9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering

The following text is taken from Joel Chadabe's Electric Sound.

cagevariationVII700John Cage performing Variations VII

The festivals of the 1960s were the summaries of the era. 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, the first and largest of the festivals, was presented by EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology) in October 1966 at the Twenty-fifth Street Armory in New York City. As Billy Klüver, one of technology and art's principal evangelists at the time and one of EAT's principal organizers, wrote: "This was to be the first major art and technology collaborative event; and it had to take place on a much larger scale than before: by that we meant it had to be widely publicized and that thousands of people had to attend."

The programs included works by John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Oyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman, and David Tudor. And the works included music, dance, and performance art. Cage performed Variations VII , picking up sounds from radio, telephone, microphones, "only those sounds which are in the air at the moment of performance . . ." Robert Rauschenberg played tennis with Steve Paxton using wired rackets. Deborah Hay had dancers moving throughout the space on remote-controlled platforms. David Tudor, in Bandoneon ! (Bandoneon Factorial) controlled the entire sound and light environment of the armory — it was described in the program notes as "a combine incorporating programmed audio circuits, moving loudspeakers, tv images and lighting, instrumentally excited." Tudor, sitting on a sixteen by twenty-four foot platform surrounded by electronic equipment, played his bandoneon, and the sounds of the bandoneon were processed electronically, switched between twelve loudspeakers placed around the space, used to vibrate five sculptures on moving carts, and used to control video images and lights.

tudortestingbandonian700David Tudor testing the bandoneon

Bandoneon ! (Bandoneon Factorial) worked as follows. Contact microphones were placed inside the bandoneon. The sounds from the contact microphones were transformed by a sound-processing system consisting of filters, frequency shifters, and other devices. The sounds were also fed into the Vochrome, a control device designed and built for the occasion by Robert Kieronski, which consisted of a set of twelve harmonium reeds vibrated by the signals from the contact microphone, and a twelve-pole double-throw relay. The relay was mechanically operated by the vibrating harmonium reeds in switching the sound at audio rates between the loudspeakers. As Tudor sums it up, "So according to the pitches that I played, the sounds changed." In other words, the sounds that Tudor played were transformed, but they also controlled how they were transformed and routed to the different loudspeakers.

In addition, Fred Waldhauer contributed a device that he called the Proportional Control, which controlled the loudness of the sound in the loudspeakers and the intensity of eight lights on the performance platform. As Tudor recalls, "I had established discrete switching between loudspeakers through the Vochrome device, and I also wanted smooth control." Tudor also used a switch on the bandoneon to suddenly stop the electronic sound, thereby using the armory's six-second reverberation time as a musical element. He said, "The silence was deafening, because the sound in the armory was extraordinary, so reverberant." Further, the sound from the bandoneon was also sent directly to Lowell Cross' Oscilloscope which displayed visual patterns along with the music.

deborahhaysolo700Deborah Hay's Solo

Tudor continues:

"And there's more. I had made a number of large sculptures in the manner of Rainforest. I think there were five, because Deborah Hay had a piece with dancers on platforms that could be sent around the space, and she wanted to have music, and I agreed to do the music if I could use the platforms for my sculptures. So the sounds from the bandoneon also vibrated the sculptures. My idea was that they would be sent around the room, that their sound would circulate. The audience was on three sides, so they would come close to the loudspeakers. And for that, I had to have five operators, seated on chairs, sending the platforms around. They were really radio-controlled carts . . ."

In summary, as Tudor puts it, "There was a lot to take care of during the performance." Indeed, there was a lot to take care of in the entire festival. Billy Klüver, at the time, was a scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and it was much to the credit of Bell Labs in general, and John Pierce in particular, that Klüver was so well supported in producing the 9 Evenings. Pierce recalls:

"I was Klüver's boss. He got my permission to persuade technical assistants to work on the 9 Evenings on their own time. But then, as the 9 Evenings approached, things weren't getting done, and I arranged for them to work on Bell Labs' time. Some of the people who lost their technical assistants for a few weeks were a little miffed, but no one raised a protest. Well, I liked Billy Klüver and thought there was something in what he was doing."

9 Evenings was the biggest, but there were also other festivals ...