WTM #1060: Do NOT Saté Erik Satie sans Settee

imageswReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3

Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies

18 May 2009 // 17.00-19.00

“Before I compose a piece, I walk around it several times, accompanied by myself.”

Erik Satie


Heures Seculaires et Instantanees [[backwards & a la renverse > France Clidat [Erik Satie / Forlane, 1982]

Gymnopédies No. 1 > Angela Brownridge [Piano Favourites / EMI]

Rhubarb On Classical Guitar > Aphex Twin

Gnossiene N°1 > Sarband

Gnossienne N°1 > Angela Brownridge [Piano Favourites / EMI]

Variations On A Theme By Erik Satie > Blood Sweat & Tears

Gnossienne N° 2 > Angela Brownridge [Piano Favourites / EMI]

Sometimes in Winter > Blood Sweat & Tears [Charlie Brown jazz / herbie mann]

Gymnopédie N°1 [Satie] > Sarband

Avril14th > Aphex Twin

Vexations [exc] > Dr.Dr. Jazz

+ I’ve Got a Secret / Vexations > John Cale

Music for Airports 2/1 > Brian Eno [Music for Airports / E.G., 1978]

Gymnopédie N° 3 > Frank Glazer [Let’s Do… French / Excelsior]

Lichen > Aphex Twin

Pieces Froids > France Clidat [Erik Satie / Forlane, 1982]

Two Rapid Formations > Brian Eno [Music for Films / E.G., 1978]

Pecadilles Importunes > Joao Paulo Santos [Erik Satie / Digital Concerto]

Kladfvgbung Micshk > Aphex Twin

Air Du Grand Maitre > Sarband

Kris Kristofferson of the Avant-Garde > Frank Rothkamm [just.3.organs / Flux]

Socrate [arranged by John Cage] >Tetsu & Masaki

Passer / Encore > France Clidat [Erik Satie / Forlane, 1982]

Hymne Pour Le “Salut Drapeau” > Sarband

Encounter with Remarkable Trees > Frank Rothkamm [just.3.organs / Flux]

Vexations [exc] > Dr.Dr. Jazz

+ I’ve Got a Secret / Vexations > John Cale

“When I was young, I was told: ‘You’ll see, when you’re fifty. I am fifty and I haven’t seen a thing.”

• Erik Satie

BustoerikOne of the most interesting pieces I ran across was something on Youtube. John Cale was a guest on this game show where the panel has to guess his secret. The shy Cale had taken part in the first complete performance of Vexations with a number of other pianists and musicians. And the show ended with him playing a short excerpt from the piece.The piece consists of 840 repetitions of the musical motif + more of the melody. Probably the single longest one-movement piece in existence and it is as long as almost all of his other work put together. He never explained what his reasoning for the piece was. Perhaps to vex / annoy / pull the legs of the music world. Here also performed on keyboards by Dr.Dr. Jazz from the Detroit area, a fine ukele deconstructionist – “the ukele is the yodel of string instruments.” [Vexations on Party Beach / Dental Machine Music, 2004]

I have always liked Satie [May 17, 1866 – July 1, 1925] because he countered boredom and convention with dadaistic humor and a certain clever contrariness. In certain ways he used his slow or minimal pieces as a kind of lethargic tool of low tempo to promote contemplation at the edge of irritation [vexation] as a method to some kind of illumination.

Wherever things were Wagnerian and heavy, dense, too-Romantic and over-wrought he intercepted with a kind of lightness which contained its own polemic of resistance. I like the music because much of it is beautiful and resembles man’s attempts to retrieve a certain internal peace, a peace that is not without its perils and conundrums and labyrinths. His music is described as minimalist and repetitive and furniture music but I prefer a precursor to the fascinations of Eno – the fixation on repetition as a form of meditation and trance-induction and as background so that the backdrop insinuates itself non-bombastically into our psyches. But there is often a wrench thrown in the works or a cat let loose in the labyrinth.

He received his first music lessons not long after his family moved from Honfleur to Paris. He moved back with his father who had remarried a piano teacher. The Paris Conservatoire judged him as totally untalented and sent home. Several years later, he reapplied and received the same critique. He never did study music formally. He joined the military in reaction but only lasted there for a few weeks. An unconventional spirit, he found a trick to escape duty. In the later 1880s he started hanging out at the Le Chat Noir and began publishing his Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes while living in a small room in Montmartre [rue Cortot 6]. He wrote some material for the Rosicrucians in an official capacity. In 1891 he put out his first major hoax: announcing an anti-Wagnerian opera he had not composed and had no intention of composing. As well, he published a so-called Christian ballet and some sect-like tracts. He fell for an artists’ model Suzanne Valadon. They became friends although he became increasingly obsessed with her tiny feet and beautiful hands. To calm himself down he wrote Danses Gothique as a kind of prayer or meditation.

His Vexations came to the fore only Satie’s death. He formed his own church, the Metropolitan Church of Art of the Leading Christ and was its only member and his frantic obsessive polemicizing certainly did not win him any fame or popularity. His brother helped him out with financial and everyday living matters. During the winter of 1898-1899, Satie would daily walk from his apartment in the Paris suburb of Arcueil across Paris to Montmartre or Montparnasse and then journey back on foot in the dark of evening. I also related to this.


For some years I roamed the streets of Paris, the same ones as Satie and Henry Miller and others, unable to get my true bearings, looking for a voice in the rubble and detritus cast off by revelers, whores and lonely souls staring into empty cigarette packs. These aimless wanderings were part of the trouble and part of the joy. The act of writing – strolling between Pigalle and Clichy, down into the 9th and across to Belleville – should include dynamic happenstance, surprise words leaping off the page and into a wall to produce something more unique than grafitti, grabbing the throats of the eternally stupefied to zen-shock them into awareness.

Somehow I have always liked the combination of writing and walking and meditation. The 3 go very well together. The pace leads to one level of thinking, the sights stimulate another part of the brain and the aimless serendipitous nature of these wanderings stimulated yet another aspect of thought/dream/write, and that I did lots of it in NY and Paris and amsterdam was at once an escape and as confrontation of the very things you escape from in work, busyness, reading and other pursuits. It calms the qualm-burdened mind for sure.

He also began working as a cabaret pianist playing standards and tossing in a few of his own. He considered his concurrents to be Ravel and Debussey. He studied harmony and composition and got a  diploma in 1908 and became a member of the radical Socialist party, working within the community and helping local children. He changed his look to that of a kind of English gentleman or “bourgeois functionary” complete with bowler hat, umbrella, etc. He went in for a new obsession collecting and trying to sell imaginary real estate, drawing imaginary buildings on file cards.

He saw increased success beginning in 1912 with his amusingly titled pieces such as Véritables Préludes flasques (pour un chien) (“Genuine Flabby Preludes (for a dog)”), the Vieux sequins et vieilles cuirasses (“Old Sequins and Old Breastplates”), with the scores including strange poetic or dadaistic commands  and remarks. Ravel somehow managed to unbeknownst to himself stimulate  a new appreciation of his earlier and most famous work. He worked Jean Cocteau on incidental music for a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and also worked together on the ballet “Parade.”  And met Picasso who introduced him to the Cubists and eventually Satie met Tristan Tzara and other dadaists like Duchamp but also maintained friendships with the Surrealists.

When he died in 1925 his friends for the first time entered his room to find a strange treasure of esoterica including a huge collection of umbrellas, 4 pianos, his love letters to Suzanne, his drawings of imaginary buildings and unknown compositions.


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