There are influences, and there are precedents. Influences are generally things that one senses as having helped shaped one’s world view. Precedents are often recognized afterward as having foretold, to some small or great degree, efforts that came later. Precedents can serve as akin to influences when their scope is such that even if the influenced isn’t ever directly aware of the original work, that work resulted in a cascade such that a chain of influence is essentially undoubtable, even if it’s only evident in retrospect. There’s plenty of illustrated work, for example, that resembles Rube Goldberg’s complex drawings of unnecessarily complicated inventions designed to achieve a specific end result, yet was done by artists who might only have ever witnessed Goldberg’s specific kind of genius thirdhand. In a way, discussion of influence and precedent is its own Rube Goldberg apparatus: a complicated means by which to say, simply, “This has happened before.”
Satie is often credited as a strong precursor — a precedent — of ambient music due to his exploration of stasis and repetition. This is to say that Brendan Landis’ “Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1,” which has experienced a flurry of attention this past week, can trace its existence back to early Satie works. This parallel distinguishes Landis’ effort — which overlays reportedly 60 different takes of “Gymnopedie 1” end to end — from many other supercut-style pop-culture reworkings. In other words, we might learn something about the form of every Star Wars film played simultaneously or every episode of the TV series MAS*H played simultaneously, but it’s a stretch to suggest that the mashup treatment is intrinsic to those two subjects’ original aesthetic.
Landis, to the contrary, can point to the ambient legacy of “Gymnopedie 1,” to the egoless quality of Satie’s famous “Musique d’Ameublement” (music intended to merge with, to disappear into, the expected sounds of a dinner party), and especially to the composer’s “Vexations,” in which a single musical phrase is repeated 840 times. Landis’ technologically enabled reworking of Satie might take “Vexations” as its strongest precedent: Satie played one thing many times to hear the differences; Landis played many versions of one thing at the same time to hear the differences.
Here, for reference, is a complete performance, almost 10 hours in length, of Nicolas Horvath performing “Vexations” live at the Conservatoire de Musique in Lagny-sur-Marne, France, on June 26, 2011:
Here is Landis’ versions(s) of “Gymnopedie 1.” It had about 2,000 or so listens when I first wrote about it, on January 15. As of this writing it has just shy of 30,000 listens:
Just a day before the Horvath “Vexations” performance, a show closed by coincidence halfway across the world at the Fitzroy Gallery in Manhattan. The exhibit, 21st Century Dub Dub, which was up for almost two months, showcased the artist Sean Dack, who is based in New York. There was only one piece in 21st Century Dub Dub, but as Walt Whitman wrote, it contained multitudes. Titled “Version/Variation,” the piece took 26 different takes on the same Satie piece as Landis, “Gymnopedie 1,” and played them simultaneously. One key difference is that Dack opted to play them not at their original speed but slowed down significantly, so each was just over 70 minutes long — “the total length of a commercially available compact disc,” as described in a program note at the gallery’s website, fitzroygallery.com. In a nod to Janet Cardiff’s monumental “The Forty-Part Motet,” in which each vocal line is played on its own freestanding speaker, the Dack Satie piece has each individual recording playing on a different speaker, thus allowing the listener to walk around and amid the piece, to experience it as frozen music, an architecture of sound.
Here, for reference, is footage of a Cardiff/Motet installation:
The Dack video (shown up at the top of this post) has been online for over a year, since September 10, 2014, but as of today still has fewer than 50 views. It deserves to be more widely heard, though it goes without saying that its strongest effect would be in person, in full multi-speaker surround sound. I want to thank a commenter to my previous piece on Landis (who records and performs under the name Hey Exit), “Every* Recording of Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopedie 1’ Played at the Same Time,” for having brought the earlier Dack Satie piece to my attention.
The video of “Version/Variation” originally posted at youtube.com. More from Sean Dack at seandack.net. This May 17 will mark the 150th anniversary of Erik Satie’s birth. Perhaps an exhibit this year will show both the Landis and the Dack, and other work inspired by Satie.