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8 Hours or 8 Minutes: A Contemporary Minimalist Experience with Eric Maltz

4 min read
8 Hours or 8 Minutes: A Contemporary Minimalist Experience with Eric Maltz
Eric Matlz, 8 Hours or 8 Minutes at, Photo by Frankie Casillo

I love minimalist music. It’s been a huge influence on pieces that I've generated choreographies for.  

In sound art there is something that happens to you that is different from what's normally pumped out of the radio. It’s not there to soothe, entertain, advertise or distract you from anything. An awareness tends to emerge which can be rather uncomfortable for some.  

In John Cages 4'33",  a performer sits down at the piano whereby the audience anticipates the sound of piano music but what instead happens is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence; scored, counted and executed. The audience becomes aware of themselves, shifting in their seats, coughing or clearing their throats as they wait.

This mirror of themselves is reflected back to them in these minutes of silence and was a seminal point that Cage was making about the fact that sound is not just the music but the supposed silence between the notes as well as the sounds you experience by being alive.

Sound sculptures at the Rainforest IV installation at St. Elisabeth Church, Berlin

Eric and I took a stroll through David Tudor’s Rainforest IV.  What seems like discarded bits salvaged from an old garden house hung at various heights around the big open space; scraps from a car, a vintage suitcase and a dainty teapot emit sounds and act as their own speakers with transducers soldered to them producing various resonant frequencies.

It is strange to pass through what is seemingly an urban landscape but with the mindset as if you were practicing Shinrin-Yoku (The Japanese concept for Forest Bathing).  I snap a shot of Eric lying in the middle of the ‘forest’  and wonder what the piece I witnessed him play just ten days before might sound like in this space.

On a Saturday afternoon in middle March, Maltz performed a durational minimalist sound experience at Four speakers surrounded the hall and in the middle he played with a synthesizer, various effects pedals, some recording equipment and a stand with a little light on it.

For about the first half hour it was just him. As he had started alone and had established the direct connection to the music itself and maybe lessened the feeling that he was “performing” for others.

Photo by Frankie Casillo

As people trickled in, the scene changed dramatically as the minutes and hours rolled on. His daughter arrived and pressed some keys on his keyboard but he was unphased by this and in fact was delighted to find out it ‘sounded good.’ At one point there were people setting up food and drinks, kids were jumping around on the furniture, some were meditating, others drifted in and out of sleep and people he knew and didn’t know came and went.

I asked him later if he had an ideal audience or if it would have made a difference if people would have sat around him, listening intently.  He didn’t have any expectation that people should be quiet and listen nor should they be forced to do that.

“You know, if you're performing and you're doing something that's interesting enough, then the people will be there.”

Halfway through the eight hour session, he hit a wall. But he kept going. And at one point he describes that he started surfing. It’s what I think of as a flow state when athletes hit their stride after pushing through the hard part. Or when you keep repeating a word or sentence until it renders nonsensical, that moment before you feel maybe you can’t possibly go on repeating and pattern recognition fades in and out.

The last three hours he said he “was in a half awake half asleep state and there was no difference between fingers and the instruments; the profound shift before and after this phase where everything becomes fluid and pure music.”

We bonded over what happens slowly over time like moon phases, in minimalist music or in work involving the meeting of this idea within choreography like that of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

I wondered to myself how in a world where we struggle with information overload and have a hard time to focus on something for ten minutes, how would a performance of eight hours hold up and what could it mean in these ADHD times?

I hadn't seen any durational work live. I had only heard about it from sessions that Philip Glass, Terry Riley or La Monte Young had done back in the 70’s. Why now?

Maltz replied:

“People work 8 hour work days. Why should it be so unusual to have an 8 hour work day concert?  We also have preconceived notions about the length of pieces according to genre but why can’t I put out an 8 hour album? And isn’t it also nice to go to something and not have a bit of a sensory overload: where you have this kind of Cirque du Soleil spectacle.  Whereas, this durational situation rather invites a type of slowing down and another level of awareness.”

Indeed. The mirror of minimalism sometimes sits in the background, almost an elevator track to your own thoughts until suddenly something strikes your attention like the presence of a bass line disappearing after several minutes or a swinging that starts to happen in tones.

Sometimes it sounds like a voice; like the ghost of Glenn Gould mumbling under his piano playing.

Other times this wall of sound is droning on for maybe 20-30 minutes and then suddenly, just drops out. And the reverberation of what came before is a tide on the sea subsiding in the now silent moment.


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