Feature Profile – Les Moutons de Panurge / Mass Appeal at SoHo Square

“Always play loud, never stop or falter, stay together as long as you can, but if you get lost, stay lost. Do not try to find your way back into the fold. Continue to follow the rules strictly.”

These are the instructions of composer Frederic Rzewski on “Les Moutons de Panurge”. Percussionist Sam Livingston leads a full performance of the piece at this Mass Appeal concert in SoHo Square. This work, written in 1969, brilliantly combines two revolutionary musical concepts of its day: minimalism and chance. A group of performers attempt to play a sixty-five-note melody at breakneck speed, building it up, then taking it apart note by note.

“It starts out as this really precise, innocent thing and it slowly disintegrates into an organized chaos,” says Livingston.

“It’s much more interesting to have a piece that’s always changing… some loud sections, some soft sections, and the audience can follow those swells and ideas.”

Four mallet percussionists and five instrumentalists will play the piece along, and participants are encouraged to bring ANY small percussion instrument to the performance.

Les Moutons des Panurge (“The Sheep of Panurge”) is based on the fourth book of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. The story goes that Pantagruel is traveling by ship with Panurge when their boat meets with a merchant ship carrying sheep. The merchants make fun of Panurge, but Panurge is able to buy one sheep from them. Panurge proceeds to throw his sheep into the ocean, and all of the other sheep follow it. The phrase “sheep of Panurge” has come to mean someone who follows the lead of another blindly.

Written “for any number of musicians playing melody instruments, plus any number of nonmusicians playing anything,” the work contains 65 notes played in a cumulative sequence. When all the notes have been played, the complete melody is repeated. Then the players continue, dropping one note from the beginning with each repetition, until only one note remains. That final note is held until all the players have reached it, at which point all begin improvising.

All are encouraged to bring small percussion instruments and join this Mass Appeal concert. No rehearsal is necessary! 

And remember Rzewski’s final instructions: “make sound, any sound, preferably very loud.”

“Les Moutons de Panurge” | Mass Appeal | Soho Square | Spring St + Sixth Ave | 7 – 7:45PM