Vexations

We recently caught an installation by the architects Chance de Silva and the sound artist/musician Scanner (a hugely expansive website) at the Venice Biennale. Vex in Venezia uses the studio’s upcoming Vex House in Stoke Newington, an unusual collaboration between the architects and Scanner. Music and architecture both take as their starting point Erik Satie’sVexations’ – a looping, repetitive piano work which lasts around 28 hours in continuous performance, creating a form that not only directs the shape of the house, but also a work that will be installed inside it.

On Satie: ‘ In a filing cabinet he maintained a collection of imaginary buildings, most of them described as being made out of some kind of metal, which he drew on little cards. Occasionally, extending the game, he would publish anonymous small announcements in local journals, offering some of these buildings, e.g., a “castle in lead”, for sale or rent.’ And some more: ‘Over the course of his 27 years in residence at Arcueil, where Satie lived in stark simplicity, no one had ever visited his room. After his death, Satie’s friends discovered compositions that were totally unknown or thought to have been lost. The orchestral score to Parade was thought, by Satie, to have been left on a bus years before. These were found behind the piano, in the pockets of his velvet suits, and in other odd places, and included the Vexations.’

But to encounter the composer’s most extravagant act we would have to turn to the small and mysterious room in Arcueil. Indeed, when he died in 1925, after leading a solitary life for 27 years, his friends entered his immaculate chamber. There was a general feeling of surprise: among his few belongings they found a collection with over 100 umbrellas, a series of drawings portraying medieval buildings and a piano which, judging by the amount of spider webs on its cover looked as if it had never been played. In terms of the drawings, these proved who had been responsible for the enigmatic ads announcing the lease of a “lead castle”, among other buildings, in a Parisian newspaper.

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