First meeting of artists and engineers to discuss 9 Evenings at Robert Rauschenberg's loft. Photo Peter Moore
The project that became 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering began in the fall of 1965 when, Knut Wiggen who was the head of Filkingen, the music society in Stockholm, approached Billy Klüver about inviting American artists to a Festival of Art and Technology he wanted to organize in Stockholm with participation of American artists. Klüver discussed the idea with Robert Rauschenberg, who also liked the notion of the collaboration between artists and engineers. and they decided to go ahead. They invited artists to participate: Steve Paxton, Robert Whitman, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, David Tudor, Öyvind Fahlström, John Cage, Yvonne Rainer, Lucinda Childs, and Robert Rauschenberg. Klüver invited a group of engineer colleagues at Bell Laboratories to work on the project.
The artists and engineers began a series of meetings together, and after listening to the artists' ideas ,the engineers began to propose equipment and systems that the artists could use. During the spring and summer more than 30 engineers, most of them from Bell Laboratories, worked in one-to-one collaboration with individual artists, depending on the artist’s project and engineer’s specialty. Other engineers worked on equipment and systems that could be used by all the artists.
It soon began to be clear that Wiggen's attitude towards the project was quite different from that of the American group. Wiggen did not accept that the engineer's contribution was equal to that of the artist, and he did not think it was necessary to invite them to Stockholm to work with the artists. "We can handle it here," he said. Since the whole project was based on the notion of collaboration between artists and engineers as equals, this made further work with Wiggen impossible. The idea of participating in the festival in Stockholm fell through on the 27th of July. Overnight, a meeting was called and the group decided to produce the performances in New York.
One basic decision was reached about the size of the effort. The dance performances at the Judson Church, the contemporary music concerts, and the artists’ performances, where each of these artists had participated, had been going on since 1960 without the size of the audience changing noticeably. Everyone at the meeting felt that if we stayed within this limited framework, our effort would be lost. This was to be the first major art and technology collaborative event; and it had to take place on a much larger scale than before. At the meeting a number of possible locations were suggested.
Simone Forti and Alice Schwebke were given the task of locating a suitable space for the performances. At the next meeting on August 1st, Forti reported that she had found the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street empty and available. The fact that it had been the site of the famous Armory show of 1913, that introduced modern European art to the United States, and where Marcel Duchamp showed Nude Descending a Staircase, appealed to the group. She reported that it was a very exciting space, but that the acoustics were terrible; and a few days later the engineers measured that the reverberation time for sound was 6 seconds. However, The artists liked the idea of the size of the Armory which had a vaulted steel roof 120 feet high in the center, and an available floor area of 120 x 150 feet. Everyone felt that the space was what they wanted; presented a welcome challenge and there It would be possible to reach a much larger audience than they had had at the downtown performance spaces.
The artists were asked if the 6 second reverberation time would affect their works, and only Fahlström was dependent on recognizable speech. The engineers felt they could take care of this problem.