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Raphael Montañez Ortiz
Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert London 1966

Beschleunigter Zerfall. Piano Destruction Concert 1966. Remix


The Thirteenth Tape

It all started with a puzzle: the German Literature Archive in Marbach am Neckar houses the estate of the Dadaist, psychiatrist and travel writer Richard Huelsenbeck (*1892 Frankenau, +1974 Minusio/Tessin), consisting mainly of typescripts, hand-written records, letters and photographs. The estate also includes a box containing 13 audio tapes. In 1991, I offered to the Archive that I would have the tapes, which were already disintegrating at the splices and displaying other signs of decay, digitalised and catalogued at Bayerischer Rundfunk. The recordings are mainly of lectures and a small number of readings of Huelsenbeck's poems. Then there was this thirteenth tape. The recording did not seem to relate in any way to Richard Huelsenbeck and his works. It was therefore ignored for a long time. A few years ago I came across Ralph Ortiz – or Raphael Montañez Ortiz, as the artist now calls himself (*1934 Brooklyn, NYC) – in a book on video art, and I remembered in this connection that I had read the name on one of the tape boxes. In fact the box bore the following hand-written notes: "Ralph Ortiz performed his piano Destruction concerto No. 2 in Home of Mr. J. Lun(d)smann" "10/10/1966 Destruction in Art Symposium (London)" "Ralph Ortiz Piano Destruction Concer[!] with Interview DIAS 1966".

I set out to locate Raphael Montañez Ortiz, I contacted him, I sent him a copy of the recording, I received details of how it arose and I got his permission to publish it in the series intermedium records. Richard Huelsenbeck, who was living in New York under the name of Charles R. Hulbeck in New York, was a patron and friend of the young artist Ralph Ortiz. In the early nineteen sixties he was even able to arrange the sale of one of Ortiz' works to the Museum of Modern Art. The recording Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert London 1966 – as Ortiz entitled it – was made at the Destruction In Art Symposium, in short DIAS, instigated by Gustav Metzger in London 1966, which was an outstanding artistic event at that time and in which numerous artists took part, including Jean Toche, Wolf Vostell, Hermann Nitsch, Juan Hidalgo, Robin Page, Otto Mühl, Henri Chopin, Al Hansen, Werner Schreib, John J. Sharkey, Ivor Davies, John Latham, Susan Cahn, John Sexton, Kurt Kren, Bryant Patterson, Peter Weibel and Yoko Ono. Ortiz has performed piano destructions since 1962, first in Brooklyn, then, from 1966 on, in front of an art audience. At the Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert London 1966 it was the instrument of Jay and Fran Landesman that was sacrificed. The commentary on the concert was given by Tom Lopez.

Herbert Kapfer


DIAS, London, 1966

Three terms which made history, at least in art, at least in the present, at least for some people. I'm one of them. Swinging London, The expression from the daily yellow press ennobled by Richard Hamilton and embodied, perhaps even immortalised, in his graphic prints, made a deep impression the small Viennese avant-garde group (G. Brus, K. Kren, O. Muehl, H. Nitsch, P. Weibel) in 1966. In Vienna we were not invited to any parties, in fact we were even uninvited on such occasions as Fasching (Carnival) in the Viennese Secession. In London we were guests of honour at parties in palaces and cellars. The press in Vienna shunned us, the London press sought us out. Girls called down to us in the street at midnight from open windows asking to come up for a dance. Music was playing day and night, everywhere. The clothes on the street were as eccentric as they were pseud in Vienna. We found the life there idyllic; avant-garde art, otherwise ostracized, was celebrated. Brus wrote home, prematurely, that he would soon be a millionaire.
I was 22, the youngest in relation to Vostell and Metzger, I felt the competition between us, the craving for media attention, the strategies of overstatement, but also the sense of new departures, of adventure, of common interests. A revolutionary festival which accorded with the historical period and was appropriately located geopolitically in London. DIAS was not possible in New York, too popular, nor in Paris, too scented, it could only take place in London and only in 1966, the eve of the insurrection.

Peter Weibel


A remembrance of the 1966 London England, Duncan Terrace Destruction In Art Symposium Piano Destruction Concert

It was a special concert my first in Europe.... The audience was invited.. There were two curators from the TATE in the audience...
A photographer standing a cautious distance back was adjusting his camera lens waiting to take photos of the event...
I examined the piano carefully, It was a well made piano with some inlaid decorative elements above the key board, the harp frame was cast iron...
It was beautifully polished and perfectly tuned, it's resonance was full and expansive...
I felt good about the piano and thanked it for giving me the opportunity to enter it's most sacred space and discover it' most secret sounds
music denied every one who ever played it's keys and put pressure on it's foot peddles.... I thanked it for it's sacrifice to the Akasha of sound,
that the angel voices in the wood, in the wire-strings, in the ivory keys, in the screws, the bolts and glue that held its Leviticusean destiny hostage...
That would be realized through my ax swings...
I prayed as I swung my chrome plated ax, light flashes reflecting from the chrome on the ax head with each swing....
Everything was going as planned as I had composed the concert...
As I had for days visualized each ax swing and heard the sound that would accompany the impact of each swing...
I lost track of time... I became one with the voice of the piano.... I remember someone shouting take a rest, you need the rest.....
I stopped and spent two or three minutes touching the pieces scattered everywhere....
I edged close to the piano, it's harp was visible through its shattered body, I pressed my ear to to the shattered cast iron harp frame and listened...
I have more to say it whispered, much more to say......
Some fifteen minutes went by when the piano shrieked at me through it's splintering plywood once neatly stretched under the piano harp's now tangle of ax sheared-cut strings,
There were a few minutes of soft resonances and a whisper, I have said all I want to say...
Keep my harp to remember me by, and burn the rest of me on a pyre that my spirit may rise to meet my voice...
Flash bulbs and questions brought my attention back to the stairwell and the piano I had destroyed,
as I took a step piano pieces tumbled down the steps into the space the audience stood in...
The Tate Museum curators stood there some what dazed...
One of them said I have never seen anyone become so involved in their art...
There were more comments and questions....
An hour passed I went upstairs and had a glass of wine and dunked a slice of bread into it and ate it the way some people do with a donut and coffee...
Thank you for having me share, like a beautiful flat stone, a perfect oval shape fitted comfortably in the fingers
with the thumb and first finger held in the shape of a C,
the knees are slightly bent, the back slightly curved, the arm is pulled back for an underhand throw, three steps forward and the release,
always imagining the stone flying low and flat across the surface of the lake, watching the reality you imagined
as the stone skips and touches the skin of the lakes face,
skips and touches, skips and touches, like light kisses, as if saying goodbye,
until its forward momentum ends and it sinks swiveling down the way flat stones do when they sink...

Raphael Montañez Ortiz, April 28th 2008


Accelerated Decay. Piano Destruction Concert 1966. Remix
From an interview with Loopspool

While I was working on this, it was important to me that the documentary character of the original recordings be preserved. The authentic picture of the time conveyed by these "field recordings" seemed to me to be one of the most interesting aspects of the original material.

Every work of art is by its very nature linked to the time in which it is produced and its significance changes with the shifting angle of perception in later periods. To the extent that it loses its time-related (explosive) force, it increases its value as a medium which opens up historical insights for us. Nowadays a public piano destruction would seem to me to be a kind of abreaction folklore. The decision to introduce destruction as a medium in art therefore only had such a radical bite because it was the logical step in the modernity unfolding at precisely that time. On the one hand, one was looking for adequate artistic forms of expression which did justice to the apocalyptic disasters of the first half of the century, and on the other one was standing at the threshold of a liberation mania on all levels. The new anti-authoritarian man, the horizon of a society free of all kinds of constraints, seemed within reach and these hallucinations released formidable energies. Any and every structure was felt to be authoritarian and its destruction seemed to trigger a lust which we can hardly begin to imagine today. I am reminded of the Nietzschean grand gesture, the pathos of Zarathustra's cry:
"Break, you discerning ones, the old tablets!". In contrast, for those of us who belong to a time when only a few buffoons or nostalgics are blowing the horn of utopia, the certainty has prevailed that every liberation movement is simultaneously a step forward and the prelude to a downfall. We therefore seem to have been radically cured of such euphoria.

The Piano Destruction Concert would belong in a cabinet of musical curiosities if it merely exhausted its potential in this context. For me, however, this art work contains motifs which extend beyond the artistic debate of the 1960s. The confrontation with the human potential for violence which Ortiz performs and intends is a timeless constant. The brute intensity of the notes which Ortiz applies to the piano as he violates it can hardly be eluded – they continue to induce even in a modern listener a state of spellbound horror and have lost nothing of their power. I see in destruction art the dilemma of wanting to give a preventive commentary on the apocalypse while at the same time becoming a part of it. The fact that Ortiz so to speak enhances and confirms the structure he destroys is the sublime message of this action and leaves us with the (re-)discovery of the value: piano.

For me as a musician it seems important to distinguish between aggression and destruction. To give artistic form to aggression as a human trait, as Ortiz has done in an imaginably radical way, is in a moderated form a common principle in popular music. The aggressive content of a musical structure can, as we know, lead in the musician and in the listener to a ritual relinquishing of his aggressive potential and thereby occasionally release unexpected feelings of happiness. Raphael Montañez Ortiz has created a monument to this principle of ritualised aggression.

Interview: Katarina Agathos / Loopspool

Edited by Herbert Kapfer / Katarina Agathos
Bayerischer Rundfunk / Hörspiel und Medienkunst
Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation / Radio Play and Media Art 

intermedium rec. 038
ISBN 978-3-943157-38-3
recommended retail price 17,90 €


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