Why I sawed up my violin live online

Why I sawed up my violin live online


norman lebrecht

July 16, 2018

We shared video yesterday of Emily-Ondracek-Peterson sawing up a violin at the Crested Butte festival, of which she is joint artistic director. We asked Emily why.

All in the name of art, she replied:

Like many festivals this summer, the Crested Butte Music Festival’s 2018 season celebrates and explores Leonard Bernstein and his surrounding world – his compositions, works and composers he championed, and artistic movements that were taking place during his lifetime. For example, our concert last night featured 2018 Bernstein Award winner Charles Yang, performing Bernstein’s Serenade with Maestro Tito Munoz. On July 12th, we presented an evening of Fluxus performance art, in which audience members and festival performers were invited to perform works from the Fluxus movement. One of these events was Solo for Violin by George Maciunas, during which the performer is first asked to play the violin and then mutilate the instrument (full text below). For the record, the entire outfit – violin, bow, case, extra strings, and rosin – was purchased on Amazon for $25 and was more akin to a large Christmas Tree ornament than a violin. That the instrument made any sound was miraculous.

The reactions from the viewers and comments prove that this is indeed a highly effective piece of Performance Art.

Solo for Violin (For Sylvano Bussotti)
play any sentimental tune
scrape strings with a nail
loosen strings and pluck
break string by over tensioning peg
insert bow between strings & sound
board & oscillate bow
hold bow to shoulders & bow with violin
strike with bow over sound board
scrape inside of sound box with box
blow through sound holes
put pebbles inside sound box and shake
scrape floor with violin
push-pull violin over table or floor
scratch violin with sharp tool
saw violin or part of it
Chat conversation end
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  • butthole says:

    a real BUTT

  • Rustier spoon says:

    So then I googled George Maciunas….evidently bonkers. However none of this justifies such appalling actions.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Maybe a revival of Nam June Paik’s Opera Sextronique (a Fluxus masterpiece that would surely provoke more reactions and comments than violin deconstruction) next year?

  • Michael Endres says:

    Mutilating and destroying an instrument is of course a very progressive and effective concept.
    I was reminded of a corresponding cineastic experience:

  • Oliver Klozoff says:

    Noting new under the sun.


  • John Borstlap says:

    ‘Movements’ like fluxus could only appear because of certain theories about culture and art, which drip down to the level of joyful charlatanerie, resulting in quasi-symbolic nonsense dressed-up as cultural gestures which are supposed to carry some ‘meaning’. Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Andy Warhol, etc. etc. – all people who had nothing to say – discovering that if they say it, they can parade as ‘artists’ with some thing to ‘say’ about contemporary times. And the mass of nitwits who recognize their own predicament in such juvenile nonsense, embrace such ‘art’ happily: finally they feel elevated to the level of cultural achievement.

    And then there are the silly people organizing festivals who take all that stuff seriously and include it in their programme.

    That the violin concerned was only a Christmas tree decoration, is irrelevant, because the violin in this ‘work’ is a symbol, a gesture, standing for serious art, serious music. It begins with killing the symbols and – as history shows – mostly ends with real people. The perverse thing is that objections against such ‘art’ is then construed as a success, another result of modernist ideology: if people protest, that means that they are bourgeois and conservative against which the work was a gesture, so it must be a great work of art.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      I have nothing to say
      and I am saying it and that is
      poetry as I need it .

      From: John Cage, Lecture on Nothing

      … and he went on saying and saying and saying it, and soon people listened to it and his disciples went on (and many still are) saying ‘genius! genius! genius!’. The most interesting performance of the Lecture that I know (there is a recording of it) was given with the lecturer in a swimming pool with her mouth just at the level of the water line – genius!


    • Jack says:

      Charlatanerie??? Really???

        • DAVID says:

          Charlatanerie, most definitely. I’m not sure I would actually put Duchamp and Warhol in the same basket as John Cage, as I personally believe there is artistic merit to both of them, but in the case of John Cage, we could see it as a symptom of the emergence of modern media and of the postmodern “guru” — the response to society’s need for idolized figures supposedly engaged in some sort of artistic “rebellion.” This, coupled with the general decay of culture and education, has had truly disastrous results. It is, in a way, the commodification of culture: culture as a product that one literally consumes and uses as societal display, just as one might wear an expensive handbag. Cage’s cryptic pronouncements on music may sound very intimidating to the gullible reader, and may even provide much material for obtuse academic research, but the bottom line is that very few people actually listen to John Cage’s music in the privacy of their own homes, outside of the realm of very select musical events. Most composers writing in the past 70 years can’t even hold a candle to someone like Händel or Bach; even minor composers in the past used to have real craft and skill — which can’t be said for many contemporary composers, as we now seem to think that anyone, regardless of skill, can call themselves a composer. As far as “performance art” is concerned (i.e. the sawed up violin), I’m not sure what the point of it is. Wasn’t this done, like, 50 years ago already? I must admit I couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    After watching the video of the violin being destroyed I halfway expected someone to chime in with, “Oh,Yoko was doing that… in the 60s!”

    But if anyone is eager for a major work in this genre there’s a festival where they toss a whole piano off a roof. Annual event.


    • Mike Schachter says:

      There used to be a traditional event in Spain where they threw a goat off a tower. This is an improvement, I suppose

      • The View from America says:

        And I’ve read recently about people being thrown off of buildings as well. In the Middle East (how come we are not surprised?).

  • Sharon says:

    What is fluxus? It might be a “reggie” type of “down with traditional forms” sort of a thing, but even so, I do not believe that Bernstein, who was certainly no traditionalist, would of approved of destroying an instrument, even symbolically

  • kundry says:

    Emily-joint-“artistic”-director of the Crested Butt festival – you are a desperate impostor ! Either you learn to play the violin properly , or cut your own arm for an even more shocking media coverage ! Maybe that will give you the boost to your career, you so pitifully crave. As a violinist myself , cutting a violin with a saw is akin to cutting a baby in half. They do that in the Middle East on video – they are called jihadists . You are a reprehensible idiot and should never consider yourself an artist.

  • Kundry says:

    I have been around for a while and was very lucky to work with some of the greatest artists. Most of the time I am watching what happens today with some disappointment and dismay . In the case of this idiocy – with revolt.
    This is what a violin can do !

    What is next – killing Mozart for “engaging” media discussion effect ? You impostors and worms calling yourselves artists , crawl back in your mediocre , dark underground !

  • Emily Rothman says:

    “A central Fluxus tenet was to dismiss and mock the elitist world of “high art” and to find any way possible to bring art to the masses, much in keeping with the social climate of the 1960s.”https://www.theartstory.org/movement-fluxus.htm

    This is not the 1960’s and the Fluxus movement has no relevance and certainly runs counter tot the mission of the CBMF to “enrich, educate and inspire the community.”
    This is an embarrassment and truly disappointing to those of us who helped to start the CBMF. Not at all what we envisioned, and not what a music festival should be modeling for our young audiences.

  • mzo says:

    “A central Fluxus tenet was to dismiss and mock the elitist world of “high art” and to find any way possible to bring art to the masses, much in keeping with the social climate of the 1960s” .https://www.theartstory.org/movement-fluxus.htm

    It is not the 1960’s and the Fluxus movement has no relevancy now ( the avant garde is over) and certainly no place in a music festival with the mission to “enrich, educate and inspire the community.” The destruction of an instrument, no matter how inexpensive, does not belong on the stage of the Center for the Arts. The CBMF’s decision to do this is embarrassing and disappointing for those of us who helped to start the festival over 20 years ago. It is certainly not what we envisioned, and not the model we want for our young audiences.

  • George M2 says:

    I view this sawing up of a violin as mindless vandalism – it extols the worst of human nature – lack of ability to control the mind. David I can’t agree with your statement “Most composers writing in the past 70 years can’t even hold a candle to someone like Händel or Bach; even minor composers in the past used to have real craft and skill — which can’t be said for many contemporary composers, as we now seem to think that anyone, regardless of skill, can call themselves a composer”. Listen to Vaughan Williams Rebecca Clarke and Preisner for example – Preisner wrote a lot of film music but also listen to his Requiem – I could mention more.

  • Karl Klim says:

    From http://www.emilypop.com , her personal website…..in a rather lame section titled “my toolkit”, which is a smattering of useless information regarding which bows, violins, stands, metronomes she uses…….

    “Chinrest – Alexander Accessories John Dunne High. Jeffrey Holmes, who was setting up one of my violins, suggested that I try a side-mounted chinrest to increase bass resonance. While it seems paradoxical, it really does work. The AA rests are works of art, handmade in England of legitimate boxwood, not the stuff labeled as such from the Far East.”

    Thank goodness her chin rest is a work of “art” and handmade in England….(hyperbole)……we can all rest easy that some far east miscreant isn’t passing off something, possibly proudly made with THEIR hands, and aren’t mislabeling it so as to be hacked to death on a stage in tights like a circus act.

    I’m sorry, I fail to see her logic in sawing a violin in half that could’ve helped someone, who financially can’t purchase a half decent instrument, and let it open up some introduction to a broader understanding of the artistic world. Emily seems like a misguided talent that can’t get past her own ego and in trying to emulate nonsensical Fluxus doctrines for this performance, seems to have made a tone deaf statement.

    “To present an annual festival of diverse music, opera and dance performed by outstanding artists, to inspire a greater appreciation of these art forms, and to help develop the performers of tomorrow….”

    Sounds like they could’ve hired a handyman and saved the trouble of hiring a musician for this show…