Projects: Goldberg’s Variations

“Goldberg’s Variations” is a live suite of twelve classic Rube Goldberg inventions, featuring video animations and an original cartoon-music soundtrack by clarinetist and filmmaker Andy Biskin. Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) created his famous inventions between 1915 and 1935. They reflect the popular fascination with technology and gadgetry that began with the Machine Age and is still very much with us today. They also sharply comment on our uncontrollable urge to overcomplicate, unpredictably juxtaposing causes and effects from physics, engineering, botany, and human and animal psychology.

But most of all, Rube Goldberg’s inventions delight us with their unforgettable characters, absurd logic, and brilliant cartoonery. In the tradition of the silent film era, “Goldberg’s Variations” is performed live in a darkened theater. The animations are projected on the silver screen as the band provides live musical accompaniment and instrumental interludes.

“Goldberg’s Variations” was commissioned by Thalia Music at Symphony Space in New York City. The most recent production was a sold-out run as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival.

For booking information, contact Andy Biskin.


Mr. Biskin's jazz score seems to emanate from the inventions. But he has also written themes and interludes that capture the wheels turning in Goldberg's mind as well as in his devices.

—Laurel Graeber, The New York Times

Fun, fun, fun!

—Jim Macnie, The Village Voice

Composer and clarinetist Andy Biskin takes cartoon music to a new level.

—Michelle Mercer, Time Out New York

In naming his recent suite Goldberg's Variations, Biskin pays homage to both the engineered elegance of Bach and the jazz age lunacy of Rube. Biskin has created computer animations of 12 Goldberg gag panels, setting the resulting cartoons to music. Between cartoons, the sextet performed Biskin's "Interludes." The difference in experience was palpable: The cartoon accompaniments are punchy with trombone bellows, clarinet bleats, and drum thumps anthropomorphizing into sound effects; the "Interludes" (especially "Hourglass") travel from Ellington élan to Rite of Spring dissonance, purveying a mood somewhat at odds with Goldberg's whimsy. There's humor in Biskin's music, but also something smoky and dark: the insouciant collisions within urban culture that gave rise to modernity.

—R.C. Baker, Village Voice