Next to John Cage, David Tudor (1926-1996) was one of the leading lights of the post-war avant-garde movement in the United States. Tudor actually premiered Cage’s most notorious piece, 4’ 33” (1952), which featured the pianist sitting stock still in front of his keyboard for exactly four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The “music” was provided by the sounds of the audience shuffling uncomfortably in their seats, and any other random noises heard in the hall.
Nearly 60 years after the fact, a performance such as 4’ 33” may seem quaint, even silly. Make no mistake though, David Tudor has had a direct, or indirect influence on every bleeding-edge artist of the past 50 years.
For example, Krautrock godfather Karlheinz Stockhausen dedicated his Klavierstück VI (1955) to Tudor. And most significantly to rock fans of today, Tudor premiered some of the early compositions of La Monte Young. Young went on to mentor John Cale, who then formed the Velvet Underground, which incorporated his theories. And as every punk fan knows, the VU have had an influence on just about every band since.
The context is important in understanding the DVD Bandoneon! (a combine). This is a documentary of David Tudor’s first full concert work as a composer. He was participating in a series titled 9 Evenings, presented in 1966 in New York. The other artists involved were John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Whitman.
Tudor’s night was October 6, and the instrument he played was the bandoneon. The bandoneon is a Latin instrument, and is somewhat analogous to a small accordion.
As the DVD shows, though, Tudor’s bandoneon is an instrument unlike any other. With the help of technicians from Bell Telephone Laboratories, Tudor’s bandoneon was the driving force of a multimedia blitzkrieg. By connecting contact microphones to various switches, delays and loops, and even running some through an ancient harmonium, the sound of the instrument becomes an unbelievable wash of feedback.