Slave Pianos, The Execution Protocol (II), Institutional (Catalogue Essay)

Tomorrow Will Be the Same but Not as This Is

By Angela Goddard and Robert Leonard

IMA Catalogue Essay (Extract)

Artists don’t always seek to unveil reality through their reconstructions. The Melbourne-based group Slave Pianos use reenactment to honour and dishonour father-figures. A collaboration between two artists, Danius Kesminas and Michael Stevenson, and two musicologists, Rohan Drape and Neil Kelly, Slave Pianos has gathered an archive of obscure recordings of sound and music works by artists, including canonical international figures like George Maciunas and Louise Bourgeois and local heroes like Peter Tyndall and John Nixon. While much of the material is avant-garde fare, like George Brecht’s Comb Music, some is more traditional, like Domenico de Clario’s ECM-esque ‘Pensive Piano Moods’. Slave Pianos transcribed the recordings into standard Western musical notation, producing printed sheet music like grandma used to play. (This patient endeavour recalls the work of ethnomusicologists documenting ‘other’ musics by transcribing them into Western notation, as if it were a neutral form.) Adding insult to injury, Slave Pianos has these scores mechanically performed by a robotic ‘slave’ on a grand piano (typically, for these musics, a most inappropriate instrument). In the project’s latest iteration, The Execution Protocol, the piano sits in a giant electric chair—recalling the one at Sing-Sing, immortalised by Andy Warhol. An arcing Tesla Coil hums along in selected pieces. 1 Perhaps it is an in-joke about ‘executing’ experimental music. Danius Kesminas argues, with a straight face, that the work has educational value, introducing new audiences to the avant-garde tradition. Some of the artists whose works are covered, especially those who have written cease-and-desist letters, would disagree. Slave Pianos’s cover versions productively miss the point of the originals and insert one of their own. Thus, the group enacts a measure of revenge on the historical avant-garde, although one suspects they may be belated avant-gardists themselves, sadly doomed to repeat the unrepeatable.

  1. Slave Pianos’s The Same River Twice installation reenacts a 2007 Slave Pianos installation The Execution Protocol: A War of Currents: Floating Paintings / Piano Execution—On Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in which their electric chair was surrounded by Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds.