Notes on John Cage, Erik Satie's Vexations and Andy Warhol's Sleep

by Gary Comenas (2011/rev. 2015/rev. October 2019)

Sleep at the Tate Modern

Sleep and Vexations at the Tate Modern
(Screen was to the left of the piano)
(Photo: Orhan Tsolak here.)

On Sunday, May 27, 2007 the Tate Modern in London showed Andy Warhol's Sleep accompanied by Erik Satie's Vexations from 7:30 pm to 3:00 pm the following day as part of their "Long Weekend" series. Pianists included Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman, Joshua Rifkin and Tania Chen. The event was introduced with a special performance by John Giorno and a panel discussion was also held which included the writer Branden W Joseph. The blurb for the event claimed that "Warhol was inspired to complete the film [Sleep] with a new repetitive editing structure after attending the writer and composer John Cage’s (1912–92) historic 1963 performance at the Pocket Theatre in New York of the French composer Erik Satie’s (1866–1925) epic repetitive work for piano, Vexations, 1893." (1) In 2008 the claim was repeated by Emma Lavigne, curator at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, who wrote in an essay published in the Warhol Live exhibition catalogue that the impact made by the Vexations concert "was decisive and inspired the artist to the unprecedented, repetitive structure of the film Sleep (1963)." (2) However, there is no documentary evidence that Warhol actually attended the concert or that the concert did indeed "inspire" him to construct his film with a "new" repetitive structure.

Eric Satie Andy Warhol Sleep

Detail from the Tate Modern's ad for The Long Weekend

John Cale, one of the pianists at the 1963 Vexations concert and later a member of the Velvet Underground, managed by Andy Warhol, recalls the circumstances of the concert in his autobiography but does not mention Warhol being there.

John Cale:

"Between 9 and 10 September 1963 I was one of a relay team of pianists, under the direction of John Cage, who played Vexations by Erik Satie at Pocket Theatre, 100 Third Avenue near 13th Street, in 18 hours and 40 minutes. The 180 notes of this 80-second work were played 840 times. The whole thing was John Cage's idea. The admission was $5, but members of the audience got a refund of five cents per twenty minutes, and those who stayed to the bitter end got a 20 cent bonus." (3)

There is no reason to assume that even if Warhol had been there Cale would have known, but apparently John Cage, himself, was unaware that Warhol attended.

Vexations program

Detail from the original 1963 performance of Vexations
(click on image for full version)

John Cage:

"In September, 1963, we had ten pianists to play one of Satie's Vexations in relays, including me and one music critic who thought he could play the piece and wanted to get in the act... I hadn't realized that Andy was there. But even if he wasn't, it doesn't surprise me that his work followed the same lines. Of course, artists are encouraged by other things that happen, but mostly by what is either in the air or already inside them." (4)

Although Cage did not recall Warhol being at Vexations, the writer George Plimpton claimed that Warhol was, indeed, there. According to Plimpton, Warhol told him he had attended "the whole thing."

George Plimpton:

"I remember riding in a large freight elevator with Andy in the early Sixties - it may have been the one that rose slowly to the Factory - and mentioning in passing that I had been reading an account in The New Yorker of an Erik Satie musical composition being played over and over for eighteen hours by relays of pianists in a recital room in Carnegie Hall. Apparently the composer had specified that this was how he wanted the piece - which was only a minute and a half long - performed. I mentioned it to Andy only because I thought he might be vaguely interested - after all, he was doing these eight-hour films of people sleeping. It never occurred to me that he knew of his concert, or of Satie, since it wouldn't have surprised me a bit if he'd never heard of Satie. His reaction startled me. He said 'Ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!' I'd never seen his face so animated. It made a distinct impression. Between ohhh's he told me that he'd actually gone to the concert and sat through the whole thing. He couldn't have been more delighted to be telling me about it." (5)

Assuming that Plimpton's recollection of the conversation is accurate, it is unlikely that it took place in the Factory elevator. If it had been the Factory elevator that Plimpton and Warhol were in, the conversation would probably have taken place months after the concert as the Factory did not begin operating until the end of January 1964 and the concert took place in September 1963.

Callie Angell suggested that the Vexations concert may have influenced the editing of Sleep in the 1994 publication The Films of Andy Warhol, Part II. Callie that "Warhol's use of repetition in the editing of Sleep was probably influenced by the September 1963 performance of Erik Satie's Vexations (1893-95), which he attended at a time when he had shot most of the footage for his film but had not yet begun to edit it. Warhol discussed Satie's use of repetition with John Cage, who was the organizer of the event." (7) The claim is footnoted "Conversation with Billy Name, October 28, 1993." The Tate had originally advertised that the film, itself, was "inspired" by Vexations. After Callie saw an earlier version of my notes, she wrote:

Hi, Gary –

I just read your notes on Sleep and John Cage.  I’m wondering if this is a response to the “Vexations”/Sleep event at the Tate Modern this weekend?  Stuart Comer invited me to be on the panel discussion in connection with this event – I couldn’t make it, but I made a point of disagreeing with him in my return email about Sleep being inspired by Vexations, as he has been advertising  I think the editing of Sleep might have been inspired by Vexations, but not the idea for the film – a man sleeping for eight hours – which Warhol had been thinking about since the previous spring... (Email Callie Angell to Gary Comenas, "Cage and Sleep," 25 May 2007)

In June 2009 I asked Billy Name about the Vexations concert and whether Warhol had spoken to Cage about repetition. As with Plimpton, Name also recalled a conversation in an elevator - only in this instance the conversation was between Cage and Warhol rather than Plimpton and Warhol:

Billy Name:

Here's what I recall about the Cage/Warhol/Satie situation, and it's now become very fragmentary. Andy and I and John Cage in an elevator going up. Andy and John Cage talking about the Satie piece in a delightful way and how it reflects the way both of them were working at that time. Andy mentioned his multiples in terms of painting (silk screens).

It's really a long time ago but I do clearly remember that little incident in the elevator. Where did it take place? In 1963 Andy and I were going out together to art openings, movies, and other events, like Vexations, pretty regularly. At that time I knew John Cage as well as I knew Andy, maybe a little better, having attended and performed in a piece of his in a festival in Montreal, and having spent weekends with him and the group at Stoney Point, N.Y., with Nick Cernovich." (6)

Billy Name does not claim that Cage and Warhol discussed Vexations in relation to Sleep. Name recalled that Warhol brought up his silkscreens in the conversation but nothing about Sleep.

There is one person, however, who claims to have actually attended the Vexations concert with Warhol - the star of Sleep, John Giorno. In a panel discussion at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on 4 March 2011, Giorno claimed that he went to Vexations with Warhol and that after they left, Warhol returned to the concert on his own. During the same panel discussion Giorno said that on the back of the Vexations program was a biography of Satie which mentioned that Satie was a "Rosicrucianist" and that years later, during the Tate's event, Brendan Joseph told Giorno that he (Joseph) had watched the film over and over again and that it was based on a Rosicrucian formula. However, when I wrote to Giorno asking him to confirm that he had, indeed, attended the concert with Warhol, I didn't get a response and Giorno did not mention Vexations in accounts he gave of Sleep prior to the Tate's event in 2007.

Vexations New York Times

Coverage of the 1963 Vexations concert in the September 11, 1963 issue of the New York Times (Full copy here)

If Warhol did attend the concert, it is doubtful that he was there for very long as his presence would probably have been noted by one of the reviewers from the New York Times who attended the performance. (8) Each reviewer was given approximately a two hour time slot to review and none of them mentioned Warhol, despite the fact that the audience members were reviewed almost as much as the actual concert. Audience numbers ranged from about 7 to 40 so Warhol would have been hard to miss. One Times reviewer, Sam Zolotow, for instance, spent much of his "2 a.m. - 4 a.m. Tuesday" slot commenting on various people in the audience (which at that time numbered 20 people) but did not mention seeing Warhol. Warhol was more likely to have read the review of the concert than to have actually "sat through the whole thing" as he apparently told Plimpton.

According to the New York Times review, only one person sat through the entire concert - an actor named Karl Schenzer from The Living Theatre's production of The Brig who also appeared with John Cale on the September 16, 1963 episode of the American television game show, I've Got A Secret. Schenzer's "secret" was that he was the only person who sat through Vexations in its entirety. Footage from the episode of I've Got A Secret can be found on You Tube:

John Cale I've Got a Secret

Click on image - The footage also appears here.

Whether or not Warhol attended the concert, he denied that Cage had any influence on his own work in interviews. Warhol was asked about Cage's influence in several interviews including the often quoted 1963 interview by G.R. Swenson; (9) an interview for L.A. radio station KPFK in 1963; (10) and an interview conducted by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh in 1985. (11) During the KPFK radio interview both Sleep and the Vexations concert were referenced.

The KPFK interview took place in Los Angeles when Warhol was visiting his second Pop exhibition at the Ferus Gallery which opened on September 30, 1963. The interview was conducted by Ruth Hirschman (later Ruth Seymour) and included both Andy Warhol and one of his "superstars" - the underground film actor Taylor Mead. At the time of the KPFK interview Warhol had already shot footage for Sleep in New York and the film had been mentioned by Jonas Mekas in the Village Voice newspaper.

During the KPFK interview Hirschman asks Warhol whether he is going to have Sleep reviewed "the way the last Cage concert was, with all the reviewers going from 11 to 12." This is a reference to the Vexations concert. Warhol responds by saying that Jonas Mekas had already reviewed Sleep in the Village Voice. He does not make a connection between the actual editing of Sleep and the concert even though the interviewer has just referred to both. Hirschman's comment refers to a method of reviewing the film and not about the actual structure of the film.

Panelist Branden W. Joseph quoted from the same KPFK interview in his essay "The Play of Repetition: Andy Warhol's Sleep" to argue that "if he [Warhol] was particularly interested in Cage's Satie concert, then, it was no doubt on account of his search for a means of translating such repetition into the temporal medium of film." (12) Joseph notes in his essay that "While in Los Angeles, Warhol and Mead were interviewed by Ruth Hirschman of Pacifica Radio [KPFK]. In the context of discussing the unfinished Sleep, Hirschman asked 'Is there any tie up between this and let’s say, John Cage’s music?' To which Warhol replied succinctly, 'Yeah, I think so.' At that moment, however, Mead jumped in, declaring of Cage, 'He’s a pedantic idea of what you have to free.' When Mead continued disparaging the composer, Warhol uncharacteristically stopped him in mid- sentence to insist, 'I think he’s really marvelous, but I think that younger kids are really . . .' Before Warhol could finish the qualification, Mead recommenced: 'He’s an artist for technicians, for freeing you technically maybe, to wig out on anything you feel like, bongos or piano wires or alarm clocks or things . . .' And once again Warhol interrupted, defending Cage by declaring, 'But he, he really is great.'" (13)

However, the comments quoted are not made "in the context of discussing the unfinished Sleep," as Joseph claims. Sleep is mentioned earlier in the interview, but the comments that Joseph quotes are in reference to "the scene" in general and in particular to Happenings. The actual section of the interview is below:

Hirschman: Is there a close tie-up in New York between Pop painting and filmmaking?

Mead: Well, not exactly except all the painters are sort of also interested, many of them are also interested in making movies and we often get them in the movies. And the scene, the art scene I guess in New York is very interrelated, the movies and the people and everything...

Warhol: Oh, yeah?

Mead: ... are all very congenial.

Hirschman: Tell me, does the scene include the theater, or is the theater in terms of this new movement finished?

Mead: Yeah, the whole concept of repeating and repeating on the stage - well, no, there is a - 'cause it was mostly in dance, really, in music - in Happenings.

Hirschman: In other words, things which are fairly fluid seem to be -

Mead: It seems mostly to be only stage work that just happens one night.

Hirschman: You mean Happenings?

Mead: But shows that go on and on are just, the temperament of the people is just not too suited for it, I don't think. Because these are Beat people, really.

Hirschman: Is there any tie-up between this and let's say Cage, John Cage's music?

Warhol: Yeah, I think so.

Mead: He's a pedantic idea of what you have to free. I mean, he might help people to free themselves, but as for doing something interesting or something really stimulating, no, he's just...

Warhol: I think he's really marvelous, but I think that the younger kids are really...

Mead: He's an artist for technicians, for freeing you technically maybe, to wig out on anything you feel like, bongos or piano wires or alarm clocks or things...

Warhol: But he, he really is great...

Mead: But as for making it cohesive...

Hirschman: Do you feel that it has to be made cohesive?

Mead: I think it's more fun to. It's more fun to have an hour concert than something that people wander in just to see - well, I don't know, it's fun both ways, but I'd like it, I like it, I'm very theatrical, I like a theatrical evening really, that fives you a great overall feeling that really charges you.

Hirschman: Do you feel that you need a center?

Mead: Well, with Cage or those other people you come in and maybe you're intellectually piqued, you know, but you aren't stirred emotionally and overwhelmed.

Warhol: I would grant him, you know, a lot on purely experimental intellectual 'freeing the other artists' basis.

Hirschman: But you don't feel that he's a romantic, do you?

Warhol: No.

HIrschman: Andy, why do you repeat your images?

Warhol: I don't know.

Hirschman: When you come on to Andy that that way, he turns off. Like, there are lots of Campbell's soup cans. Is each one, to you, different?

Warhol: Uh, no.

Hirschman: They're all the same?

Mead: Oh, no, sometimes they're chicken soup, sometimes they're beef broth -

Hirschman: I went around counting at the Ferus which were selling, and I found out something interesting. I think you had trouble with one brand. The chicken soups were not going. I thought that was very curious.

Mead: I think there are a lot of vegetarians out here.

Hirschman:... things like that went right away.

Warhol: No, I just think people do the same thing every day and that's what life is. Whatever you do is just the same thing.

It is also interesting to note in regard to this section of the interview, that Cage is appreciated by Mead for the composer's use of found sounds and instrumentation rather than for any particular predilection for repetitive musical structures. Mead refers to Cage as "an artist for technicians, for freeing you technically maybe, to wig out on anything you feel like, bongos or piano wires or alarm clocks or things..." Cage was primarily known for his use of found sounds, silence, and composing by chance - often with the help of the I Ching - a sort of musical equivalent of the automatism employed by Dada and Surreal artists. Cage's most famous composition is probably 4' 33 in which a pianist sits at the piano without playing a note and the random sounds heard inside the concert hall as a result of the silence, become the music. Most of Cage's works are not necessarily repetitive and although he was associated with musical serialism, one should not make the mistake of limiting musical serialism to repetition. The term "musical seriality" is sometimes used by art writers as though it is the musical equivalent of visual repetition when it is actually a fairly complicated theory of composition, derived from Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique which orders "the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, forming a row or series and providing a unifying basis for a composition's melody, harmony, structural progressions, and variations." (14) (A detailed examination of musical serialism is beyond the remit of this essay, but a good explanation of it can be found in Wikipedia here.)

The structure of Satie's work, Vexations, was, of course, repetitive, and it's clear that in 1963 when Warhol shot Sleep, he was at least superficially aware of the use of repetition in music. As Branden W. Joseph points out in his essay, a quotation by Cage appeared under a photobooth portrait by Warhol of the composer La Monte Young in the June 1963 issue of Harper's Bazaar for a feature titled "New Faces, New Forces, New Names in the Arts.” In the quote, Cage refers to Young as being "able, whether by the repetition of a single sound or by holding a single sound for twenty minutes, to bring it about that what I had been thinking was the same thing, is not the same thing after all but full of variety." (15) Although Cage's linking the repetition of "a single sound" to "variety" differs from the reasons Warhol gives in the KPFK interview for employing repetition in his own works - "I just think people do the same thing every day and that's what life is. Whatever you do is just the same thing" - the "holding of a single sound" for a long period of time is not dissimilar to Warhol's technique of just turning the camera on and letting it roll. It's clear that musical repetition was in the air at the time that Warhol made Sleep, but whether the specific performance of Vexations had anything do with the repetitive structure of the film is still open to question. Warhol had been using repetition as an artistic technique for some time before 1963 so it is hardly surprising that he used it for his first major film.

Warhol claimed to have first "met" Cage in the 1940s. In an interview of the artist conducted by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh in 1985, Warhol comments "When I was a kid, you know, John Cage came - I guess I met him when I was fifteen or something like that." (16) Emma Lavigne writes in the Warhol Live exhibition catalogue: "Although it is unlikely that Warhol attended the first lecture-recital given by Cage in Pittsburgh on April 6, 1943, it is possible that he was present at the second concert and dance performance by Cage and Merce Cunningham on June 24, 1945, three months before going to college... It is probably safe to assume that Warhol went to a third lecture and concert given by Cage in Pittsburgh, with the pianist William Masselos." (17)

tracing outlines film clip

Footage of Philip Pearlstein being interviewed in 2009 about the
Outlines Gallery in Pittsburgh for a forthcoming documentary on the gallery
(click on image to play or go here.)

The lecture/recitals mentioned by Lavigne took place at the Outlines Gallery in Pittsburgh. (18) The Outlines Gallery had opened in October 1941 at 341 Boulevard of the Allies (19) but moved to the Pittsburgh Playhouse at 222 Craft Avenue in early December 1943 where they shared the exhibition rooms of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. (20) By May 1947, the year that the gallery would close, they were located at 230 Oliver Avenue. (20a) According to the artist Philip Pearlstein who knew Warhol in college and would moved to New York with him in 1949, both he and Warhol attended events at the gallery. Pearlstein later described the gallery events as "marvelous programs" where he and Warhol "saw Maya Deren, filmmaker and dancer, a lot of experimental film, John Cage, and all of these were exciting...'" (20b)

In addition to the dates offered by Lavigne, The May 24, 1946 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also announced an upcoming performance by Cage and Merce Cunningham taking place on June 19, 1946. Gazette journalist, Harold V. Cohen, writing in his column "The Drama Desk" noted that "Merce Cunningham, the brilliant American dancer, and his accompanist, John Cage, will join the Genevieve Jones faculty here for the month of June. Miss Jones is also presenting them in a recital at the Playhouse the night of June 19." (20c) An online source, A John Cage Compendium by Paul van Emmerik (in collaboration with Herbert Henck and András Wilheim) (20d) indicates that Cage spent the summer of 1946 in Pittsburgh, living at 5851 Forbes Street, and lists a Cage/Cunningham performance at the Pittsburgh Playhouse on June 25, 1946 "presented by Genevieve Jones" which featured the repetitive Satie-like composition Experiences No. 1 as well Meditation to Tossed as it is Untroubled, Root of an Unfocus, Spontaneous Earth, Totem Ancestor and The Unavailable Memory of. (20e)

Whether or not Warhol met Cage when he (Warhol) was "fifteen or something like that" as Warhol 'guessed' when speaking to Buchloh, is open to question. However, he would probably have at least been exposed to Cage at the Outlines Gallery, as Pearlstein recalled attending such events at the gallery with Warhol. (See also: "When did Andy Warhol meet John Cage?")

Warhol is asked directly about Cage's influence during the Buchloh interview, although Buchloh does not specifically mention the Vexations concert. Buchloh asks Warhol, "But how did you start serial repetition as a formal structure?" Warhol responds "I just made one screen and repeated it over and over again. But I was doing the reproduction of the thing, of the Coca-Cola bottles and the dollar bills." Buchloh continues "So it had nothing to do with a general concern for seriality? It was not coming out of John Cage and concepts of musical seriality; those were not issues you were involved with at the time?" Warhol answers that he "didn't know" that Cage "did serial things." (21)

Warhol does credit Cage with being "influential" in regard to Pop art in an interview conducted by Gene Swenson in 1963, the year that Sleep was filmed, but there are problems regarding the authenticity of that interview. Swenson asks Warhol "Is Pop a bad name?" Warhol allegedly responds, "The name sounds so awful. Dada must have something to do with Pop - its so funny the names are really synonyms. Does anyone know what they're supposed to mean or have to do with, those names? Johns and Rauschenberg - Neo-Dada for for all these years, and everyone calling them derivative and unable to transform the things they use - are now called progenitors of Pop. It's funny the way things change. I think John Cage has been very influential, and Merce Cunningham, too, maybe. Did you see that article in the Hudson Review? It was about Cage and that whole crowd, but with a lot of big words like radical empiricism and teleology." (22) But according to Warhol biographer, David Bourdon, "This widely quoted interview is troublesome for art historians. Swenson and Warhol were good friends, but the artist was in one of his uncooperative moods, prompting the critic to conceal his tape recorder during the interview. Some of the more 'intellectual' sounding quotes attributed to Warhol may have been doctored by Swenson, particularly the remarks concerning the Hudson Review, a literary quarterly that Warhol was not known to read." (23)

More reliable than the Swenson interview is what Henry Geldzahler wrote about Sleep. His comments appeared in an ad for the film in the January 16th issue of the Village Voice.

Andy Warhol Sleep

Village Voice ad for Andy Warhol's Sleep
16 January 1964, p 13

Geldzahler writes, "As in Erik Satie’s Vexations when the same 20-second piece is repeated for eighteen hours, we find that the more that is eliminated the greater concentration is possible on the spare remaining essentials. The slightest variation becomes an event, something on which we can focus our attention. As less and less happens on the screen, we become satisfied with almost nothing and find the slightest shift in the body of the sleeper or the least movement of the camera interesting enough." But although Geldzahler makes an analogy with Sleep, no claim is made regarding the editing of it. The film had already been edited by the time that Geldzahler compared it to the Satie concert. It is likely that the Vexations performance, or the news of the Vexations performance, influenced Geldzahler's analogy but the analogy came after the editing of the film, not before.

The Vexations concert generated a large amount of publicity but it was not the only exposure that Warhol might have had to Satie's music. Some of the dance performances at the Judson Church in the east Village incorporated Satie's music and Warhol was known to have attended events at the church. Warhol star Fred Herko, for instance, had performed a dance called Once or Twice a Week I Put on Sneakers to Go Uptown to Satie's music in the very first program of dance at the Judson in July 1962. (See The First Concert of Dance at the Judson Dance Theater). According to POPism: The Warhol Sixties, however, the first Judson "happening" Warhol "guessed" that he attended took place at the end of April 1963 - a performance of Yvonne Rainer's full-length dance, Terrain, which Warhol saw with David Bourdon and which he described (via Pat Hackett in POPism) as a "beautiful concert." (25) Interestingly, one of the solos in Terrain was "Sleep." On Memorial Day weekend in 1963, about a month after seeing this dance performance, Warhol asked his then-boyfriend, John Giorno, if he could film him sleeping (26) - although he would not actually start shooting the film Sleep until more than a month later. Similarly, Warhol would film Freddy Herko in Dance Movie (Rollerskate) in 1963 after Herko had performed earlier that year at the Judson Church in a dance wearing a rollerskate on only one foot, just as he later did in Warhol's film. The Judson Dance Theater also had links to John Cage and Cage's boyfriend, the dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham. According to dance historian Sally Banes, "The Cunningham-Cage collaboration was an important influence on the Judson Dance Theater. Some of the members of Cunningham's company participated in Judson" productions and "the dancers learned from Cage's teachings."(27) Banes also points out that the Village Voice dance reviewer Jill Johnston (who Warhol later filmed for Jill Johnston Dancing) associated the "choreographic strategy" of two other Judson dances by Terrain choreographer Yvonne Rainer - The Bells and Satie for Two - to Gertrude Stein's "circular, repetitive writing style." (27b)

In September 1963, Rainer was one of the dancers who participated in a musical version of Gertrude Stein's play, What Happened, when it was put on by another avant-garde group operating out of the Judson Church - the Judson Poets' Theater. The production has been referred to as a "landmark production" by theatre historian Stephen J. Bottoms who describes it as using the "rhythmically repetitive" language of Stein "to capture a subjective impression of endlessly circling chatter." (28) The following year, Warhol would film two Screen Tests of one of the other Judson dancers who performed in the production, Lucinda Childs, as well as making a short film of her shoulder, titled Shoulder. The Judson production of Stein's repetitively structured play won three Obie Awards for the 63-64 season - Best Production (musical), Distinguished Direction, and Best Music. (29) When Andy Warhol's art assistant, Gerard Malanga, was later asked who he thought influenced Warhol the most, Gertrude Stein was one of the people he mentioned - along with John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, "television" and "the movies." (30) Warhol wou ld later pay tribute to Stein when he selected her as one of his subjects for his "Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century" series in 1980. Malanga also recalls that he and Warhol were "regular goers of the Judson Memorial Church." (31)

Repetition then, was very much in the air amongst avant-garde circles in New York when Warhol made Sleep. But whether Warhol decided to edit the film repetitively as a direct result of John Cage's production of Erik Satie's Vexations is still a matter of conjecture. It's possible, but it's equally possible that other cultural events, such as the Judson Church performances, played a part. Or it may simply have been that Warhol was extending to film the repetitive technique that he already employed in his art. There is little actual evidence to support the claim that Warhol edited Sleep in a repetitive manner as a result of the Vexations concert or that he even attended the concert in the first place.

Gary Comenas
Warholstars.org (London)
June 2009/rev. March 2011/rev. 2015


1. Tate Modern blurb - The Long Weekend (accessed July 2008)

Note (June 2009): The page has now been removed from the Tate's website. The original page read as follows:

To mark the twentieth anniversary of his death in 1987, Andy Warhol’s (1928–87) first ever film, Sleep 1963, is screened throughout the night, accompanied by the legendary musical performance that inspired it. The five and a half-hour film will be looped to provide over eighteen hours of continuous viewing, and is a meditative study of the poet John Giorno asleep in his apartment. Warhol was inspired to complete the film with a new repetitive editing structure after attending the writer and composer John Cage’s (1912–92) historic 1963 performance at the Pocket Theatre in New York of the French composer Erik Satie’s (1866–1925) epic repetitive work for piano, Vexations, 1893. This transfixing event at Tate Modern brings together two artistic landmarks from a momentous year, and will be a contemplation on stillness, repetition, time and death.

Cage was the first to stage a complete performance of Satie’s highly idiosyncratic work for solo piano, a 52-beat segment accompanied by the instructions that it be played ‘very softly and slowly’ 840 times. The piece was performed by ten relaying pianists each of whom played twenty minutes or fifteen repetitions of the segment at a time. The performance lasted 18 hours and 40 minutes. Andy Warhol claimed he attended the whole performance and that same year, decided on a new structure for Sleep based on the repetition of footage.

The performers at Tate will include renowned new-music specialists including the composers Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman, alongside the composer and scholar Joshua Rifkin, who participated in the performance in 1963, the acclaimed new music pianist Tania Chen, and some of the brightest young pianists in London.

This landmark event is introduced by a special performance by John Giorno, the subject of the film, and accompanied by a panel discussion about the relationships between Warhol, Cage and Satie.

2. Emma Lavigne, "Dialogue with John Cage," in Stephane Aquin, Emma Lavigne, Matt Wrbican, Warhol Live (Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Prestel Publ. Inc, 2008), p. 86

3. John Cale and Victor Bockris, What's Welsh for Zen: The Autobiography of John Cale (NY/London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999) p. 57

4. Jean Stein with George Plimpton, Edie, An American Biography (NY:Alfred A. Knopf, 1982) pp. 235-7

5. Ibid, pp. 234-235

6. Email from Billy Name, June 22, 2009

7. Callie Angell, The Films of Andy Warhol: Part II (NY: Whitney Museum of Modern Art, 1994), p. 11

8. Harold C. Schonberg, Richard F. Shepard et al., “Music: A Long, Long, Long Night (and Day) at the Piano,” The New York Times, 11 September 1963), pp. 45, 48

9. G. R. Swenson, "What is Pop Art? Answers from 8 Painters, Part 1," ARTnews (November 1963) repr. in Kenneth Goldsmith (ed.), I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews 1962 - 1987 (NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004), pp. 15 - 20

10. Ruth Hirschman, "Pop Goes the Artist" (transcript of radio broadcast), Annual Annual (Berkeley: The Pacifica Foundation, 1965) repr. in Goldsmith, pp. 27-46

11. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, "An Interview with Andy Warhol (1985)," in Annette Michelson (ed.), Andy Warhol: October Files 2 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), pp. 119 - 128

12. Branden W. Joseph, "The Play of Repetition: Andy Warhol's Sleep," Grey Room, 19, Spring 2005, p. 26

13. Joseph, p. 23

14. "Serialism," in Wikipedia (accessed 12 June 2009)

15. Joseph, p. 38

16. Buchloh, p. 120

Note: Although Warhol said he met Cage when he (Warhol) was "fifteen or something like that," exactly when he first met Cage is difficult to ascertain with certainty. Andy Warhol 365 Takes, written by the staff of the Andy Warhol Museum, refers to the Outlines gallery during Warhol's college years: "Warhol attended college from 1945 to 1949... Warhol worked hard at school and was a serious student of contemporary art. He made time to visit a local avant-garde art gallery called Outlines, where he was exposed to the work of such cutting-edge artists, architects, and musicians as John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Marcel Duchamp, and Joseph Cornell." (p. 7) The gallery is also mentioned in Fred Lawrence Guiles, Loner at the Ball, The Life of Andy Warhol (London: Black Swan Books, 1990): "The Greenes [Balcomb and his wife, Gertrude]... had helped a local woman, Betty Rockwell Raphael, open a gallery called 'The Outline,' where every Sunday night during that fabulous summer of 1947 the avant-gardists... would convene for a cultural event." (p. 39) Balcomb Greene was one of Warhol's instructors at Carnegie Tech.

17. Lavigne, p. 86

18. Matt Wrbican, Andy Warhol Museum, email July 30, 2009.

19. Jeanette Jena, "'Outlines' Gallery in Boulevard Opens," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 11, 1941, p. 4

20. "Art Group Share Playhouse Rooms," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 3, 1943, p. 18

20a. Edith Rosenblatt, "All-Modern Sculpture Exhibit Has Merits," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 12, 1947, p. 6

20b. Pearlstein quoted in Fred Lawrence Guiles, Loner at the Ball: The Life of Andy Warhol (London: Black Swan, 1990), p. 39

20c. Harold V. Cohen, "The Drama Desk - Local Scrappings," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 May 1946, p.5

20d. Paul van Emmerik in collaboration with Herbert Henck and András Wilheim, A John Cage Compendium, © 2003-2008 Paul van Emmerik (accessed 12 June 2009)

20e. John Cage chronology 1912 - 1971 in van Emmerik (accessed 12 June 2009)

21. Buchloh, p. 121

22. Swenson repr. in Goldsmith, p. 19 - 20

23. David Bourdon, Warhol (NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1989), p. 163

The full quote from Bourdon regarding Swenson's Warhol interview is:

"This widely quoted interview is troublesome for art historians. Swenson and Warhol were good friends, but the artist was in one of his uncooperative moods, prompting the critic to conceal his tape recorder during the interview. Some of the more 'intellectual' quotes attributed to Warhol sound as if they may have been doctored by Swenson, particularly the remarks concerning the Hudson Review, a literary quarterly that Warhol was not known to read.

Swenson's discussion with Warhol was one of eight interviews with as many artists published under the title 'What is Pop Art?' in the November 1963 and February 1964 issues of Art News. Seven of Swenson's eight interviews were reprinted in Pop Art Redefined by John Russell and Suzi Gablik (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969). Through careless editing, the last eight paragraphs of Swenson's interview with Tom Wesselmann, starting on page 118 with the question 'Is Pop Art a counter-revolution?,' are appended to Swenson's interview with Warhol. As a result of this production goof, several of Wesselmann's remarks are erroneously attributed to Warhol; these bogus 'Warhol' statements include his characterization of painting as 'audacious'; his claim that he got the subject matter from the fifteenth-century Flemish painter Hans Memling and his content and motivation from Willem de Kooning; and his avowed love for the paintings of Mondrian, Matisse, and Pollock."

Because of the Pop Art Redefined catalogue, the phony Warhol quotes are continually perpetuated. Richard Morphet, for instance, began his essay in the catalogue to the 1971 Warhol exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London with a long epigraph that ostensibly cites Warhol; the words are actually Wesselmann's. Art historian Thomas Crow also tripped up on the false Warhol quotes in an otherwise excellent article, 'Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,' Art in America, May 1987, pp. 128 - 36. Crow had the good sense to note parenthetically that Warhol was capable of 'an inscrutable allusion to Memling as one of his sources.' Warhol, indeed, would have been unable to distinguish a Memling from a lemming."

25. Andy Warhol & Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol Sixties (NY: Harcourt Brace & Company: First Harvest edition, 1990), p. 51

26. John Giorno, "My 15 Minutes," The Guardian (London), Thursday February 14, 2002

27. Sally Banes, Democracy's Body: Judson Dance Theater 1962 - 1964 (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), p. xvi

27b. Banes, p. 32

28. Stephen J. Bottoms, Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006), p. ix

29. Bottoms, p. 153

30. John Wilcock, The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol (NY: Other Scenes, Inc., 1971), p. 13

31. Ibid, p. 11