For his September 2010 visit to the Czech Republic and Austria, Hugh Livingston (cellist Oakland, California USA) invites musicians to participate in the experience as a framework for improvisation. The original idea was modeled on the “Furniture Music” (”Musique d’ameublements”) by Erik Satie, a sort of sonic wallpaper, background experience. That was music to be played as people arrived, to be insignificant in terms of the demand on the listener. The extension of that concept to my work, “Please Be Seated”, is to invite the audience to experience the ensemble nature of musicmaking, as if they were a close part of it.
“Please Be Seated” is an installation and performance that invites the audience to feel the ensemble experience by sitting in chairs that reproduce sound created by live improvising musicians, featuring Jaroslav Kořán and other local musicians.
Sitting in the chair connects them to the tactile feel of the music, and it contrasts Satie by demanding active experience, and consequently listening. However, with limited chairs, the audience member has to stay for a short while, and then move on, perhaps to have a glass of wine and talk to friends. The music is available only when they want to participate. In contrast to a reduced demand on the listener, the composition puts great demands on the performer, as it is closely structured around ideas of memory. I want to create a sense of musical fragments the chairs have heard before, of nostalgia, of memory, of echoing the past. I want to create threads of ideas across a long performance. I want to hear some sounds that have never been made before. I want to hear some sounds that were made the last time. I want to hear imitation of someone else’s sounds from yesterday. I want to construct a castle of memory. This is a classical technique to remember many different things, by mentally ‘placing’ them into a room along a hallway in a castle. To remember the item, your mind travels down the hallway, opens the door, and takes whatever is in the room. I ask musical participants to remember for as long as they can, and reconnect yesterday’s ideas to today’s. “Please Be Seated” invites everyone to participate in performance and listening. It becomes an ensemble composition that welcomes everyone’s contribution.
Hugh Livingston is a cellist, composer and sound installation artist. He has degrees in contemporary music from Yale, the California Institute of the Arts, and the University of California San Diego. His special areas of interest are improvisation, collaboration with visual artists, electroacoustic music, and Asian music, particularly Japanese and Chinese. Hugh is a member-director of the ensembles Mapa Mundi, The Orbis Factor, and The Seven Saties. He plays a 1928 Fagnola cello from Montiglio Italy. His CDs include Strings & Machines and Process & Passion, on EMF and Pogus, respectively. Hugh is the director of the ARTSHIP Recordings, which is a catalog of 54 improvised solos recorded on a 491-foot Art Deco cruiseliner, available on Mini-CD. Hugh composes situational music, responses to spaces, artists, architecture and design, history and people. He has catalogued 120 different pizzicato techniques for the cello and conducted extensive research in China on contemporary and historical music, funded by the Asian Cultural Council. His sound installation, Listen Edgemar, in a Frank Gehry-designed building in Santa Monica, opens May 16, 2004 and will run indefinitely. Hugh graduated cum laude in music form Yale, and was the recipient of the Yale Bach Society Prize for excellence in musicianship and contribution to musical life at Yale.