Back to All Events

Ben Patterson: Methods and Processes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

  • Philadelphia Museum of Art 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia, PA, 19130 United States (map)

The Arcana New Music Ensemble is excited to present the music of Ben Patterson (1934-2016) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Patterson was an important and under-recognized leader of the early Fluxus movement, an international, interdisciplinary community of experimental artists that began in the early 1960s. The program represents his wide range of compositional strategies. For example – Paper Piece (for 1 to 5 performers) is a text score that invites musicians to – “shake, break, tear, crumple” – paper in an improvisatory exploration of its sonic properties. String Music on the other hand is a graphic score with detailed performance instructions and intricate notation more reminiscent of Stockhausen’s Kontakte.

Early in Patterson’s career, as an African American classically trained double bassist, he sought to “break the color barrier” and be the first black musician to play in an American symphony orchestra. As Patterson noted, “in the end, even though such a famous conductor as Leopold Stokowski fought strongly on my behalf, America was not yet ready for a black symphony musician, and so I went to Canada.” During his initial brush with expatriate life, Patterson performed as a contrabassist with the Halifax Symphony Orchestra and the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra, and also became involved with electronic music, working in Ottawa with Canadian pioneer Hugh Le Caine and performing his own experiments. In 1960 he moved to Europe and was active in the contemporary music scene, performing in festivals in Cologne, Paris, Venice, Vienna and elsewhere. During this pre-Fluxus period he created and performed some of his early seminal works: Paper Piece (1960), Lemons (1961) and Variations for Double-Bass (1961). Patterson assisted George Maciunas in organizing the historic 1962 Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden. His interview with Emmett Williams – for the opening of this festival – was one of the first articles about Fluxus. In 1963 Patterson moved to New York, where he participated in Fluxus manifestations until the late 1960s – when he returned to pursue “an ordinary life.”

After a nearly twenty-year hiatus, Patterson reemerged in the late 1980s to resume his career as an artist. In 1989, Patterson returned to Europe to live, creating a vast repository of scores, paintings, and sculptures. He has exhibited or performed widely in major and minor venues in New York, Brisbane, Prague, Winnipeg, Tusa (Sicily), Athens, Kassel, and elsewhere.


String Music (1960)

Simple Opera (1996)

Paper Piece (1960)


Anthony Bob, flute
Erin Busch, cello
Veronica Jurkiewicz, viola
Josh Machiz, bass
Andy Thierauf, percussion

BenPatterson3-1 (1).jpg
Earlier Event: October 10
Crumb: Out of Darkness