Critics’ Picks

View of “David Tudor and Composers Inside Electronics: Rainforest V,” 2015.

New York

David Tudor

BROADWAY 1602 | Uptown
5 E. 63rd Street 1ABC
January 31–March 4

In 1968, commissioned by Merce Cunningham to write the score for the dance work RainForest—which also featured flying Mylar balloons by Andy Warhol—the composer David Tudor hooked up everyday objects to homemade transducers. Rather than “playing” the objects, Tudor allowed them to emit their own resonances, which sounded like birdsong, cicada chirps, and ambient ringing.

That critical reversal in electronic music, using speakers not as a mechanism for amplification but as the source of the musical signal, retains its thrill a decade after Tudor’s death in 1996. Rainforest V, 2015, credited here to Tudor and a group called Composers Inside Electronics, fills the gallery with the squeaking, squawking, beeps and boops, and a continuous ambient hum, derived from a boggling array of objects suspended all around. A case of Bordeaux and a welder’s mask give off a sound not unlike a monkey’s screech. Stick your head inside an oil drum and hear the ringing of a Tibetan prayer bowl.

The experience is intense (pity the attendants who endure it eight hours a day), yet the enduring force of this landmark of sound art is plastic as much as sonic. The readymade is too often misunderstood as an end point. As Tudor proposed, it is actually a generative system that yokes together a person and object, producing a new and better relationship in which mastery gives way to risk. If this century has taught us that technology has far less liberatory potential than was previously supposed, Tudor reaffirms that only a much less rigid treatment of its elements can get us anywhere near beauty.