In my last blog entry, I wrote about a concert that has left traces in the present and has failed to do so at the same time. In this new one, I would like to supplement it with a concert that is twice there.The concert in question is the sixth and last of the Fluxus Festival that was held in Nikolaj Kirke in Copenhagen and the Allé Scenen theatre in Frederiksberg in November 1962. The first concert of the festival, on 23 November 1962, attracted a lot of attention, but because the reviews were unanimously bad, almost all supporters started to distance themselves from it and the other concerts, except the one at Allé Scenen on 25 November 1962, were left unreviewed. I never expected to find a review of the last one.
But I did, or rather, Dorte Errebo, an archivist at the Rudersdal historical archive, did. Thank you once again, Dorte! She drew my attention to a review in Birkebavnen, the Birkerød Statsskole college magazine. Thanks to it, I now know that John Cage’s Fontana Mix and Music for the Marrying Maiden, Richard Maxfield’s Cough Music, Radio Music, Steam, Pastoral Music and Night Music, George Brecht’s Three Yellow Events and Two Durations and Dick Higgins’ Requiem for Wagner, the Criminal Mayor were all performed according to plan. In a sense, that is news, because Fluxus festivals NEVER took place according to the programme; but then again, nearly all of these works are movies or tape works, so how difficult can it be to play them as planned?
Of course this is a bit unfair. Thanks to the review, I now know that Brecht’s Three Yellow Events (1. Yellow, 2. Yellow, 3. Yellow) were performed by holding up a transparent piece of yellow plastic in front of a projector lamp, and that is a valuable bit of information. And I also know that the crowd expected scandal and soon became bored, so when imagining the scene, one has to remember to add paper aeroplanes, folded from program sheets, flying through the air.
But by and large, and quite unlike the episode I wrote about in my last blog entry, I now have a duplicate of the programme I already had. In the case of the other concert, I found that the combination of affirmation of its reality and its denial made it a ghost, and therewith a social thing. Does the lack of in-betweenness here mean that the concert is not social? After all, what we have here is an ensemble, consisting of two pieces of documentary evidence that both point in the same direction and that can therefore unquestioningly be treated as stand-ins – supplements, in the Derridean sense – of a lost, original event.
Living with ghosts means never entirely living in the present. A haunted present is alive with remains of the past and outposts of the future. This situation was easily recognisable in the case of the present/absent concert: it had taken place under the rule of a rector who believed he had already witnessed the essentials of the concert in the past and therefore did not think he had a need for it in the present; for whom the concert in the past represented the shadow of the concert that was censored, reaching back in time. The situation would have been similar in the case described above if the review had never shown up; but it has, so what does its appearance mean?
There is a sense in which the concert can be said to be “happening between two” (Derrida’s expression) after all: it happens in the lack of change between the announced program and the performed one. It becomes a ghost when the program as promise of a future-to-come (a-venir, another Derridean term) meets the program as a fulfilment of that promise, with the extreme likeness of the two as the thing that determines its half-life. After all, it was the fact that the works were mechanically reproduced (projected/played) that caused the audience to react. People expected to see their expectations reproduced (they craved scandal), but what it got instead was a reproduction of the work, without the possibility of the fulfilment or defeat of expectations. The sociality lies in the frustration this produces, a frustration that is repeated by me, the scholar: while I am happy to have my facts confirmed, I am also disappointed by the fact that a new piece of evidence does not, or hardly, lead to new insights.