Yves Klein's Monotone-Silence
New York City -- The huge sound, a D major chord produced by an orchestra and a chorus, begins suddenly and fills the air for 20 minutes, like a stuck foghorn. It ends as abruptly as it begins.
However, there is no applause because the orchestra is only half finished, because its members sit without playing or even moving, “performing” silence for just as long.
This evening, art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are thrilled to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime experience entitled, "Monotone-Silence".
The bizarre symphony was created by the artist Yves Klein, who is best known for his monochrome blue paintings. Klein conceived of a musical complement to his visual ideas: a symphony of monotony and silence, a much harder thing to do than he or anyone imagined.
The orchestra he dreamed of — 70 musicians and singers — will perform the work at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, at East 73rd Street.
Roland Dahinden, a Swiss composer and performer, has conducted the piece four times in Europe so far, and will do so again tonight. Mr. Dahinden is being flown in for this unique event by the Dominique Lévy Gallery, which is producing it.
He and the performers have been preparing themselves mentally over the last few weeks for the unusual test of stamina, patience and repose: to play one note in an “intense and continuous” way, as Klein instructed, for an unreasonable amount of time and then to remain quiet and motionless for longer than most people ever do.
To pull off the first half of the symphony, the singers and musicians — 10 cellists, 10 violinists, 3 bassists, 3 flutists, 3 oboists and 3 French horn players — need to produce the chord with no vibrato or variation, breathing and bowing in such a way as to create a sound with no audible breaks. (Early on, Klein compared the sound to a human scream and played recordings of screams — one quite harrowing example was the voice of the French playwright Antonin Artaud — to demonstrate.)
Klein conceived of the idea for the symphony around 1947-48, the same years that John Cage, in New York, was formulating “4’33”,” a landmark work that involves a pianist not playing the piano but instead attuning an audience to the complexities of silence. Though there seems to be no evidence that Cage and Klein were aware of each other at the time or influenced each other later, Klein also came to view silence as the most important part of the musical work.
Klein’s symphony has been performed both with the permission of the estate, and without, over the last four decades — once by a chorus of as many as a hundred singers, and at least once by a single musician with a laptop.
During the original 1960 performance, Klein included a companion piece in which three naked women — he called them “living brushes” — covered themselves in his signature deep blue paint and pressed their bodies on paper during the sound half of the symphony, freezing during the silence. New Yorkers won't see this tonight, although an archival photograph of the piece is shown above.
Dominique Lévy, who is opening her new gallery at 909 Madison Avenue, next door to the church, became determined to produce the symphony to accompany her inaugural exhibition, “Audible Presence: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Cy Twombly".
Ms. Lévy first heard the symphony in 2007. Early this year, she secured permission from the Klein archive to produce the work, sending as assistant to Paris to assure that tonight's work would be just as Klein intended.
Seating is on a "first come-first served" basis. Doors open at 7:30 PM for the performance which starts promptly at 8:00 PM.