MSP/Piano: 22-hour improv marathon on a structure by Satie, w 39 musicians + 1 dancer — Vexations [Re-vex’d] II @ Berkeley Arts Festival (beginning 2pm Sat 22 Mar, ending approx. noon, Sun 23 Mar)

In Sep 2012 Berkeley Arts’ 19-pianist Satie/Cage Vexations marathon proved that many strange, wonderful, and unintended things happen when you try to repeat its enigmatic theme 840 times over a 22-hour period.

In Mar 2013, I was honored that Berkeley Arts Festival gave me the opportunity to organize a possibly even more bizarre follow-up, with 35 of the Bay Area’s top improvisers in a wide variety of genres, ranging from free jazz to classical, who in Vexations [Re-vex’d] found out what strange, wonderful, and unintended things happen when you create something new from the enigmatic architecture of Vexations 840 times (post-show gallery).

Astonishing music ensued, and a wonderful time was had by all.

Erik Satie

So, what better way to greet spring in 2014 than Vexations [Re-vex’d] II?

Join us for up to 22 hours of magnificent and radical solo/duo explorations by 40 local improvisers, from 2pm Sat 22 Mar to approx. noon Sun 23 Mar, 2013 at Berkeley Arts Festival (2133 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA map) – who, if last year is any indication – will use the architecture of Satie’s Vexations to build idiosyncratic dream structures of pure percussion, music theatre/wordplay, searing abstract guitar & saxophone lines, digital and electronic sound art, and a wide range of acutely re-vex’ed piano interpretations.


Kersti Abrams, Steve Adams, Josh Allen, Kenneth Atchley, Jorge Bachmann ([ruidobello]), Nancy Beckman, Tom Bickley, Sheldon Brown, Nan Busse, Doug Carroll, Mark Clifford, Joe Colombo, Rachel Condry, Patti Deuter, Derek Drudge, Diane Grubbe, Ron Heglin, Jeff Hobbs, Motoko Honda (本田素子), Jaroba, Heikki Koskinen, Joe Lasqo, Dominique Leone, Robert López, Fernando López-Lezcano & El Dinosaurio, Ric Louchard, Bob Marsh, Josh Marshall, David Michalak, Tom Nunn, Timothy Orr, Mika Pontecorvo, Teddy Rankin-Parker, Don Robinson, Rent Romus, John Schott, John Shiurba, Shanna Sordahl, Christina Stanley, Eli Wallace, Drew Wheeler

First some background on the original Satie theme, and then more details of line-up and schedule….

Le jeune Satie

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.

Whether playing pop and improvising 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, theVexations 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.

Here are the details of the team bringing this unique experience to your ears (in alphabetical order with start times and instrumentation):

Kersti Abrams

Kersti Abrams: alto sax

7:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Kersti will do duets with Mika Pontecorvo

Steve Adams

Steve Adams: sopranino sax, flutes, laptop

4pm, Sat 22 Mar

11:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Kenneth Atchley @ The Li Po Lounge (李白居)

Kenneth Atchley: laptop & electronics

5:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Jorge Bachmann (aka Ruidobello)

Jorge Bachmann ([ruidobello]): laptop & electronics

10pm, Sat 22 Mar

11:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Nancy Beckman

Tom Bickley and friend

Nancy Beckman & Tom Bickley, in the Gusty Winds May Exist duo: shakuhachi, Paetzhold contrabass recorder, “normal” recorders, laptop, small percussion, radios, EWI wind synthesizer, spoken word

3pm, Sat 22 Mar (trio with Dianne Grubbe)

6pm, Sat 22 Mar

Sheldon Brown

Sheldon Brown: saxophones & clarinets

midnight, Sun 23 Mar

1:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Nan Busse

Nan Busse: dance (& didgeridoo…?)

8:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

11am, Sun 23 Mar

Nan will dance; w music by Ron Heglin and Joe Lasqo

Doug Carroll & friend

Doug Carroll: cello & field recordings

8:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Mark Clifford

Mark Clifford: vibraphone & percussion

4am, Sun 23 Mar (solo)

9:30am, Sun 23 Mar (duet with Josh Marshall)

Joe Colombo performs at Vexations Re-vex'd I, Berkeley Arts Festival, 23 Mar 2013 (photo: Joel Deuter)

Joe Colombo: piano

7:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Rachel Condry

Rachel Condry: clarinets

3:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Rachel will do duets with Ric Louchard

Patti Deuter performs Cage's "Four Walls" @ Berkeley Arts Festival

Patti Deuter: piano

— Opening fanfare (2pm, Sat 22 Mar)

— Final Dozen (noon or after, Sun 23 Mar)

Derek Drudge

Derek Drudge: piano, percussion, field recordings, electronics

5am, Sun 23 Mar

Diane Grubbe

Diane Grubbe: flutes

3pm, Sat 22 Mar (trio with Nancy Beckman and Tom Bickley)

5pm, Sat 22 Mar

Ron Heglin (photo by Tom Djll / Djll Pixels)

Ron Heglin: voice, trombone, tuba

8:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

11am, Sun 23 Mar

Ron will do duets with Joe Lasqo, + dance by Nan Busse

Jeff Hobbs (L) & Bob Marsh (R)

Jeff Hobbs: violin

2:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Motoko Honda (本田素子)

Motoko Honda (本田素子): piano

4:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

8am, Sun 23 Mar

Proud father Jaroba & children, Chapel of the Chimes "Garden of Memory" solstice event, June 2011

Jaroba: saxophones, bass clarinet, invented wind instruments

3am, Sun 23 Mar

Heikki Koskinen playing the Morrison Digital Trumpet

Heikki Koskinen: piano, flute or tenor recorder, Morrison digital trumpet

7pm, Sat 22 Mar

11pm, Sat 22 Mar

Heikki will do duets with Rent Romus

Joe Lasqo @ Meridian Gallery, 11 Jan 2012 (Photo:,

Joe Lasqo: piano, laptop, percussion, solkaṭṭu (சொல்கட்டு)

8:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

11am, Sun 23 Mar

Joe will do duets with Ron Heglin, + dance by Nan Busse

Dominique Leone doing an arena gig...

Dominique Leone: piano

10am, Sun 23 Mar

Ze Bib! — Robert López and Shanna Sordahl

Robert López: vibraphone, drum set, percussion, w Shanna Sordahl, in the duo, Ze Bib!

1am, Sun 23 Mar

3:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Fernando Lopez-Lezcano y El Dinosaurio

Fernando Lopez-Lezcano

Fernando López-Lezcano: El Dinosaurio brain-transplanted homebrew synth & laptops

— 6:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

9:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Ric Louchard

Ric Louchard: piano

3:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Ric will do duets with Rachel Condry

Bob Marsh / M. Mercure et le «SIlver Park» à R-de-Choc, 21 mai 2010 (pour plus de détails sur R-de-Choc et son organisateur, Pascal Marzan, svp. voir:

Bob Marsh: Silver Park (invented instrument), voice, tap dance, spoken word

8pm, Sat 22 Mar

9pm, Sat 22 Mar

Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall: saxophones

6:30am, Sun 23 Mar (duet with Don Robinson)

9:30am, Sun 23 Mar (duet with Mark Clifford)

David Michalak

Tom Nunn playing his invented instrument, The Crab

David Michalak and Tom Nunn, as duo T.D. Skatchit: skatch boxes and tape

10:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Timothy Orr, 2012 (photo (c) Sidney Erthal)

Timothy Orr: drums

2:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

4:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Timothy will do duets with Drew Wheeler

The polychromatic Mika Pontecorvo

Mika Pontecorvo: laptop. guitar, and…?

7:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Mika will do duets with Kersti Abrams

Teddy Rankin-Parker

Teddy Rankin-Parker: cello

12:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Don Robinson performing w the Kris Tiner Trio @ In The Flow Festival, Sacramento, 14 May 2012 (photo by George Thomson)

Don Robinson: drums

2am, Sun 23 Mar (duet with John Schott)

6:30am, Sun 23 Mar (duet with Josh Marshall)

Rent Romus, Godfather of Avant Soul

Rent Romus: saxophones, toys

7pm, Sat 22 Mar

11pm, Sat 22 Mar

Rent will do duets with Heikki Koskinen

John Schott performs at Vexations Re-vex'd I, Berkeley Arts Festival, 23 Mar 2013 (photo: Joel Deuter)

John Schott: guitar

2am, Sun 23 Mar (duet with Don Robinson)

6am, Sun 23 Mar (solo)

John Shiurba

John Shiurba: guitar, preparations, electronic FX

7am, Sun 23 Mar

10:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Ze Bib! — Robert López and Shanna Sordahl

Shanna Sordahl: cello & electronics/laptop, w Robert López, in the duo, Ze Bib!

1am, Sun 23 Mar

3:30am, Sun 23 Mar

ChrIstina Stanley

Christina Stanley: violin

5:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

Eli Wallace

Eli Wallace: piano

9am, Sun 23 Mar

Drew Wheeler in a quiet moment...

Drew Wheeler: guitar, FX, laptop

— 2:30pm, Sat 22 Mar

— 4:30am, Sun 23 Mar

Drew will do duets with Tim Orr.

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

...or… if you dare… ALL!

Come join us on our journey beyond normal consciousness…


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