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Alex Hay

Grass Field (performance)

Alex Hay, Grass Field (video)
Alex Hay, Grass Field (video)
Alex Hay, Grass Field Alex Hay, Grass Field Alex Hay, Grass Field
Performance (a) presented as part of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, The 69th Regiment Armory, New York, N.Y., United States, October 13-22, 1966.

Technological design:
Herb Schneider; Pete Cumminski; Robert Kieronski; Fred Waldhauer; Martin Wazowicz; Cecil Coker

Performers:
Alex Hay; Robert Rauschenberg; Steve Paxton

Technical assistance:
David Davis; Cecil Coker; Fred Waldhauer; Mont Sinai Hospital; Mount Sinai Laboratory for Technical Informatio

Sound Spatialization: David Tudor

Lighting design: Jennifer Tipton, Beverly Emmons (assistant)

Alex Hay structured Grass Field (form and content) in accordance with three parameters: 1) sounds would be coaxed from inaudible biological phenomena and amplified; 2) all stage elements (clothing and other props) would be in the same colour; 3) the performers would be given a single task. In the opening moments of the performance, Hay established a clear causal link between his physical activity and the system of amplification. Later on, he would remain immobile to underscore the fact that movement also continues at a microscopic level. At that point the system filtered data issuing from more constant phenomena, such as the brain’s alpha waves and the blinking of the eyes (1).

First moment: Two piles of numbered cloth squares were placed at the centre of the Armory. These, as well as the costumes worn by the performers during the piece, were flesh-coloured. Alex Hay made his entrance and distributed the squares gradually over the stage floor, forming a grid that completely covered its central section (b), (c), (d), (e). Hay’s path generated a haphazard sequence that the audience could easily see (f), (g).

Throughout the performance, the Armory speakers played sine waves and other electronic sounds, the volume and timbre of which reflected fluctuations in Hay’s biological functions. To produce this phenomenon, electrodes were placed on his head and back muscles (h). Battery-operated radio transmitters on his back relayed a signal to the sound panel (i). During this first version of the performance, the voltage generated by Hay’s muscles at work changed the strength of the signal, in the process modulating the sounds transmitted.

Second moment: Alex Hays remained stock still in an attempt to stabilize the flow of biological data. He was seated centre stage, in front of a video camera that filmed close-ups of his head (j), (k). The resulting video projection made visible involuntary movements like the blinking of his eyes and various signs of fatigue (l), (m), (n), (o), (p).

During the performance of October 22, a small stage light directed at Hay lent added clarity to the projected image (q). A microphone was also placed on his throat, this time amplifying sounds actually given off by his body. During this performance, the engineers managed to repair certain faulty components of the amplification system (r).

While Hay maintained his position, Robert Rauschenberg and Steve Paxton came onstage — one on either side — with poles to pick up the pieces of cloth (s), (t). Unlike Hay’s random path in the first moment, that of Rauschenberg and Paxton followed a strict chronological sequence determined by the numbers on the cloth squares (u), (v), (w). The two of them then piled the fabric near Hays’ body (x). When one of them had finished with his side of the stage, he leaned on his pole and waited for his partner to complete his task (y). Once both of them had finished, they left the stage along with Hay (z). The lengths of these performances are not mentioned in the documents that were consulted when writing this description.

[Documentary sources...]

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Vincent Bonin © 2006 FDL

(1) Paragraph based on Alex Hay’s statement of purpose in the program. See: 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, Pontus Hultén and Frank Königsberg eds. ([New York]: Experiments in Art and Technology: The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, [1966]). p.[6].