"an art-rock star avant la lettre"
June 5, 2015 5:34 AM   Subscribe

His career contained all the phases of 1970s art-rock history, though not in the same order: a proggy occult phase, a glam phase, a Bryan Ferryish lounge pop phase, a Brian Enoish ambient phase, a David Bowieish decadent nightclub phase; Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour! was his punk phase. Debussy and Ravel (not to mention Poulenc, Fauré, Milhaud and others) may have written grander pieces. But while they were busy with concertos and sonatas, Satie was working on surreal pop operas, shadow plays and lo-fi Gesamtkunstwerken, experimenting with film, flirting with Dada and hanging out with the couture crowd.
Nick Richardson talks about Erik Satie.
posted by MartinWisse (22 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always loved Satie and loathed the way he is written off by the classical establishment.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:00 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just like other popular music figures, he goes in and out of style, as well. I think he might be pleased by that.

I'm not dissing anyone. Getting into Satie is like falling down a rabbit hole of the entire history of modern and popular music.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:21 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


a Brian Enoish ambient phase

Kind of like how Muddy Waters had a Led Zep phase.
posted by idiopath at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


I love the strength of spirit in some of the art movements of that time. It's hard to imagine such radical organized activity by creatives, just around the very meat of their art alone, today. e.g.,
And in 1923 Tristan Tzara asked [Satie] to organise the music for a Dadaist soiree. Surrealist thugs gatecrashed it – one audience member recalled Breton rampaging around, clubbing people with his walking stick – and the police had to be called.
Would love to have been in the scene back then. Though not at the wrong end of Breton's stick.
posted by BlackPebble at 6:59 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are many kinds of eccentric and Satie was most of them.

There is definitely a polymath quality to the eccentricities of the Parisian Fin de siècle artists. If you want a quick readable guide that touches on many of the major figures, you could do way worse than Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years.The 1890s were the era that the 1960s wished they could have been.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:12 AM on June 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I posted this on twitter last week, and someone commented that she thought Satie had been famous for gray corduroy suits, not brown corduroy suits. Now I'm extra curious about this one stupid detail - might even say its a vexation.
posted by moonmilk at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a working(-ish) composer in the classical tradition, I give a lot of thought to this subject. I think that when the history of 20th century classical music is written by composers that two and maybe three figures will stand above the others as having the most influence.

Now the theory folk and critics will write a different history. For them people like Stravinsky and Schoenberg will be the most important and "influential" even. But among the people actually doing the composing I think Webern and Satie are it.

I cannot tell you how many conversations I've had over the past 20 years where composers talk about their most important influences and these two are always mentioned. And then of course the rest of the usual subjects make appearances (Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage, Xenakis, Stockhausen, etc) but not with the regularity of those two.

Of course who composers find the most influential doesn't really have much to do with what the general public, classical music performers, critics, musicologists, and so on, think about 20th century classical music. Composers (like the artistic creators in any medium) have their own way of assessing the work of previous composers.

In the lead I mentioned a third possible candidate. These days I think Morton Feldman might reach that status. I had always felt that Cage is in that group but I recognize a bias there on my part plus I don't think he inspires contemporary composers quite like Feldman does these days.

So yes, Satie was the shit.
posted by bfootdav at 7:54 AM on June 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I wonder if Satie in his new, three piece suit with bowler hat, was the subject of Magritte's work, of the same description? Finding Satie in the mix of all those art influencers, so interesting! In my life were two pieces of music that haunted me, but I didn't know them. Finally they turned out to be the first of Satie's Tres Gymnopodies, and then Debussy's Reverie. I find those pieces tonally related, I guess.

Thanks for the fascinating glimpse.
posted by Oyéah at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2015


No piece of music will ever be as beautiful as the gnosiennes played well. Absolutely love Satie.
posted by Dysk at 8:01 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Monkmus' animated short "Away" is an artful music video for Gnossienne No. 3.
posted by progosk at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Surrealist thugs"

I have a mental image off guys in lobster suits glueing squirrels to basketballs and threatening the crowd with them.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour! was his punk phase

Here is Bonjour, Biquie, Bonjour in it's entirety. If that's "punk" then the term is sufficiently capacious to include pretty much anything: including Gregorian chant and the Monkees.

Also, this as a way of distinguishing Satie from Wagner just seems drastically wrong:
Unlike most of his contemporaries, who were still imitating Wagner, Satie used harmony to create texture rather than tension, a backdrop of vaporous colour. The chords don’t lead anywhere, they shade the melody.
Wagner was famous precisely for the chromatic "shading of the melody" and the unresolved "Tristan chord" is the most famous example in Western music of a chord that "doesn't lead anywhere." Satie was certainly an anti-Wagnerian and did much to react against Wagner's dominance over the late C19th scene, but this is really not a good account of how he did that.
posted by yoink at 9:21 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a mental image off guys in lobster suits glueing squirrels to basketballs and threatening the crowd with them.

"That's a nice watch you're wearing...oops! Shall I mop it up with this giraffe?"
posted by yoink at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2015


E. E. Cummings went to see Parade when he was in Paris on his way to be an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in World War One and was hugely inspired. Oh, and another interesting sidenote: The word "surrealism" was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire in response to Parade.
posted by Kattullus at 10:41 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dang, I should have mentioned all this before but here are some shameless cross-plugs (to Music MeFi):

Here is /u/Corduroy's version of Gymnopedie #1 for pump organ.

Here is /u/Doleful Creature's Satie inspired Midnight Improv #2.

My first homage to Satie. I make sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious references to his music.

And another one from me.

I also did a webcomic version of his ballet Upsud (ballet chrétien) (Christian ballet) which is no longer online anywhere but if anyone just really wants to see a very very badly drawn comic I'm sure I can find somewhere to put it up.
posted by bfootdav at 11:26 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


If that's "punk" then the term is sufficiently capacious to include pretty much anything: including Gregorian chant and the Monkees.

If you've listened to any music calling itself 'steampunk' these days, you'd know that's depressingly true.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:55 PM on June 5, 2015


Wagner was famous precisely for the chromatic "shading of the melody" and the unresolved "Tristan chord" is the most famous example in Western music of a chord that "doesn't lead anywhere."

Yeah, it's an unfortunate gloss that I think is the result of some cargo-culted music theory, but if I had to guess at what was meant: Wagner's chromaticism is still grounded in a sense of tonal progression, since he employs chromaticism so often as a means of generating leading tones to notes in the succeeding harmony. In his case, the tonal ambiguity arises out of a hyper-local focus on what the goal harmony is, the layering of multiple leading tones, and the addition of dissonances to intermediate goal harmonies so that they themselves act as springpads to a new tonal area. Satie and the impressionists, meanwhile, take a very opposite approach to weakening a particular tone's governance, using a number of resources: pitch collections that don't have a leading tone to the tonic, pitch collections that straight up don't have leading tones to any member, planing (the strictly parallel movement of a particular harmony with no diatonic adjustments), stacked fifths, ... it's really a very different approach, and one that relies much less for its effect on an implied traditionally tonal progression.

And personally I've never had trouble hearing the Tristan chord as a secondary dominant with an ego problem, but to each their own.
posted by invitapriore at 3:04 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another cool variation on that late-Romantic music technique that you see when you start digging into scores to figure out how the hell they do it is the way that the outer voice-leading in a given chord transition will be diatonic with reference to some pitch, and the chromatic additions and voice-leading occur in the inner voices and act as the true drivers of how the succession plays out, and then the outer voices take up the tonal implications of the inner voices, the inner voices move to some new undermining harmony, and the cycle begins again. I like to use metaphors when I talk about this, but I guess I'm not that great at it because I've found that likening it to a xenomorph bursting out of a human chest is actually the metaphor that disturbs people the least.
posted by invitapriore at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


No piece of music will ever be as beautiful as the gnosiennes played well. Absolutely love Satie.

I partially agree, but I believe the sine que non for that criteria may be better served by the luxurious, incredibly lovely, Trois Nocturnes. The first, for me is the most exquisite. And I must quote one of the YouTube commenters there who wrote: "This is so otherworldly, fragile yet so mystical. This nocturne brings me to a higher planescape, one in which i do not want to escape from"
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 4:08 PM on June 5, 2015


Sorry: that link aborts the piece midstream. A better one is here.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 4:11 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hearing this in 1970 from Blood, Sweat & Tears' second album introduced me to Satie, Laura Nyro, Billie Holliday, & much more besides. Thanks, BS&T.
posted by On the Corner at 1:13 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


My favourite Reinbert De Leeuw rendition of the third gnossienne. Youtube video has a bunch of artwork which may not be especially workplace-friendly, depending on your workplace. Many nudes. Only link I could easily find for this particular rendition, though.
posted by Dysk at 3:47 AM on June 8, 2015


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