Sunday, February 28, 2010

George Brecht's "Event Score" (1996), Elyse Nelson

George Brecht’s “Event Score” (1966)
Elyse Nelson
Art, Music & Theory Since World War II
Seth Kim-Cohen
October 16, 2007

George Brecht stands out among the Fluxus group as an innovator, pushing the ideas of his predecessors, Cage and Duchamp, into an open-ended, ever-elusive world of objects, sound, performance, and theory. In his 1957 essay, Chance-Imagery, Brecht seems to find art as a logical nexus among his interests in science, probability theories, and objects. He further stumbles into a career as an artist/musician while taking John Cage’s highly influential class at the New School for Social Research (New York) in 1958. The origins of his practice are significant in understanding his work as that of an untrained musician who embraces art in the light of expanding media of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and thus using it as an open arena for experimentation. Brecht’s chosen platform for such experimentation manifests itself in the shape of his “event scores” (a term coined by Fluxus artists). Among the dozens of situations that are sketched out in his “event scores”, perhaps the most beautifully understated yet loaded and paradoxical may be found in his 1966 “Event Score:”

Arrange or discover an event. Score and then realize it. (fluxworkbook 27)

In a short ten words, Brecht cuts through the material employed in his other scores, instructing that a non-descript ‘event’ be manipulated in every sense that he sees fit. The score stands above the rest as a paradigm of contemporary artistic thought in the 1960’s, critiquing – and simultaneously advocating – the nature of art as an ‘event’ (one brushing the fringe of reality) if only set aside as such by any one who chooses to do so.
To speak of his “event scores” in broader strokes, they may be seen as instructions for performances or guidelines for a particular situation, which he calls an ‘event.’ The use of sound and objects is typical, and he often instructs action between the two, such as in his “Drip Music” (1959) in which water is dripped from a source into an empty vessel (fluxworkbook 22). In other scores, he calls for the performance of specific actions by the audience and/or performers. Brecht blurs the distinction between the mediums by creating scores that call for ‘events’ that lie between object and sound, performance and reality, and physically exist as replicable paper objects written in miniature stylized stanzas. Higgins uses the word intermedia to define the in-between state in which these scores exist (4). They neither mix nor juxtapose media, but rest between them in a state of flux (thus the group name Fluxus). Higgins’ use of the term intermedia is the closest one comes to pinning down the proper nomenclature for the many ambivalent instances such as the appearance of the sound-object that Brecht calls for in “Drip Music.”

But among the many uncanny situations that unfold in Brecht’s ‘event scores,’ his piece “Event Score” (1966) remains evermore elusive. In cleverly giving the title of the piece a name that is synonymous with the entire body of work in which it lies, he speaks of the common principles underlying his work as a whole. To start, he uses the word ‘Event’ to suggest that the score draws out a situation. In reading it, however, one becomes aware of the fact that while Brecht asks for many different manipulations of the ‘event’ within the score, the event itself is left undefined. This ambiguity is intentional, and perhaps Brecht does this in order to encourage the reader to think more seriously about what constitutes an ‘event.’ Secondly, Brecht recognizes his work as a ‘score’, suggesting its likeness to a musical score and thus his role as that of a composer. His claimed authorship, however, remains paradoxical, as he otherwise seems to deny himself the designation as the genius behind his work. Dezeuze calls Brecht “one of the most self-effacing artists around,” referring to the way in which he leaves his scores exceedingly open and enigmatic so that those who come across them may interpret and perform them in such subjective manners that they become, in part, their own work (9). So in using the word ‘score’ in the title of the piece, while he in some ways calls attention to himself as the composer/author/artist, Brecht perhaps more importantly calls attention to the other necessities of any musical score – the performers and the audience.

In Brecht’s scores, and in this one in particular, the performer/audience relationship is left undetermined. Brecht himself being an untrained artist does not require any skill of his performers and never even designates who is to perform his scores at all, be it artists or musicians. His scores are left as open haikus printed as public statements and (preferably) distributed at large. The way in which he states the content of “Event Score” in imperative form implies that he speaks directly to the reader. So in reading the score, the audience and/or performer is confronted by Brecht in many forms, being asked to participate as the composer, performer, and audience of the score. To appreciate this notion, it is necessary to understand this score piecemeal, for each word is loaded with meaning and possibility.

First, he tells the reader to “arrange or discover an event.” The word ‘arrange’ has been carefully selected because the verb ‘to arrange’ can be interpreted in many ways. Brecht may be asking the reader to organize or plan an ‘event,’ to position objects and/or sounds and/or performers into a situation, or even to ‘arrange’ in the musical sense, to compose sounds, objects, or gestures into a situation. As Dezeuze notes, he chooses the word ‘arrange’ over ‘assemblage’ to differentiate his ‘events’ from the combines of other artists such as Rauschenberg (7). As stated before, Brecht is not interested in juxtaposing or mixing objects and/or mediums. He wants to ‘arrange’ them into new situations fitting between media. Brecht also gives the option to ‘discover’ an ‘event’. This may be interpreted as to simply call a found object/sound/situation of reality an ‘event.’ This idea was influenced by Duchamp’s readymades, such as his 1913 Bicycle Wheel or 1917 Fountain. Duchamp advocates through his readymades art as objects of reality that are placed into the art world by choice of an artist. Brecht takes Duchamp’s idea a step further, allowing the art to be not only an object, but also any sort of undefined ‘event,’ whether it be a set of actions, a sound, an object, or a situation between any of the former. In using the disjunction ‘or’ in juxtaposing ‘arrange’ and ‘discover,’ Brecht gives the reader the option between the two. The instructions are mutually exclusive, as he asks the reader to do one or the other. He is specific in using a disjunctive rather than conjunctive as to avoid the urge to both ‘arrange’ and ‘discover,’ which may lead one to invent, or fabricate, an ‘event.’ To invent a situation would be too much in line with the tradition of artists who feel the need to be creative. Brecht desires a more subtle art, one that exists as an intermediate between reality and artifice, what Dezeuze calls “almost nothing” (10).

In the second sentence of “Event Score,” Brecht directs the reader to “score and then realize [the event].” Here, he passes the baton to the reader, instructing for him/her to take his role as composer or artist. Brecht recognizes that ‘arranged’ or ‘discovered’ situations/objects/sounds are not actually ‘events’ until they have been legitimized by the author as such by means of recognizing their ‘event’ status in some concrete form. To ‘score’ the ‘event’, then, means to dictate or transcribe the situation into an ‘event,’ thus giving it status as a situation outside (or at least on the fringes) of reality. Next, Brecht directs the reader to “and then realize it.” Once the ‘event’ has been legitimized, it must be acted out, seen, or understood as an ‘event’ by the performer and/or audience. The verb ‘to realize’ is once again a broad term that Brecht uses to muddle the distinction between audience and performer. It is unclear whether Brecht is directing the reader to ‘realize,’ as in understand the ‘event,’ or to ‘realize,’ as in physically make the ‘event’ happen.

After treading through Brecht’s carefully constructed language, one seems to understand the options that Brecht outlines, yet may still be dumbfounded as to how to define the ‘event’ within “Event Score” and thus understand how it may be ‘realized.’ But with more thorough consideration, it becomes obvious that this ‘event’ is entirely capable of being ‘realized,’ and it is only the overwhelming degree of freedom that Brecht gives to his reader that confuses him/her. He truly values the risk involved in leaving such works undefined. Dezeuze sees this as an extension of his earlier experimentation with chance in art:

Brecht discovered that simply leaving performers to make the decisions usually controlled by the artist was an equally, if not more, effective way of introducing chance into an artwork.
(Brecht for Beginners 2)

Therefore, to ‘realize’ “Event Score” would be as simple as to ‘discover’ (or happen upon) an exploded pen, ‘score’ it in some fashion, and then ‘realize’ or understand it as art. Brecht would argue that this specific interpretation of “Event Score” would be just as legitimate as any other interpretation.
So, “Event Score” can be readily realized, but still the question remains whether it needs to be. In a sense, the score has already realized itself as paradigm for all scores by Brecht and thus does not need to be further realized. It is as if Brecht writes this score as a way to divulge his own valuable process in writing scores. On the other hand, “Event Score” seems to need to be realized by its reader because Brecht never justifies language as an artistic objective. In fact, in his text Chance-Imagery, he writes, “words about art are so indefinitely inferior to art itself” (4). He does not write scores as products but rather as a means to a more material end. He is specific in “Event Score” that it is to be “[scored] and then [realized].” He does not give the disjunctive connector or as he does in the former part of the score. He uses and then to imply that a score is nothing without being drawn to completion, being both scored and then realized. Nothing in the score is to be overshadowed, for it is his brilliant and humorous economy of meaning within the ten-word score that marks its effective power and signature as a paradigm for all other scores.

Works Cited

Brecht, George. “Chance-Imagery.” A Great Bear Pamphlet, Something Else Press, 1966: 1-29. 14 October 2007

Daneuze, Anna. “Brecht for Beginners.” Papers of Surrealism. Issue 4 (Winter 2005): 1-11. 14 October 2007

Friedman, Ken, Owen Smith, Lauren Sawchyn, Excerpts From: the Fluxus Performance Workbook. Performance Research e-publication, 2002. 15 October 2007

Higgins, Dick. “Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia.” Something Else Newsletter 1 No. 1 (1966): 1-12. 14 October 2007

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