In 1966 ten New York artists and thirty engineers and scientists from Bell Telephone Laboratories collaborated on a series of innovative dance, music and theater performances, 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, held at the 69th Regiment Armory, New York CIn 1966 ten New York artists and thirty engineers and scientists from
Bell Telephone Laboratories collaborated on a series of innovative
dance, music and theater performances, 9 Evenings: Theatre &
Engineering, held at the 69th Regiment Armory, New York City, in
October 1966. The artists included are John Cage, Lucinda Childs,
Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer,
Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor and Robert Whitman.
Archival material has been assembled into ten films, each of which
reconstructs the artist's original work and uses interviews with the
artists, engineers and performers to illuminate the artistic, technical
and historical aspects of the work.
Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg is the first film to be released
in a series that will bring to life a historic moment in contemporary
The films were produced by Billy Klüver and Julie Martin for E.A.T.
and directed by Barbro Schultz Lundestam. Titles and titles sound were
created by Robert Rauschenberg.
In the early 1960s I was working
as a research scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill,
NJ, but was also aware of the tremendous explosion in the arts that was
taking place in New York City. I had worked with several artists - Bob
Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Jasper Johns and John Cage - making it
possible for them to use new technology in their works. I believed
increasingly in the importance of artists having the opportunity to
work together with engineers and scientists.
At the beginning of 1966 an opportunity arose to make a series of
artists' performances using new technology in collaboration with
engineers and scientists at Bell Laboratories. Rauschenberg and I made
these collaborations the central focus of 9 Evenings: Theatre &
Engineering, held October 13 to October 23, 1966, at the 69th Regiment
Armory in New York City. We invited artist friends to participate:
choreographers Lucinda Childs, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, and
Yvonne Rainer; composers John Cage and David Tudor; and artists who
made theater pieces, Öyvind Fahlström and Robert Whitman. I recruited
fellow engineers from Bell Laboratories to work on the project.
At the first meeting between the artists and the engineers, I told
the artists to ask for anything they wanted and the engineers to
respond with suggestions on how to accomplish these ideas. Initially,
Rauschenberg asked for: "Light-sensitive chemical which changes color;
temperature and pressure sensitive colors; live fabrics; nowhere sound;
use of time delay in general; printing on tape manually without using
tape recorders; infrared TV...forms of rebroadcast, snooperscopes, TV
sets, Eidophor." It was the infrared television that became a central
element in Rauschenberg's piece.
We needed to find television pickup tubes that operated in the
infrared end of the spectrum. Engineer Larry Heilos quickly discovered
that any good infrared equipment was held classified by the U.S.
government. He solved the problem when he located a supplier in New
Jersey who had an infrared videcon that was of Japanese make and could
be installed in a Norelco video camera.
We had found the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 25th
Street, which had been the site of the famous Armory show of 1913.
Although the acoustics were terrible, it was a very exciting space and
the artists liked the idea of its size. It would now be possible to
reach a much larger audience than they had at Judson Church or at the
downtown theater performance spaces.
We moved into the Armory on October 8th, with only five days to the
first performance. During the next five days we installed the
electrical system for the stage lights and other equipment, laid miles
of cable, installed the sound system and speakers in the balcony
surrounding the central space, and set up the bleachers for the
audience. There were endless conferences and the artists held
rehearsals as best they could.
Open Score was performed on October 14th. It began with a tennis
game between Frank Stella and his tennis partner, Mimi Kanarek, on a
full-scale court laid out on the Armory floor. Rauschenberg had adopted
one of the oldest forms of performance that everyone recognizes, a
tennis match, and made it into dance. He also used the game "to control
the lights and to perform as an orchestra." Each time Frank or Mimi hit
the ball a loud BONG vibrated around the Armory and the sound of each
BONG switched off one of the lights illuminating the court.
Bill Kaminski at Bell Laboratories had designed a tiny
crystal-controlled FM transmitter that could fit in the handle of the
tennis racquet. A contact microphone was placed at the top of the
handle and the antenna for the transmitter was wound around the racquet
head. When the ball hit the racquet, the vibrations of the strings were
picked up by the contact microphone and transmitted to an FM radio
receiver, amplified, and fed to the speakers, resulting in a loud BONG,
which also turned off one of the lights. The game continued in the
increasing darkness until the Armory was completely dark.
Then a crowd of 500 people entered in the darkness. Lights with an
infrared filter illuminated the crowd as the infrared sensitive
television cameras picked up their movements. The television images
were projected onto three large screens hanging in front of the
audience. The audience could sense the presence of the crowd, but could
only see them through the projected television image.
Rauschenberg used banks of flashlights attached to the balcony
railings to signal his cast to perform simple movements he had devised:
"touch someone who is not touching you; hug someone quickly; move
closer together; move apart; draw a rectangle in the air as high as you
can reach; sing one of ten songs being sung loudly or sing one of your
own choice, etc."
At the end of this section, the house lights came up slowly and the
crowd followed Rauschenberg's instructions to "remain fixed until the
lights dim down and go completely out."
Rauschenberg added a third section for his second performance on
October 23rd. He had the crowd leave silently in the dark. Then a
single spotlight picked up the shape of a girl in a cloth sack - Simone
Forti - singing a Tuscan folk song she remembered from her childhood.
Rauschenberg picked her up, carried her to another place on the Armory
floor and put her down. He repeated this several times as she continued
Billy Klüver , 1997