For Bunita Marcus by Morton Feldman is probably about the extraneous sounds that inevitably accompany its performance and the communal event created by it, as much as it is about its musical material. Namely, a lot of the 70-minute piece written for the piano solo is to be played pianissimo, and a lot of it consists of the silent pauses between the sparse notes. This will require a small hall, and Mazzoleni Hall at the RCM had the layout of a small chapel.
A few minutes into Marc-André Hamelin‘s playing, the notes repeating, the simple sequences repeating, no development, a shimmer here and there, the atmosphere almost religious or at any rate conducive to meditation — the human body of course started to make itself heard. A few suppressed coughs here and there. A loud snoring from across the hall. My own stomach growling. But let me tell you, this piece is about degrees of silence, and it makes the slightest extraneous sound practically amplified. Then a loud bumblebee buzzed for a few minutes and in some consistent key. It was fantastic. Many people closed their eyes after about 20 min and took the whole thing in without any visual distractions. I was very close to getting out the book I had in my bag — Adam Phillips’ Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. It would have been a nifty experience, the text I like together with the meditative sparse music that asks you to look inward. Some yoga postures would have been nice to do as well, but none of this was an option. In fact, if there was one thing I wasn’t a fan of, it’s this solemn “we have gathered here to worship a Great Man of the avant-garde” atmosphere sometimes in evidence. But, luckily, it was pierced and disturbed from many different angles.
The piece itself is available on the Toob in more than one version. They all sound louder than when played live, but still they can give you an idea. Until next year, C21!