Composed by John Cage in 1947 for prepared piano, Music For Marcel Duchamp was originally created for Duchamp’s segment in Hans Richter's surrealist film Dreams that money can buy. Other collaborators in Richter's movie included Max Ernst, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Darius Milhaud and Fernand Léger. The film, with a budget of $25,000, won the Award for the Best Original Contribution to the Progress of Cinematography at the 1947 Venice Film Festival. Duchamps' segment is entitled "Discs" and consists mostly of his rotoreliefs; flat cardboard circles with painted designs spinning on a turntable. Later, in 1999, Music For Marcel Duchamp was choreographed by the late, great Merce Cunningham.
The composition evokes timbres and harmonies of Asian music, as well as the music of Erik Satie: static, meditative and timeless. Using just a few tones, muted by weather stripping (seven pieces), and a piece of rubber and one metal bolt, the soft materials create a less metallic sound and avoid disruptive fluctuations in resonance. The rhythmic structure is eleven times eleven (extended); 2-1-1-3-1-2-1. One of the new ideas Cage worked on in this piece was the concept of silence used systematically. This can be heard, or not heard, in the last part of the work, where seven times 2 bars of music are followed by 2 bars of silence. This repetition creates tension as the work mostly builds on a single melodic line.
Joyeux Anniversaire Monsieur Duchamp!