"Chekhov's Gun," March 29th, 2015, Studio 10 Gallery, Brooklyn. running time: 00:49:56.
Matt Freedman: Thanks for coming. Sorry about the phone. My niece Tea, my sister's daughter, is in the Squamish and Kings County Spelling Championships right now. She just spelled “cantata” correctly, so I think she's through the second round. Last year she was in this competition as well. It was streamed live by a local TV station in Seattle, the championship of Seattle Spelling Bee. She is one of these kids who just does things that she likes to do. She saw that movie “Somebody and the Bee” and she thought a spelling bee would be fun to do so she enters her school competition and she wins so she goes to the city-wide competition that we're all watching online. All of her uncles are failed athletes and we're just hoping that she doesn't embarrass herself and she can get through the first round. There's like 80 kids, the smartest kids in Seattle, up on this stage.
She gets through the first round and we say, “Well that's good. Now she won't humiliate herself.” We have very negative thinking in our family. And then she gets to the second round, and then the third round and the fourth, the fifth round, sixth round. Finally, it's down to her and this other kid and we think--now we're very ambivalent--because we want her to win and it seems to be possible that she could win. And yet the humiliation and disappointment of losing now would be even greater than having lost earlier, before. So we're in this tortured conflict about how to get Tea out of this experience. And then she misses a word, so we think it's over, but it turns out that in spelling bees you have to spell the last word correctly to win. You can't just win on somebody else's mistake. So this poor kid gets his word spelled wrong. So Tea’s back in it and they go back and forth and find that he makes a mistake. And then she gets “acetylene”, which is, who could spell acetylene? Hey.
She wins. She won. Tea was the champion of Seattle. She goes to the Nationals, she's on ESPN. She has such a good time. Even though she came in I think 13th in the country, out of 5 million people. She's back at it today, I guess she won her school again. And I'm just following the family's tweets as we go through. I think she spelled---they give them easy words to begin with to get out the people who shouldn't be there-so she has spelled “rehearse” and “cantata.” Maybe by the end of the afternoon we'll have more information, but today we're going to talk mostly about these winding stories. For some reason at the last minute it seems like my family is insinuating itself more and more into the narrative.
Years ago, my brothers and I, well, me and two of my brothers went up to Ely, Minnesota years ago to see my oldest brother Bart, who was a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters area, which meant he had to portage or carry these enormous canoes between lakes and mountains, and he built up these enormous legs. We would go up and see him once a summer and we’d paddle around with him. One of my brothers and I had rowed in college, so we had the ability to turn an idyllic experience up in the high lake region of Canada and Minnesota into a competition as we tried to out-paddle couples who are out for a week or so in the wilderness. In order to get up to Ely we had to hitchhike from Minneapolis, and we had a really terrible time getting rides. In fact we had to spend a couple of nights outside, the first night in a field and the second night in a town park, I think. I was with my brother Josh, who had spent some time in Europe and for some reason that gave him these survival skills that I lacked. When we realized we going to be trapped in this city, he started collecting all the newspapers he could find as it got darker and darker and I didn't know why. He was ridiculing me for not being prepared. It was the grasshopper and the ant story.
By the time it got dark we were in the town square, Josh had stuffed all the newspapers in his pants and his jacket and he lay down and I who had scoffed at his behavior because he was dumpster diving to get this done, was very cold. So he gave me some of the comic sections of his newspaper and we got through the night. We went up to the Boundary Waters and we spent a week rowing around with my brother Bart and then we had to go home, and we were hitchhiking back. I remember the afternoon after we had just hiked out of the wilderness. We're on this road and we look worse than ever and nobody is picking us up.
Josh starts to tell me a story about a movie he’d just seen. The In-Laws, which is a Peter Falk and Alan Arkin comedy. Arthur Miller, I’m sorry, Arthur Hiller directed it. It’s a kind of a complicated romp. Alan Arkin is a mild-mannered dentist in New York City, and his daughter is marrying a young man whose father is Peter Falk, who is this mysterious businessman who is always telling stories about going down to Guatemala and Arkin begins to suspect he's a crook. This is exacerbated when Falk asks him if he'll break into his safe because he has some documents there. One thing leads to another and soon they're down in South--Central America. Falk is a CIA agent, a rogue agent who has stolen some plates, a hundred billion dollars in plates for counterfeit money and he's trying to entrap an insane dictator whose chief advisor is his own hand, which he speaks to it like it is a separate being. It's called Senior Pepe or something.
The story is very complicated because it involves the growing realization on the part of one character that the other character is crazy, but then, that he might not be crazy. And then as the circumstances get more and more complex, we are drawn into the real drama of their story. I remember standing by the road on this beautiful sunny day listening to this story spin out and realizing that it was far more pleasant to hear my brother tell the story of this movie than it ever possibly could have been to see the movie. I tested that proposition by seeing the movie later on, and it was not as good as the way Josh told it.
Somehow reduced to the schematics and maybe the circumstances, the movie’s narrative was far more compelling than in its actual orchestrated form. I think in the end, they are lined up against a wall to be shot and then the CIA comes in and it turns out everything is true and they rescue them, and it turns out that Falk was supposed to give the dictator $10 million, but he actually had $20 million, so he gives the CIA $10 million, and then the two fathers-in-law split the rest. They each get five million, so they each can give their kids a million dollar gift for their wedding. That's a very nice story. But the structure of the story reminded me ---that last event, the CIA coming over the wall--- is an example of deus ex machea, this resolution of a story by some sort of almost divine intervention at the last minute.
As a sophisticated audience like this would know, the phrase comes from Greek, mostly from Greek tragedies, where a mechanical hoist called a mechane would resolve all conflicts at the end of a story by hoisting in a god in who would set things right and put people on in the right path. It was used a lot. The advantage of this kind of mechanism is that you can create whatever kind of drama you want and whatever kind of resolution you want, simply by appealing to this outside force. Of course, now it's become a much more derided technique because it creates a lack of internal logic in a story. If you can get out of your plot any way that you want, it disrupts the suspension of disbelief. We'll get to that in a second, because it’s essential to the way that we understand how story structure works
I need all these pages.
The other system that we need to keep in mind, especially, is another familiar concept to most of you, which is Chekov’s Gun. Chekhov, the great Russian storyteller, said that stories had to be very parsimonious with the information that they gave. Everything had to fit. It couldn’t have one extraneous bit of information or trail off in one direction or another because that would subtract from the momentum of the drive of the narrative towards whatever conclusion. So, an example would be, if at the beginning of the story, over the mantlepiece of the hero there is a hunting rifle, sometime before the end of the story somebody has to shoot that rifle. If it doesn't happen, then we go away dissatisfied.
When you look up these words online, you'll link to other concepts, which I also find kind of interesting. The Big Dumb Object, which is a sort of derogatory principle, or term, for the objects of great veneration like the sphere and the movie Sphere or the obelisk in 2001, things that emanate some great power just by hovering there and becoming motivators. It occurred to me that in movies where there is a work of art that is the key motivator of action, the work of art is usually portrayed as a big dumb object because you can't actually show a work of art without being slightly anticlimactic, because somebody is not going to like what you do. So you're about to draw something. If I just show something and then when you see it, you are disappointed, unless I guess in the case of the picture of Dorian Gray painted by Ivan Albright, who I just found out in my research was Madeline Albright’s step father-in-law. He was famous for these very intense, complicated images and he was hired to make the final image of Dorian Gray at the end of the movie where the horror of his actions is revealed. And because I guess they figured Albright’s work would fit with that, they actually showed his painting. They had hired his brother Melvin to do the first picture, but they fired him because he didn't--that's true actually--he didn't make as nice an image of the original Dorian Gray as they wanted. Ivan Albright learned his craft by drawing these incredible images of soldiers who had been grievously wounded in World War One I guess for medical journals, and that affected the way he worked for the rest of his life.
The most interesting and famous example of these storytelling conventions of course, is the McGuffin, which is mostly associated with Hitchcock, but the idea actually came from Pearl White, who was the star of The Perils of Pauline movies at the turn of-the early part of the century. They were serials and very week she would have to do something like jump off of a bridge or go down a waterfall. She was always on the run and she usually had something that everybody else wanted and she called it a Weenie. And so Weenie is the actual term, but Hitchcock called it a McGuffin. A McGuffin is the thing that everybody wants, that drives the story ahead. He contended that it didn't matter what it was; you just had to believe that it was important enough to the characters to drive the action and to define their behavior.
George Lucas said it had to be important. He said that R2D2 was a McGuffin and that we all had to care about it, but I take Hitchcock over George Lucas any day. Hitchcock liked to tell a story about what a McGuffin was. He said there were two men on a train in an old English compartment and on the on the rack above one of them was a package. And the man who has just entered asks, “What is that? What's in there?” The other man says, “It's a McGuffin.” The second man says “What's a McGuffin? And the first man says, “Oh, a McGuffin is a device for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” And the other man answers, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.” And the first man says, “Well, then that's not a McGuffin.” So is the MacGuffin is whatever. It's nothing. It's just whatever you would present it to be.
But back to the concept of suspension of disbelief, which is important to our story. It was originally coined by Coleridge the poet when he was proposing a new kind of literature that for the first time, post enlightenment, placed the emphasis on realism back into question. He felt like he couldn't tell the particular stories he wanted to tell unless he could convince his audience to believe in a supernatural world that everybody had been trying to turn their backs on. He was writing specifically about his epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in which as you may recall a sailor shoots an albatross while on a ship that is in the far north, I think. Immediately after that, the ship is becalmed, and the crew is convinced that the killing of the albatross is the cause of their misfortune and they hang the albatross around his neck as a form of punishment. I guess it's supposed to mitigate their sin, but the ship drifts for a while. Everybody dies but the sailor and he's rescued by a man who may or may not be the devil and he's condemned to walk the earth telling his story for eternity about being mindful, I think. Unless you believe---you won't get much out of the story--unless you are willing to believe that the albatross was somehow a supernatural force and that there was some sort of divine punishment for the actions of the man. Some thought that this character is connected to various different stories. I think Coleridge had a teacher who had been on a boat that had gone far north.
The story of the wandering Jew is also cited as a precedent. This is one of those antisemitic canards. Apparently, as Christ was carrying the cross to his crucifixion, he stumbles on the doorstep of a Jew, I think he was a shoemaker. The guy punches Jesus, or tells him to go away and Jesus says something like, “Well wait-or something-until I come back.” Now this guy can't die until there's a Second Coming, so he wanders around, begging forgiveness for his sins.
It's funny, there's also a Tolstoy story called The Kreutzer Sonata, that also takes place on a train oddly enough, in which people are talking about love. We'll get to this later on, but basically this man has killed his wife and he has to ride this train, telling everybody his story for as long--I don't know---as long as the story goes.
This idea of eternal life being a punishment as opposed to death, functions—if we're talking about suspension and disbelief ---within a worldview where there is some sort of divine eternal reward for a behavior on earth. If you have comitted a grievous sin while on earth and you cannot die it's a horrifying proposition, but for most of us just staying alive is enough of a short-term goal to keep us preoccupied.
Oddly enough, my brother who told me the story about the In-Laws came back with a real story from Africa that somewhat changed my thinking about this. He went to Africa to work in medical clinics for a while and he told me this story about treating--he was out in the provinces---and he met a man who was seriously ill. In fact, he was dying, but the disease that he had was treatable with certain antibiotics that were not available in this small town. But if he went to the big city, which was several days journey away, he could get the medicine and, in all probability, would survive. What my brother told him was--well, it was just that. The journey would cost let's say $200 and there was a 90% chance that he would survive. When the man heard this, he said, “Well, I'm going to stay here then.” My brother said, “Why?” And the man said, “I have $200. That's basically all that I have. I would use all my money up if I went to the city to get this medicine, but I would have no money left. And if I went to the city and I died, then all my kinsmen would have to come to the city to bring my body back and that would be a huge imposition on them. But if I just stay here and die, I will be with my ancestors as I'm supposed to be and there will be no problem.”
For him it was a very straight forward proposition. To go to the city would be to risk everything he had for a few more years of life, but that might involve somebody having to get him to bring him back to his village, whereas if he stayed put he could live out his life and die with his ancestors anyway. Getting the medicine was an option that was clearly less important or powerful to him than the reality of staying where he felt he belonged and being at eternal rest with the people who he expected to be with. That notion of life being a relative value in comparison to a larger sense of your placement in the world was a revelation at the time. As I'm telling you the story now, I realize how embedded he was in a worldview that we secularists have lost touch with.
But that reminds me in a slightly different way of another story that Josh brought back from Africa with my brother Tom that is probably closer to something we could relate to, at least I can. They were near a preserve in Africa and they were outside a fence late at night. I'm not quite sure under what other circumstances they were there, but they saw an enormous elephant by the fence, and it occurred to one of them, probably Josh, that they could climb this fence and go see the elephant up close. As they prepared to do this Tom said, “We need to apply the New York Times Test to this situation,” and Josh said, “What's that?” Tom said, “Okay, we're going to climb over this fence. We're going to go see this elephant. There's a possibility that the elephant will stomp us and maul us. And then the headline in the newspaper will be ‘Two Americans Mauled by Elephant and the sub-headline will be, ‘Climbed Fence Late at Night to get into Game Park.’ Anybody reading that story will say, “’What a bunch of fucking idiots. What a stupid way to die. The Darwinian Proposition is alive and well. It's a good thing that they… and so on.’ Let's not do it.” In other words, if you can envision the headline that accompanies your demise and it is so sufficiently, dramatically insipid that no one will have sympathy for you, then you should probably not pursue that line of activity. Because basically most of us are not inclined to extend our sympathy to others in dire straits unless circumstances demand it. We need to somehow separate ourselves from the disasters that lurk around us at all times. I'm not going to say there's a trivial distinction between somebody who has been run over by an avalanche and somebody who climbs the fence late at night to go see an elephant, but that was enough to make them shy away from something which could have had tragic results. I guess I'm glad for that.
At this point I'm thinking I'm going to indulge in a little bit of deus ex machina myself. We are talking about the theme of withholding response from something that's being demanded of you, and as I was thinking about this, I got a letter, an email, from my friend Judy asking me a question. She's a musician and a playwright and she's writing a play about conductors and one of the themes in this story is perfect pitch, the idea of a gift that some musicians have. There is relative and there is perfect pitch.
The common notion is if that if you have perfect pitch, then you can distinguish notes absolutely. It's sort of the musical equivalent I guess, of having a photographic memory. When my niece Tea came back from Washington DC from the Spelling Bee Finals, she told the story--I think the story was also related by the guys themselves--that the two guys who won had photographic memories. So unlike all the other spellers who had to remember Greek and Latin roots and all sorts of systems of definitions and origins in order to parse out words, they simply looked at the pages of the words to be memorized. When they were asked if they worried about the last word they had to spell, they said, “No,” because they'd seen the page. The page was in their heads. This the ability to short circuit this system and get right to the essence of a piece of information is certainly appealing.
What Judy wanted to know was, if perfect pitch existed in the world of music, did something similar exist in the world of visual art? In other words, are there people who have perfect color sense? I have no idea about that. In the art world I operate in, that sort of skill is few and far between. I asked a couple of painter friends, including two who actually worked for paint companies doing color matching, and they said as far as they knew there was not such a thing as somebody with perfect color sense. There are people who are very good at it, but it didn't seem like there was a kind of inherent ability that distinguished some people from others. Although, when you look up Velasquez, he could do amazing things--maybe it was an acquired skill---but he basically painted with nine colors, the primaries and secondaries and blue or black, I mean brown, black and white. And he could mix, without mistake, any color that he wanted at any at any point, on this palette, which is an appealing idea.
That got me thinking about another segue off of this line, which is some notion of synesthesia, that mixture of senses of color and music and letters or numbers that some people possess. This seems like another gift along the lines of perfect pitch or photographic memory that allows you to see or react to the world in a way that most of us can never hope to do.
For some reason that story made me think about a more well-known idea about how certain kinds of stimulations can demand of us a certain reaction that we don't want to necessarily give into. In this case, it's the old Monte Python skit about the killer joke, the perfect joke. According to this story, a professional joke writer in the middle of, I think it was the First World War, writes a joke that is so funny that when he reads it over he immediately keels over and dies. And then his mother comes in, and she reads it-she thinks he's had a heart attack--and she dies. Then Scotland Yard has to come in to try and retrieve this letter off the desk. One brave detective comes in. He's trying not to see the joke, but he does see it. He laughs, he dies. And then they have to basically somehow transport it to their laboratories, break it into all the different parts and try to weaponize this joke by giving one word each to a bunch of different translators and have each translate their word into a German word. One translator by accident sees two words and has to spend six months in hospital. But, eventually they have this joke together and they go out and they began shouting it at the Germans on the front lines. In the skit you don't know what the content of the joke is, it's just a bunch of gobbledygook, but sure enough it works. The Germans are laughing and falling over. They try to create their own joke, I think, but their joke is not as effective. I think it's “two peanuts are walking down the street and one peanut is assaulted. Peanut.” It didn't work. Eventually I think the joke, after the war, is buried under a Monument to the Unknown Joke.
It's a very clever story, but it turns out that there are many antecedents to this. I think Li'l Abner, the Al Capp cartoon strip, had a similar story a few years before the Monty Python skit aired about a killer joke that Bob Hope was going to read on the air. But then Li'l Abner, who is sort of illiterate, reads the joke and doesn't get it so he puts his own joke in and the world is saved because Bob Hope reads this bad joke that only Li’l Abner likes. Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story called The Ultimate Melody about a song that is so beautiful that you lose all desire to go on living after you hear it. Infinite Jest, the David Foster Wallace novel, turns on a movie that is so appealing, or so compelling that you can't-- you lose all desire to do anything except watch the movie over and over again, and that's how the revolution against the code of the corporate state occurs. Of course, Infinite Jest itself is a reference to Yorick, Shakespeare’s man of infinite jest, a clown capable of humor that was irresistible.
The oddest precedent is a story called Nothing but Gingerbread Left, a short story that was written during World War Two. It's not a very good story. It's about a two linguists who write, they decide--they think that there's a certain kind of speech--and this is what Arthur C. Clark was writing about too-- that you can get a harmonic in the brain that will actually resonate properly if you stimulate it the right way and create an irresistible ear worm. They write this marching song that we never quite hear in the story, but that eventually works its way to Germany and then Hitler is about to give a speech-- the idea is that the Germans are so logical that somebody has to disrupt their flow---Hitler hears the story and he can't resist it and he begins chanting it over and over again, and I think the war ends at that point.
What that is, is a classic cadence count. These things actually exist in the real world. The soldiers who are marching to, “One, two, three, four….Tell the teacher what she wore,” or, “I left my wife in starving condition in the kitchen…I left my wife and 48 children in the kitchen in starving condition with only one jellybean left. Left, right, left, right,” are marching to cadence counts. This apparently with invented by a private Willie Duckworth in 1942 while on maneuvers near Fort Slocum in upstate New York. This was during the segregated era of the army. Duckworth was in a black unit and they were coming back from a 20 mile hike and the men were dragging and Duckworth started this “sound off, sound off“ chant. I have his words here as, “It ain't no use in going home, Jody's got your girl and gone. Ain't no use in being blue, Jody's got your sister too” This cheered the men up and they began marching with pep in their step and they got home and they were feeling great and it became--it was called the Duckworth Chant or March. There were lots of elaborate, totally obscene versions of this, but basically, it’s a call and response that kept everybody on the straight and narrow for a long time.
That Jody term was something I had never heard of. “Jody has your sister, Jody has your wife.” It turns out this – and this has become a kind of a trope of all these marching songs-- Jody was another invention of black American culture. He’s actually from “Joe The” or “Joe D” Grinder from a blues song about a man who's coming back from working in a saw mill and he suspects his girl of being disloyal and he says if he catches her with Joe The Grinder, he'll chop them up. Joe the Grinder became Joe The, Joe D, and then Jody. Jody is a universal character and a lot of soldier stories are about an evil man left behind who is not brave, is not well organized, he's not courageous. He's not army material, but he's behind your back taking all that you care about away from you. I guess the army was supportive of this concept because it redirected energy and unhappiness that the soldiers might be experiencing from their circumstances away from the army and towards the civilian population. It gave them an outlet, gave them something to bond over. It gave them some sort of grievance that they could all make fun of in some way.
La Marseillaise apparently was also was written specifically in order to give the partisans in the early days of the revolution, the French Revolution, an organizing song to work around. Also, in The Gingerbread Man, they connect the mania inspired by this tune to the Saint Vitus Dance manias of the medieval era, which were a very real thing. Apparently for hundreds of years there were these periodic outbursts of ecstatic dancing. I'm not sure how it manifested itself at the time… Who was St Vitus? I'm glad you asked me that. Saint Vitus was an early martyr, as I guess they all were. The Saint Vitus dance is a sort of twitching dance. It could also be a form of cholera or some sort of spastic behavior.
Saint Vitus was a Sicilian boy of noble descent who was given by his father to a couple to raise, I guess as was the custom at the time. When young Vitus reached the age of 12 the father came to bring him back now that the hard work of getting him out of childhood was done. The father was going to make him into a proper pagan man, but unfortunately the couple he had given him to were devout Christians. I think he born in 291, so he is about 12 years old, and he's now such a good Christian boy that he refuses to worship the pagan gods and they beat him and they scourge him and they tempt him with a corrupt woman, but nothing will work. So, they put him in a pot of oil and pitch and they boil him. They boil his foster parents as well. But they all pray and they're spared and then they go--they sail away to Italy and they try to proselytize there. They're put back on the rack and they’re pulled apart. And that's how they achieved their martyrdom. Saint Vitus was 12 years old when he died. He's the patron saint I think of dancers and comedians. I don't know which came first, the Vitus Dance as a reflection of what he was doing in the pot, or whether Vitus was the name given to an existing phenomenon.
I don't know what the Vitus dance is.
Maybe this is it.
But one thing that occurred to me when I was looking into this idea of a synesthetic response that we all share was something that came up; The Bouba/Kiki effect. Do you know the Bouba/Kiki test? All right, here's the Bouba/Kiki test:
Alright. Which one of these is Bouba and which one of these is Kiki?
Of course. We can all agree this is Bouba and this is Kiki? There’s no question we all know this is Bouba, right? Because it's soft and round, and this is sharp and hard and Kiki is a hard sound and bouba is a soft sound. Apparently 98% of the people you ask this question…did anybody get it the other way around? Be kind of interesting to know, but no. Somehow, we all make some connection between the sound of this word and the shape that is produced. Alright.
So, I proved sufficiently to myself that there are enough ways to manipulate, either in fact or fiction, people into unwanted, or not unwanted, but fun and unrequested emotional responses. The most powerful experiences with that that most of us might have without the aid of a hallucinogens is through music.
As it happens, Judy's husband Hugh is a conductor and he had recently conducted a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Japan in a sports stadium with a choir of 10,000 singers, with Hugh in the middle. I asked him if this was the most transcendent experience you could possibly have. I mean, being in the middle of the Ode to Joy with 10,000 voices coming down on top of you, as you're waving your arms with some response to the gestures that you're making. And he said, “No, not really. You're just trying to follow the music and trying get your work done.” So, he couldn't even enjoy this experience, which seems to me could be some sort of apex of the human experience. But it did get me to thinking about the possibility that that song is in fact sort of a form of a killer joke--I think in Snow Crash there's also this idea of there’s an ur language that if you tap into, you lose all control of your sensibilities.
I thought it would be an interesting experiment and a form of obeisance on my part to test this theory. When I was a kid, more than 40 years ago, I tried to play the cello, but I actually have the opposite of perfect pitch. I have no pitch at all. I have no rhythm at all either, as I've already demonstrated. A few times when I played the cello though, I could detect a faint echo of a tune that I recognized, and these were actually kind of transcendent moments. You realize you're capable of something that connects you to a Bach cello suite, which is actually pretty simple to play if you reduce it to its least common denominators. I played this cello briefly in the school band, actually. The bassoon part and the cello part are both in the base clef. It was even worse than Woody Allen's character, who had to play his cello in the marching band by shoving his chair down the street; our band didn’t even march. We never got out of rehearsals, but I kept the cello.
I don't know why I kept the cello for all these years, carrying it around from one place or another, wondering if there was ever a point it would be useful to me. I don't know if that point is now, but I feel like we've already set this proposition up. This is Chekov’s Gun. It has to go off at this point.
I need to add one more point of apology. Stuart will remember. When we were freshmen in college, we heard that a junior in the college was supposed to be a good cello player and he was giving a concert in a room smaller than this. We went and this kid comes in and he's wearing a blue velvet smoking jacket and I immediately felt a certain resistance. Any college undergrad wearing a blue velvet coat seems to be worthy of a certain level of snide response. He sits down and he plays, and he's very good. He's great. He's Yo-Yo Ma. This is Yo-Yo Ma as a teenager. Afterwards Stuart and I walk out, and Stuart says, “Well, that was great, don't you think?”, because he knew I played the cello. I said, “Yeah, he's really good. I mean, there were a few notes that were off and every so often I heard a squeak.” Stuart to his eternal credit didn't say anything, but I felt terrible ever since that I had the gall to set myself up as Yo-Yo Ma’s judge.
So the cello that I have, it turns out I can't really keep the peg in place. I think it'd be better to play it with the mic still on. Tim is going to draw while I play. Finally, we can reverse. Fine. You got the chalk. Would you like really sticky chalk? Would you like a really heavy black?
The cello broke when I tried to tune it, so I don’t know if it will work. I went to Sam Ash to get a new bridge. Should we go pizzicato or full bow? I don't think I can play if the bridge is so high that I can't get this right…
The only other time I ever played in public, I got through the music so fast that the accompanist gave up and stopped playing halfway through. It's been 40 years and we did not rehearse. Because that would be cheating. And I didn't tune the cello.
This is what the A sounds like, just in case anybody does have perfect pitch. One, two, three, four….
This is not high enough. I think even I have to some standards…. Okay. Enough, I’ll play.
(Ode to Joy)
Yeah. And now it's done. We don't have to do it again.
That's it. Unless you want to hear it in pizzicato...
Tea still is not eliminated yet!
Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios have been producing their Endless Broken Time drawing, talking and percussion performances at Studio 10 gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn since 2015. Ancestors, machines, and philosophy are told and illustrated by Freedman and take their irregular rhythm and form from the aberrant and improvised syncopation of Spelios’ broken time drumming.
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