FINNEGANS WAKE: A COMPOSITION THAT HAS MANY FATHERS (JAMES JOYCE EXCLUDED) (abstract)
John Cage would use parts of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake for both literary and musical purposes. But can Finnegans Wake be dismissed from literature and turned to music only? Yes, it probably can.
Katarzyna Bazarnik & Zenon Fajfer
Liberature and Cage. Prepared Lecture
Liberature is a kind of literature in which not only the verbal but also the material aspects carry meaning; i.e. the layout, the number and arrangement of pages, the structure of the book, being often unconventional and different than the codex, are constituents of the literary work. Unlike John Cage, authors of liberatic books seem to leave nothing to chance. In liberature the work appears as a deliberately crafted whole. But at the same time liberatic works often “play” with chance, using it as a structural principle or an important element of their meaning. The play with chance and openness of composition are the first of analogies between liberature and Cage’s creative work. The American artist and liberatic writers also share the interest in everyday life, in banality, in small, ready-made, accidental details of the world, such as the surrounding sounds, the format and texture of a piece of paper used for writing down a lecture, words picked up from other people’s works. Other parallels between him and liberatic writers include blurring boundaries between visual and sound arts, sensitivity to the spatial features of textual and musical notations, and using “silence” and “emptiness”. The talk will be delivered by dr Katarzyna Bazarnik (Jagiellonian University in Krakow) and accompanied by actions of Zenon Fajfer, a poet who triggered of liberature in 1999.
Barbara Bogunia graduated in English philology from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and is now about to graduate in Music Theory under the supervision of Professor Mieczysław Tomaszewski. She specializes in contemporary American music, especially the work of George Crumb and John Cage as well as the problem of word-sound relationships and intertextuality. Within the scope of her interdisciplinary interests are also cognitive science, performance studies and liberature.
Marek Choloniewski (born 1953, in Krakow). Composer, sound artist, performer and teacher. Head of Electroacoustic Music Studios at the Academy of Music in Krakow. Founder and President of Muzyka Centrum Art Society and Polish Society for Electroacoustic Music. Since 2008 Secretary and since 2011 President of International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music. Director of Audio Art Festival in Krakow. Founder of many groups and ensembles, among others Freight Train, ch&k&k, dizzy kinetics. He received Honorable Award of the Polish Composers Union, Award of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, as well as the Independent Project grant of the CEC ArtsLink in New York. www.studiomch.art.pl
… silence … nothing? …
To Er is Human.
To Hmmm? is Divine Sublime
It is possible to say that the writings of James Joyce were important to the work of John Cage. They surface directly, for instance, in “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs” (1942), “Nowth upon Nacht” (1984), “Writings for the Nth Time through Finnegans Wake” (1976-1983), “Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake”(1979), where the “2nd “Time” reading floats upon, and sometimes sinks into a dense shifting sea of sound, created of field recordings of locations from the text, sounds from the WDR sound library and traditional Irish music. During a conversation on the experience of listening to a recording of Roaratorio, English collagist/composer, Ergo Phizmiz, described it as “listening to a huge spinning ball of sound.” It is so huge in fact, it could be a planet. Sound going round in circles. Roarotatorio.
“..involvement with Joyce and Finnegans Wake added dimension to my experience of life not provided by Thoreau and his Journal, though to my delight I discovered one correspondence, namely that Joyce like Thoreau and myself was involved in oriental thought.”
A loose translation of this hitsuzendo calligraphy is “No East No West, where Mu is no. But for Tanchu Terayama it is more.
“‘no-thing,’ ‘not,’ or ‘non-existence.’ In Zen, mu can also signify pure human awareness that precedes experience or knowledge.”
“Making language as interesting as music, Cage was to learn, depended on the dismantling of “normal” syntax. Much as he loved Joyce, Cage felt that even Finnegans Wake was conventional in this respect:
‘Reading Finnegans Wake I notice that though Joyce’s subjects, verbs, and objects are unconventional, their relationships are the ordinary ones. With the exception of the Ten Thunderclaps and rumblings here and there, Finnegans Wake employs syntax. Syntax gives it a rigidity from which classical Chinese and Japanese were free. A poem by Basho, for instance, floats in space . . . . Only the imagination of the reader limits the number of the poem’s possible meanings.'”
Departing from the linearity of syntax, to err; to wander, to go astray, (from middle English). In current usage, if used at all, to err is to make a mistake, to do wrong. Seneca and later, Alexander Pope, tells us it is human. To err is human. To er, is not a verb, it’s a gap, a pause, resulting from the effort to retain syntax.
Much of the discussion on the influence that Joyce had for Cage focuses on Finnegans Wake. This is simply because this book is most present in Cage’s work. He used it as a source for the works previously cited. Finnegans Wake was the culmination of Joyce’s radical experiments with the novel form. His first novel, Stephen Hero, was conventional in structure, a “classic realist text”, as defined by Colin McCabe. It functions as a precursor to the second novel, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, which is a transitional work. The techniques and methods realized in “Ulysses”, are present in “Portrait” but partial. The opening lines;
“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down the road
and this moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo..
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass………
…. His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor’s hornpipe for him to dance. He danced
McCabe analyses these lines using a post-structuralist Lacanian methodology, He argues,
“With this opening we have left the order of classic realism which produces a father and a position in meaning at the expense of the mother and language as sound. The first paragraphs of A Portrait…. oppose the narrating father and mother who opens up language as sound and movement, appealing to… the ear against the identifying eye.”
“Joyce was himself an accomplished amateur musician, a tenor who in 1904 shared the stage with the great Irish tenor John McCormack.” Certainly on the evidence of his writing, he is acutely aware of sound and its presence is constant throughout his writing, not only in the form of speech, rhyme, song, and music, but also in the non-linguistic body sounds and the sounds of the world through which his characters move. It is interesting to note that Joyce wrote Ulysses in Trieste, that he requested friends send him maps of Dublin. Maps, photographs and postcards all aid and supplement visual memory. “It is well known that Joyce mapped out his characters’ movements with a slide rule and compass”. His rendering of sound is entirely from unaided memories of the city in which he grew up and finally left in self-imposed exile. Maybe it is exile that makes these sonic memories more acute.
Whilst Joyce was himself a musician and clearly fascinated by sound, it is necessary to draw attention to the fact that,
“Ironically, given his extraordinary innovations in narrative, Joyce disliked most of the contemporary music of his day. As a tenor, he was a die-hard fan of singable melody, and he approached music from a singer’s perspective. He complained about Stravinsky that “not even a canary could sing” his music.”
‘According to Louis Gillet, who knew Joyce in Paris, “For Joyce, a sentence was not severeable from its melodic qualities,”’
For Joyce, as he ventured into the new territories that he himself was creating and opening up, melody articulated by the voice, like syntax, functioned as a chain, anchoring him, preventing him from “floating off into space”
It is possible to assert that despite his radical and revolutionary transformation of literary form, Joyce as a writer still sought to render a communicable meaning. It may be more diffuse and difficult for the reader to decipher from the increasingly complex textual experiments, but there is still an, ‘intended meaning’.
From the mid 1970s John Cage took the text of Finnegans Wake and subjected it to further transformations
using Mesostics. Whilst they function as visual poetry on the page, they are fully embodied through the voice.
The voice, so crucial to Joyce, remains silent as words on the page, imagined in the readers’ mind. In Sinister Resonance, David Toop makes no distinction “..by sound I mean the entire continuum of the audible and inaudible spectrum, including silence, noise, quiet, implicit and imagined sound.” There is a silence in Cage’s work regarding Ulysses, and it is this I want to meditate upon.
In the Sirens chapter in Ulysses there is a moment. Amongst the conversations, the laughter, the flirting, the glasses, the drinking and the singing in the Ormond Bar, Leopold Bloom sits, silently observing all the activity around him. He sees, on the shelf below the bar mirror “where hock and claret glasses shimmered […] in their midst a shell” that Miss Douce, the barmaid has brought back from the beach at Rostrevor. He watches the drinkers as they press the shell to their ears. Colin McCabe writes,
“Those in the bar who listen to the shell and who are caught up in the experience of speech, locate the
sound as present in the shell and originating in the sea. For us, however, guided by our writer Bloom,
the sound is produced by the process of listening..”
He elaborates this moment as a metaphor of discourse, as the source and site of the production of meaning. To elaborate further, it is in the convergence and interaction of the two spirals of the shell and the cochlea that a cohe(a)rence occurs, but it is the writer, Bloom, at a distance, who identifies it’s nature,
“The sea they think they hear. Singing. A roar. The blood is it. Souse in the ear sometimes. Well, it’s a sea. Corpuscle Islands.”
“…just as the interaction of the shell and the ear produces the roar that the drinkers hear, so it is the interaction between the discourses of the reader and the discourses of the text which produce the meanings we extract. The sound is not present for the ear in the shell as the meanings are not present for the eye in the text. The sound is produced between the shell and the ear but this ‘between’ does not indicate a specific place ‘between’ the shell and the ear but rather the whole process produced between (in the sense of together) the shell and the ear”
John Cage’s anechoic epiphany (to appropriate a word that Joyce appropriated) is the significant moment in the creation myth of a new aesthetic universe, a silent or at least a very quiet big bang. But, what of the ‘between’? In itself, the anechoic chamber has very little to give, in fact it takes, absorbs and returns virtually nothing. The barely perceptible roar and the hiss emerge in the absence of external and reverberated sound. Whatever the high sounds were, whether nervous system or low-level tinnitus, Seth Kim-Cohen observes, “Cage left the anechoic chamber a changed composer. His revelation: there is no such thing as silence; as long as one is alive, there is sound.” The between, I would suggest is more complex than the elegant but binary ‘between’ of the shell and the ear.
Douglas Khan, says Kim-Cohen,
‘identified a decisive third internal sound in Cage’s anechoic episode,
“the one saying, ‘Hmmm, wonder what the low pitched sound is? What’s that high pitched sound?’ Such quasi-sounds, antithetical to Cagean listening by being in competition with sounds in themselves, yet here he was able to listen and at the same time allow discursiveness to intrude in the experience.”‘
Hmmm? that’s almost Mu backwards.
Department of Cultural Studies, Faculty o Arts, Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra (SK)
Comprovisation – notes to discussion on validity of notion.
More than twenty years ago, in the period of socialism I did not like when different progressive rock music bands including Teória odrazu (Theory Of Reflection, group I played with) were all titled as “the alternative” – l use this notion only in plural as “musical alternatives” to various music genres and styles. Therefore, my recent effort to demark understanding of new taxonomic neologism might look strange. This inclination is not motivated by purely theoretical reasons, but also my experience of a musician who creates non-conventional experimental music, which is often based on testing the possibilities of hybridizing the rationally prepared processes with the unpredictable ones connected with accentuation of intuition. I have recorded the results of this testing many times (potential and influence, which the sound recording had on ontology of music work of art in 20th century is still not appreciated enough in Slovakia), and the listeners could realize that impressive and persuasive quality of these musical mutations has reached the level usually attributed to musical composition in Euro-Atlantic culture.
Nothing new under the sun, in the context and territory of obscure transitions from improvisation to composition let us mention works of modern jazz, aleatory music, Frank Zappa´s methods in 1980s (transformations some of his guitar improvisations to compositions for synclavier). However, why has the new term “comprovisation” appeared at all in different discourses since the beginning of 21st century, and it is so hybrid and has such inner tension? Is it contradictory only because of combination of notions (composition and improvisation) expressing so different principles that some people consider their conjunction impossible? Is it ever possible to use this notion correctly and if it is, in what specific way?
First time I met with this neologism in the texts of Slovak aesthetician Jozef Cseres more than five years ago. He used it as stylistic expression to describe the poetics of certain works of contemporary experimental music – I admit, I liked it immediately also in direct connection to some of my musical artistic activities. I can mention projects of my chamber non-conventional ensemble thEoRy Of Shake in the first half of last decade (Puppet Regime Of Sound, 2000; live music to horror Nosferatu, 2002; live music to 1st silent Slovakian movie Jánošík we created with legendary Czech musicians Vladimír Merta and Jana Lewitová, 2004). Not being familiar with the notion “comprovisation”, we described our approach as mutation of composed and intuitive music applied to Slavonic “trans-modality” that time. I used comprovising principles also in intermedia wrestling transPOPsitions! with The California EAR Unit (Los Angeles, 2005), in the project based on nonverbal correspondence with French fine artist Ludivine Allegue Wordless: (Roma 2009), in duo with cello player and composer Jan Kavan called Comprovisations (2009), and also in my electro-acoustic piece Pentrophony (Prague, 2010). It is interesting that this new notion has appeared at the scene of musical culture at the break of 20th and 21st century and is parallel to gradual disappearing of “irreconcilable” antagonism between composed and improvised music.1
Nowadays you can find the term in titles of CD projects or musical pieces – pianist Philip Thomas titled his album of „solo compositions reflected improvisation“ of J. Cage, P. Obermayer, Ch. Burn, M. Beck, M. Finnjissy, S. H. Fell just Comprovisation (2006). According to him „comprovisation is a celebration and exploration of the interface where composition and improvisation meet. Central to the project is a number of works composed by musicians who are associated with the world of improvised music“.2 We can also mention piano duo of Thollem McDonas & Nicola Guazzaloca and their piece Noble Art – Comprovisation Concert For Two Pianos (2009), as well as holonomic-fractal music of music semiotician Eufrasio Prates, or non-conventional percussionist Celio Vasconcellos – they also describe the specificity of their works by the term comprovisation. Gradually it has become the subject of theoretical reflection – e.g. in the texts of Richard Dudas (Hanyang University School of Music Composition, Soul) “Comprovisation”: The Various Facets of Composed Improvisation within Interactive Performance Systems), or Michael Francis Hannan (Southern Cross University, Australia) Interrogating Comprovisation As Practice-led Research. The both reflect also on their own experiences from composing, which deals with improvised music in various contexts:
Richard Dudas is interested in balance between composition and improvisation in interactive performances with electronic and computer-based music systems. Using his experiences in this field he is focused on general trends in “composed improvisation” within the electronic and computer music with the special tendency „to uncover the limits and limitations of improvisation and its relationship to both composition and “composed instruments” within the world of interactive electronic musical performance“.3
According Michael Francis Hannan, comprovisation is a term “to describe his practice of making new compositions from recordings of improvised material” (either performed by himself or by other musicians under his direction). He thinks this word can help not only to understand the making of new compositions from recordings of improvised material, but also “interrogates its validity within the debate about creative practice as research. Although the comprovisation practice has random and intuitive elements I conclude that it is likely to produce new knowledge through its strongly experimental approach, and that it is grounded in the tacit knowledge of professional compositional craft”.4 M. F. Hannan devotes his attention also to relation between comprovised techniques and unconventional types of scores.
It is obvious that the neologism has emerged in similar relations. So, we can ask again: is “the issue of comprovisation” only the case of stylistic terminological play or does it express something more? Can it be employed in certain meaningful circumstances? In what boundaries it can work as a relevant taxonomic term in the context of specific kind of music, eventually in context of its symbiotic being within intermedia environment? Obviously, its unlimited application and interpretation could become useless. Before looking for the answers to these questions, let us look briefly to our understanding of the notions of composition and improvisation.
Well-known Slovak contemporary composer and important theoretician Vladimír Godár devoted his attention to fundamental characteristics of notion “composition” in his books Kacírske quodlibety (Heretical Quodlibets), Battaglia a mimesis, Luk a lýra (Long-bow And Lyre). He points to relation between motivation of origin, genesis of notation, music inscription (of the need to make it more simple, transparent and more complex as well) and the measure of rational correction and control of movements of musical process, and the influence of music notation to origin of organized polyphony. He observes a direct connection between the potential of the specific written signs and the definition and quality of music thinking, which is characterized by cultivation of coordination and synchronisation of more complicated simultaneous and successive processes. Godár also stresses the important role of rhetorization of music media since renaissance (its persuasive impact compared with the characteristics of rhetoric speech verified in “theory and praxis” of Ancient Greek orators and thinkers, or of Protestant preachers), in baroque (J. S. Bach´s fugue as polyphonic “utterance” phased and synchronized in time) and romanticism. In the 20th century, there are new, different aspirations – to control the creation of music work of art in maximal possible degree of involvement of rationality (dodecaphony and postwebernism). In this point Morton Feldman commented Pierre Boulez´ serialistic compositions as the final edge, which cannot be exceeded. But, as other Slovak composer Roman Berger says (and not only him), there is no composition without elements of improvisation.5
Improvisation (improvisus, lat. – unpredicted, unsuspected, unexpected) is based on spontaneous intuitiveness, on the opposite of predictable certainty and advantages of possible reversal correction of musical shapes and details in concentrated composition. In fact, majority of world music cultures have always been connected to various types, degrees, “likeness” of improvisation, which is often related to the phenomenon of musicianship (still not enough valuated in music sciences). We can mention folklore (improvisation as a part of limited variations of traditional models), jazz (different levels and kinds of improvisation from dixieland across swing to modern jazz, be-bop, cool jazz, west coast, fusion to almost unlimited improvisation forms in free jazz). However, in this paper I am oriented towards paradigmatically different, s. c. free improvised music, which has no direct relations to idioms of musical styles and genres in historical situation after the emancipation and establishment of aleatory music, music of sonic environments of John Cage or Morton Feldman. Their conscious resignation to omniscient and detailed control of music organism and their explicit intention to have no intention (to involve the unpredictable accident and to let the music-sonic processes “speak” themselves) are also very inspiring for the concept of comprovisation. Even if the neologism contains certain inner tension and friction, it expresses the result of confrontation of different, but mutually “permeable” kinds of processes – it expresses their possible dialogical, reciprocally enriching mutation and (maybe despite certain strangeness) it is comprehensible.
The dialectics of musical determinism and indeterminism, their mutual proportion, level, kind, function and enrichment can be traced up in all music history – in music modernism, after Eric Satie it was accentuated by e. g. Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Witold Lutoslawski, and at the same time the emancipation of meaningful capacity of sonoristic structures played important role since impressionism till Edgard Varese (P. Faltin) and György Ligeti and Polish sonorism, elctro-acoustic music, including also music conréte (acceptation of any sonic sources as proto-musical shapes). The features of qualitative shift in the postmodern presence is described by Slovak aesthetician and experimental artist Jozef Cseres in booklet of CD project MountWind (K2IC, 2011) of Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg (voice) and Lawrence Casserley (signal processing instrument) in references to postmodern philosophy: “In current music and sound poetry everything (the sounds) happens (becomes) multi-linearly and transversally. The sounds are not isolated expressions, operations and events, they are ´sound blocks´ without stable and well indentifiable starting points, planes and coordinates, occurring in the space of in-between – in-between more decisions, in-between more sounds situations, in-between more acoustic orbits. Between the flash of mind and a sound reaction to it a lot can happen, and so voices do not have the ambition to tell or memorize a story, rather they are trying to articulate the interactions between the sound events. They are simply intermezzi and it was not a poet or musician who named them “intermezzi”, but a philosopher: ´The sound block is the intermezzo. It is a body without organs, an anti-memory pervading musical organization, and is all the sonorous´ (Deleuze & Guattari). These voices do not declaim the messages for potential interpretations but they have the ambition to open the alternative spaces of perception. They are more interested in flexible matter from which a particular work of art (or a text) is woven. These are more than ´words-in-freedom´, these are the interactive rules of new, unrepeatable grammar and syntax” (Cseres 2011, p. 2).
I think that Cseres´ thoughts (exceeding the frame of this article) concisely “demarcate” the space of understanding the contemporary, multi-linear and transversal musical or music-intermedia comprovisations. It is clear that the need to introduce the term “comprovisation” is right on the side of contemporary artists using different improvisation vocabularies – they use and verify them consciously in “not verified” situations of their possible symbiosis with composed principles and processes in various interactive proportions. The result of this symbiosis can become an achievement of the new, unimagined quality. We can find a lot of examples of this approach in music works of art in the late 20th century, e. g. Voyager (1993) of composer and trombonist George Lewis, in piece What Is the Difference Between Stripping And Playing the Violin? (1997) of laser koto player and intermedia, body-artist Miya Masaoka, in The Perks (1996) or The Fence (1998) of composer and violinist Jon Rose, in Verbatim (1996) electronic music composer Bob Ostertag and his ensemble Say No More, or in Revolutionary Pekinesse Opera (1995) created by group Ground Zero of bizarre composer and musician Otomo Yoshihide. Let us mention also some comprovised initiatives in Slovakia: Marián Varga´s solo piano concerts in 1990s, experimental pieces of composers Peter Machajdík, Martin Burlas, his cooperation with Ján Boleslav Kladivo and Daniel Matej on project Over4tea, musical pieces on limited sheets of Juraj Vajo, my duo Xafoo with legendary Czech alternative saxophone and guitar player Mikoláš Chadima, or recent non-conventional projects of Miroslav Tóth.
If I turn back now to introductory questions and doubts about sense or boundaries of the term comprovisation, I think that its appropriate, meaningful application is possible in the space of consciously mixed, balanced combinations of pre-composed and free improvised approaches in the field of unconventional music and its possible intermedia interferences. It is a matter of open discussion if this notion could be used – with awareness of its limitations and risk – also outside experimental music context (e. g. since the beginnings of modern jazz, pars pro toto: comprovised dimension of be-bop solo parts of Charlie Parker), or even in other art media with temporally performative textuality (conceptual art performance, happening, theatre, fine arts, etc.). In 2010 the symposium Comprovisations: Improvisation Systems in Performing Arts and Technologies, organised in Baden-Baden was focused on the fact that „over the past decades, the performing arts have been moving away from the interpretation of fixed notations and repetitive, rehearsed performances. This shift has been intensified by increasingly reactive stage and music technologies“. Symposium represents an attempt to refute the cultural prejudices connected with “comprovised arts” and was devoted also to the difficulty of analyzing and theorizing about “ephemeral artmaking practices” that do not utterly rely on linear “scripts” or “scores”.6 The organisers of this event stress that there is no such thing as a “pure” improvisation and so they have also dealt with recent modernist (especially North-American) approaches to improvisation, which “have emphasized a purportedly ´free play´ largely unfettered by explicit rules, while at the same time stressing the importance of social and consensual aesthetics and establishing close-knit communities of performers and audiences.” 7
In contemporary Slovak artistic scene at the beginning of 2011 there has appeared proclamation Compro.sk11 of eleven artists (including the author of this paper), which introduces the term comprovisation in circumstances overlapping narrow music-theoretical context. It does not announce the birth of artistic group – the signatories just want to point to more existential understanding of this notion nowadays (here is unabridged version):
We are interested in emancipation and validity of autonomy of comprovisation as:
..the principle articulated in methods and transversal “suchness” of recent unconventional arts in analogical reference to transparently basal modus of life situations (they are results of what is planned in vain beforehand and of what becomes necessarily the subject of unpredictable change we are forced to react to in operative and creative way);
…conscious choice of transformative mutation of pre-composed processes, principles, outlines and situational improvisation in context of contemporary music-intermedia intertextuality;
…notion, which expresses the process of becoming oneself (W. Welsh) in together-being with creative act, artistic gesture and their perception;
…the process of inestimable artistic re-de-territorialisation (G. Deleuze) and in the frame of it also as the existential confrontation with the fact who / with what / in what and how we are;
…something what we can find in the slipping at liquid space between different art media in the time of fading-out(?) postmodernism (which has refused prejudices about “pureness” and separateness of them), between music, fine arts, film, dance, theatre, performance, happening, literature, photography, video-art, etc. in their interferential net conjunction;
…something what co-defines recent tolerant, open, but in unconventional option also radical co-ordinates of contemporary music-intermedia art in the sense of metaphor of sound-image & gesture-text;
… one of the possibilities of continuity on transgression of ama-sphere (ama – acoustic, musical and audiovisual) in poetics of configurations Transmusic Comp., Society of Non-conventional Music, Lesní Speváci (Forest Singers), which – without any claim to present ourselves as esthete comprovisers – can be re-actualized peculiarly in Slovakia at the beginning of second decade of this century.
Musician and aesthetician Julo Fujak, composers Martin Burlas, Juraj Vajo, Miro Tóth, composer and songwriter Ján Boleslav Kladivo, composer and theoretician Valér Miko, intermedia artist Boris Vaitovič, accordion player Peter Katina, actor Robo Roth, conceptual performer József R. Juhász, guitarist Attila Tverďák.
“The case of comprovisation” still remains open. Practice will show if it is just blind taxonomic street or direction label, which points to specific kind of meaningful “crossbreeding” of composed and improvised processes. The fruits of it – as Compro.sk11 indicates – can get over the fence of its narrow academic interpretation.8
1 Eleven years ago on festival Evenings of New Music in Bratislava Japanese composer and experimental musician Otomo Yoshihide answered to my question on his attitude towards discussion about traditional opposition of composition and improvisation in the way that it was Euro-Atlantic dichotomy and he and his musicians simply did not solve this problem in their music at all.
2 Philip Thomas (piano) and Friends: Comprovisation. http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/5705/1/flyer_aw_ok.pdf (quoted 17. 6. 2011)
3 Dudas, Richard: “Comprovisation”: The Various Facets of Composed Improvisation within Interactive Performance Systems. In: Leonardo Music Journal, 2010, n. 10, p. 29-31. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/leonardo_music_journal/v020/20.dudas.html (quoted 17. 6. 2011)
4 Hannan, Michael Francis: Interrogating Comprovisation As Practice-led Research. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.126.9853 (quoted 18. 6. 2011)
5 Czech musicologist Ján Václav Sýkora adds: “There is complicated correlative relation between composition and improvisation. Improvisation is usually kind of pre-degree of compositional work” (Sýkora, 1966, s. 11), what is not valid, of course, for all kind of compositional music activities.
6 In this context we can mention Chris Cutler´s study Plunderphonia dealing also with the copyright, which even today, more than one century after discovery and using sound recording media and half-century of established free improvisation, is absurdly based on superiority of music written in score.
7 Symposium was part of The 22nd International Conference on Systems Research, Informatics and Cybernetics. http://eamlibrarian.blogspot.com/2010/02/call-for-papers-comprovisations.html
8 Diapason of reactions to the proclamation has ranged, as usual, from affirmative to hesitating and critical or declinatory (from side of members of Transmusic Comp. and Society of Non-conventional Music) – they consider an application of term “comprovisation” in the function of signifying genre or platform as false. They see as well certain risk of its abusing, outside restricted context, of institutionalisation and expansion of taxonomical redundancy, especially on academic and curator scenes. I am aware of this risk and I agree with many comprehensible anxieties facing the possibility of camouflage by comprovisation… My thoughts deal “only” with some of basic demarcations and they can become subject to polemics. However, as it is written in the introduction, I think this neologism can be used accurately to characterize one of important attributes of my intermedia musical projects at least.
Berger, Roman: Letter o composer taken from our correspondence 7. 3. 2011.
Cseres, Jozef: In the beginning was breath, not the word! Text in booklet of CD Jean-Michel Van
Schouwburg & Lawrence Casserley MountWind (Kassák Cenre for Intermedia Creativity, 2011).
Cutler, Chris: Plunderphonia. http://www.ccutler.com/ccutler/writing/plunderphonia.shtml (quoted 17. 6. 2011)
Dudas, Richard: “Comprovisation”: The Various Facets of Composed Improvisation within Interactive Performance Systems. In: Leonardo Music Journal, 2010, n. 10, p. 29-31. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/leonardo_music_journal/v020/20.dudas.html
Hannan, Michael Francis: Interrogating Comprovisation As Practice-led Research. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.126.9853
Faltin, Peter: Predpoklady vzniku štruktúry novšej hudby (Prerequisites of Origination of Newer Music Structure). In: Burlas, Ladislav – Faltin, Peter – Filip, Miroslav: Kapitoly z teórie súčasnej hudby (The Chapters from Theory of Contemporary Music). Panton, Praha – Bratislava, 1965, p. 45-88.
Godár, Vladimír: Kacírske quodlibety (Heretic Quodlibets). Music forum, Bratislava, 1998, 184 p. ISBN 80-88737-12-5
Godár, Vladimír: Luk a Lýra. Šesť pohľadov na hudobnú poetiku. (Long-Bow and Lyre. Six Views to Musical Poetics.) Scriptorium Musicum, Bratislava, 2001. 180 p. ISBN 80-88737-13-3
Godár, Vladimír: Battaglia a Mimesis. Dissertation. Ústav hudobnej vedy Slovenskej akadémie vied (Institute of Musicology, Slovak Academy of Sciences), Bratislava 1992, 1325 p.
Sýkora, Ján Václav: Improvizace – včera a dnes.(Improvisation – Yesterday and Today.) Panton, Praha – Bratislava, 1966, 84 p.
My thanks belong to Dr. Klement Mitterpach for the help with translation.
Doc. PhDr. Július Fujak, PhD.
(Department of Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts,
Constantine the Philosopher University, Nitra, Slovakia)
– experimental music composer, aesthetician and organiser of non-conventional artistic events. He is the author many music-intermedia projects, four books on aesthetics and semiotics of contemporary music in intermedia context. He developed the theories of music correla(c)tivity, of the modus of (un)consciousness in music perception and introduced as well an alternative semiotic, disc model of musical semiosis.
Department of Cultural Studies
Constantine the Philosopher University Nitra, Slovakia
4 and ½ Pages of Silent Text for John Cage
(1 page = 1 minute)
1 I heard about John Cage for the first time on the lectures of Milan Adamčiak in the middle of 1980s at the Department of Musicology at Comenius University in Bratislava – he opened us the doors to him as well as to musique concrete or electro-acoustic music. Two years after finishing of my studies I had already worked as musical teacher in village Skalité (very close to Polish border), but coincidentally, I was in Bratislava again just in the day of Cage´s visit – unfortunately I did not meet him then. When he died that summer I had opened the school year with announcement written on the green board with white note stuffs: “Today, 5th September 1992 is the 80th anniversary of great composer John Cage´s birth, who died last month, so you have the holiday for today”. I let the kids to listen to sounds outside and I clipped on noticeboard one of his well-known photo portrait with big smile and his quotation below: “I am not afraid of the future of music – the sounds will sound even after my death”.
2 I admit that I have comprehended Cage´s poetics much better later thankfully to my experiences with original intermedia events of Zdenek Plachý and Josef Daněk at the centre of contemporary arts Skleněná louka (Glass Meadow) in Brno since the half of 1990s. I participated on some of them as Těžké doby bez taktu (Hard Times without Bars) or Doprovodní soubor (Accompany Ensemble) and have recognised also Slovak representatives of SNEH (Society for Non-conventional Music) – mentioned Milan Adamčiak, Jozef Cseres and Michal Murin. These meetings were for me kind of “U turn” from “exhausted” line of alternative rock I played that time. Since 1996 I worked at the Institute of Literary and Artistic Communication in Nitra, where I “staged” with students on seminars some extracts of Cage´s book The Silence. To be inspired by it as well by the spirit of Moravian non-convential events I created with students similar transmedia sketch St(r)ihomam (introduced also at international festival of performance art TransArt CommunicaTION 1998 in Nové Zámky).
3 In my concert study of music-intermedia usage of puppet and black puppet theatre Animation of Silence (in Music) of Puppets in interpretation of ensemble thEoRy Of Shake (festival Sound Off 2000, Nitra) – the title was not connected only with Cage´s The Silence, but also with magazine Ticho (Silence) of artists from Skleňená louka – after four minutes and thirty three seconds of “ouverture” of pretty loud parallel noise of videoclips from MTV and different pop song from CDs, I introduced piece 4´33´´ of John Cage interpreted just by wooden puppets “playing” it on musical instruments. Immediately after this we realized Sculture musicale (1913) of Marcel Duchamp in version for the same amplified puppets and recorded Cage´s voice, who read the mesostics from this conceptual piece, which were projected on the silver screen. A couple years later I had re-opened by Cage´s 4´33´´ in symbolic way the Concert Hall of region house in Nitra, which was devastated then – standing in the middle of ruined space, holding in my hands white lily and paperboard with the inscription O-TVOR 4´33´´ (2005). Then again with other students in different happening we let sound both pieces of Duchamp and Cage using sonic potentialities of one room of Nitra gallery, its walls, door-posts, space heaters, etc.
Nevertheless, Cage´s 4´33´´ and Duchamp´s Sculpture musicale are quite distinct. In the first case of temporally exactly allowed interval of “silence” – the quotes are here significative, because there is no absolute silence as Cage found out in anechoic chamber of sonic vacuum, where man can hear the sounds of nerve system and blood circulation – is very important its performance character, the live interpretation of the piece by the musician(s) (it consists of three parts in duration 33´´, 2´40´´ and 1´20´´ divided by tacets). In the Duchamp´s case it is only one sentence written on piece of paper „Sons durant et partant de différents points et formant une sculpture sonore qui dure“. Cage pointed out several times that Duchamp maybe as a first in history has thought in this idea about music not in temporal but in spatial co-ordinates exclusively (talking on sonic sculpture).
I did not know for a long time why I had a need to introduce these two diverse pieces one by another in different opportunities. I felt in some way that if we realize them and let them sound despite of the disparity of these significant artistic gestures – embodied in “four minutes and thirty three seconds of silent sounds” and in “musical, or sonic sculpture which lasts” – then experiences from perception of unpredictably sounding sounds of both are very affinitive. Certain centripetency between 4´33´´ a Sculpure musicale was transposed in other way of my perceiving of sonic universe. It has happened unexpectedly and spontaneously while my recovery from illness in the summer 2011 (and I think that also thank to all I ever have received from Cage and Duchamp) when my (un)consciousness were changed and “re-structured” in some way. Since then I have started listen to concrete acting sounds of concrete environment as unique, complex, unexpectedly suggestive music sui generis (with no need to record it on any sonic medium, which could not reproduce the suchness of processes of sounds appearing and disappearing from all directions).
4 The significance of Cage´s music and his aesthetics is notable also in transformations of sonoricity of contemporary improvised music. There is an analogy between changes of timbre music (sonoricism) at the break of 1950s and 1960s connected with electro-acoustic music, music concrete or Cage´s sonic events, and the influence of development of digital technologies as well as of legitimacy of musical dimension of sonic environments on sonic articulate vocabulary of improvised musicians at the break of 20th and 21st centuries (examples from my collaborations: Live in Brussels, Studio Odeon 120, 2011 with quarter-tone trumpet player Franz Hautzinger and sonic “bricolé” Zsolt Sörés; or project XAFOO with saxophonist and guitarist Mikoláš Chadima, published by label Hevhetia, 2012).
5 In the end of last decade Zbyněk Prokop, fine artist and former member of Transmusic Comp. offered me to create something for the exhibition in Košice dedicated to theme “cage” (2009). We decided to put into bird cage black little papers with white letters of John Cage´s thought: „Get out whatever cage you happen to be in“. People could take it from open cage. But while preparing this piece I could not remember that sentence exactly, so I said Zbyněk to phone call by mistake something else: „Get out whatever cage you are” and it was printed on some papers. I formulated unintentionally the sentence, which has spoken more than I expect…
6 Few months ago Slovak magazine .týždeň (.week) requested me to write “around 300 words” to thematic issue on John Cage. So I did it, I wrote exactly 300 words, but they had published in shorter version without mesostic in the end. Well, I am going to finish my personal notes of John Cage with this uncut text:
300 Words on Cage
Wittgenstein´s sentence “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” retains us as if in absolute silence a front of everything, what exceed our verbal abilities. Cage, one of the most liberating personalities in 20th century, who discovered that absolute silence did not exist (even in aneochoic chamber we can hear the sounds of our living bodies) and that behind boundaries of language is the space of unlimited possibilities of paradigmatically other music, which is transposed by sounds of non-tone nature. Cage inspired by Duchamp, Cowell, Satie, or Suzuki knew genially to relate artistic “Chance” and Zen, indeterminism and wisdom of koan, and not only in musical gesture, in which any sound is “pregnant” by other than conventional meaning. Cage opens ears of our (un)consciousness in listening to the world around us in its suchness. He still remains a challenge – in artistic world, culturally and socially as well, especially in meantime, in the era of camouflage, agony of systems, but also maturing change.
His 4´33´´ is sometimes compared with Buddha´s silent koan with white lily. According his friend Steve Lucky Mosko it is related rather with Cage´s essay he wrote in his fourteen. He wrote there, that if people on Earth would stop in one moment just for a minute their activities and would listen to the sounds around, maybe the world would change then. I have listened to the record of Cage´s speech reading this essay in his old age – it was fascinating… Therefore I finish 300 words on Cage by chance form he preferred – by my mesostic written intuitively in haste:
J u s t
s O n i c
H u g e
N a t u r e
C a n
s A v e
G l o b a l
m E s s.