Some collaborations thrive on false starts. This group exhibition was originally announced as ‘Switched-On Bach’, the title of Wendy Carlos’s 1968 album of Moog synthesizer variations on the great composer’s work. Since this namesake couldn’t be used for legal reasons, curator Denis Pernet opted for ‘Play Bach’ – a reference to Jacques Loussier who’s been producing jazzy crossovers of Bach compositions under this title since 1959.
Nevertheless, Julian Göthe’s illusionistic interior Poor Wendy (2011) recalled Carlos’s electronic interpretations. He placed black cloth cords on the walls at Circuit and wove a spider’s web around the other paintings, videos and sound pieces in the show. The artist created special installations for some works – like Artur Zmijewski’s video Singing Lesson 2 (2003), Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub’s film The Chronicle of Magdalena Bach (1968) and Adrian Piper’s audio piece Bach Whistled (1970) – which were encased in panels, outstretched like arms to give viewers and listeners a metaphorical embrace. The video and audio cables looked more daring when you took a step back and saw them as extensions of Göthe’s installation. They ran nonchalantly across the floor to the playback device, drawing attention away from the 4:3 format crammed into widescreen. Just as the bundle of cables seemed to earth the taught diagonal cords with which Göthe set the whole exhibition space in perspectival motion, so the baroque cloth cords and electric cables seemed to duplicate the change of media that ‘Play Bach’ thematized: from old music to visual contemporaneity.
While Bach and Göthe orchestrated the exhibition, Cory Arcangel provided the opening note. A copy of Arcangel’s book a couple thousand short films about Glenn Gould (2008) was on hand at the entrance – a play on the title of François Girard’s film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993). Arcangel’s collection of quotations addresses a different kind of ‘musical reproduction’ to the one theorized by Theodor W. Adorno in his posthumously published notes. Whilst Adorno speculates about the criteria for judging the fidelity of an interpretation of musical notation, Arcangel brings Bach performer Glenn Gould into play to throw light on the technical reproduction and manipulation of music. Gould renounced live performances in 1964 and dedicated himself exclusively to studio recordings.
Once inside the exhibition, the visitor was confronted with a digital double of Arcangel’s now rare book. Presented on nothing more than a thankless laptop screen, the video a couple thousand short films about Glenn Gould (2007) cuts together YouTube samples by home musicians. Arcangel only gives his Goldberg variations a breather at the beginning and end of the video, when
a live mouse scurries across the piano keys and a guitarist leads out with a rousing hard-rock riff. Otherwise Bach’s metronome prevails here too. Arcangel programmed more implacably than Shahryar Nashat’s video Plaque (Slab) (2007) and Tim Lee’s Goldberg Variations: Aria, BWV 988, Johann Sebastian Bach, 1741 (Glenn Gould, 1981) (2008). All three videos dissect Gould’s
piano playing before meticulously putting
it back together again: swing and
automatism, cut-up and montage.
Translated by Jonathan Blower