Merce Cunningham’s ‘Rainforest’ (1968) has been widely discussed, particularly because of the mylar pillows which Andy Warhol designed for it. The pillows are partially filled with helium so that they are suspended in mid-air and, according to all reports, they are fascinating to watch. The music for this dance, created by David Tudor, has received little attention. This music, however, is based on another unique principle which in many ways is even more fascinating than Andy Warhol’s pillow idea.
Under the title ‘Sliding Pitches in the Rainforest in the Field,’ Tudor presented an expanded version of this music on one of the Chocorua ‘73 concerts, presented as part of New Music in New Hampshire. The sounds are entirely electronic, but instead of using loudspeakers, they are fed into various objects, which resonate in their own ways. These objects, most of which were suspended from the ceiling of the old barn where the concert took place, included a wine barrel, some bed springs, a small metal ring, a plastic lawn sprinkler, a tennis racket perched on a 10-gallon bottle, a styrofoam picnic basket, a long cable which stretched diagonally up to the ceiling, and a large metal rim, which looked as if it belonged on a covered wagon wheel.
Of course the objects were all wired to tape recorders and sound synthesizing equipment, but it was the objects themselves which took on the greatest significance. In a way they were the performers, because it was they, after all, that were actually producing the acoustical sounds we were hearing. Each object had its own distinct voice.
The wine barrel, for example, seemed happiest with low frequencies, and as one might expect, he added a deep echo to all his sounds. The little plastic lawn sprinkler turned out to be a squawky fellow, who resonated much louder than anyone his size ought to. The sounds of the large metal rim had a crazy way of spreading out all over the whole room, making it difficult to tell where they were coming from. But if you put your ear right 1973/soundings-from-the-west-coast to the rim, or better, stuck your head inside its circle, it became quite clear that it really was the rim you were hearing.
The situation was informal, so that the audience could mill around and explore these objects. It was fascinating just to poke around and figure out what was doing what, and the sounds were appealing in their own right. There was a great variety of timbres, from the rumbles of the wine barrel, to the zinging effects of the large cable, to the whirr of the bed springs, to the extremely odd effects which happened as the sounds of the tennis racket seemed to drop into the 10-gallon bottle beneath it.
The individual effects were largely repetitious, many having a rhythmic pulse, but the situation was constantly changing. Every few minutes some object would fade out and another would come into play, and the process kept me interested for a couple of hours.
It kept Tudor and his assistants interested for five and a half hours. They were not trying to press the point, as people were free to come and go at will. They just seemed to enjoy keeping the sounds going for those who wanted to stay, and for those who would come back later on. I suppose they were also having an enjoyable time feeding various sounds into various objects, testing how the objects responded to different things, trying to find resonant frequencies, and listening to subtle variations. For those who may be unfamiliar with Tudor, I should add that he was, for some time, the best avant-garde pianist around. He phased out his career as a pianist five to 10 years ago, but I would not be surprised if his current activities could turn out to be even more significant than his now legendary concerts of Stockhausen, Cage, et al in the ’50s and early ’60s.