Piano: Satie’s Vexations @Berkeley Arts Festival (Sat 8 Sep, event opens 6pm, Lasqo @ 8pm)

Erik Satie

840 trips through the hypnotic harmonic labyrinth of Satie’s Vexations over approx. 21 hours.

Beginning at 6pm on Sat 8 Sep at Berkeley Arts Festival (2133 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA), and ending approx. 3pm the next day on Sun 9 Sep, free admission.

Don’t even ask what happens if you lose count of the repetitions!

I’ll have the honor of following the great Hadley McCarroll, coming on at 8pm on Sat 8 Sep.

Composer, Rosicrucian, Dadaist, cabaret pianist, socialist, and founder/prophet/sole member of L’Église Métropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur (Metropolitan Church of Art of Jesus the Conductor), Satie remains a Rashomon of personae.

Le jeune Satie

Whether playing pop at the Chat Noir cabaret; discussing compositional theory with Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc or Milhaud (later of Mills College…); or working and playing with artists like Cocteau, Diaghilev, Picasso, Bracque, Tristan Tzara, André Breton, and Man Ray; Satie always drifted serenely at the cross-roads of irreconcilable contradictions and could never be fit into a coherent frame.

La maison de Satie à Arcueil

Over the course of his 27 years in his final residence at the “House with Four Chimneys” at Arcueil, no one had ever visited his room. After his death, Satie’s friends discovered compositions that were totally unknown or thought to have been lost. These were found behind the piano, in the pockets of his velvet suits, and in other odd places in the chaotic, disordered space, and included the Vexations [1].

Never performed (or even mentioned) in Satie’s lifetime, the Vexations were revived by John Cage, leading to a premiere by an incredible team of pianists including Cage, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, John Cale, David Del Tredici, and others in 1963. (After the 840th repetition, someone in the audience shouted, “Encore!”…)

Causing strong hallucinations and failure to complete the performance to some pianists who have dared to try playing the piece alone, this endless ocean of mesmerizing unsettled waves is a pioneering work of minimalisme avant la lettre.

Très lent... pli selon pli...

Despite a score that’s only one page long, its strikingly eccentric and impractical enharmonic notation, ambiguous playing directions, refusal to resolve into any tonality, and, of course, unorthodox duration, make the piece challenging to play and remember, demanding a highly attentive trance state which is then aurally transmitted to the audience.

Satie à l'harmonium - dessin de Santiago Rusiñol

As enigmatic as was Satie himself, the Vexations have been variously analyzed as a post-traumatic reaction to the end of his only known love affair (with Suzanne Valadon) or a secret numerological theology.

The flat-5 interval so prominent in the piece was traditionally known as the “Devil in music“; the piece unfolds in “inauspicious” 13-beat cycles; the number of notes in the manuscript, 108, is the product of 1-to-the-first x 2-squared x 3-cubed; and the number of repetitions, 840, is the product of all the numbers between 4 and 7… Coincidence….? Trail of red herrings…? “In-joke”…? If not, what meaning does this hold in any of the cultic systems that Satie participated in or devised?

The only thing to do in response is come and hear a part (or… if you dare… ALL!) of this unique Bay Area performance, organized by indefatigable pianist Patti Deuter.

I’ll update as time slots finalize, but as of now, here’s the piano team bringing this unique experience to your ears (in alphabetical order with start time):

• Sarah Cahill —  1pm, Sun 9 Sep

• Luciano Chessa —  2am, Sun 9 Sep

• Luciano Chessa and/or Joseph Colombo/Patti Deuter/Joe Lasqo —  6am, Sun 9 Sep

• Jacqueline Chew —  noon, Sun 9 Sep

• Joseph Colombo —  10pm, Sat 8 Sep

• Patti Deuter —  3am, Sun 9 Sep

• Jim Jowdy —  midnight, Sat/Sun 8/9 Sep

• Jerry Kuderna —  6pm, Sat 8 Sep

Joe Lasqo —  8pm, Sat 8 Sep

• Dominique Leone —  11am, Sun 9 Sep

• Ric Louchard —  1am, Sun 9 Sep

• Hadley McCarroll —  7pm, Sat 8 Sep

• Kanoko Nishi (西鹿乃子) —  5am, Sun 9 Sep

• Roger Rohrbach —  4am, Sun 9 Sep

• Regina Schaffer —  8am, Sun 9 Sep

• Melissa Smith —  9am, Sun 9 Sep

• Julie Steinberg —  11pm, Sat 8 Sep

• Anton Vishio — 7am, Sun 9 Sep

• Kelly Walker —  10am, Sun 9 Sep

• Kelsey Walsh —  9pm, Sat 8 Sep

I’m honored to join with these stellar pianists and looking forward to being sucked in to the abyss of Satie’s enigmatic Vexations.

...or… if you dare… ALL!

Come join us on our journey beyond normal consciousness…


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