Not I

Not I

[performed live by Masako Kunimoto]
instrumentation :  solo marimba + responsive lighting system

2009
duration :  10’00"
written for Masako Kunimoto
premiere :  03.20.10 by Masako Kunimoto | Boston


        Samuel Beckett’s Not I was written over the course of 12 days in 1972. The monologue, performed entirely in the dark except for an illuminated mouth hovering well above stage level, tells the story of a girl who awoke one morning unable to speak. After years of agony, incapable of verbal communication, she awakes one day to find she cannot stop speaking. At the time of the monologue she is an old woman, afraid that if she ever stops she will never resume again.
        Beckett told Jessica Tandy, who gave the premiere, that the mouth was “an organ of emission, without intellect.” The play should hit the audience’s “nerves,” he said. It certainly does—in performances I have seen viewers whose distress at watching the monologue unfold equalled that of the woman.
        In my piece the marimbist fights a losing battle against silence and darkness. The lightbulb suspended over the marimba is meant to conjure the dramatic lighting of the original play, but is also a symbol for a controlling power greater than the protagonist. The music pulls the player along urgently but without direction. Musical motives often come into conflict, forcing a “split personality” to form within the performer. The narrative fits well with the marimba, which is such a visual instrument, until it is ultimately lost from sight.