Joel Chadabe
Orange Dessert


This is one of several memoirs written as part of the Tribute to Robert Ashley on September 11, 2014, at Roulette in New York.

At some point in the late 1960s, the Sonic Arts Union—Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, David Behrman, and Gordon Mumma—came to the State University of New York at Albany to present a concert. Bob's composition was Orange Dessert. He had asked me to enlist two young women formally dressed, two high stools, two follow spots, audio playback, and a screen to show a film.

From darkness in the theater, the follow spots came up. We saw the women sitting on the stools. We heard a string orchestra softly playing soupy sentimental music, tunes like Try a Little Tenderness. After a minute or two, Bob began a voiceover with infuriating calm. He spoke slowly in a sweet voice. "Good evening, ladies. Please stand up." The women stood up. "Thank you," said Bob's voice, "that was very well done. Now, please walk around the stools from left to right." The women walked around the stools from left to right. Bob's voice said, with sweet flattery, "Thank you. I thought that was very well done. Now, please, put your left leg over your right leg." The women put their left leg over their right leg. The audience started to become angry. Bob's voice calmly in a softly concerned manner, said, "I think you could do that better. Please try that again." The women tried that again. The audience was more angry. Bob's voice softly, sweetly said, "That was much better, thank you. Now please walk around the stools from right to left ..." and so on for about five minutes, with the soft sweet soupy sentimental music playing all the time. The audience was becoming restive. I was feeling sorry for the women. In fact, I was a little worried that someone in the audience might throw something at them.

But before that happened, suddenly, bang, clap, just before violence erupted, the follow spots turned off, the room went into darkness, and a film began. In the film, someone put a fork into an orange, then sliced the orange into a frying pan, then poured cognac (hmmm) over the orange, lit it with a match, and the orange became orange flambée.

And that was the end of the piece. But in reflection I thought, Now, how could Bob have thought of combining two such different scenes? And somehow having it work.

A few weeks later, I was in San Francisco having dinner with Bob in an Ethiopian restaurant. I asked him, "How did you think of that?" And he said, "I don't know. As I walk down the street, I think of an idea and a light goes on in my head. And I know it's right."

Well, this short story is about trusting your intuition. I tell this to students. Trust your intuition.

Joel Chadabe
September 8, 2014