A Chip On His Shoulder – Compelling Conviction vs. Directing Traffic

Posted: March 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

If Michael Fried argues, in “Art and Objecthood” (1967), that the very best abstract formalist paintings and sculptures of the day are absolutely authoritative, in their own right and on their own terms, and stand in no need whatsoever of public approval or applause, . . .

Morris Louis
#11 (1961)

Jules Olitski
Tin Lizzie Green (1964)

Frank Stella
Black Series II (1967)

Yellow Swing 1965 by Sir Anthony Caro born 1924

Sir Anthony Caro
Yellow Swing (1965)

. . . what, then, would Fried want us to make of the ‘music’ of John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti and Steve Reich?

And, further, what would Fried want us to think of ‘sculptures’ such as those of Richard Serra?

Richard Serra
Tilted Arc (1981)


  1. Abby Citterman says:

    I am fascinated by the Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes. In a way, I found the setup and the camerawork to be more artistic than the music itself. While there was noticeable contrast in tempo and voicings, I would certainly liken this to “noise” before I thought to call it music. I read the name of the video and was enthralled. My mind went off to incredible things one could do with metronome-only pieces, and I was left with completely unmet expectations. It was haphazard and hectic, with only slightly intriguing ebbs and flows throughout the quite lengthy piece.

    I would compare this to what was mentioned in class, where instead of looking at the sculpture, the focus and interest is directed to the chisel. A metronome is an incredibly useful, if not essential, tool for musicians and conductors alike. In certain works of art, a chisel could be incorporated to create something amazing. In certain compositions, I can say with experience, metronomes can add something really special to the music. In this case, however, it was worse than a single chisel — it was a hundred chisels. I am glad to have listened to this, as it has exposed me to new definitions of music, but it is not one that I would embrace with open arms.

    • I’m glad you took a moment to read this post and listen to Ligeti. Your observations are quite astute. I too use metronomes, both mechanical and digital. They can indeed be very instructional, and they can even be employed, as did Ligeti, as musical instruments in their own right. Much of today’s popular and experimental music is really just an elaboration and expansion of metronomes.

      What I find interesting about Ligeti’s piece is the way he uses the metronome as a way to mirror the classical audiences’s mechanical reaction to live performances. As if triggers, hundreds of silent bodies, dressed in identical tuxedos and lined up in rank and file, break on cue into mounting applause. If you view the piece as a critical commentary on audience social automation, it then becomes possible to see how Steve Reich’s following ‘clapping’ piece, rather than try to resist this form of automatic percussion, instead attempts to mould it into a new form of music.

  2. Abby Citterman says:

    I really loved the clapping one, though (: That is truly difficult, with complex rhythm and interwoven parts. Definitely has my vote for constituting as music, though I fear that Fried may assert that it is more of a gimmick, a detraction from the culturally-rich humanities, classical music or whatever it may be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s