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David Tudor: Bandoneon ! (a combine)

2010
Distributed by Microcinema International/Microcinema DVD, 1636 Bush St., Suite #2, SF, CA 94109; 415-447-9750
Produced by Julie Martin
Directed by Julie Martin
DVD, color, 38 min.
College - Adult
Music, Experimental Music, Electronic Music


Reviewed by Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 6/4/2010

American composer David Tudor (1926 – 1996) was an integral member of the twentieth century experimental music community. Aside from his pioneering compositions, he was also known as an organist and concert pianist, including debuting several of John Cage’s works for piano, most notably 4’33”.

Bandoneon ! (a combine) was Tudor’s first complete performance of one of his own works. The title refers to the type of concertina popular in Tango music that Tudor modified to control a series of electronic audio effects, lights, and projected images brought together into a “combine,” a term coined by the artist Robert Rauschenberg to indicate a work that is neither painting nor sculpture. Tudor adopted this concept as he incorporated many new experimental sound innovations presented at the legendary 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering series.

The 9 Evenings featured debuts of theater, dance, and music works that embraced the new technologies created by engineers from Bell Telephone Laboratories. The performances took place at the New York 69th Regiment Armory in 1966, during the early years of electronic music. Ten featured artists all from New York included: David Tudor, John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Robert Whitman, Steve Paxton, Alex Hay, and Öyvind Fahlström. Microcinema International is releasing the filmed performances as a series of ten DVDs. Each performance was filmed in both color and black and white, and this film alternates between both types of footage.

The DVD menu is divided into four sections: Titles, serves as introduction to the whole series; Performance, lasts a little more than fourteen minutes; Documentary, is devoted to the performance, its place in Tudor’s career, and other works, genres, and composers that informed his composing this work; and Credits.

The performance footage gives the viewer a sense of the cavernous armory where the events took place. At stage right is a small platform hosting Tudor and his instrument surrounded by an array of electronics and other assistants/co-performers that contribute to this performance. The rest of the performance space – about 200 x 100 feet – is allotted to a series of screens for projected images and to various modified speakers connected to remote control vehicles, enabling the speakers to roam depending on the whims of the remote operator. The footage was captured from multiple perspectives including from behind the audience looking over the entire performance space, from within the platform area, and from alongside the floor where the mobile speakers traveled. The platform footage reveals the technology that went into realizing this performance and shows in-the-moment collaboration occurring as Bandoneon ! was presented.

As a composition, the resulting music is a relentless roar of distortion. Though innovative for its time, other works supplant this one in the pantheon of experimental electronic music, including some of Tudor’s subsequent compositions. During the introductory titles, Bell Telephone engineer Billy Klüver explains that the filmed performances “cannot represent the artist’s work in full.” The live experience of Tudor’s armory performance of Bandoneon ! does not transfer thoroughly to a video presentation. In order to hear and witness the complete work as intended, one needs to be engulfed by the variety of sound projections created by the roaming speakers in the structural setting of the armory. However, this video still serves as a fine representation of a highly complex performance.

The in-depth documentary features voice-over interviews with Tudor where he explains the work, his methodology, and what informed his thinking. His contemporaries are also interviewed, supplying additional context for experimental music of the 1960s. A detailed explanation is provided on how everything worked together to bring about Bandoneon !

This DVD is essential to any music or art library that supports experimental or cutting edge academic creative arts programs. Bandoneon ! (a combine) is an important example of the type of collaboration and experimentation that took place during the early era of electronic music. The opportunity to see David Tudor perform his own composition is also vital to students of experimental music.