All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes
I put my head out of the kitchen door but I couldn’t hear anything from my location in central Charlton.
I’m writing up a review of John Lely and James Saunders’ book Word Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation,* so text scores like this are very much on my mind at the moment. It occurs to me that Work No. 1197 was probably the largest single performance of a verbal score there has been,** although I don’t recall anyone making a connection between Creed’s art and that of Yoko Ono, George Brecht or La Monte Young.
Actually, stylistically I think it sits more closely with Gavin Bryars’ Far Away and Dimly Pealing (1970). Not just because of the bell connections (although Bryars’ piece specifies only ‘sounds’), but because of the confluence of sound with vast dimensions and a (near-) impossible goal. (Far Away and Dimly Pealing asks the performer to activivate a sound source from a distance of one mile. The sound must be loud enough to be heard at that distance.) That combination of utopianism and reserved empiricism seems characteristic of quite a lot of British text scores: I’m thinking also of Michael Parson’s Walk pieces or Echo pieces (in which space and distance also play a part), or even Cardew’s Schooltime Compositions (1967). But then there are also connections with pieces like Ono’s Laugh Piece (1961): ‘Keep laughing a week’, or Kunsu Shim’s PLACES for Airhorn (1999) in which a performer must sound an airhorn for a long duration at a set time on several consecutive days (I summarise), or even Mieko Shiomi’s nine Spatial Poems, which require participants worldwide to perform an act at a given moment wherever they are.
I also like the fact that despite the occasion of its commissioning and first performance, and its obviously celebratory, festive mood, Creed’s work is completely transferrable and non-jingoistic: ‘all the bells in a country’. Even a change of ‘a’ to ‘the’ would have changed its tone hugely.
There was a bit of a hoo-ha last year when the staunchly traditional Central Council of Church Bell Ringers was invited to become involved in Creed’s project. Not the sort of thing church bells are designed for, was the basic tone of their argument. But that’s the thing: Creed’s piece has built-in flexibility (‘as possible’). Interpreting it requires a slightly different (more ingenuous?) style of reading than a typical musical score. It’s not a specification for precise musical action, but an injunction to attempt something unpredictable and miraculous. As Word Events lays out, there is a 50-year-old context and practice for text scores like this, in which vast amounts of nuanced musical activity can be created with very great efficiency. Work No. 1197 sits comfortably within several strands of that history, and makes its own unique contribution.
*To be posted here soon.
**Although see Daniel Wolf’s comment below.