Sound Commitments: Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties

By Robert Adlington | Go to book overview
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“Demolish Serious
Henry Flynt and Workers World Party

Benjamin Piekut

On the evening of April 29, 1964, a group calling themselves “Action Against Cultural Imperialism” mounted a picket line in front of Town Hall on West 43rd Street in New York (see figure 2.1). Inside the hall was a “gala concert” sponsored by the West German government, with music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hans Werner Henze, Paul Hindemith, and others. The performers included Stockhausen himself, pianist David Tudor, and percussionist Max Neuhaus.1 On the sidewalk in front of the hall were the demonstrators: philosopher and composer Henry Flynt; the artists Ben Vautier, Ay-O, and Takako Saito; Fluxus impresario George Maciunas; and the violinist and filmmaker Tony Conrad. (Amiri Baraka observed from across the street.2) They bore signs reading “Fight Racist Laws of Music!” and “Fight the Rich Man’s Snob Art,” and, according to Die Welt, made quite a racket by chanting “Death to all fascist musical ideas!”3 The group’s leaflet attacked the composer as a “lackey for the West German bosses,” and claimed that his “repeated decrees about the lowness of plebian music and the racial inferiority of non-European music, are an integral, essential part of his art and its ‘appreciation.’”4

On September 8, the group staged another demonstration outside Judson Hall on West 57th Street.5 In Vautier’s place was the poet and activist Marc Schleifer, later known as Abdallah Schleifer. The occasion was a performance of Stockhausen’s Originale, a wild theater piece directed by Allan Kaprow, which featured such avant-garde and Fluxus luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Charlotte Moorman, Dick Higgins,


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