Chance encounters: the dynamic world of Ben Patterson


Ben Patterson (second right) with George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Wolf Vostell, Alison Knowles (hidden) and Emmett Williams performing Philip Corner’s Piano Activities, Wiesbaden, 1962

“There is a very dramatic and beautiful photograph by Oscar van Arpken, of a performance of Ben Patterson’s Paper Piece, from 1963, in the Hypokriterion Theatre, Amsterdam. In stark black and white, performers can be seen ripping and grasping torn edges of a giant sheet of paper. The image looks like a negative of a Franz Kline action painting, containing people. Kline died a year earlier, in 1962, and the active mark-making gestures embodied by the action painters of abstract expressionism would become translated into the sounds and choreography of the emerging experimental music and dance scene of the 1960s, mainly in New York City. Everyday movements and gestures would become the material for performances by different Fluxus artists, the Judson Dance Theatre and choreographers such as Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer. Documentary photographs are often the only remnants we have of early Fluxus performances, as well as scores, text instructions and written accounts. Images of George Brecht carefully polishing a violin, Ben Vautier wrapped in string, Dick Higgins hurling paper into the air, and a group of Fluxus artists destroying a piano in Philip Corner’s Piano Activities, are all very evocative and powerful images. What interests me is what do these things sound like? What is the music of Fluxus and in particular one of its lesser-known protagonists, the Black American composer and artist, Ben Patterson? Many of the early Fluxus artists were also musicians or composers. La Monte Young played the saxophone, Jackson Mac Low the recorder, Philip Corner the trombone (and composed). Nam June Paik was a pianist and also a composer. George Mačiunas collected early musical instruments. George Brecht was a chemist (seemingly non-musical, but he did succeed in incorporating it into his 1968 score, The Chemistry Of Music). And Ben Patterson was an extremely accomplished double bass player. …”
The Wire
Guardian – Benjamin Patterson: the Fluxus artist who composed with ants (Video)
Harvard Art Museums – Art Talk Live: Benjamin Patterson—Action as Composition
W – Ben Patterson, MoMA:
Benjamin Patterson – American, 1934–2016


Ben Patterson performing Variations For Double-Bass, Wuppertal, 1962

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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