Dick Higgins – Fluxus Art

I will be analyzing Dick Higgins’s work Danger Music No. 12. Higgins, along with his partner, Fluxist artist Alison Knowles, created this event score. It reads “Write a thousand symphonies.”  Many of these Danger Music pieces were actually dangerous, often too dangerous to perform at times. Here are some other examples of danger music according to wikipedia, “danger music direct performers to use sounds so loud that they will deafen the participants, or ask performers to throw antipersonnel bombs into the audience.”

Basically, Higgins and Knowles Rather than creating the actual music, they set instructions (or a process) for the audience to perform. This was because Fluxus artists believed in the entire experience of art. Author of New Directions in Music, David Cope, states that danger music is defined as, “Music that poses a real danger to its audience. It’s definitely not for the casual listener.”

Danger Music Number Twelve
Write a thousand symphonies.
March l962

For Danger Music No. 12, Higgins and Knowles set out to South Brunswick Police Rifle Range. While there, Knowles documented the event via video camera while Higgins threw 1,000 sheets of blank orchestra ensemble paper in the air and started firing a machine gun at them. Higgins wrote instructions for the conductor, as the entire orchestra was to interpret and play the score papers that hand been punctured by the bullets.

It is said that later that same year, Fluxist artist Philip Corner assembled an orchestra who played the score created by Higgins. The score obviously would be difficult to interpret and play in front of an audience, so there was some serious determination involved.

This piece relates to Surrealism in a few ways. The first is the way the bullets create the music randomly. Yes, Higgins is holding the gun, but it is difficult to have such precise accuracy with a machine gun to create a coherent composition. The bullet holes create random notes and music. The music created does not have a structure, is left to fate by Higgins. This work would be considered experimental without any without restrictions or framework, feeding into surrealism ideals.

I think the way that musicians or Corner interpreted the bullet holes is not as random, but still follows instructions from Higgins. One example of an instruction is, “the straighter the rip, the simpler the timbre’.” This is a simple instruction set by Higgins that sets the stage of how to interpret the rips and puncture holes, but does seem to give the interpreter a little room to interpret the music how they would like.

Works Cited:

Wikipedia- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danger_music

Cope interview-https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/danger-music-is-the-most-punk-genre-ever

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