Smoke (9/9/97)

A prose piece for solo tobacco user by Matthew Easton


Thanks to Natasha for inspiring this work.

Reading Smoke

The composer accepts all possible critiques of Smoke, including those which evaluate the work as inconsequential, immoral, inane or misguided. Other possible readings: parody, bio-chemical music (the composer's preference), social activism, stimulus control, torture, body art.


No statements herein shall be construed as urging any person to commit an illegal, harmful or unhealthy act. The composer specifically forbids the use of tobacco in a performance of this work by any performer who is not already fully acquainted with its use.


At least one week, not more than one year.


Sufficient quantity of preferred tobacco product.

A photograph of a distinctive building or other landmark in a distant city which you do not intend to visit. Optionally, the photograph can be of a location on the moon or a planet, as long as there are distinctive geological or architectural features. Obtain an enlargement of the photo to the greatest dimensions available (but no larger than the wall you will face while performing). Alternatively, a slide may be projected.

A 3 to 5 minute sound recording on cassette tape. Any recording may be made or acquired for this purpose, so long as the sounds are not normally in your day-to-day environment. If a musical recording is chosen, it should be obscure or one-of-a-kind. Alternatively, a recording may be obtained from the composer.

A cassette player, with headphones or amplifier and speakers.

Ritual clothing, garishly colored thrift-store muu-muu and toque highly recommended.

Lamp with pink or blue lightbulb, flashing ok. This lamp will be the only light source in the performance zone. (Except in the case of a slide being projected, c.f. above).

A watch with alarm.

Optional ashtray and trashcan, as necessary for safety and cleanliness.

Optional chair or cushion.

Optional table


The Performance Zone

Set aside a performance zone, a room or other location where the piece will be performed. The performance zone must be always available during your normal waking hours. Choose the location well. During the course of the piece you will not enter the performance zone except when performing. It is preferable that the performance zone be an enclosed or partly enclosed space.

Install lamp and cassette player in the performance zone. A switch to activate the lamp (or the lamp itself) must be available near the entrance to the performance zone. Place the cassette player within easy reach of where you will sit or stand when performing. Hang the photograph (or project the slide) on a wall so it is easily visible while performing without straining the neck or turning the head. Install optional items, appropriate for their utility.

The Score

N.B. The description below assumes you are a cigarette smoker, however, it is permitted to devise a similar method (perhaps with the help of a sensitive scale) for any other tobacco product. For convenience, I will refer to each unit of performance (the 20 start times generated in the example below) as a period.

1. Take baseline data for one week to discover how much tobacco you consume daily. For instance, start each day with a known number of cigarettes and count how many remain at the end of the day. (Don't bum or lend any or you will mess up your data). Subtract end-of-the-day number from beginning-of-the-day number to get the total of cigarettes smoked in one day. Write this sum down. After 7 days, obtain your daily average by adding up the figures which represent how many cigarettes were smoked each day and dividing by 7. This average number of daily cigarettes determines the maximum number of periods of each day's performance.

Use a watch to determine the time it takes to smoke each cigarette during the baseline phase described above. To determine average length of time it takes to smoke one cigarette, add up all the timings and divide by the number of cigarettes smoked. This will be the maximum duration of each period during the performance phase of this work.

2. The evening before the first day of the performance and at the end of each performance day you will determine when the periods will be performed on the following day by random draw. Fill a hat or other container with little pieces of paper that have possible start times written on them. Each start time should be unique. The range of start times should extend through your entire waking hours. The unit duration between consecutive possible start times may be any length or it may be variable, so long as the minimum duration between any two possible start times is equal to or greater than the average length of time it takes you to smoke a cigarette. If possible, the total number of start times available for random sample should be 3 times or more than the maximum number of periods to be performed daily (the average number of cigarettes smoked per day as determined above).

The total number of start times drawn for performance on any given day must be equal to or less than your daily average number of cigarettes consumed.

For example, assume you normally awaken at 7:00 AM, your chosen nonvariable interval is 15 minutes, and you smoke an average of 20 cigarettes a day. You will prepare papers with 7:00 AM, 7:15 AM, 7:30 AM, 7:45 AM, 8:00AM, and so on until bedtime. If you choose to use a variable unit, the durations of each performance period may be determined randomly or at will. You place the papers in a hat and withdraw 20 papers, arranging them in ascending sequence. After the final period of the day is performed, you return your papers to the hat, withdraw the next day's schedule, and arrange the papers once again in ascending order.

Before the Performance

The evening before the performance begins: Place at least one day's supply of tobacco and matches in the performance zone. Withdraw the required number of papers from the hat pursuant to the score instructions above and arrange them in ascending order in the performance space. Place the ritual clothing in a convenient location near the entrance to the performance zone. Make note of the start time for the earliest period and set your alarm for 5 minutes before.

A Few Rules

Once the performance zone is arranged and the periods are designated for the first day of performance, please observe the following rules: Do not enter the performance zone except when performing. Do not engage in any of the ritual activities, including smoking, except when performing. Always, and only, wear the ritual clothing and perform the ritual activities when in the performance zone. Adhere precisely to the schedule generated for performance of the periods.

The Performance

The alarm notifies you that the performance period will begin in 5 minutes. Pay attention to your breathing. Put on the ritual clothing. Stand quietly at the entrance to the performance zone, both feet flat on the floor. It is important to be balanced and calm; the moments leading up to the performance are an ideal time to attain the required state of mind. You will proceed with calm, balanced, deliberate manner throughout the performance period.

The performance period begins. Step into the performance zone. Adjust the lighting (or turn on the slide projector if you chose that option). With cigarette and match in hand, face the photograph. Take a slow, relaxed breath. Turn on the recorded sound and adjust the volume. Acknowledge the photograph, (a slight nod or wave of the hand is sufficient; the gesture should not communicate any strong emotion or attitude, just acknowledge the presence of the image). Speak: "Now that I am here in _________, I burn tobacco". You will, of course, fill in the name of the location where the photograph was taken. The spoken text may be further embellished to place the action more firmly at the location of the photograph. "Now that I am on the Moon and in the Northwest quadrant of the Sea of Galileo, only now, I burn tobacco." is a legitimate utterance if the appropriate photograph is being used. Next, light the match, light the cigarette and smoke until the performance period ends. All action should be performed in a deliberate, thoughful, objective manner. Watch the action unfold as you light the cigarette, bring it to your lips, inhale, exhale, pause, etc. Between puffs, you may re-acknowledge the photograph and re-state the words or an embellishment of the words, or you may wait quietly observing the photograph. All utterance and action should be calm, formal, objective, low-key. At the end of the performance period extinguish the cigarette. Reset the watch alarm to notify you of the next performance period. Turn off the lighting. Leave the performance zone. Remove the ritual clothing and return to street clothes.

The above actions are repeated for each performance period during the performance day.

When Not Performing

Between performance periods, life should go on as normal. The performer may not perform the ritual actions, wear the ritual clothing, speak the ritual utterance or enter the performance zone for any reason until the next performance period begins.

If the urge to smoke should manifest itself, the performer is to say or think, "I will not burn tobacco until I go to ______". Again, the performer will fill in the name of the place pictured in the performance zone photograph. And again, variation is permitted, within the spirit of the performance. In so far as it is possible, the performer should adopt an attitude of reflective calm and objectivity if confronted with the smoking urge. Additionally the performer may engage in vigorous aerobic exercise as an activity incompatible to smoking.

Ending the Performance

As described above, the performance duration is at least one week and no more than one year. At the end of the allotted time period, the performance zone is dismantled and all ritual objects (photograph, tobacco products, matches, ritual clothing, etc.) are destroyed. Useful items (lamp, table, slide projector, etc.) may be distributed to the poor.

In the best possible case, the building that housed the performance zone is burned down. If that is not practical (say, for instance, you don't own the building, or you can't get a permit), moving to a new home in a distant neighborhood is an acceptable alternative.

As has been the case throughout this performance. The ending of the work should be accomplished in a calm, reflective, objective frame of mind.

Alternate Versions

It is permitted to adjust actions and language as needed to accomodate an alternate performance version.

Alternate Version for Chocolate Addict

Substitute chocolate for tobacco.

Alternate Version for Caffeine Addict

Substitute coffee or tea.

Choral Pandemonium Version

All consenting adults in a city, college campus, or other social or institutional unit perform their own realizations of Smoke simultaneously.

1998 Matthew Easton