with a group of performers
Polish emigre, in Westfield, Massachusetts. He grew up in Westfield where his father and an idea. The idea concerns two kinds of space: occupied and created
worked as a pharmacist. He attended Harvard University from 1954 to 1958 and Prince
space. Each performer occupies a part of the space, which can be a the-
ton University from 1958 to 1960; further education included music study, piano, com-
position, and friendship with Christian Wolff, David Behrman, John Cage, and David ater, concert hall, radio station, or whatever. This space is corporeal and
Tudor. He spent 196062 as a Fulbright fellow in Italy and gained a reputation as an has limits defined by the performers own body. His materials are: the
avant-garde pianist. He met Alvin Lucier during this time. In 1963 he married Nicole space around him, the objects within it, and his own body. His medium
Abbeloos, a Belgian student and a socialist; twins, Alexis and Nicolas, were born; Nico- is the vibrating atmosphere. By means of concentrated energy, he excites
las died after six weeks. He returned to America during the summer of 1963, perform-
the air, creating a situation in which lines of force are set up between him
ing concerts in New York with Charlotte Moorman in the first New York Avant-Garde
self and other persons. These alternating rhythms produce a sense of lib-
Festival. He resided in Berlin from 196365 as a Ford Foundation composer grantee.
His third child, Ico, was born there in 1964. He concertized throughout Europe dur- eration in those whose ears they greet.
ing this time and composed four works which included Requiem, Composition for Two
(1964), Zoologischer Garten (1965), and Nature Morte (1965). In the spring of 1966 Each performer considers his own situation as a sort of labyrinth. Each
he spent six weeks in Buffalo, New York, at the Center for the Creative and Perform- begins by making music in the way in which he knows how, with his own
ing Arts. Returning to Rome, he formed the Musica Elettronica Viva group along with
rhythms, his own choice of materials, et cetera, without particular regard
composers Allan Bryant, Alvin Curran, and Jon Phetteplace. Since that time the group
has performed frequently in Rome and on tours to northern Europe. His Requiem I,
for the others, or for setting up some kind of simple ensemble situation.
Impersonation, Projector-Piece, Selfportrait, and Portrait have all been premiered by This primitive ensemble, however, is superficial and has nothing to do
the MEV. Since the summer of 1967 he has worked primarily in group improvisation, with the fundamental unit that is the final goal of the improvisation. He
spending the fall and winter touring with MEV and performing his collective music, begins by making music in an already familiar way; he does not transcend
Spacecraft (forty-four performances to date). himself and does not consider that he is creating anything or doing any-
thing that he has not done already at one time or another. He sees him-
self as imprisoned in a labyrinth with many corridors; at the center of this
labyrinth he imagines something like a movie screen with a loudspeaker;
images flash across the screen and sounds emanate from the speaker,
both without interruption. These images and sounds are incomprehen-
sible orders snapped at him by an unknown master whom he feels com-

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pelled to obey. They are archaic runes and magic symbols whose meaning become more superficial. It is difficult to make music. If the magic takes
is unknownall he knows is that action is required of him. The only over and the music happens, the entire space and everything in it will be
action he knows is that of moving from one place to another within the transformed; the audience, too, will be drawn into the music and even-
labyrinth: left, right, forwards, and backwards, all the time with the more tually contribute to it, either by producing sound or by remaining silent.
or less vague intention of getting out.
In the event that the magic does not operate, the performer finds him-
The images and sounds flashing at him are formulae drawn from the res- self confronted with a heavy task. He begins to search the atmosphere for
ervoir of tradition, that which he knows as art, which has been transmit- lines which may unite his rhythms with those coming from other sources;
ted to him in various ways and is registered in his mind. They are like he begins to examine his own rhythms, searching for those which he
dream-images and appear to have a certain meaning expressed in the can cast out, hoping that someone will attach himself to them. It is as
form of command; but they also seem to have a deeper, secret mean- if each man were an atom floating in space, emanating feelers toward
ing that is incomprehensible. The commands are not specific, they are other atoms. Manifold tentacles of rhythm creep out from each vibrat-
only commands. The response to them is to move spontaneously, exe- ing body, catching hold of each other. Very slowly a single, fundamental
cuting already learned actions and empty gestures: mechanical repeti- rhythm, with which all of the musicians can join in one way or another,
tions of the past. His mind is like a complicated organ with many keys: an begins to emerge from the chaos. As each person lends his weight to this
inspiration key, a composition key, a communication with God key, rhythm, as if to a central pendulum, its force increases. A general oscilla-
a Beethoven key, a Stockhausen and a Cage key: one for every myth. tion, which forms the tonic for everyones individual music, sets in: it is as
This is all right; he is a practiced musician and knows that he has a bat- if a giant molecule were taking form out of nothing. The relations, mani-
tery of arms at his disposal. He knows that if one thing does not satisfy fold, between the individual parts of this structure make it, as a whole,
him he can immediately flip a switch and turn on something else. This is infinitely richer than the individual musics with which the process began.
his virtuosity. But he has done nothing to escape from his labyrinth, he is
The performer finds that he has been transported into a new situation
still reading images flashing across his individual mind, he has not trans-
in which there are other laws of gravity. He discovers a new economy of
formed the space in any way.
energy; he is almost weightless and is able to move with fantastic ease.
Each performer begins by making his own music in his own way. The The energy, which formerly had been expended in the general tumult and
result is chaos, a great tumult and confusion of sound, with occasional conflict, is now used more efficiently, used to move the giant pendulum.
chance harmonies which appear for a moment and then vanish, some- By placing his balance upon this fundamental rhythm, he finds that he
times with clashing forces: sounds battering against each other and try- can devote his energies to the adornment of this rhythm, to its enrich-
ing to push each other out of the way. Each person is contained within his ment with smaller and more complex sub-rhythms. Ultimately, the sound
own labyrinth. The object of the music-making is to escape from this lab- of the players oscillating in a harmonic relationship with one another will
yrinth. The way out of the labyrinth is not forwards or backwards, to the acquire an unimaginable richness and fineness, completely transcend-
left or to the right, but up. To go up it is necessary to fly. The performer ing the individual musics. The spirit, endowed with grace, will ascend
must enter into someone elses labyrinth. from the body, escape from the spatial limits of the body, and become
one with the atmosphere in vibrationit will be everywhere the sound is.
Now, two things can happen: either miraculously, by magic, music will The space will no longer be occupied, but created. If this desired transfor-
immediately result; or, as is more likely, music will not happen, and the mation of space takes place, it will not be magic (which should have hap-
tumult will continue and tend to grow worse, or the harmonies will pened immediately) but rather the creating of conditions where music

issue no. 3 131


becomes possible at the end of a long process. It will be work. The dif- absolute. The duration of this state of drifting must be as short as pos-
ference between magic and work is one of duration. It is possible that sible. (2) To destroy = to make a gesture of total negativity, to produce a
this work process may not take place at all. Two negative conditions can change, any change that will transform the state of things. To destroy is
result. The tumult and confusion may grow worse. Or, the performer may to interpret nothing as if it were something out of which something else
find himself with nothing to do, nothing to say: he is surrounded by noth- is to be formed. A negative force is mistaken for creation. The mind can-
ing and in him there is nothing. In both cases it is possible to transform a not see beyond the possibility of a single, blinding act, which would bring
negative condition into a positive one. nothingness in its wake. (3) To put on a professional mask = to conceal,
to falsify, to draw upon the reservoir of formulae that constitutes ones
The first case is that of conflict. Here the performers task will be to give
virtuosity, to save appearances. This is to interpret nothing as if it were
vent to violence in his music, and in an extreme form: to push the con-
a vacuum, to be filled with something already existing; it is to transfer
flict further and let it break out into open warfare. He must localize and
something from one place to another, like the convict who is punished by
isolate the sources of resistance to the music, the inertia which inter
being made to dig a hole and then fill it up again. It may save appearances,
feres with the oscillation of the pendulum, and direct his energies aggres-
but it perpetuates a lie. It is not creation. (4) To go back to point zero = to
sively toward the breaking-down of that inertia. Everyone must become
wipe the slate clean, return to the original situation, begin the piece again.
aware of where the resistance lies and that the music is not taking place.
To return to zero is to identify with nothing. It is the only creative atti-
The resistance may be in the performers, or in the audience, or both. The
tude. It is to take zero as the common denominator between oneself and
experienced performers secret knowledge is that the resistance is nor-
all other creatures, to admit the possible identity of oneself and all that is
mally in himself. The imagined hostility of the audience or of the other
and is not.
performers is a projection of a negative state, a hallucination manufac-
tured to prevent strangers from entering into the performers labyrinth. By returning to zero the performer reaffirms the possibility of accom-
In this case, the performer is already at war with himself; it is too late for plishing his original task. The music continues to live. He may have to go
negotiations. One side must win, the other must lose. Before there can through this experience once, twice, several times during the course of
be peace there must be a clash of arms, a total thrust of the self into the a performance. But, as everything which has a soul is mortal, this cycle
struggle. An extreme state must be demanded of the body in order that must also end. There may be insuperable obstacles which bar the way to
the body accept other terms. The warlike situation is merely another form music. The obstacles may never be overcome, and the piece will end in
of work. exhaustion.

The second case, that of drifting in nothingness, is more critical because Three possible courses of the music have been described:
the body lacks the energy to plunge itself into conflict. It is a situation
of silent hatred. The performer has been or is being destroyed. In this 1) The goal was achieved instantaneously, through magic.
second case, four courses of action are possible. These courses of action 2) It was arrived at after a natural and necessary duration,
are consequences of different interpretations of nothing. Although they through work.
may all be necessary at different times, and may, at least within the lim- 3) It was never found at all.
ited framework of music-making, have no lethal consequences, they are
to be considered as arranged within a scale expressing an ascending order The third result will be as acceptable as the first two because of its excel-
of truthfulness and, therefore, of desirability. (1) To be destroyed = to do lence, but with the difference that it communicates sadness, whereas the
nothing. It is to deny the possibility of creation, to interpret nothing as others were joyous.

132 issue no. 3


A final note with regard to the situation at the beginning of this piece. Here, change is not just any change, but a fundamental one: the redemption of
the performer is not entirely without responsibilities; he does not merely the space and of everything in it.
begin to play in any way whatsoever. Since this piece is based on an idea,
although it has no necessary form, and this idea is the transformation of For what the audience does not yet realize, before the beginning of the
space from one state to another state, the music at the beginning must music, is that the space which it occupies is profane, dominated by
express what state it is that exists at the moment when this transforma- demons, and that those demons are themselves. Each individual is a wor-
tion is about to be attempted. We consider the audience as being in a state shipper of images; what is going to happen now is that images are going
of ignorance. The space in its present state is nonmusical, it is merely to be smashed and meaningful rituals created in their place. The air is
occupied; the people, including the musicians, are merely what they are charged with stupidity, complacency, inaction, slavery; it is poisonous,
and always have been: flesh, bound and finite, imprisoned in labyrinths, and we have to become fully aware of its loathsomeness. The music now
repositories of the past, automata. There is a general state of numbness; must necessarily be demonic, because demons are everywhereeven in
there is neither pleasure nor pain, memory nor hope; there is no obliga- the musicians. The musician is possessed; the first sound that he strikes
tion to move in one direction or another. Life is imprisoned within a shell must be one of terror. The breaking of the silence is a breaking of the spell
of immobility and paralysis. There is, however, a state of expectation, of of stupidity which shrouds the soul. The sound, which may be called anti-
general anticipation that an attempt is going to be made to bring about music, awakens the soul to its demonic state; and only then may the exor-
another state of things. What the musicians have to make clear is that this cism begin, the struggle to cast lines through the tumult to another soul.

issue no. 3 133