top of page

Robert Rauschenberg : Open Score
Performance Engineer : Jim McGee

October 14 & 23, 1966

Cast: Frank Stella, Mimi Kanarek, Christopher Rauschenberg, Christine Williams, Robert Rauschenberg, Simone Whitman and a group of 500 others.  Cues: Elaine Sturtevant, Susan Hartnett, Clark Poling. TV Help: Bill Hartig. Mixer: Steve Paxton. Cameramen: Robert Breer, Les Levine. Projectionists: Ken Dewey, John Giorno, James Tenney. Doormen: Alex Hay, Deborah Hay.

9errtennis 5 by 6.jpg

Robert Rauschenberg,  Open Score, began with : a tennis game between Mimi Kanarek and Frank Stella.

Artist Statement:

My piece begins with an authentic tennis game with rackets wired for transmission of sound. The sound of the game will control the lights. The game’s end is the moment the hall is totally dark. The darkness is illusionary. The hall is flooded with infra-red (so far invisible to the human eye). A modestly choreographed cast of from 300 to 500 people will enter and be observed and projected by infra-red television on large screens for the audience. This is the limit of the realization of the piece to date.

Tennis is movement. Put in the context of theater it is a formal dance improvisation. The unlikely use of the game to control the lights and to perform as an orchestra interests me. The conflict of not being able to see an event that is taking place right in front of one except through a reproduction is the sort of double exposure of action. A screen of light and a screen of darkness.

Open Score began with a tennis game on the floor of the Armory between Mimi Kanarek and Frank Stella. Bill Kaminski at Bell Laboratories had designed a tiny crystal controlled FM transmitter that could fit in the handle of a tennis racquet. The contact microphone was placed at the top of the handle and the antenna for the transmitter was wound around racquet head. Each time Frank Stella and Mimi Kanarek hit the ball an enormous BONG was heard that was caused by the vibrating strings transmitted to a receiver and then amplified and fed to the speakers in the Armory, and one of 48 1-kilowatt lights illuminating the court went out. The game ended when the Armory was completely dark.

Then a group what Rauschenberg described as "a modestly choreographed crowd of 300 to 500 people" entered in the darkness. Invisible infrared light illuminated the group of people and infrared sensitive television cameras picked up their movements. The television images were projected onto the three large screens hanging in front of the audience. The audience could sense the presence of the crowd, but could only 'see' them through the projected television image. ​Using coded flashlight signals Rauschenberg cued his cast to perform simple movements, such as : touch someone who is not touching you; touch two places on your body where you are ticklish; hug someone quickly and move on to someone else; men take off jackets; replace them; sing a song of your choice, etc. The sound accompanying this section was the voice of each person saying, “My name is…”, that had been recorded “back stage” as they came to the Armory for the performance. The performance ended, the house lights went on and the crowd bowed to the audience.

For the second performance of Open Score, Rauschenberg added a third section. He instructed the crowd, on his cue, to leave quietly in the dark. He then entered, carrying a woman in a cloth sack into the performance area, lit only by a single spotlight. In the sack, Simone Forti sang a love song in Italian, and her voice, without any microphone, echoed through the space. Rauschenberg put her down on the floor, picked her up, carried her to another place, and put her down again. After a few minutes he repeated this while she continued to sing.

Preparations & Technical Elements


bottom of page