Radu Malfatti’s 12-hour installation and James Tenney’s “In a large, open space” were relevant to each other in their quietness, in the freedom of coming and going of the audience, and in their understated qualities. Knowing that the aesthetic world is similar on at least these surfaces, the differences between the pieces become all the more interesting.
The Malfatti installation took place in a room with couches, pillows, and floorspace available to listeners. One’s view was likely to be obstructed. It became apparent to me within a very short time that the idea was to settle in wherever I had landed and have whatever experience I was most inclined to have. The pieces being played, the performance styles of the players, and the overall situation were completely unobstructive to mental wandering. For those that needed it, it became an unexpected opportunity to rest.
It was inevitable that everyone would miss something. Even the performers (Cranc and Malfatti) took breaks. With a 12-hour installation, there was hardly a choice. I was there for about 20 minutes in the afternoon, until the need for a sandwich took hold of me. I went back for the last two hours. Returning to the installation was a way of making myself at home in Huddersfield. (It was my first day at the festival.) There were many wonderful sounds and arcs that I heard, but I am sure that I missed many of them. The whole situation led to a kind of sitting back, that felt very simple and natural.
Tenney’s “In a large, open space,” on the other hand, was all about sitting forward in one’s chair, getting up, and walking around. The players, who included many students and amateurs, were distributed throughout Bates Mill, and the audience was invited to move through the space during the piece. The instructions to the players changed over time, so whatever I was moving towards or away from might also be about to change. With all the motion, it was very hard to tell what was shifting in the sound, where, and when. Again I felt gently disoriented, but this time it was spatial, not temporal. My favorite point was early on, watching and experiencing the transition in the audience from passive to active observation. No one circulated until at least 5 minutes into the performance. Once a few people started, others got up and started tracing their own paths among the performers. It was a social experience, in the quietest of ways.