The Piano, The Water: Notes on “tears become… streams become…”


Because I’m coming at this from a literary angle, and because I don’t get to see art as frequently as I’d like, I know Douglas Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho largely from its presence in Don DeLillo’s short novel Point Omega. The title of Gordon’s piece describes it: it’s Psycho slowed down so that its running time is 24 hours. Its spirit infuses DeLillo’s novel, setting in motion a place where expectations are defied and pacing takes a backseat to atmosphere.

Will someone make use of tears become… streams become…, Gordon’s collaboration with pianist Hélène Grimaud, in a work of fiction? I certainly hope so.

Located at the Park Avenue Armory, the performance that I saw began with the audience seated around the perimeter of the space. Slowly, the lights dimmed; slowly, water seeped through the floor a few feet below, on which a pair of pianos were situated. When a shallow pool had formed, a series of lights rose to the top of the armory, creating a kind of mirroring effect. Grimaud entered, sat at one piano, and began a recital that included work by Debussy, Liszt, and Janáček. (Related: D.T. Max’s New Yorker profile of Grimaud is highly recommended.)

Going into the event, I had certain expectations, based on what I’d read and what I saw. The pool effect brought back memories of sitting at Galapagos’s Williamsburg space in the summer of 2000, and given the news that said space would be departing New York entirely, I had cultural loss on my mind. I wondered if I would think of water; I wondered how the music would interact with the space around it.

As Grimaud played, the light in the hall shifted, sometimes isolating Grimaud and an empty piano opposite her; sometimes focusing attention more on the structure of the armory itself. The effect of the lighting and the still water on which Grimaud played created a sense of an even vaster space, one with an isolated musician amidst an abundance of stillness and negative space. And so it wasn’t a feeling of loss than I found myself with for most of the evening; instead, it was loneliness: a solitary figure sitting in darkness watching a solitary figure making music in darkness. It was a stunning image, that of the artist in isolation.


Performances of tears become… streams become… featuring Grimaud will run through the 21st; an installation version will run through January 4th.

Photo: James Ewing

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