Real Life Moby Dick

Norwich Art Gallery

 
 
performance, 24 hours
 

1998

   
 

the search for the great white whale vs. the late great John Bonham

During this project I play a 24 hour drum solo.

Moby Dick is a track on the 2nd Led Zeppelin record. It is a drum solo. On the record it lasts around five minutes but live it could go on for half an hour. In fact the band used it as an opportunity to leave the stage and relax while their inimitable drummer, John Bonham, spilled his guts all over the stage. I was very interested in the sheer mental/physical extremity of this legendary solo. Of course Moby Dick is also the classic novel by Herman Melville, the odyssey of self destruction in search of the great white whale. I wanted to make something which fused these two cultural artifacts closer, perhaps melting them together to produce something new. A search for meanings in the apparent meaninglessness of excess. So I built myself a little stage in a box in a gallery and populated it with copies of 'Led Zep 2' and copies of Moby Dick from remaindered bookstores. I sold souvenir packages which included a Real Life Moby Dick t-shirt, a specially customised copy of the classic Melville novel and a customised vinyl copy of Led Zep 2(with gatefold sleeve). I built a sort of super analogue digital clock which would count down the time from 24 hours to zero, like an amateur rocket launch. Then I set up a video camera and started playing. As usual I faced into my little box (approx 3m x 3m x 3m) with my back to the audience so the most visible thing was my REAL LIFE tattoo. I played from 8pm one night to 8pm the next night. No one tried to talk to me. I wanted to keep playing continuously for every minute of the 24 hours - like some heroic performance art event from the seventies. I planned to piss in a bucket and shit in my shoe but in the end this was not practical so I must admit I went to piss 3 times during that 24 hour period but I would estimate this accounted for no more than about 4 or 5 minutes. I guess I lost a lot of water through sweating and being semi-naked. It was a strange thing to do, playing the drums continuously, for all that time. 24 hours/1440 minutes/86400 seconds. That's is a lot of seconds if you have to sit in the same position performing the same activity.

The project took place in the Norwich gallery in England and they kept the gallery open all night for me and it was amazing that people would come in at all times of the night to see how I was getting on. Maybe this is an argument for Art Galleries being open during the night instead of during the day. The toughest time for me was between about 6am and 9am when no one came into the gallery(apart from the staff, who, amazingly, stayed all night). During these periods I would set up a simple riff, or pattern and play it continuously for one hour, then modify it, moving into a different pattern. This was the strangest time. Throughout the 24 hours I suffered some physical distress, muscle cramps etc, but needless to say it was the mental stress which was the worst. When I was playing these simple patterns for hours on end I would enter some kind of hypnotic state, like some bad Hollywood idea of an acid trip. Because the box I was in was so small, my focus became fixed at around 1.5 meters and I really zoned out. I think all the chemicals that lurk under your muscles like lactic acid, all that stuff which emerges when the muscles are exhausted, flooded out into my body and temporarily altered the abil╬ity of my brain to function. But it felt fucking great to finish it, and I actually managed a bit of a final flourish in the last 5 minutes for the ecstatic crowd- the nearest i got to a real solo. Its amazing what adrenaline can do to your body