Sunday 4 June 2023, 8pm
“I try to imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes” – Cecil Taylor
“I dance not in the place; I dance the place” – Min Tanaka
The Silent Eye is a film of the African-American pianist Cecil Taylor and the Japanese dancer Min Tanaka performing together in Cecil's Brooklyn apartment in January 2016.
Shot over three days by the Australian film maker Amiel Courtin-Wilson, the 70 minute film is a unique, intimate and tender study of two old masters at play.
The camera circles and tracks Tanaka as he moves around a room full of Cecil’s clutter, or it focuses on the pianist’s hands as they move across his piano’s worn out keyboard. This footage is intercut with impressionistic or slow motion interludes soundtracked with ambient and environmental sound design by composer Rosalind Hall. Towards the end Cecil begins reciting some poetry, but other than that the film has no dialogue. Instead it illuminates the unspoken dynamics that exist between two artists who by this point had been collaborating for 30 years.
Over the course of an hour The Silent Eye develops slowly into an absorbing meditation on domesticity, friendship and play featuring two of the most radical artists of our time.
The film premiered in 2016 at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art as part of Open Plan, its exhibition devoted to the world of Cecil Taylor. This screening will be its UK premiere.
The screening will be followed by a response to the film by pianist Pat Thomas and butoh dancer Mai Nguyen Tri.
NB due to restricted sightlines in the venue, the capacity for this event will be limited.
This screening of The Silent Eye is co-presented by The Wire and Reece Ewing in association with Flood Projects.
Determinedly avant garde, Taylor is one of the most controversial figures in jazz - an artist who found it hard to make a living from his conception of the music when it was at its most original, but someone who was lionised in later life as a founding father of the free jazz movement of the 1950s. He was conventionally trained, and during his time at the New England Conservatory also took part in Boston's burgeoning modern-jazz scene. By the time he arrived in New York in 1956, steeped in many aspects of contemporary classical music as well as jazz, he soon made his mark as an uncompromising free player. He held down a celebrated residency at New York's Five Spot, and began recording with a quartet that included saxophonist Steve Lacy. Later, he worked with saxophonists Archie Shepp or Jimmy Lyons. These groups were every bit as free and radical in their conception as the contemporary quartet led by Ornette Coleman. At the heart of their work was Taylor's piano playing, which soon shed any obvious connection with conventional melody and harmony. Referring to the number of keys on a standard piano, Val Wilmer used the phrase "eighty-eight tuned drums" to describe Taylor's pianism
Min Tanaka is a Japanese dancer and actor. Born in 1945 in Tokyo, he began performing solo dance pieces in the 1960s in a variety of spaces and places. In the 1970s he started dancing naked and developed his own movement philosophy which he called Body Weather; he later founded the Body Weather Laboratory which combined his interest in both dance and farming. In the 1980s he became associated with Hijikata Tatsumi, the founder of butoh. In the early 2000s Tanaka started acting in films and on TV. Films he has appeared in include The Twilight Samurai, 47 Ronin and The Outsider. Over the years Tanaka has worked with many other artists and writers, including musicians Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey, Milford Graves, Keiji Haino, Otomo Yoshihide and Ryuichi Sakamoto, writers Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag and Kenji Nakagami, and visual artists Richard Serra, Karel Appel, Jean Kalman, Noriyuki Haraguchi and Fujiko Nakaya.
Pat Thomas studied classical piano from aged 8 and started playing Jazz from the age of 16. He has since gone on to develop an utterly unique style - embracing improvisation, jazz and new music. He has played with Derek Bailey in Company Week (1990/91) and in the trio AND (with Noble) – with Tony Oxley’s Quartet and Celebration Orchestra and in Duo with Lol Coxhill.
"Sartorially shabby as Thomas may be, and on first impression even rather stolid, he has a somewhat imperious charisma that’s immediately amplified when he starts to play. Unlike other pianists whose virtuosity seems to be racing ahead of their thought processes Thomas always seems supremely in command of his gift, and his playing, no matter how free and ready to tangle with abstraction, always carries a charge of authoritative exactitude." - The Jazzmann
Amiel Courtin-Wilson is an Australian film maker and artist whose work spans documentary, narrative feature film, moving image installation, photography and drawing. His work has been screened at Sundance, Cannes, won the Jury Prize at Venice, the Whitney Museum, and been the subject of multiple retrospectives. Between 2014 and 2016 he lived with his friend Cecil Taylor at Cecil’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York where he filmed The Silent Eye. He is currently completing a feature length portrait of the pianist titled An American Time Traveller: The Cecil Taylor Project. For the last five years he has also been collaborating with Charlemagne Palestine on a feature length portrait entitled Body Music, as well as making Traces, a thermal imaging work about the human body at the moment of death.
Mai Nguyen Tri is a French-Vietnamese dance artist who has been based in East London for the last 35 years ago, where she brings together her multiple identities and contradictory facets of her art between the rebellious and the poetical aspect of her Zen/punk Butoh dance. Drawing on her literary background, eclectic dance training and passion for storytelling, Mai's tragi-comic Butoh theatre mirrors the spiralling journey between life, death and rebirth. Specialising in site specific, guerilla style performances, Mai also likes to bring her explosive energy to street festivals, clubs, art galleries and theatres. Her dance practice is based on structured improvisation, performing solo her choreographed Butoh dance pieces, or dancing in collaboration with improvising musicians, poets and visual artists.