Marina Abramović has designed a different process for listening to live music. Igor Levit performs the piece. Is it a brilliant idea? Or a little strange?

We are too distracted, too stressed out to listen to music properly. That’s the idea behind Goldberg, the music concert/installation/participatory performance art piece currently at the Park Avenue Armory. Conceived by Marina Abramović and performed by Igor Levit, Goldberg seeks to get the audience better attuned to listen to classical music.

Leaving belongings in the lockers before ‘Goldberg’ by Igor Levitt and Marina Abramović at the Park Avenue Armory. (click to enlarge)

Upon arrival, audience members deposit their belongings in lockers that line the Armory hallways. As we enter the drill hall we are each given a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. We take seats in lounge chairs that are arranged in a giant circle and resemble deck or lawn chairs with a piece of white fabric strung between two supports. At the sound of a gong audience members put on the noise-cancelling headphones. For approximately 20 minutes we sit in near silence. Levit takes a seat at the piano, which travels slowly down a runway to the center of the space. The gong sounds again, cuing us to remove the headphones. Levit plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations — very well — while his piano turns one complete rotation. A light above the piano’s keyboard and running its entire length illuminates Levit’s hands and upper body.

When he has finished playing, Levit stands up and takes a bow. The audience applauds and exits the space. Ushers collect the noise-cancelling headphones at the exit, in the way ushers at a movie theater collect 3D glasses after a blockbuster. Programs are handed out in the hallway. I asked an usher why they distribute them after the performance. He told me it would be “too crazy” to pass them out before and elaborated that the outflow from the concert is more manageable.