If one listens to 42 Vexations (1893) without reading about it, then it may take a while before he or she realizes it is one 80-second piano piece repeated by Stephane Ginsburg. That could the nature of our time, with the omnipresence (for those interested) of ambient music and experimental classical music, but it’s also about the piece itself, how evocative and strange it is. Written on paper by Erik Satie in 1893 but likely never intended to be performed, Vexations was turned from concept to tangible music in 1963 by John Cage and friends. They went with Satie’s actual idea to play the piece 840 times in a row.
This release, as the title indicates, consists of 42 playings, and the liner notes include a dare: “To hear the piece as it was originally designed, simply play the CD on repeat mode 12 times.” There’s nothing simple about this “limited” run through of 42 Vexations. This is enough to stun, torment, puzzle, and entrance you. The more you listen, the more it becomes both familiar and foreign and the more impressed and scared you become. Dare it be said: It’s one of the most powerful releases of the year and a joke at the same time.