The Paris Review

The Duration of “Vexations”

Erik Satie

Those who have undergone weeks-long silent-meditation retreats can attest to the power of durational focus. Stay with one thing long enough and miracles might occur. In mid-September, at East London’s Café Oto, a venue known for avant-garde performances, the musician Charles Hayward presented “30 Minute Snare Drum Roll.” The piece could not be more functional or self-explanatory in its title. What happened, however, in those eighteen thousand seconds of continuous drumming was the opposite of readily explicable.

A drumroll is a sonic metonym for anticipation, so is an ironizing indication that what follows may fall short of spectacular but that it should nonetheless be eagerly awaited and greeted. Hayward’s feat subverted this notion. The preliminary, introductory flourish became the event itself. At Café Oto, Hayward stood hunched over a single, spotlit drum as the seated audience was held rapt by the speed and precision and, most of all, of his playing.

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