Wolf Notes Volume 1, Number 1, January 2011
Richard Pinnell Seth Cluett Joseph Clayton Mills Opening the Argument: The Critical Theory of Kenneth Gaburo Larry Polansky, David Dunn, Chris Mann and Warren Burt. Chaired by Nate Wooley Tim Parkinson
Published by Compost and Height Please do not reproduce content without prior permission from contributors.
wolf notes Image: Patrick Farmer
By Sarah Hughes
Sometime last year we decided it would be interesting to try and expand our output in some way, that we should try to do something that is entwined in the output of the downloads and releases available through the Compost and Height website and that encapsulates the whys and wherefores, the influence, inspiration, and the provenance of the imagination that is intrinsic to new forms of creativity. Following a long interest in what lies behind what we make and do, and particularly the parallel practices that are made manifest, we decided upon this publication as a platform for contributors to offer a text of any desired form, subject and length, (with the exception of music reviews, simply because there is a great wealth of review sites and magazines that we could add little to). Available as a PDF download, Wolf Notes hopes to contest some of the traditional boundaries between discipline and output, subsequently questioning at what point one feels that output becomes music, art, work or necessity. The manifestation of ideas and concerns is a very social question, and the dualism between one person who hears harmony where another hears dissonance is much more than a preference in musical tastes, it poses questions of ones relation to their surroundings, or how one relates to the action of being surrounded. This environmental approach to sound and to music has a social implication much wider than is generally considered.
Richard Pinnell…………………………………5 -‐ 7 A Place to Listen Seth Cluett……………………………………….8 -‐ 15 Tracing Moving Circles Joseph Clayton Mills……………………….16 -‐ 24 Eighty-‐eight Keys Opening the Argument…………………..25 – 37 The Critical Theory of Kenneth Gaburo. Larry Polansky, David Dunn, Chris Mann and Warren Burt. Chaired by Nate Wooley Fantastical Zoology……………………….38 – 39 The Eggdogfish, by Tim Parkinson
Each mode of working informs the next, from the writer, the painter, the linguist, the ecologist, the retail manager, the record producer or the composer -‐ the consilience in the cross disciplinary modes of working intrigues and fascinates in equal measure. The ‘something’ that concerns itself throughout all of this is elusive, perhaps inexpressible, but somehow relates to re-‐ searching for something that doesn’t readily present itself, something that can only be alluded to. 3
A Place to Listen By Richard Pinnell
I have spent much of the fourth decade of my life wondering about how I listen, both to music and to life in general. I have, over the years, taught myself to listen with an increased degree of attention, focus and clarity, and have taken great joy from the results this process has brought me. I make no claims to being able to listen any better than anyone else, only to fulfill my own need to experience music as closely as I can. In recent years, listening to music has become an intense, thoroughly joyful experience, a subtle balance between the analytical and the emotional, but it takes effort. Just putting on a piece of music while doing the washing up, or the ironing, or while sat on a train isn’t going to be enough any longer. A certain state of mind now seems to be needed for me to listen in the manner I now prefer. For me, this isn’t just about limiting distractions or improving the fidelity of the sounds I hear. It is as if I need to achieve a certain state of mind to be able to fully focus. I need to feel relaxed, but at the same time fully engaged. Much of this seems to be linked to a sensation of safety, of comfort. I tend to be able to listen to live concerts in a more concentrated manner if I know the venue well, if maybe I know the people behind the bar, or if the external sounds coming into the space are familiar to me. For some probably very irrational reason this sense of belonging subconsciously allows me to engage with the music more easily, give it the attention it needs. At home I have developed ways of listening. Sitting in a certain chair with a drink to hand, hot or cold, somehow puts me in the correct frame of mind to listen, as if this particular ritual prepares my ears, my brain for what is to follow. Laying on the bed a few feet away doesn’t just feel the same. Ridiculous, I know, but that’s how it is. Over the last three decades, with a few extended breaks, I have taken regular walks along an old disused railway line that leads away from close to my home out into the countryside. The line once linked the main lines that run through the town of Didcot in which I live, with Newbury and then Southampton on the coast. The line was closed by the infamous Dr Richard Beeching in the late sixties, slowing to carry just a small amount of freight traffic in its final years before being completely decommissioned five years before my birth in 1966. I think that on first discovering the line, upon moving to this side of town at the age of ten, the tracks had been long removed, and while some
remnants of trackside signal boxes still stood, providing ample den opportunities for myself and my brothers, all that obviously remained was about a mile of a raised up section of the line, complete with bridges over roads and a twenty foot drop on either side. It was in my late teens that I began walking along the line by myself from time to time, almost always with a Walkman of one kind or another to hand, singing dramatically along to whatever indie rock band I was into that week, stopping abruptly to act more normally if someone came the other way along the track. A few years later I began to walk dogs along the line, and did this for the best part of a decade and a half, almost every evening, an escape from the pressures of my working day, with a personal CD player, and later an iPod as my companion. It reached a point wherein the walk was not possible without music. The disused line has not changed all that much over the last three decades. Fences have come and gone, partly to keep off-‐road motorbikers at bay, and in recent years a rough concrete path was added, much to my disgust, to allow this section of the line to become part of the National Cycle Route. Slowly the landmarks that gave away the line’s previous life, the signal boxes, the fences made of old railway sleepers have either eroded away or become lost under layers of dense undergrowth. If the opportunities to make dens has reduced for today’s generation of kids then I still know where they are, buried out of sight but not out of mind. I can almost trace my development as a listener through varying styles and genres of music by following the changes along the old railway line. Different times in my life, relationships, jobs, memories all have their place along the line, just as music always has. I remember exactly how far I would have to walk along the track before turning back so that My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything album would end just as I arrived back home. The old railway line is, perhaps even more so than the chair I have come accustomed to at home, one place that allows me to listen to the best of my abilities. If alone while walking, I am instantly able to achieve the state of concentration required to completely connect with music. Whilst generally quite serene, walking along the line in the evening isn’t necessarily a completely peaceful experience. The busy A34 road, although a couple of miles away, can be heard roaring quietly. Didcot Power Station can occasionally be heard, as can the overworked railway lines on the other side of town. The wind is particularly bothersome, raised up high as the line is, there is next to no shelter from even the slightest breeze, making headphone listening a little difficult. None of this matters though. As I wrote above, it is not the fidelity or the purity of the music that matters, it is something in my state of mind that tells me its OK to listen. I could probably make my way home from the farthest point of the railway line with my eyes closed, such is my familiarity with it after so many years walking its
length. Perhaps then it is this feeling of being at home, feeling comfortable, feeling safe, perhaps even feeling closer to my childhood as I turn forty that touches something in my subconscious. Why do I feel the need for this security before I can really engage with music? I can just listen to music anywhere, and enjoy it a great deal, but that sense of feeling completely connected only seems to come when I am in my own personal cocoon. Today, when I am trying to write a review of a piece of music and finding it hard to do, I will normally grab my iPod and wander up the old railway line to refresh my thoughts on the music in question, often in bad weather, not really taking any notice of my surroundings, perhaps just rebooting my listening ability. In recent years with the advent of technology I have even taken to writing while walking, which is exactly what I’m doing right now. The final movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is resounding in my ears, tingling in my nerve endings, enrapturing my mind. I should make it to the next invisible signal box before it comes to an end. Richard Pinnell is the author of The Watchful Ear website and often writes for The Wire magazine. www.thewatchfulear.com
Tracing Moving Circles By Seth Cluett
Whether the mark of a drawn line, the chemical imprint of light on paper, or the gathering of sound through a microphone, the mimetic act of recording -‐ of entering traces of the world into the index of cultural and personal memory – is not itself memory, but a catalyst for imagination. Like a procession of raindrops carving away at a roof or a stream impressing itself on stone, the persistence of recorded objects seems to strive towards permanence, both claiming and eroding space and etching a form of script on the mind.
3 drawings/three recordings, headphone playback. Commissioned by Re(Sound) at the Hunt Gallery, Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, curated by Dana Turkovic and Adam Watkins]
tracing moving circles is a series of works that addresses the idea of indexing or archiving the objects created by sound and movement. The different iterations in the series variously treat the intersection of acting, listening, seeing, and thinking. The notion of tracing an object in motion evoked by the series’ title expresses the futility inherent in the act of recording, of fixing something that is ephemeral and (potentially) ineffable. In the territory between original action and recorded artifact is an object that exists in the mind, and tracing moving circles is my attempt to understand the nature of these transitory mental objects.
Glass, performance. In glass (2006) and 100 circles for the head (2010), listening and action become vehicles for exploring attention. glass is a performance work produced as an unprocessed studio recording. The recording documents the sound of circular motions made by moving a piece of glass in each hand against two pieces of glass placed flat on a table. The performance is finished when it is no longer physically possible to continue the action, allowing exhaustion to create variations in an otherwise steady simple sound-‐producing motion. Similarly, 100 circles for the head, a wall-‐mounted set of drawings and an accompanying headphone-‐based sound recording, documents the acoustic trace of drawing 100 circles in three different ways: 100 single circles, 50 x 2 circles, and 25 x 4 circles. The work is presented over headphones alongside the drawings from which the recordings are made. In each of these works, the limited movement required by drawing, tracing, moving, or marking circles attempts to focus the observation of sound on a limited set of actions. While these actions create the condition for listening experienced by myself as a performer, the relationship between the action and the sound is displaced for the audience. My performative listening functions as both an act of reception in the moment as well as a conditioning agent. The force of this listening has a causal effect on my physical movements, prompting the action to strengthen or falter as my attention shifts. The audience sees only the a temporal traces of physical action while on the headphone they hear the shifts in minute movements unfold, drawing attention not to causality (because the gesture appears unchanged) but to the seeming incompatibility of two opposed modalities: seeing and hearing in a gestalt perceptual scene
Tracing moving circles (100 circles for the mind), paper, charcoal, endless loop tape, pins,
Commissioned by Menu for Murmur at the Chapman Gallery, curated by Ben Gwilliam and Helmut Lemke]
tracing moving circles (100 circles for the mind) (2010) is an instructional score for gallery preparation and exhibition that treats the relationship between action and recorded trace as evidence of work. A single preparator receives a set of instructions asking that they use a three-‐minute endless loop cassette with a dictaphone to record the sound of drawing one hundred circles on one hundred small pieces of paper over a period of time not to exceed the duration of the tape. The tape is then cut into one hundred equal pieces and pinned next to the drawings that they document in the gallery, alongside the instructions, the piece of charcoal used to draw the circles, and the empty cassette housing. In this work, for the audience as well as the preparator, listening is an act of evocation, an unrecoverable but palpable action that is set in motion by the artifacts on display.
Tracing moving circles (neighborhood memory), US Geological Survey Map, endless loop tape, pins, Commissioned by Non-‐Cochlear Sound at Diapason Gallery, curated by Seth Kim-‐Cohen]
tracing moving circles (neighborhood memory) (2010) is a wall-‐mounted gallery work that explores the complex of experiences inherent to the everyday act of walking as a form of recorded information as it is translated into an act of viewing. In this work, each of three preparators follow instructions asking that they circle a block in the neighborhood of the gallery thirty-‐three times. With a dictaphone recording on a three-‐minute endless loop cassette, they are instructed to listen continuously, while making recordings at regular intervals based on predetermined cycles of counted numbers. When they are finished walking (and recording their walk), they are instructed to listen back to the fragmented recording of their experience and then unspool the cassette and wrap the tape around pins pushed into a map on the corners that mark the block where they walked. The map and tape-‐marked paths are then exhibited alongside the instructions and the three empty cassette tape housings. From the dialectic of an irretrievable action (the gallery attendee being aware that the work caused the preparator to have listened) and an unplayable recording (the tape both marking the path and itself holding a form of listening), memory becomes suspended in the space of imagination, intangible but imaginable through the process of assemblage undertaken by the viewer/reader. Between listening and action, the tracing moving circles pieces try to etch sound on the imagination. The series is an attempt to unravel the knots that bind memory to the self, to explore ways of erasing, neutralizing, and smoothing out the striations created by documentary media as they write both across and against thought. What elements might be held on to – included in the archive of memory – and what might be written by someone else’s hand, indexed without intention and before understanding? Seth Cluett is an artist, performer, and composer, he has published articles for Leonardo Music Journal, Bypass Editions, LeQuai, 306090, Shifter, and Earshot, and is a regular contributor to the Intransitive Magazine. He holds degrees in electronic art and music composition from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Princeton University respectively and is on the faculty of Miami University of Ohio in the United States. www.onelonelypixel.org Audio files can be found via the compost and height website: www.compostandheight.com
Eighty-‐eight keys By Joseph Clayton Mills
1. 2. 3.
When attending a funeral, one must always wear black. A black suit hangs in my closet. Therefore, naturally, I should simply have worn this solemn black suit, which was, after all, an excellent suit—expertly tailored by English tailors, who are the world’s supreme tailors—and made of the finest worsted wool. This was precisely the difficulty. My only black suit was tailored from the finest worsted wool–a fabric that is known for its quality, its durability, and its remarkable warmth–yet the funeral of my wife was taking place in the so-‐called dog days of August, which is a month that is notorious for the most unforgiving, relentless, and merciless of heats. Was it possible that I could wear my seersucker suit instead? My seersucker suit is made of cotton. My seersucker suit breathes. My seersucker suit, in direct contrast to my black wool suit, is perfectly designed to accommodate the August heat. Yet this seersucker suit, which is the appropriate attire for August— the ideal attire, for example, for a picnic on the lawn, and the perfect wardrobe for a stroll at the seashore—is the worst possible attire for attending the funeral of one’s wife. The same seersucker suit that, at the picnic or at the seashore, is absolutely ideal becomes, at the funeral of one’s wife, absolutely ridiculous; moreover, it makes anyone who wears it ridiculous, as well. I am far from caring what others might say, and I care still less about what they might think. Nevertheless, I concede that the grief of a man who is dressed in a solemn black wool suit is grief to be taken seriously, whereas the grief of a man who is dressed in a seersucker suit is grief that is meant to be laughed at. It is absolutely impossible to wear a seersucker suit to the funeral of one’s wife, because it is absolutely impossible to wear anything less than a solemn suit of black worsted wool to the funeral of one’s wife.
It is equally impossible to wear a solemn suit of worsted wool and stand by the yawning mouth of a freshly dug grave under the murderous blaze of an August sun. Therefore, one must pose oneself the question: why did she choose to kill herself in the month of August? If she had executed herself, for example, in the month of November, when the bleak umbra of the leafless tree lengthens towards inhospitable horizons, I could have understood her decision quite well. If she had assassinated herself in the month of January, when the frigid nights are interminable and the sunlight is a ghost, it would have been right and proper. If she had killed herself in the month of March, which invariably crushes ones feeble hopes for an early spring beneath the brutal, suffocating weight of a late snowfall, I would have been unsurprised. The winters in this awful city are of excruciating length and diabolical tenacity; ergo, people massacre themselves in droves in the month of November, they slaughter themselves by the thousands in the month of January, and no one escapes unscathed from the month of March without pondering the panacea of suicide. However, there is absolutely no reason in the world to kill oneself in the month of August–unless, that is, one wishes to deliberately inflict upon a widowed, grieving husband the torture of wearing his black wool suit. Thus, one must draw the inescapable conclusion that my wife knowingly and maliciously finished herself off in the month of August– that she purposely selected the hottest month of the year as the perfect time in which to unveil her suicide plot–because she was well aware that my only black suit was made of worsted wool and intended, with the perfidious cunning that was her hallmark, to inflict this black wool suit torture upon me. Given the choice between two impossibilities, I was forced to devise a compromise, as follows: in my mind, I dressed myself in my seersucker suit, but in my body I crawled into the suit of solemn black wool. In my mind, I dressed for the weather, and in my body I dressed for the occasion. In my mind, I donned my ridiculous seersucker suit and withstood the mockery of the crowd, and in my body I donned my black wool suit and suffered her black wool suit revenge. My legs, one after the other, went into my solemn black wool pants. I buttoned up my starched white shirt and affixed the cufflinks to my French cuffs; I pulled on my black wool jacket, one sleeve after the next; I folded my pocket square and slipped it into place; and I struggled to tie my somber necktie into a double Windsor knot, which is the only knot that one can wear to the funeral of one’s wife, the only knot that is serious enough, dignified enough, and profound enough to befit such an occasion—not the half Windsor knot, not the four-‐in-‐
hand knot, and not the Shelby—the double Windsor, the necktie knot nonpareil. Unsurprisingly, my attempt to tie the double Windsor knot was an unmitigated disaster. It had always been my wife who had tied the double Windsor knot for me, it had been she who had straightened the necktie whenever it had gone askew, it had been she who had tightened it when it was loose and had loosened it when I gasped for breath; but now the double Windsor knot was irredeemably awry, and with her gone I was absolutely helpless before its intricacies. Left to my own devices, I found that this double Windsor knot proved to be an impossible task. Of all the knots that one is called upon to tie in one’s life, the double Windsor knot is by far the most difficult to master; of all the obstacles that one faces in life, the tying of a double Windsor knot is perhaps the most insurmountable obstacle; and of all the crimes that she perpetrated upon me, by far the worst was to abandon me to confront the double Windsor knot alone and unaided. You will tell me that a man should know how to tie his own necktie. You would be absolutely correct to do so. A man should be well versed in the art of tying a necktie. The ability to tie one’s own necktie is fundamental to the very definition of what it means to be a man. A man who cannot tie his own necktie is, by definition, not a man but a child. Ultimately, a man who cannot tie his own necktie is helpless before the onslaught of the world, against which a double Windsor knot is the best and only defense. The world is perpetually on the attack, and a man who cannot retreat to the fortress of a double Windsor knot is at the mercy of the world, which has no mercy. For a man who cannot tie his own double Windsor knot, a necktie is nothing more and nothing less than a hangman’s noose. A man who must depend on others for the tying of his necktie is doomed to annihilation, and what is more, he should be doomed to annihilation. A creature who cannot tie his own necktie, to be frank, deserves every vicious blow that the world inflicts. An inability to tie my double Windsor knot is therefore no excuse, but it was as a direct and immediate consequence of my inability to tie my double Windsor knot—despite devoting three-‐quarters of an hour to the bitter struggle—that I was led to commit one of the most egregious faux pas that one can commit at any funeral, much less the funeral of one’s wife, which is the unpardonable sin of tardiness. When arriving at a funeral, one does not want to keep the corpse waiting.
25. Of course, it would be equally impermissible to show one’s eager anticipation of the internment by arriving too early. 26. When arriving at a funeral, one should always be precisely on time, which is to say neither a moment too early nor a moment too late. 27. Alas, in this world everything is always done too early or too late. Sometimes the one, and sometimes the other, but nothing is ever done at the right time. 28. Only in music, and only when the music is played properly—and in this world the music is never played properly. 29. If a tune is supposed to be played in 4/4 time, we play it like a waltz. If the band plays a waltz, we dance a polka. If the tempo is correct, our instruments are out of tune. If by some miracle our instruments are in tune, the composition is guaranteed to be tasteless and kitsch. 30. If the tempo is correct, and the instruments are in tune, and the composition is the work of a Beethoven or a Bach, then you can be absolutely certain that the audience is tone-‐deaf. 31. In this world, in short, a musical disaster is guaranteed, no matter what. 32. My wife loved music more than anything else in life, but she was never one for punctuality. She always lagged behind the beat. The truth is that my wife always needed a conductor to wave the baton. With her, everything was played at the wrong tempo and slightly out of tune. My wife lived a life that could best be described as a study in syncopation and atonality. With her, every action was the right action, but taken at the wrong time. Every precaution was taken, but only once the damage was done. 33. Even her suicide project was undertaken too late to accomplish any good. 34. There is little that is quite so pathetic as to commit suicide at an advanced age. If one murders oneself at twenty, when one is still in the first so-‐called bloom of youth, there is an inevitable consensus as to the tragedy. The loss of a young life full of promise—no matter how unpromising that life might have been—is universally bemoaned. 35. In contrast, when one kills oneself at her age, there are certain individuals who can only shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes, and wonder what could possibly have taken her so long. After all, it had been clear for years that her life was a hopelessly botched job. 36. To live too long under circumstances such as hers was certainly an embarrassment to all concerned.
37. When one sees an old man or an old woman, one should always raise a suspicious eyebrow, because in a world like this one there is nothing quite so suspect as survival. To live too long in a world like this one is always a dubious accomplishment. One does not reach a ripe old age in this world without covering oneself in infamy of one kind or another. 38. When I arrived at the funeral—gasping, panting, strangled by my badly knotted hangman’s noose of a necktie, sweating like a pig, and egregiously late—I was shocked to see the disastrous turnout. It is true that she was less than popular, and I was not surprised to see that her friends were not here, because her friends did not exist. But where were her enemies? I would have thought that there would be scores of them assembled to gloat over her now that she was defenseless. I would have thought that every seat would be full. 39. And where were the curious? The curious are always in a hurry to gather around a corpse, especially the corpse of a suicide. The place should have been infested with them. I would have thought that they would all have come in a swarm to pick over her bones. 40. Instead, I arrived to discover only a handful of wretched specimens from her middle-‐class monstrosity of a family, obese and dull-‐witted, shedding their counterfeit tears, gathered for no other reason than to gawk and to gossip. Now that she was dead the tongues of her family would not stop wagging. They had always suspected and now they had proof that my wife was a madwoman. 41. Of course, they could never understand that she was also an idealist. It was impossible for their mediocre middle-‐class mediocrity minds to comprehend that, if she could not bear them the way that they were, it was simply because she saw all too clearly the way that they could be. 42. She suffered from a malady endemic among idealists: she loved humanity and hated human beings, and her misfortune was that she was always confronted with human beings and never confronted with humanity. 43. Her family loathed her and she loathed them in return, because neither she nor they could stand to see how far short of her ideals they fell. 44. My wife belonged to her middle-‐class monstrosity of a family in name only; in reality, she was descended from a long line of idealists and lunatics, her true lineage was that of an idealist and a lunatic, and she was the heiress to all of their idealism and their lunacy. 45. Whether she was an idealist first and went mad, or was a madwoman first and then developed ideals, is impossible to say and makes no difference, because all idealists are insane and the insane are always idealists. Inside their skulls, each of them carries a burden that no one else can carry: a world that no one else can understand.
46. No one approved of our marriage. Her mother was dead set against it and referred to me as “matrimonial arsenic.” Her father called our marriage a catastrophe in the making, and he described her decision as “Hinderburg-‐esque.” In the end, they were both proved right, of course, but she would not listen. I had given her lilacs and played the piano, I had rhapsodized about Beethoven and Bach, I had dropped the names “Voltaire” and “Rousseau” into conversation—after that, there was nothing that her parents could do to dissuade her. 47. Still, I can take little credit for our marriage. My wife deserves the credit and the blame. She was the one who plotted our marriage. She was the chief conspirator, and I was only her accomplice, although in the end it was I who was left to face the music alone. 48. My wife thought that she was plotting an escape. She thought that a husband would be a way out of her father-‐trap and her family-‐trap, but she found herself instead in a husband-‐trap.
49. She thought that she was digging an escape tunnel in the form of a marriage, but to her disgust she discovered that she was only digging a pit. 50. In the end, she diligently burrowed through her marriage just as she had burrowed through her family; and when her marriage tunnel collapsed, she dug her way through philosophy, novels, and symphonies.
51. She thought that with every page that she turned and every note that she struck on the piano that she was burrowing a little farther under the barbed wire. For her, every page and every note was an escape tunnel, but every tunnel collapsed, one right after the next.
52. My wife lived under the life-‐long impression that she was digging an escape tunnel, but in the end she discovered, naturally, that she was only digging a grave, and a horribly shallow one at that.
53. Despite the long years of dreadful effort, in the end, the hole was barely deep enough to cover the stench. 54. Nonetheless, on our wedding day, she was radiant with hope and happiness. She glided down the aisle with terrifying grace, and the arc of her impossibly long pale throat was like the throat of a swan. I had never seen her so beautiful, and I suspected then that I would never see her so beautiful again 55. Her beauty began to fade at once, and her hope and her happiness, too—but by then it was too late. 56. In my defense, I made a valiant attempt to make her happy, but I had taken on an impossible task. My wife built a wall, brick by brick, between herself and her happiness. She put a guard tower on top of the wall, and she issued the order “shoot to kill.”
57. The truth is that my wife always lived in a bunker. She resided in a bomb-‐proof bunker inside her skull. For my wife, the Russians were always at the city gates and the bombs were perpetually falling. My wife’s mind was always a bomb-‐shelter mind, and her mentality was always a bunker-‐mentality. She was always fighting a desperate, last-‐ ditch defense against the world—moreover, a hopeless defense. 58. I ask myself: when did things get so bad? When did things become so utterly unbearable? And the answer is that things have always been so bad, things have always been unbearable. Who knows why one day it becomes too much? 59. Every day she would wake up with the hands of the world around her throat. Every morning, the grip would be a little tighter. Every morning, it was a little harder to breathe. One morning, she was strangled, and that was that. 60. The miserable way that they treat the body in these places, I thought, dressing them up like dolls, powdering their faces, parading them about. 61. A funeral is nothing but one long travesty, I thought, one protracted insult to the dead. 62. They say that a funeral is to honor the dead, I thought, and then they proceed to molest the corpse and to treat the corpse like a puppet or a rag doll. 63. The body should be treated with respect and instead they treat it with nothing but disrespect, I thought. 64. Of course, the way they treat the body is nothing compared to the way they treat the soul. Every humiliation they visit on the body is visited on the soul a hundred-‐fold. For every insult that they deliver to the body, they deliver a hundred insults to the soul. 65. Every tasteless indignity inflicted on the body of the dead, of which there is no shortage, is replicated one hundred times over on the soul of the dead, I thought, and as if on cue the dour-‐eyed preacher, who had been circling the corpse like a vulture, perched at last at the pulpit and commenced to dispensing his platitudes and panaceas. 66. The drivel that came out of the mouth of that hired lackey, that mercenary mourner who was unmistakably interested only in collecting his fee and snatching up his thirty pieces of silver, was beyond description, and I was compelled to sit and listen patiently, sweltering in my black wool suit, while he hurled insult after insult at her in the guise of showering her with praise. 67. It was then that I noticed the smile on her face.
68. It was then that I noticed that they had decorated her face with a smile. 69. It was then that I noticed that, in the most unnatural manner, they had adorned her face with a completely implausible and unacceptable smile. 70. In life, she had never worn a smile, but had invariably worn a frown. 71. Since the day of our wedding, her expression had been, without fail, an expression of disappointment. 72. Since the day of our wedding, she had never smiled; at most, she had smirked, and occasionally she had sneered, but I could say with absolute certainty that, since the day of our wedding, I had never seen her smile. 73. Never a smile and always a frown, but as soon as she was safely dead they did not hesitate to disfigure her. 74. Admittedly, a smile on a corpse is nothing so terribly unusual—the funeral parlors are filled with cadavers that, to all appearances, are blissfully happy; the cemeteries are stuffed with grinning skulls; and if you turn to the obituaries, you will be greeted with nothing but grainy black and white photographs of the dead smiling their interminable insipid smiles—but a smile on this corpse, of all corpses, is impossible. 75. If they had buried her with a smirk on her face, or with her lips arranged into a derisive sneer, I could have borne it, but her lips were twisted into an unmistakable smile. 76. At first, I deluded myself with hope; I tried to placate myself. I thought to myself that it could be a smirk in lieu of a smile. It is quite possibly a smirk, I thought at first, or perhaps a sneer, because that would be conceivable, that would be understandable, but a smile would be inconceivable and beyond the bounds of understanding, and so I could not conceive it and could not understand it. 77. In that awful light, in that grim, pallid, stained-‐glass light, it was at first quite difficult to tell whether it was a smile. From a certain angle, it could perhaps be mistaken for a smirk by one unacquainted with the nuances of her expression. Fron another angle, it gave the distinct impression, to the hasty observer, of being a sneer. But when I approached more closely, when I examined what is perhaps best described as the scene of the crime with complete objectivity, when I subjected the arrangement of her lips to properly scientific scrutiny, it was absolutely clear to me that it was nothing other than a smile. 78. The inescapable conclusion was that it was no smirk, no grimace, no sneer, because I know a smirk when I see one, I am a connoisseur of the sneer and an expert in the grimace, and it was none of these.
79. It was utterly certain, as horrific as the possibility was to contemplate, that they had inflicted a smile upon her corpse and that this smile had left her mutilated beyond belief. 80. It was as plain as day that she, who had never grinned like an idiot in life, had been compelled to grin like an idiot in death and that those who had, in life, subjected her to every indignity had not hesitated to visit upon her another indignity, a last indignity, a parting indignity after a lifetime of ceaseless, unrelenting indignity. 81. Even if the corpse has never been treated with dignity in life, the corpse should be treated with dignity in death. 82. She should not be forced to grin like an idiot through eternity. 83. Perhaps it is true that I am out of my mind with grief, but I have the right to grieve. 84. Everything is over; everything is lost. I know exactly what I am saying. I am speaking the truth. The only the time anyone says anything that is not a lie is when they are broken. 85. If I could have saved anyone from this miserable world, this world that is so much like a burning house, so much like a sinking ship, so much like a cancer and a scaffold and a nightmare and a grave, it would have been her. 86. I do not understand how it came to this. I am not surprised that it came to this, but I do not understand it, I cannot understand it, and I refuse to understand it. 87. Therefore, in front of the assembled mourners—which is to say in front of the preacher and her middle-‐class monstrosity of a family, which is to say in front of no one, because neither he nor they were a mourners in the true sense of the word, in the only sense of the word that matters—I leapt to my feet, I staggered to the catafalque, I reached into the casket, and I wiped the smile from her face. 88. I arranged her lips—which would surely be the last lips that I would ever kiss, and just as surely be the last to ever kiss my own—into an unforgiving frown.
Joseph Clayton Mills is an artist, writer, and musician who lives and works in Chicago. He is member of the band Haptic, and has material released on labels including FSS, Entr'acte, and Bloodlust!. He is the author of the short story collection Zyxt. http://www.josephcmills.com
Opening the Argument The Critical Theory of Kenneth Gaburo Larry Polansky, David Dunn, Warren Burt, Chris Mann. Chair: Nate Wooley Introduction The following discussion took place at Brooklyn's Issue Project Room on June 22nd, 2010. The occasion was the first "critical theory" presentation of the "Darmstadt" series which takes place throughout the year and is curated by Nick Hallett and Zach Layton. The event itself, and the subsequent recording and transcription are brought to you by Compost and Height and Nate Wooley with tremendous help from Issue Project Room, New World Records, Pogus Recordings, and the four participants. The composer under discussion for the first of these public presentations was the theorist, composer, multi-‐ disciplinary thinker, progenitor of compositional linguistics, revolutionary publisher, and teacher, Kenneth Gaburo. An underappreciated artist throughout the world, let alone in his native country, Gaburo was born in 1923 in Somerville, New Jersey. He studied with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1954, and after finishing his studies at University of Illinois, Champaign-‐Urbana, he stayed on to teach and work in one of the first dedicated electronic studios in the country under the direction of Lejaren Hiller. During this time his peers included James Tenney and Sal Martirano. Growing from a concern for music-‐as-‐language and language-‐as-‐music Gaburo started formal studies in linguistics in 1959, formulating the term Compositional Linguistics. In 1965 he founded the New Music Choral Ensemble (NMCE) one of the first choirs in the U.S. to perform avant-‐garde music for voice. This group performed over 100 new works in the decade of its existence, from the choral music of Schoenberg, Nono, Oliveros, Kagel, and Messiaen, to the theatre works of Beckett and Albee. Improvisation was combined with electronics, body and verbal linguistics, computers, dance, mime, film, slides, and tape. From 1967 to 1975, Gaburo taught at the University of California at San Diego where he founded NMCE IV, which included not only a singer and speaker, but also a mime and sound-‐movement instrumentalist. In 1974 Gaburo founded Lingua Press Publishers, dedicated to putting forth unique artist-‐produced works in all media having to do with language and music. Many of the publications have been exhibited in book art shows throughout the world. Gaburo lived in the Anzo-‐Borrego desert writing and teaching from 1980 until 1983. In 1980 he was artistic director for the first "authentic" production of Harry Partch's The Bewitched for the Berlin Festival (recorded on Enclosure Five: Harry Partch, innova 405). His understanding of Partch's concept of corporeality has deep connections with his own concern for physicality and how it informs compositions. His 1982 tape work, RE-‐RUN, for instance, was generated after a 20-‐hour sensory deprivation exercise. He became Director of the Experimental Music Studio at the University of Iowa in 1983. The studio put intensive focus on composition, technology, psycho-‐acoustic perception, performance, and the affirmation of the uniqueness of the individual to create his/her own language reality. At the studio he founded the Seminar for Cognitive Studies, a forum for discussion of the creative process. His concern for the investigation of music as legitimate research, and composition as the creation of intrinsic appropriate language, led to a series of readings in compositional linguistics for solo performer.
Antiphony VIII: Revolution, for percussion (Steve Schick) and tape, Antiphony IX: A Dot for orchestra, children, and tape, and Antiphony X: Winded, for organ (Gary Verkade) and tape, continued his series of works for live instruments and tape as well as the use of graphic notations and random processes to generate small and large scale events. Gaburo's archive is housed at the University of Illinois Music Library and Lingua Press is represented by Frog Peak Music. [see http://www.angelfire.com/mn/gaburo/indexpage.html for more information, and thank you to this site for their bio of Gaburo, heavily cribbed above. The concept of the "critical theory" presentations was not only to explore the work of revolutionary and underexplored theorists and artists, but also to gain insights into the work of artists who have been influenced by them. In this case, our group of presenters included four revolutionary theorists and composers in their own right, all of whom had been affected directly by their relationship to Gaburo, either as peers, students or fellow faculty members. Larry Polansky (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~music/faculty/polansky.html) Larry Polansky has worked extensively in composition, computer music, software development, theory, performance and American musics. He was on the faculty of Mills College in Oakland, CA, and directed the Center for Contemporary Music there. He is the author of a number of books and articles, has several solo CDs released, is an editor for a number of major theoretical and computer music journals, and is the founder and director of Frog Peak Music (A Composers' Collective), an organization dedicated to publishing speculative theory and experimental music. He currently teaches in the graduate program in electro-‐ acoustic music, and courses in computer music, theory and composition on the undergraduate level. David Dunn (www.daviddunn.com) David Dunn is best introduced by Gaburo himself: David Dunn is at once an ecologist, a philosopher, a member of the 'new science', a performer, an integrator of human values with technological ones, and an artist. Although I feel I can speak knowingly of him, it is nevertheless impossible to get a "fix" on him; (trying to do so only serves to show the elusive, -‐-‐-‐sometimes contradictory-‐-‐-‐, and yet, precise nature of his work, and persona). But simply said: David is a composer; -‐-‐-‐to be sure a composer of 'music', and the 'musical'. But more significantly, David is a composer as in 'making', 'searching', `exploring', 'finding', 'synthesizing', 'questioning'. Yes, endless questioning. He strives, (as certain others do), to not box things in; to not assume that so-‐called "areas", "disciplines", (e.g., as between music and linguistics), can be bounded as-‐if they signify mutually-‐ exclusive domains. Contrarily, his works, thinkings, makings, et alia, exhibit diverse formations of 'wholeness', and beauty, thereby penetrating certain current theories of complexity. Above all, (at least in the cognitive domain, -‐-‐-‐but also quite perceivable elsewhere-‐-‐-‐) his work, (his life?), has to do with the implicit connectedness of matter. Warren Burt (http://www.warrenburt.com/) Warren Burt was born October 10, 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up in Waterford, New York where he studied accordion and flute. He decided on music as a career because it looked like an easy major in University. He went to the State University of New York at Albany, (his composition teachers were William Thomas McKinley and Joel Chadabe), where he became fascinated by problems of composition/organization and decided to get serious about music as long as he could laugh at himself. He went to the University of California at San Diego for graduate work, (his composition teachers were Robert Erickson and Kenneth Gaburo; Pauline Oliveros was also a source of inspiration). While at UCSD he became a fellow in the Center for Music Experiment being in charge of the Analog Electronic Music and Video Synthesis facilities. He also became associated with Serge Tcherepnin at this time and participated in the design and construction of the first and subsequent generations of Serge Modular Music Systems. Also while in San Diego he was a founder
member, (with Ronald Al Robboy and David Dunn), of Fatty Acid, an incompetent performance group. In 1975 he left the USA and moved to Australia, taking a job teaching freshman theory and building a hybrid sound-‐video studio at La Trobe University in Melbourne. He is one of the founding members, (with Ronald Nagorcka) of the Plastic Platypus, (an experimental music performance group), and one of the founders of the Clifton Hill Community Music Center, (a community-‐music-‐resource-‐centre). He has written probably far too many works for instruments, electronics, voice, video, theater, prose, poetry, et cetera. However, he is still laughing. ed. note: see also Burt's Reflections on Kenneth Gaburo for this event (http://www.warrenburt.com/some-‐ thoughts-‐about-‐kenneth-‐ga/) Chris Mann (http://www.lovely.com/bios/mannc.html) Composer working in Compositional Linguistics, his work is mainly to do with the technology and philosophy of speech. Performer (voice), since 1989 with Machine for Making Sense and most recently Chris Mann and the Impediments. 1999 Artist in Residence, Harvestworks and RPI. His commissions include: Astra Choir, John Cage, Composers Forum, Paris Autumn Festival, Australian Biennale, Radio France, Ars Electronica, Radio Telefis Eirann, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, Revue Telematique d'Art Contemporain, Dance Works, Dance Exchange, Lingua, Art et Lectures, Abraxas, Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, la revue parlée, V2, Australian Network for Art and Technology, Goethe Institut, Shire of Healesville, Anzart, Christian Television Association, Commission for the Future, International Synergy, ABC Staff Union, Australia Council, Perth Institute for Contemporary Art, Festival de la Batie, Sprach Ton Art, Brisbane Biennial, BBC, Taklos Festival, ORF, Urban Aboriginal, American Society for Cybernetics, bobeobi, Adelaide Festival, Experimenta, Interpretations. As mentioned above, all four of these artists had direct contact with Gaburo at one point or another in their life. My experience with Gaburo's work comes only out of second hand knowledge of the few recordings of his music that has seen the light of day in recent reissues by Pogus Recordings and New World Records. My work as an improvising trumpet player radically changed upon hearing Gaburo's "Mouthpiece: Sextet for Solo Trumpet" on the New World Records reissue of the original CRI recording. The physicality and visceral quality of the piece (and performance) made available to me a completely different set of parameters by which I could approach solo trumpet improvising as well as my own composition. Given my proclivity to obsession, I quickly owned every recording I could of Gaburo's music and thanks to Larry Polansky's generosity received much of the Lingua Press writings and scores. Ultimately, when Zach Layton asked me to put the evening together I was excited at the prospect of putting my research, such as it was, to some sort of use. The evening included a series of questions about the relationships between our guests and Gaburo and how their time together had affected their work. The answers to these questions came in the form of personal reminiscences that offered less of a portrait of Gaburo's theoretical thought as it did a picture of the man and how his thinking shaped what he did and how he did it. It should be mentioned that this discussion also featured two video performances of Gaburo's work, one by Warren Burt made specifically for the IPR event and one of Gaburo's own pieces, which had not been screened in 25 years. The evening also included a vocal quartet version of Gaburo's mid-‐50s Ave Maria, headed by Megan Schubert. The evening ended with the performance of a new piece by Chris Mann. Special thanks go to Chris, Larry, Warren, and David for being participants, Issue Project Room, New World Records, Pogus Recordings, and Frog Peak Publishing for helping make the evening possible in their own special way, and to Compost and Height for putting in the work to transcribe a very long evening of talk to make available on their website. -‐Nate Wooley November 2010
Opening the Argument: The Critical Theory of Kenneth Gaburo Nate Wooley: The whole point of this evening is to use a composer’s body of work as a spring board to have a conversation about how other composers think about their own compositions and so, while these questions come out of perceptions I've had of Kenneth Gaburo's work, we're going to use them as a starting point for each of the members of the panel to talk about their own overriding aesthetic and technical concerns. That being said, the first question is purely musicological and historical: I would like just a brief history of how each of you came to know Kenneth Gaburo, what the relationship was with him personally, what your relationship to his music still is, and how he's affected how you think as an artist. Chris Mann: My introduction was via Maledetto. I listened to Maledetto and two days later was on a plane from Melbourne to San Diego. I just wanted to go and have an argument with Gaburo, because I thought that he was wrong. I thought it was very interesting but he was wrong, so that’s how it started. David Dunn: I guess my history with Kenneth goes back to when I was aged 17 in San Diego where I heard a live performance of Maledetto at the University of California. I was interested in very different things musically, it was at a point when I had started to work with Harry Partch and my interests were along those lines, but I was also at the same time interested in electro-‐ acoustic music. Maledetto really tweaked me in a negative way that I didn't understand at the time and it took me a very long time to come to it, to understand what was going on. As a young student…I was at that point enrolling in college… I didn't really have any interest in doing any traditional music training at an academic level but one thing led to another, and through a sequence of events I ended up meeting Kenneth, who tried to arrange for me to enroll very late in the semester at the University of California in San Diego as a music student, an undergraduate student, and I think I lasted three days. He went way out of his way to do this and pulled all sorts of strings and he was really pissed, and that's how our relationship started. A few years later we actually became friends and I would come and visit him in La Jolla up in the hills and we would just hang out and talk. Eventually that led to my wanting to actually study with him but it was not within an academic context, it was as a private student. It was at a time when he had started Lingua Press and he was directing the production of The Bewitched. I was in the Partch ensemble at that time, so during the first year that I studied with him…. between rehearsals, assisting him with Lingua Press and studying with him, we were together probably 30 to 40 hours per week. To give you an idea of the intensity of that, when I studied with him privately he had an apartment in downtown San Diego that he was renting that was also an industrial space with all the materials for Lingua Press. He had a small space, slightly larger than a closet. That was the teaching room, and all the walls were painted black. There was a card table and an unshaded light bulb, so it was very much like Gestapo interrogation technique, and that's where the lessons would occur. I don't think we had a lesson within two years that was less than two and a half hours, and usually they were somewhere between five and six hours long, with him chain-‐ smoking unfiltered Pall Malls so that, by the end of the lesson, I often wouldn't be able to see his face. I could just hear his voice talking at me incessantly during that time.
Warren Burt: Actually it's funny how Chris and David had their first contact with Maledetto. The first time I saw his work was at SUNY Albany where I was an undergraduate in 1971. He brought the New Music Choral Ensemble III through and did a programme which was Lingua I: Poems and Other Theatres and then Maledetto. At the time, I was struggling with an electro-‐acoustic piece where I was recording 18 of my friends reading pornography and I was chopping that up with various electronic processes. When I saw Maledetto I realized that here was a kindred spirit. Here is the guy I had to study with, and I went to University of California in San Diego (UCSD), and UCSD had an office which Kenneth had painted totally black. I had lessons with him for about three and a half years which consisted of, as David says, him continually chain-‐smoking. After I left UCSD in 1975 [for Australia], I would come back to the US and visit him wherever he was, so I kept contact with him and worked on various projects with him, including a postcard piece in 1980 and a correspondence that we kept up until just before he died. Larry Polansky: I was Kenneth’s colleague at Mills College in Oakland, California. He taught at Mills for about six months or a year while I was there in the mid-‐1980's. In fact, I think I met both Chris and David through Kenneth. I think the interesting thing here tonight is that we are a generation of composers who in some way are influenced differently by composers of Kenneth's generation. The interconnections are interesting in as much as all four of us have collaborated in every conceivable way you can imagine both in terms of life, music, and publishing, and yet there is not one of us whose work resembles the others’ in the slightest way. I think the same may be said for my relationship to Kenneth. At a young age I was much influenced by beautiful pieces like [Gaburo’s tape pieces] Lemon Drops and For Harry, and when I first heard Maledetto I was blown away. I won’t be as eloquent as Chris is about my reaction to it, but it was also somewhat ambivalent. My relationship to Kenneth's music continued to be very powerfully so. Ambivalent in a way that bespeaks a tremendous respect for the amount of thought and degree of sincerity, the integrity and personal commitment that goes into a work that I don't always, or even often, agree with or would do myself. I continue to think Maledetto is maybe the best piece of music I've ever heard that, in an odd way, I don't really like, but I have an enormous fascination with and respect for it. But to put this ambivalence in context, I want to strongly point out in relation to what I’ve said, that Kenneth was a very close friend and a brilliant colleague. I did lots of things over the course of my life with him, and had a very great affection and admiration for him. It’s not well known, but he was one of the principle editors for the book I wrote on James Tenney, and he did that just to be nice to me when I was a young writer. I think it’s fair to say that without Lingua there would be no Frog Peak [Press], because in Kenneth I had the model of a composer with the cajones to do something like that, to screw up one’s life badly enough, and in his vision to continue that tradition of composers seeing publishing not as clearly delineated from their work but rather as an extension of their art, of their ethics, of their aesthetics, of their composition. Publishing and availability are a part of that and also a way of being in the world. I think the thing I saw most in Kenneth was that he believed very sincerely in taking seriously and creatively his way of being in the world. I also want to say that my generation is now the older generation. There needs to be a next generation of people saying, "What's wrong with Frog Peak?" There's plenty wrong with it, just as I thought that there were things about Lingua that I wanted to do very differently. I think that's a very important generational continuity that everybody on this panel shares. David and Chris have also been very important in the erasing of distinction between publishing and creation, and trying to make a fool of that distinction, and that's an important connection for me. NW: Along the lines of pushing something or erasing distinctions, one of the things that has been
most interesting for me as I’ve gone through the four recordings of Gaburo’s work I could get my hands on before this evening and through looking at some of the scores and some of the writings was this idea of pushing a singular idea to the absolute limits, to its boundaries… or erasing the boundaries but always in a way that the idea seems to keep its identity. The thing that I get it most from is the formal elements. The way Gaburo structures a piece always feels as if he’s pushing a specific structure out, but you always have a premonition that you know what’s at the end of the piece, and some of the pieces I've heard of each of yours has a similar attention to structure and form, without those elements being static. I wondered if you could talk about how you deal with structuring your musical materials, and if Gaburo's work had an effect on you in that way or if it's something that was coming out of a different part of your musical learning. DD: One of the things that Kenneth was deeply interested in was to reject the notion of style, the idea that composers will often strive to a kind of identifiable quality that is audible in terms of this notion of style. Kenneth's idea was that this was superfluous in the sense that each of us is so deeply organized as individuals, and as organisms that, to some extent, none of that needs to be overt or intentional; anything that we touch as individuals will carry a quality of the uniqueness of who we are. Kenneth was very interested in the notion of self-‐expression but in a corporeal sense, in the sense of something that is conveyed through the presence of the body and the individual. For me, these notions of structure and the idea that each composition should itself address some subject, some aspect of exploration in a process, is one of the most essential aspects of Kenneth's work, along with the idea of intrinsicness, and that compositional decisions have a logic based upon the observation of each prior step that’s made, were very influential on me. One of the things he used as a major technique in teaching composition was what he called a Scatter, and the idea of a Scatter actually comes out of both his embrace and rejection of 1950s serialism. He was interested in the idea of a set of pitches having the possibility of an arbitrary quality, so instead of using a tone row he would actually write out as fast as he could a set of pitches almost with the intent of subverting a sense of relationship; doing this almost like automatic writing. Then he would observe the intrinsic properties of the pitches and, from that, all the compositional decisions would ensue. You get the various stages of transformation out of that. There's a large body of his work from the late 1950s into the 1960s that is concerned with this notion that precedes his obsession with language. He wrote a lot of instrumental music, a string quartet, a series called Ideas and Transformations for bowed string duets, and Line Studies. These are some of the pieces that are based upon this technique of looking at these intrinsic qualities and a consecutive logic ensues from that. Even as he went into the language work he still maintained this idea that we address a subject in the world always as if it were, in some sense, a sort of found object and then we observe the intrinsic relationship that we have with that and let compositional decisions manifest out of that logic. So this idea for me has had a very strong influence; trying to make a piece that somehow doesn't repeat itself, that addresses something in a unique way and isn't repetitive or trying to create a coherency out of this aspect of style, but rather out of the properties of the composition itself. The agenda for him was always to proceed towards definition rather than from definition. WB: I would like to second a lot of what David said. For example, I remember a composition lesson where I showed Kenneth a piece of mine and said, “Well it’s based on the Fibonacci series, but you can’t really hear that”, and he immediately replied, "What do you mean? Does it sound like Mozart?" and, well of course not, and he said, “Well then it sounds like the material you put into it”, and that was a very profound lesson for me. The intrinsic character of materials you’re using would, no matter what you did, flow right out into the surface of the piece and inform what
it sounded like. Also, I remember in his compositional linguistics seminars he did a exercise where he had us write a poem consciously with lots and lots of structure in it and then also bring in a poem we wrote intuitively and then he would, in a very smart ass way, show us that there was more structure in the intuitive poem than in the poem we had carefully structured. He said that structure is everywhere and you don't need to be afraid of it. I also remember one time mentioning the word common practice in terms of nineteenth century music with him. He didn't actually acknowledge the idea of common practice. He said in the thirty-‐two Beethoven piano sonatas there were thirty-‐two different approaches to tonality. I’ve never analysed the Beethoven sonatas to look for that but it makes a lot of sense to me that his notion of uniqueness would extend even to contradicting musicological commonplaces. One thing he did with processes for himself, the sensory deprivation processes and so on, was his wanting to subvert his own “lick” As someone who came out of a jazz piano tradition, that whole idea of developing “licks” was a very powerful one for him and so he actually wanted to develop ways to get beyond that. So all those sorts of things really went into my own music and influenced the way I do it. NW: Can you explain a little bit of the sensory deprivation techniques. I’ve read a little bit of it in reference to the idea that David brought up of Gaburo’s Scatters, but perhaps you can go into a little more detail about what some of those techniques were and what the musical outcome was. WB: Yes, I’ll give you two, one was Antiphony IX, his big orchestra piece. I don't know how the electronic part was made but the instrumental part was made by him sitting at his drawing table with very large sheets of paper. The lights were out and it was total blackness and after hours and hours of sitting there he’d take a pen and just begin with "prick" “prick" "prick" "prick" … and he just kept doing this maniacally until he felt he'd actually covered the paper totally with dots. He then turned on the lights and looked at the twelve pages and put them up on his wall. Gradually, over a year’s time, he looked at them and saw that certain of the dots were sort of coagulating like the constellations were in the sky and he would surround those with a particular colour pencil. At the end of the year he took them down and did a little more work with the idea, drawing graphs with pitch down one side with the rhythm along the bottom, but the basic idea was that the circled sets of dots became actual gestures for the orchestra to play. Another one was how he did RE-‐RUN, his electronic piece, which is an accompaniment for Luke Blankenburg’s choreography, where he sat in the studio with a Buchla digital synthesizer that was actually damaged and he sat in the studio with this machine and gazed at it for hours and hours and hours. Only after he was right on the point of exhaustion did he begin in recording some sound by just doing a particular gesture which was moving his finger in-‐out-‐in-‐out with the keyboard. Apparently he recorded it without listening to the output and rewound and made four tracks working without listening to the output and then he went home and went to sleep and a day or two later he came back to the studio and listened to it and was amazed at how well the four tracks related to each other. That tape, pretty much unaltered became the piece RE-‐RUN. CM: I'd been in London a couple of years earlier working with Roy Hart which is how I got into extended vocal stuff, and after I’d been with Kenneth for a couple of days he sent me off to go and see [Herbert] Brün. Kenneth for me was always this half way house between Roy Hart and Herbert Brün. My problem with Kenneth was the heroism of the physical gesture and the domestication of the
physical gesture and the individual point of view. Where I think about Cage as being loyal not to the sound but particularly, pedantically, loyal to the score, I think Kenneth is particularly, pedantically loyal to his body and to where he is, which I find incredibly useful as a place to begin to make an intervention but then my question then comes with Brün, which, to complete what my definition of compositional linguistics is: language is the mechanisms whereby you understand what I’m thinking better than i do…. …(where "I" is defined by those changes for which "I" is required) That's my disagreement with Kenneth. This is what I get from Brün, for me that was a useful leverage. Kenneth and Herbert are both really interested in the advent of the composer and I’m more interested in a community of listeners and what the politics of listening might be. Kenneth was great to argue with, incredibly useful and precise in a whole series of very messy ways and that is what I miss. There's this beautiful loyalty in conversation and there's loyalty to the conversation. He didn't need to be loyal to his point of view, he could be loyal to the conversation which I find incredibly effective. But the consistency, which is the one I have the problem with is, as I understand it, a slightly heroic position to take. Romantic. He's too romantic, too catholic. The Catholics make really good enemies. LP: Chris always says things better than I think I can say them myself but I like that notion of loyalty to the conversation. Throughout tonight’s conversation I’m remembering that five years ago Chris and I were on a similar kind of event for Herbert Brün, not far from here somewhere in Brooklyn. We were sitting on a panel and I found myself thinking very heavily about the word hagiography and how the attempt to remember someone and tell anecdotes about them and explaining how and why they were so wonderful can so quickly turn into a kind of calcification and be completely antithetical to what that person was doing. I like to think that there is something about some of the composers who we've mentioned here tonight, people like Sal Martirano and James Tenney, people who were committed, perhaps because they were out of the mainstream of New York music politics. Their version of success was very different than other people’s, and so they were loyal to the conversation. They were completely open to almost every idea you could think of without sacrificing the consistency of their own ideas. They were dogmatic in their pursuit of the interest of their own music without being dogmatic that others pursue it, and in a way it’s a funny thing to be speaking here about what Kenneth did. For example, I’ll add an element to the sensory deprivation thing that Warren mentioned; getting a huge bottle of cheap red wine getting poundingly drunk and then doing that same pen process in the dark. That’s all very fun, and interesting, and in the context of the life that Kenneth had it’s a very interesting thing to do but it’s not something that you all want to go and do as a school of music or as a continuing of a tradition. It comes out of a much larger openness, and maybe an openness that is bespoken by being in places like Illinois and San Diego rather than having to fight for a historical or stylistic longevity which he never did or could have done in any way. In fact he did the opposite, he founded a press whose express purpose was to argue with the members of that press. He would hassle Lingua composers mercilessly about things he had no business hassling composers with and, of course, they loved it because what do we all want? We all want someone to listen to us and take us seriously, to argue with us, to care enough to say that shouldn't be a C sharp that should be a C natural, for no reason other than to engage the conversation. I think that’s maybe the best thing I can say about the relation with Kenneth to my work and as a colleague. That’s what he did with his students; he argued with them purely for the sake of arguing, it didn't matter what he was arguing about, it didn't matter whether he liked or in fact didn't like what they did. I don't think that was even a consideration.
He wanted to get them talking about it. CM: He wasn't interested in being right LP: He didn't know what he was talking about half the time, he didn't care. CM: and what’s really important, he didn't need to be right, LP: What I think he sensed was that there was a real critical lacuna in the seriousness about which people talk about work, art and music. Much of it had a kind of agenda that he didn’t care about, and this is where I think he is dealing with ethics. He didn't care about the things that you are supposed to care about as a composer, he didn't care about success, well he did…he bitched about this stuff all the time… but really what he wanted to do was take music as seriously as a human can take it in whatever way you could do that. And a piece like C is… is an inexplicable exercise in trying to figure out what kind of probing you could do to the compositional process that would have no verifiable or recognisable results. He was very interested in things like that, and interested that we all take this seriously. I think that while we have to be careful of a certain kind of a hagiography with Kenneth, the kind of hagiography we should indulge in is the one that propagates the next generation by keeping the argument open. He was a fraught guy, like we're all fraught, with a crazy background that seeps into all his pieces like all of our crazy backgrounds. But he was the real deal, he wasn't playing any games other than the game of continuing the world of ideas. Audience: There was a lot of mention of the work Maledetto. Could someone tell us a little more about this work and why it made such an impression on all of you? WB: One of the things for me about Maledetto is its combination of structuring and energy. There was a review of it where the critic said sophomoric sexual innuendo ruined the piece and I think there is no sophomoric sexual innuendo in the piece…I think it’s just plain dirty! I think Kenneth was actually celebrating the joy of being just plain dirty and sniggering at it. It was like, “Right…I’m going to do a snigger piece that’s going to be the ultimate structurally solid snigger”, and so the overarching form of the piece is about screws and screwing. That’s the whole pun of the sophomoric sexual innuendo, if you will, but the whole piece is structured so that the main forming of the first part of the piece is sssssssss and then he did a section based on the hard c sound (ka). Then there's a section with rrrrrrrrr and then there is finally a section of eeewwwww so over the 35 minutes of the piece you have a gigantic articulation of sssscrrrreeeeewwwww where each of the individual little sections comes out of some other bit of material. It is incredibly rich and when performed by people with energy it's just stunning the way that comes across. About two thirds of the way through Maledetto is the first time everyone is singing in the piece and the choir busts into some "uuuuuuuu". Seven voices suddenly hitting that, microtonally detuning with each other, gradually spiraling down in a screw like fashion until they're very low at the end. For me that was just electrifying, the hair went up on the back of my neck. To give you some context, this piece was made during a time when composers were trying everything they could to subvert that golden mean structural peak idea with serialism, chance operations, etc., so this was his sort of take on the whole non-‐directional thing, saying “OK, how directional can we make it?”. The amount of material that went into the texts used in Maledetto, and one should mention his wife at the time Virginia Hommel Gaburo, who also did a lot of research for the piece, is
staggering. They just mined everything they could from the historical record about the history of the screw…like screws at one time were used for pressing perfume so that led to a whole aside on the history of perfume and it just went on and on like that with many little details. He was also, at this point, interested in Schenkerian analysis, which is something he abandoned later. I was lucky enough to study with him just before he abandoned the idea and Maledetto is, if nothing else, a PhD dissertation in how you can use Schenkerian analytical techniques to structure a piece of verbal theatre. That sort of structuring is absolutely used in the making of Maledetto. CM: Could i just remind the non-‐engineers in the audience that the angle of the thread on a screw is called, of course, the pitch. DD: I’ll just add that the title page of the score actually says Maledetto: For Seven Virtuoso Speaking Voices, and that's an important feature. Audience: Can any of you speak at all about the importance of the west coast at that time period as a setting for this work or as an inspiration that is integral to what we’re talking about tonight? What community was Gaburo a part of, and where were his ideas coming from? I’m trying to get a sense of a social history. LP: He wasn't on the west coast for that long. He was mostly in Illinois and later in Iowa. I do think that the period in Illinois in the 1960's is where pretty much everything has its germination. Certainly the work with Norm Marder and people like that in Illinois which spawned the New Music Choral Ensemble was the progenitor of the groups in San Diego, and I think that the interaction between [Lejaren] Hiller and Herbert [Brün] and Kenneth and Sal Martirano, and people like Jim Beauchamp, who made the harmonic tone generator, made Illinois an extremely fertile place for Kenneth. DD: I think one of the really interesting things about Kenneth is that you can see three really major periods of his creative work and all three of those periods of course belong to major shifts in his political views. Just as his compositions embraced different materials, different ideas outside of music influenced him and his politics. When I first knew him, it was a few years after he came to San Diego, he was not quite an archconservative but he was very mid-‐western in his political views. It wasn't a simplistic conservative Republican kind of view… it was more of a Thoreau-‐style Libertarianism that he was embracing. The Sixties definitely changed him and the political climate of the west coast very much changed him. I think that did have some influence upon Maledetto. Some of it was a direct response to the free speech movement at Berkeley, the presence of Angela Davis, [Herbert] Marcuse and the radical politics, the anti-‐war movement. There were things he had antagonistic relationships to. It wasn't so much that he embraced those things. He argued with them in a way that it transformed his own political views. Toward the end of his life, before he left San Diego and moved to Iowa, he went through some really serious changes which was a shift from a definite philosophical obsession with the structuralism of the Twentieth Century to a really interesting embrace of archaic philosophical ideas and post-‐modern philosophical ideas and other things that he was also arguing with and trying to make sense of. When he moved to Iowa and started to become sick…he had lung cancer, not surprisingly…he kept it secret for a long time. At the end of his life we had regular phone conversations and he never let on that any of this was happening until I began to sense that something was really
wrong, at which point I hopped on the train to Iowa to find out. He had alienated himself from the local community, and had retired from the university. Part of this was very antagonistic. Kenneth always said he had a very antagonistic relationship with the world. But the shift that became really interesting in his life was his viewpoint, his relationships towards women, his own view of self and self-‐identity. He always had a kind of physical antagonism with this intent to argue. It was not so much about being right, as it was a kind of violence, a turbulence that he had in his personality and in his being. He began to really question that and think about himself as a source of violence in the world, and that caused a shift in his thinking. The texts he began to write became extremely political and concerned with ecological issues and nuclear concerns. It really shifted a lot, even in terms of his personality. I visited him in the last few years several times and, instead of being the kind of machismo Kenneth that I knew, around the house he started wearing scarves wrapped around his head. It was like he was experimenting with some kind of more neutral gender sense of things that was very bizarre for someone who had known him for so many years and identified him as this kind of New Jersey kid of Sicilian parents, first generation Italian American. It was a major shift and the work shifted along with that. So he did reflect these things, he did reflect aspects of his changing environment. That’s the long answer to the notion of the west coast but I think it was to some extent germane. Larry is, to some extent, right that the intellectual seeds to most of his work were focused around his interest in linguistics, which was very much part of his being in Illinois. San Diego was really important too, for the same reasons that have been said. It was this extraordinary, strong set of personalities, everybody there was a tremendous creative force in their own right and it was a hot bed, but Illinois was critical. LP: Also, in San Diego at the time Kenneth was there, there was this kind of critical mass of super virtuosic performers like Ed Harkins and Phil Larson and that enabled Kenneth to do some things that he may not have been able to do in Illinois. CM: Whereas Illinois was anti virtuosic, LP: Yes. In the eighties I saw a few pieces that surprised me in the way that you talked of that were intensely personal, almost like memoirs that interrogated the basic fabric of his sexuality and his gender; very disturbing but very interesting pieces. I am ruminating on the fact that there are four middle aged men sitting up here, and also I remember at Mills that most of the graduate students that clustered around Kenneth were men, that there was a kind of predilection for the mode of argument, an intensity and a vitality that encouraged men, but I know that there were also some women composers of our generation who were close to Kenneth but I do wonder about that extreme and maybe David knows more about it than I do, about that tendency… DD: I don't know if I want to go into it. He had a problematic relationship with women. That was very much a part of his generation, and you could see it also in his colleagues in Illinois and in San Diego. The first marriage he had, which I don't really want to go into because I don't know that much of the details, was very difficult and ended in a divorce not only from his first wife but also from the Catholic Church. An important feature of his work was his deep concern with Catholicism that actually lasted his entire life and was, again, a kind of antagonistic relationship. CM: But this is the issue of politics. When he did Testimony, which I always consider to be incredibly Catholic, my argument with him was that he was obviously an unreconstituted Catholic because it was Catholic through and through.
Testimony is a video piece where someone off camera asks someone, “In the event of a nuclear war we know for a fact that (whatever, something like) 68% of the population have been declared expendable and so how do you feel about having been declared expendable or excess to the requirements of the society to which you thought that you belonged?”, and it has this really strong issue of confession, and its superficially political. It’s political by subject matter but the form is a form of politics which I have real trouble with. So when we talk about the political, and that he changes or develops politically, I don't know that I observe that. LP: or in Antiphony VIII, which is the percussion piece, I have the same problem. It is an overtly political piece whose form seems to be counter to the idea of cooperation, argument and discussion and also with these kinds of personal pieces that he did which were confessional. Crazy, wonderful, interesting confessionals but still it was a guy up there on stage worrying. I have the same relationship to these pieces that I first had when I heard Maledetto: I like the content and I like the technique performed, but I question it quite a bit. NW: I'd like to get Warren back involved, I'm not exactly sure what the question has transformed into now, but the original question was how did the people and the places and the time, the experiences around Gaburo, how do you feel it affected his musical output? WB: In terms of people that he met I think, looking back at the work, the period of the sixties in Illinois was absolutely crucial and although he changed when he went to California, the period in Illinois was the basis that he changed from. I think he was a person who, despite his being intensely professional and individualistic, continually absorbed abilities and aspects of personalities of the people that were around him. The two times I visited Iowa during Kenneth's last years, I noticed that he was getting a lot more confrontational. He was also in a lot of physical pain, and I wonder how much of his nastiness in that period actually resulted from the fact that he was always in pain. Certainly one of his last tape pieces Mouthpiece #2 where he's describing a dysfunctional family in a restaurant that he went to frequently is informed so much by that idea of emotional and physical pain. In Kenneth's very last days he said to Philip Blackburn he always wanted to do a piece that involved pain and he never really had the guts to do it, but now that he knew that he was dying all he had to do was stop the morphine and he could experience the most incredibly awful pain and could Philip please record him when he had that pain and then do something with the recording. So, this was the ultimate sort of example of a body as a generator of material, material he knew he would never be able to use. I don't know if that answers the question but those are just things that I think are involved with his work in relation to a sense of his place and time. Audience: I'm trying to historically locate Gaburo's work a little more closely in terms of some conceptual art that was going on throughout the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies and thinking about the materiality of the body. I wonder if there is any direct correspondence between Gaburo and other artists or if it was just the spirit of the times? CM: Regarding influences, I think one of [Gaburo’s] design flaws was that he was born and played opposite Luciano Berio. I think Berio was really important for him and Berio was successful in a way in that Kenneth was not and they mapped quite similar territories. And the other reference which I would have said which is also not American, is Beckett. DD: Yes, Beckett was a direct influence on him. In fact, Kenneth did produce and direct a version of one of Beckett’s plays. I would say that Kenneth was actually much more influenced by experimental theatre of his period than he was by conceptual work or what came to be
performance art related work. The first assignment I had studying with him was to read three books, one of which was Benjamin Whorf's Language, Thought, and Reality, Levi Strauss' The Savage Mind and [Jerzy] Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theatre. Those kinds of ideas that were going on in Grotowski and the Living Theatre, activities that have largely been eclipsed and have, as a tradition, been carried on more by the conceptual performance related community, were a big influence on Kenneth. The other thing that he was influenced by was the text sound tradition that emanates from [Kurt] Schwitters. He even collaborated with Henri Chopin on a piece so those kinds of influences were very much part of what he paid attention to, not so much the visual art related world as this aspect of theatre. LP: Another composer that keeps coming to my mind is Sal Martirano, who exists in a similar kind of world right now but I bet nobody in this room knows his music very well. A piece like L’s. G.A. is such an important piece for whatever you think of it. It had to have had an impact on Kenneth. They were good friends, they were both Italian jazz pianists who came from very traditional music backgrounds, they had very similar personalities and they went in very different but equally important directions. I think that's just another part of being in Illinois where a certain kind of musical theatre was going on and it was very interesting stuff with Kenneth's work. WB: I remember when I encountered Kenneth's work I also encountered David [Dunn]’s for the first time. David showed me books of environmental sculptures like Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer and that really took my mind to a whole other area of interest. It was at this period that I also noticed that Kenneth's work was, if you wish, getting much more refined. For example, compare any of the instrumental pieces with their incredible counterpoint with the mono-‐ maniacal monophony of Minim-‐Tellig. I noticed those connections between the conceptual artist and performance artist and what Kenneth was doing, but I think those ideas were in the air and we all were aware of them. However, I do think what people are saying is essentially correct. Kenneth came to those ideas more out of an experimental theatre tradition. Don't forget that, at that point, the performance art world was still being formed and what we call performance art really didn't get what we might call theorised and criticalised until the mid-‐Seventies by which time Kenneth had done so much of that work. So, in fact, I would put it down more to zeitgeist. He was one of many people who were developing ideas in that direction.
Fantastical Zoology The Eggdogfish by Tim Parkinson A creature created by brain waves emitted by humans during moments of inattention, especially during a conversation. Consequently, it has never been seen or heard, leaving only perhaps a suggestion of its existence in the form of a vague sensation that something might have happened. Does it see? Unknown Does it hear? Yes, it can hear human speech and only appears during these times. Does it move? It is believed to move, bouncing around in front of people when they're not paying attention, pulling faces, being silly, waving arms around. Does it communicate? Yes, purely for its own ears and amusement, as it can only exist when no-‐one else knows it's there, so it talks a lot of nonsense and gibberish, making itself laugh. Hence its name -‐ Eggdogfish, sounding like a random selection of words -‐ an onomatopoeic name. It is not thought that the creature resembles either an egg, dog or fish, or combination of all three. Does it speak? See above. Does it make sense of meaning? Possibly not, as it does not exist when meaningful speech or sense is being spoken. However, as it momentarily lives in a zone of unreceived communication, non-‐ listening, non-‐acknowledgement between humans, then a sense of meaning would be lethal to the Eggdogfish. Very often the creatures are born around telephones, or where more than one person is involved in an act of communication. Some of these creatures are said to maintain their existence by hopping between multiple zones of inattention in a crowded room or on busy streets or even in meetings in offices or local government. Since the proliferation of mobile phones amongst humans, the Eggdogfish population has multiplied in proportion. Call-‐centers are reputed to be thriving areas. Do they eat? They feed off inattention, distraction, natural unwitting disregard, obliviousness, and, to a small degree, daydreams and absent mindedness.
Do they touch? Unlikely Do they taste/smell? They must be able to discern the purity of certain types of inattention via some sensation. Do they sense time? Yes, although the eggdogfish may only live a few moments, time passes slower for them compared with humans. Its never been recorded how much, but perhaps a few seconds to humans may equal a lifetime for the eggdogfish. It is also speculated that the creature may not die when their habitat is removed, but may in fact simply sleep in an invisible or immaterial state. Consequently, it has never been able to estimate the age of one of these creatures, although, the longer it lives and feeds, the more excited and hysterical it can often become, resorting to more and more preposterous action and behaviour. There may even be some incredible habitational constructions created by several eggdogfish in areas that have remained unnoticed for days or weeks. Do they sense colour? Unlikely, although they may be of a colour never before detected. Do they detect sound? See all above. Tim Parkinson lives in London, writes music, puts on concerts including “Music We’d Like to Hear” since 2005 with John Lely and Markus Trunk, plays ‘any sound producing means’ with James Saunders as “Parkinson Saunders” since 2003, music performed from LA to Tokyo, Bergen to Christchurch, championed by especially Apartment House and Incidental Music and the excellent associated soloists therein, now has 2 Cds out on Edition Wandelweiser, an interview (from 2003) in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, a website at www.untitledwebsite.com. Born 7th July 1973, at school 11 years, at university for 3, studied briefly with Kevin Volans in his house in Dublin, went to Ostrava 2001 met Christian Wolff and Alvin Lucier, aside of which never sought any further education except life and self.
Fantastical Zoology began as a research project around biodiversity and imagination – more creatures will appear in future issues of Wolf Notes – Sarah Hughes