Bach Backwards
performed by Ralph Lennartz & David Smithson
music adaptation & production: Ralph Lennartz
camera and editing: Daniel Toelke
production assistant: Birke Hesse
DV duration: 9 min. (2005)

exhibited at:
Museo Pecci, Prato (2006) solo
MMSU, Rijeka (2006) group (includes video excerpt)
Galerija PM, Zagreb (2006) solo

Bach Backwards is an audio/visual document about two guys wearing one pair of cowboy boots with nothing better to do than sit around playing Bach backwards. The parts for the left and right hands of Johann Sebastian Bach's Inventio Numero Uno in C major for piano are played forwards and backwards on two different electric bass guitars. Each bassist sits on a chair either facing to the right, the left, the camera, or the back wall, eventually testing other permutations of these positions. As the two guys play and replay the music, they are visited by several ducks and rabbits.

This exercise explores visual, acoustical, and ethical symmetry/asymmetry such as the balance between right and left, positive and negative forms, forward and backward motion, moral notions like right and wrong, meaning as fact or fiction, and the delightfully unpredictable interface between dream world and reality. In doing so, it also raises questions about the way our physical reality and the passing of time are documented by the media as they use images and language to record history.

At the most elementary level of defining and communicating, the basic limitations of spoken and written language often facilitate the misinterpretation of facts and the misrepresentation of history. This is most clearly understood using Wittgenstein the tendency is to see merely a duck (or the rabbit), therefore a onesided view of reality, whereas a continuous process is required to begin to see reality as a dynamic continuum (the duckrabbit ). This paradigm also implies the necessary existence of a inherent contradiction within the system of language being used as was further outlined by Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach). In this sense, political survival can be seen as a necessary refusal to see reality in terms of integrated systems.
With all due respect to J. S. Bach, for he made the postulation himself in his canons, the suggestion is made that playing his Inventio Numero Uno forwards is only part of the story, being complemented and thereby becoming more relevant by being played backwards, the rabbit becoming visible in the duck or vice versa. It can be argued, after the fact, that the possibility of seeing the rabbit was always there, implied by the duck in the first place (and vice versa). To which I say, imagine a world where a rabbit sees a duck when he looks in the mirror instead of the reversed image we see which we assume to be ourselves. It should be noted that playing the written music backwards is similar to but not the same as playing the recorded music in reverse, or playing the video document or parts thereof in reverse. These are interesting and legitimate variations, albeit simple technical solutions. The argument can also be made that music already exists in the therefore a comparison is redundant. Exactly for this reason music is an appropriate forum for a comparison whose intention it is to pinpoint some inherent limitations and misuses of language in other forms.

All we need is music. Wouldn't this be grand?

related works:

- Burning Boots, video

- Eternal Flame, interactive installation

- Burning Boots, slide collages

David Smithson © 2005-2015