Short art

The higher the wage rate, the more valuable is time. Some people will use their greater wealth to consume more leisure, others will run around and look harried.

Surely the arts should adapt to serve this second category of customer. We are all familiar with channel-surfing, or the two-minute pop song, but how about “high culture” in bite-sized portions?

“There’s no hard and fast reason why an opera has to be colossal or epic in scale,” says director David Pountney. “An opera is simply a narrative idea expressed through music. Length is immaterial – I have seen several successful operas that are barely 10 minutes long.”

In fact, 10 minutes sounds Wagnerian in comparison with Peter Reynolds’s Sands of Time. At three minutes and 34 seconds, it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest opera. “The librettist, Simon Rees, came up with the idea of an opera whose duration should match the boiling of an egg,” says Reynolds. “So we created a domestic scenario of a couple having an argument over breakfast. It starts with the sand-timer being turned, and ends with the egg coming out of the saucepan.” [I’ve added the link to this quotation]

Then there is always Samuel Beckett:

…the shortest of all Beckett works, the notoriously ephemeral Breath, consists of a set of printed instructions that take longer to read than to perform. Richard Gregory, of the company Quarantine, recently produced the work at Newcastle Playhouse, and came up with an ingenious solution for extending its 30-second duration. They did it twice. “I think we spent about a fortnight, all told, preparing a piece that was over in under a minute,” says Gregory.

And here is a nice short (truly short) story:

Augusto Monterroso’s El Dinosaurio reads in its entirety: “Upon waking the dinosaur was still there.”

Addendum: If your tastes run in the other direction, here is a version of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, slowed to down to last twenty-four hours. And go to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, where you can see Douglas Gordon’s “24 Hour Psycho”, the classic Hitchcock movie but at much slower speed.


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