mardi 19 avril 2016
Reviving Maria d’Arezzo, Presidentessa Dada
Stet? • Olivia E. Sears • April 23, 2015
Translation may be the invisible art, but the translator's mission is precisely to bring visibility to a work of literature, and at times to rescue an author from obscurity. This is especially true when translating Italian women writers of the past who struggled for visibility even within their own culture.
In a recent interview, Elena Ferrante, the renowned (though anonymous) contemporary author of a series of novels about Naples, has said that she writes under a pseudonym so that the focus of attention will remain on her books—in which she writes intimately about women's lives—and not on "some writer-hero.” While she has attained remarkable prominence in a short time, her work revolves around women who struggle to find their place in society. And yet in the Italian press there has been a persistent rumor that Elena Ferrante is in fact the pseudonym of a successful male novelist, perpetuating the search for the writer-hero, presumed to be male.
Maria d'Arezzo, an Italian woman writer who lived and wrote in Naples a hundred years ago, also chose to write under a pseudonym (though her motivations for doing so are lost to history). In 1917, Dada founder and poet Tristan Tzara traveled to Naples to recruit this poet, little known outside Italy, to his movement. Despite d'Arezzo's assertions of creative independence, Tzara conferred on her the title of Presidentessa Dada in Paris and presented her poem “Volata” ("Flight") at his Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The Dada movement included numerous women (and présidentes), but when d'Arezzo made her international debut in the pages of the legendary Dada Almanach (Berlin, 1920)—the volume that collected the works of Tzara and his circle—her poem ultimately proved to be the only work by a woman to appear in the anthology.
In the table of contents, however, the poet was listed as Mario d'Arezzo—an error perpetuated to this day on the official Dada Companion website. So here's to reviving Maria, who boldly declares in her poem "Andante":
Tonight I am everything and I am made of nothing—
I have even forgotten my name—
Born Maria Cardini in 1890, she published her debut volume of poetry in 1913 (under her given name) but soon thereafter confessed that she no longer recognized herself in its fairly conventional style. Adopting her nom de plume (Arezzo being the city of her birth), she began to ally herself with the avant-garde journals of the time, serving as editor of Le pagine, and in 1918 published Scia [Wake], a book closer in spirit to the Dada avant-garde, with flashes of near-Futurist dynamism, unusual metaphors, synesthesia, and occasional syntactical experimentation.
And yet, within the span of a few short years, by the age of thirty, she had completely abandoned creative writing and dedicated herself to translation. Her entire poetic career had flown by in a kind of fevered sprint—what in Italian is referred to as a volata, the kind of thing that leaves a wake (scia).
As it happens, movement (or stagnation) and escape (or confinement) were d'Arezzo's major poetic concerns, and her work is imbued with a spirit of restlessness. The titles of the two poems from Scia translated in APS 22—"Andante" (1916) and "Volata" (1917)—are words of movement also used in music. Andante—from the verb andare, to go or walk—is used as an adjective in Italian to mean affable (for people), cheap (for quality), or simple (for style)—all with a generally easygoing connotation. But outside of Italy, andante had long ago been adopted in music as a tempo marking—defined as a walking pace—so a listener seeing a musical movement labeled andante would expect to hear music that is neither too fast nor too slow. Instead, d'Arezzo immediately follows her title with the startling opening statement: "I would not be surprised to find I am dead." She continues:
I feel so distant so dead so at peace
while the hours slide by, silent...
She interprets this steady sliding pace as a "ritmo d'immobilita," a rhythm of stillness or immobility. By contrast, the title of the second poem, "Volata" (from volare, to fly), conveys speed. In its original meaning, volata refers to a flock of birds in flight, but it is commonly used to describe a sprint or a rush. Volata is also a term used in music—a fast run of notes—but not widely, and generally not outside of Italy. Hence, in the translation, "andante" had to stay and "volata" had to go. The poem "Flight" incorporates a number of phrases from languages other than Italian, and in the translation I largely preserved the kaleidoscope, as it is native to much avant-garde poetry of the time. Most of the phrases from French and German—which serve mostly for style and sound, as part of the whirlwind of the poem—would be familiar enough to readers.
The only non-Italian phrase I translated was "bleu cendre" because the ashen blue is an important detail in itself, contrasting the narrator with the statue of the Madonna. The narrator's blue tunic is ample like the open sky in contrast to the small, rigid image of the Madonna—who always appears dressed in blue in Italian iconography, and is inextricably associated with the color—stuck in the hard vault of her "heaven." In "Flight," d'Arezzo sets up the opposition of free flight versus a fixed ideal, a ceramic beauty, embedded in the "duro cielo" (hard sky) of the ceiling. She imagines herself rising out of a preordained destiny to soar up, alive and growing, like a rose. And yet the rose is fragile ("sottile"); the statue is secure in its place, while the rose must try to find its bearings. D'Arezzo is explicitly writing about the conflict faced by a woman, but by invoking flight—a particular obsession among Italian Futurist poets of the time, who idolized machines and symbols of freedom—she engages in the larger poetic conversation. A well-known 1915 poem by Ardengo Soffici, a panegyric to the airplane and the rapture of flight ("Aeroplano"), names dozens of colors of blue in its ecstatic description of the "firmament" and describes the largest stars as roses. D'Arezzo's poem might well have been a response to this and the many other contemporary paeans to flight, with her own unique twist.
Rather than the prevalent yearning to fly, D'Arezzo articulates a more specific desire: to flee. In “Flight,” she grapples with the longstanding dichotomy endemic to the Italian view of women: one is either "Madonna" (virgin, mother—or, better yet, virgin mother) or "whore." However, here the confinement of the little ceramic statue of the Madonna (a "madonnina," the diminutive) is contrasted not with the fate of a fallen and failed woman but rather with one who will fly free:
I have wings—
but I could also set myself like a little white madonna in that hard
sky of blue tile shining above—
The ceiling is a hard sky where the statue perches even higher than a pedestal, and where it is mounted, immobile. (A side note here about the verb "incastonare": normally used for tile and gems that are mounted, set, or encrusted, d'Arezzo makes the verb reflexive, which limits one's choices in English. I had to reject "I could mount myself there.")
Numerous poems throughout Scia revolve around the theme of escape. In “Certain Domestic Evenings,” the narrator depicts herself “with the soul of a predator in a sparrow's nest ... coming home to the order of life with a soul in rebellion—and sitting down calmly when we really want to dance strangle smash.” (The shift to the first person plural might be read as a statement about how common this feeling is among bourgeois women of the time.) In "Unmoorings," the first line consists of a single word standing alone: "Fuggire." ("Escape.")
D'Arezzo's work is characterized by the intense ambivalence and ambiguity of the boundaries between soul and body, freedom and constraint, love and violence. For the translator, the challenge is to maintain the youthful voice of a poet focused on the urgency of music and expression as well as that ineluctable tension—the recurring "si e no" ("yes and no") of the indecisive trees that paralyze her, the sense of being at once "everything and made of nothing" ("tutto e fatta di nulla"). Whether or not d'Arezzo's poems reveal anything about the poet's own experience, they often describe someone (the poetic "I") caught between the expectations of bourgeois Catholic women (even those who are privileged and well-educated) in early twentieth-century Naples and what lies elsewhere—perhaps the dynamic world of avant-garde literature, with Tzara and his Dada compatriots, or perhaps along another path.
As with Dadaism, d'Arezzo flirted with Futurist poetics, but never embraced the movement, likely in part due to one of the central precepts laid out in the Futurist manifesto: the destruction of the poetic "I." As critic Cecilia Bello Minciacchi has noted (in her invaluable collection of Futurist women writers that has served to revive so many voices), d'Arezzo's self-perception at the emotional and psychological level seems to proceed from the physical, sensory level; the inner conflict that infuses her work plays out in the physical world. And while many of the best-known Futurist poems focused on machines, and particularly the revolutionary airplane, d'Arezzo's "Flight" is organic—the wings are her own, a part of herself, allowing the poetic "I" to soar.
D’Arezzo: Two Poems
Poetry • Maria d’Arezzo
Translated from the Italian by Olivia E. Sears
It would not surprise me to find I am dead—
as my soul is full of sweet things
I never found in life.
The trees down there say yes and no, yes and no—
and the sky is like a distant kiss—
I must remain silent to understand, and make myself understood—
I will not break the rhythm of this stillness with a gesture, no—
tonight I am everything and I am made of nothing—
I have even forgotten my name—
and I cross my white hands, in themselves a prayer—
maybe I imagine a kiss that is meant for me—
and I too say yes and no yes and no like the trees
yes and no, yes and no my whole life without moving from here—
I feel like some old portrait of an unknown Florentine—
I have those white hands and that faded smile—
and I feel so distant so dead so at peace
while the hours slide by, silent in silk slippers on the carpet of time.
in the sun
(the first sun after days and days of unending rain)
as one alive and drunk on the fresh air burrowing indiscreetly into
my collar and my cuffs—
have an uncommonly vigilant sense of this subtle body
bundle of nerves vibrating elastically à son aise in this ample tunic
of ashen blue—
the sun fans out a golden halo on my head, as in the holy pictures
I have wings—
but I could also set myself like a little white madonna in that hard
sky of blue tile shining above—
by now far beyond all my troubles: today I am truly me—
my face with its red mouth on the top of this agile body soars up
and leans towards possibility, just as a rose soars up and finds its bearings on
the top of its stalk—
my friend, seize the moment, put out your hands and catch me—
I have slain all my troubles because I am me—
to hell with the selbstbespiegelung and all other sophistry—
je veux vivre, j’ai seulement une envie folle de vivre—
Olivia E. Sears is founder of the Center for the Art of Translation and the journal Two Lines, which she edited for more than a decade. She has published translations of both modern and Renaissance Italian poetry.
dimanche 21 décembre 2014
Hans Richter, Dada Pioneer
by Valery Oisteanu
"Hans Richter: Early Works from the Estate," Sept. 21-Nov. 6, 2004, at the Janos Gat Gallery, 1100 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10028
A visionary painter, graphic artist and an experimental filmmaker, the German modernist Hans Richter (1888-1976) was one of the original members of Dada. Though best known for his experiments in avant-garde cinema (beginning around 1917), Richter worked as a painter from about 1905, when he was 17, until 1919. Influenced by German Expressionism and early Cubism, his landscapes and urban scenes are in Der Blaue Reiter style, and his portraits with their deep colors are dramatic and mysterious.
Richter was born into a well-to-do family in Berlin. Although they were considered German Protestant in Third Reich documents, after the German re-unification in 1989 it was disclosed that both of his parents were Jewish. At the age of 16, Richter visited a Manet exhibition. His impression was of "absolutely heavenly music," and from then on his ambition was to become a painter.
Richters real conversion to modernism occurred in 1912, when he visited a Czanne exhibition and saw Les grandes baigneuses. He recollected, "I found it awful, ridiculous, badly drawn -- but an hour later I saw it again; I wasnt looking at it, it was looking at me! Suddenly something struck me, a kind of musical rhythm -- that was so to say, the first finger that touched me from the hands of the gods of modern art."
Richter was an expressionist from the beginning. The earliest painting in the show (and the earliest known painting by the artist) is The Flute Player, completed in 1905 when the artist was 17. A fleshy bacchanal of blues, greens and ochres, the picture shows nude dancer frolicking to the jazz of a faun-like piper. Another early work, done in 1911 in a similar, "Blue Period" style, shows a group of workers, perhaps installing a flagpole or streetlight, in a pose that anticipates the famous World War II image from Iwo Jima.
In 1913. Richter joined the group Der Sturm and later became acquainted with Die Brcke group in Dresden. He also met Marinetti, who articulated an esthetic of the machine. One year later he joined the circle of artists gathered around Franz Pfemfert, publisher of Die Aktion, a leftist avant-garde art magazine.
Several months after the war was declared, Richter served in the light artillery at Vilna, Lithuania, where he was wounded. Partially paralyzed, he was sent to a hospital near Berlin and later placed into the reserves, where over the next three years he published political and satirical graphics in Die Aktion.
On Sept. 15, 1916, Richter kept an absurd appointment that he had made two years prior, during the war. He was to meet his friends, if they survived, in Zurich after the war at the Caf de la Terrasse. Richter recounts, "There were waiting for me two poets, fellow soldiers. They introduced me to the three young men sitting with them: Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco and his brother Georges. I landed on both feet squarely inside what was already called the Dada group." Richter drew a portrait of one of the friends on that day, the poet Ferdinand Hardekopf (this drawing, done in pencil on paper, hangs at the entrance of the show). Several of Richters "Dada Kopfs" are in the exhibition as well as the studies for his film Prelude and several scrolls.
Richter believed that the artist's duty was to oppose war and support the revolution. He exhibited paintings at the first "Dada Exhibition," alongside works by Hans Arp, Janco and Otto van Rees. In his anti war drawings, his critical view of militaristic Germany was very clear as in Inspection (1917), ink on paper, depicting a recruiting station for soldiers for World War I or a drawing depicting a headless cow and two dead soldiers and a third one still standing and fighting called A World where Anything Could Happen (1917), a work done in pencil on paper.
That year also saw one of Richters more radical experimental works -- several paintings made in a completely dark room. Visionary Portrait - Tropical Madonna (1917) uses the entire palette in its fractured, Cubist-style picture of red and yellow babies surrounding a female angel, who raises her hands like wings. Another work from 1917, Visionary Portrait-Emmy Hennings, is a Kandinskyesque portrait of the celebrated Cabaret Voltaire star (and wife of Dadaist Hugo Ball).
In early spring of 1918 Tristan Tzara introduced Richter to the Swedish painter Helmuth Viking Eggeling. This meeting marked the beginning of a fruitful artistic collaboration. In April of that year Richter founded the association of Radical Artists in Zurich, which called for radical art reform and the redefinition of art in society. Richter was also summoned to serve in the socialist government in Munich -- an experiment that collapsed after one week.
On May 1, 1919, the Bavarian Freikorps took over, killing 1,000 people in six days. Hans and his brother Richard were arrested, tried and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Through their mother Ida Richters influential connections at the Ministry of Justice, the brothers were released after two weeks of detention. Hans returned to Zurich, resuming his collaboration with Viking Eggeling. Later that year, Richter, Arp, Walter Serner and Tzara staged the Ninth Dada Soiree in Zurich and two months later Tzara left for Paris. This marked the end of Dada activities in Zurich.
Viking Eggeling came to live on the Richter estate in the Swiss countryside where Hans and his friend resumed their experiments with geometric compositions. Richter completed his first scroll drawing, Composition Heavy/Light, a series of geometric forms that became the basis of his pioneering experimental films. In 1920 Eggeling and Richter wrote the pamphlet Universelle Sprache in which they likened abstract form to a kind of universal language. Richter concluded that filmmaking was governed by its own laws, different from those that apply to painting, and decided to discard form altogether and articulate time in various rhythms and tempos instead. Richters first film, Film is Rhythm (1921), had a running time of one and a half minutes.
After his emigration to the U.S. in 1941, Richter served as an important conduit between the American and European art communities. His easel and scroll paintings hang in museums around the world. Before his death in 1976 he had been a professor of art at City College in New York and an author of 16 books and pamphlets, among them a famous, personal history of Dada (DuMont, Cologne,1964) and a number of Surrealist short films.
VALERY OISTEANU is a New York artist and writer.
vendredi 7 novembre 2014
dimanche 26 octobre 2014
· Der neue Mensch
· Benvenuto Cellini sehnt sich im Traume die Sonnenscheibe zu sehen, wir aber wollen sie am Tage fühlen als mächtig pulsierendes Herz, als absolute Maßregel unserer Persönlinkeit, als Ziel unseres Geistes. Wir hörten zuviel von den Dialogen der Toten, allzu Künstliches empfing unser Ohr, so daß wir Gefahr liefen, Innerlichkeiten zu verlieren. Worte, Worte, zuviel Worte - die Stille muß aufstehen und das Ohr muß für das Orphische heiligster Nächte parat sein. Es wechseln Tage und Nächte, Götter fallen von ihrem Thron, das aber bleibt, wodurch wir wachsen und Mensch sind. Wir haben ganz tief in uns hinein zu sehen, um begreifen zu können, was sich aus Menschlichem machen läßt und wo die Synthese aller Fähigkeiten und Dinge des Menschen zu suchen ist. Wir müssen ganz ehrfürchtig werden vor der Gewalt unserer Seele; wenn wir die Erfahrung erreichen wollen, die uns sagt, daß das Imponderabil eines erhabenen Augenblicks eine bessere Beantwortung kompliziertester Fragen sein kann als präziseste Berechnung. Die Banalität ist Wahrheit, daß zu sich selbst jasagen muß, wer berufen ist, zu vielem jazusagen.
· Der neue Mensch muß die Flügel seiner Seele weit ausspannen, seine inneren Ohren müssen gerichtet sein auf die kommenden Dinge und seine Knie müssen sich einen Altar erfinden, vor dem sie sich beugen können. Er trägt das Pandämonium naturae ignotae in sich selbst und niemand kann etwas dafür oder dagegen tun. Verrenkt zum Göttlichen, der Erlösung entgegentaumelnd wie Fakire, Styliten und Lumpenmärtyrer aller Jahrhunderte, die geheiligt worden sind, sieht er sich eines Tages von der Glut seines Herzens erschlagen, verzehrt, niedergerissen - er der Jauchzende, Irrende, paralytisch Verzückte. Ahoi, ahoi, Geißeln und Hussah, Kriege seit Aeonen her und doch Mensch, der neue Mensch, gleichsam aus allen Aschen erstanden, van den Toxinen phantastischster Welten genesen, mit dem Erleben der Proskribierten, Vertierten, mit Kot und den teuflischen Ingredienzien beschmierten Europäer, Afrikaner, Polynesier jeder Art, jeden Geschlechts gesättigt, saturiert, vollgestopft bis zum Ekel: sieh da, der neue Mensch.
· Er haf seine Kraft, die in zwei Vertikalen zum Himmel federt, doch liegt in der Ausbreitung nach oben nichts Gewaltsames und die Mystik der Steigerung ist nicht abenteuerlicher als ein buon giorno oder ein felicissima notte. Der neue Mensch findet sich selbst in ekstatischer Erlösung, er betet sich selbst an, so wie Maria den Sohn anbetet. Ipsum quem genuit adoravi Maria.
· Der neue Mensch ist nicht neu, weil die Zeit es so will, die Neuorientierung, das Umsichtasten als Blindlinge und Maulwurfsmenschen - er ist nicht die unterirdische Quelle, die auf die Axt des Barbaren wartet, um eine Verwendung zu finden - er ist nicht neu, weil gehillert wild wie gemüllert wurde (der Tanz der Aktivisten, dieser Libertins der trockenen Seele ist ein Geräusch vor seinen Händen) - er ist der Gott des Augenblicks, die Größe der seligen Affekte, der Phönix aus dem guten Widerspruch, und er ist immer neu, der homo novus eigenen Adels, weil sein Herz ihm in jeder Minute die Alternative bereit hält: Mensch oder Unmensch. Seine Wurzel zieht Kräfte aus mykenischem Zeitalter (die Thyrsusstäbe und Schellenklappen antiker Tänzerinnen sind sein Nachmittagsgespräch) - er lebt einen Tag wie Lukian, wie Aretin und wie Christus - er ist alles und nimts, nicht heute, nicht gestern.
· Man muß von ihm erzählen wie von einem Vater, der gestern starb - die Erinnerung an ihn überwältigt uns, so sehr sind wir noch er selbst. Seine beste Charaktereigenschaft ist die Demut, die große Demut, die nichts verzeiht, weil sie alles versteht und niemals straft. Alles Magisterhafte ist ihm fremd, er kennt kein System für Lebendes, Chaos ist ihm willkommen als Freund, weil er die Ordnung in seiner Seele trägt. Er liebt das Meer mehr als die Berge, weil es Symbol des Volkes ist, der Masse, der Verjüngung, des noch Nichts, des großen Formenkorbes, des Materials aller göttlichen Statuetten. Seine Stirn ist hoch und weit und umfaßt die menschlichsten Dinge, die Perlenkette der tabetischen Primadonna wie das Dekokt des besoffenen Kurpfuschers, den Harlekin der Straße wie den Dementen im Winkel der Krankenhäuser. Er kann sich so lächerlich machen, daß er mit jeder Geste seiner Hand an das Zwerchfell der versammelten Zuschauer rührt. Dann wird er zum Buckligen (zugleich hochgewachsen), der eine Rose im Knopfloch trägt und einen Orden auf dem Gesäß. Sein Gesicht leuchtet roter als Mohn, täuscht alle Farben vor, grau, violetten, hat den Perlmuttglanz venezianischer Schultern und schreit sich wie ein Marktschreier in die lachlustigen Herzen der Zuschauer. Die kleinen Mädchen werfen Äpfel nach dem Bauch seine Hänge-Hose, Steine werfen sie nach dem Schwein, das er sich als Haustier hält. Aber der neue Mensch entkleidet sich aller Häute, aller Brillen, Perücken, Postichen und Schürzenbänder - er tritt von der Bühne, die er für nötig hält, mit wachsamem Schritt: sieh da der neue Mensch, welch ein Held bleibt er inmitten der grausamsten Lächerlichkeiten, welche Kraft in seiner Hose, welche Erhabenheit in seiner Armmuskulatur - er ist es, der den Menschen ihre Würde zurückgibt und sie in ihrem Elend aufzurichten sucht. Wenn er von den Malern erzählt, die die Madonna malten, weil sie sich in göttliche Augen verliebt haften (wer verliebt sich heute in göttliche Augen), fallen alle Steifheiten von seinem Buckel und dem Buckel der Umstehenden. Seine Stimme ist in der Glocke, die man über dem Marktplatz läutet - ave, ave Maria. Der neue Mensch ist nicht für oder wider, er kennt keine Schmerzen der Polarität, und Nationalitäten bedeuten ihm längst keine Gegensätze mehr. "Sie irren sich alle", sagt er, "die an den Wert einer aristokratischen Lebensordnung glauben. Alle Aristokraten, die wir sehen oder gar die Aristokraten der Bildung, des Reichtums, des Namens sind wertlos; denn es gibt nur die eine Seele, den einen Elan, die eine Tapferkeit, die jeder Mensch besitzt. Alle Pluralität ist ein Geschwätz und noch kein Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte - ein Affe, der sich putzt, ist darum nicht mehr als sein Nachbar. Ja -so -ganz gleim tut ihr es mit angenommenen Eigenschaf- ten, die ihr übersmätzt - und wer sich nicht an einsamen Seen auf die Kiesel geworfen und seine Knie zerfleischt hat, ist ein Dieb am Leben. Falsch ist der Gedanke, daß mit der Macht der Geistigen eine Verbesserung der Welt erreicht werden könne - ach das Gegenteil wild sein; denn wir kennen die kleinen Arroganzen der Geistlinge und umgeschlagenen Literaten, die ihren dyspeptischen Tenor wie ein kostbares Wickelkind durch die langweiligen Räume der Revuen tragen, ohne der Langeweile Weisheit jemals begriffen zu haben. Die Macht ist Attribut und Glanz des Bösen und darum erstrebenswert (auch für die Frommen, die doch nur leben, weil es Böses gibt). Wem fehlte nicht bald in euerer Welt das schöne und grausame Vergnügen, mit Dickteufeln zu kämpfen? Verbessern? 0 - mon chéri - verbessere jene force extraordinaire deiner Seele und vergiß nicht, daß sie zugleich deine force sexuelle ist. Glaub nicht an das Geschrei der Kastraten und Smwachbrüstigen, die die Folter aus der Welt schaffen wollen und denke an die Memoiren des Totenhauses."
· Der neue Mensch glaubt nicht an die Phalanx der Geistigen, da er alle Schlachtordnungen in seinem Herzen trägt.
· Der neue Mensch glaubt, nur einen Kampf zu kennen, den Kampf gegen die Trägheit, den Combat gegen die Dicken. Es handelt sich um das alte Gefecht der Dünnen gegen die Dicken, mein lieber Paul Beyer. Ronsard singt ein Lied gegen die Schwerköpfigen, die Igel, die Pfosten und Felsmauern - und so wünscht sich der neue Mensm das Schwert St. Georgs für seinen Drachen. Er sieht einen Baum an und findet, daß er nur die Fiktion eines Baumes vor sich hat, denn er sieht nur den Elan jeder Zelle, groß zu werden. Ein Baum, scheint ihm, ist nur Leidenschaft und Sehnsucht nach der Krone. Ja - er - der demütigste Mensch sucht sich seine Feinde (die rachitischen Möpse und Jungfern, die Pfäfflein der Temperamentlosigkeit), und er hat eine ausgemachte artistische Befähigung, sich seine Bürger aus den Löchern zu jagen. Sein Feind ist der Unehrliche (der neue Mensch ist ehrlich und wahrhaft, ganz männlich, holzgeschnitzt auch in pervertiertesten Lastern), der Halbe, der Dauerlügner und Trunkenbold eigener Hohlheit. Der Feind ist der Rufer an Europa (jener «späte Schwabingknabe») der den Mist seines Hauses nicht entfernt hat - der Rhythmenklüngel und phantastische Verssnob, der Mensch des Morphins, der bewußt Unnüchterne, der Verpester der gleichgültigen Augenblicke. Der neue Mensch, der das Gewicht seiner Persönlichkeit hat, haßt den Klamauk, den unnützen Lärm, das Plärren um des Plärrens willen, alle Faxen erogen excitierter Jugendlichkeiti denn er weiß zu gut, was die Zeit van ihm will - sie will das Männliche und Tüchtige, die Einfachheit, die Solidität.
· Simplizität führt viel schneller zum Ziel als eine Verrenkung irgendwelcher Art, und der Eingeweihte bekommt einen scharfen Blick für gestellte Wunderlichkeiten und jonglierte Phantastik; und dies vor allem, es wild ihm zur Pflicht, der neue Mensch macht es sich zur Pflicht: alle Umwege der Artistik versperrt man sich selbst aus angeborenem Ordnungsgefühl und innerer Reinlichkeit. «Träge» nennt der neue Mensch deshalb alle diejenigen, die unwahr, darum umwegig, harzeliert und verschwommen sind.
· Es bleibt das punktum maximum und die Frage aller Fragen. Was ist Demut? Waren die demütig, die die Menschen in naiven und guten Stunden verehrten, Christus, Göthe, Dostojewski? Der neue Mensch schickt sich an, zu antworten: Demütig sind alle die, die an den Sinn der kleinsten Dinge glauben und deshalb eine große Ruhe und gesicherte Erwartung in ihrem Herzen tragen.
· Das langsame Wachsen der seelischen Erregung vergleicht der neue Mensch den natürlichen Dingen allein. Er richtet seinen Blick auf die Pflanzen, die an seinem Fuße blühen, und er beobachtet die Organismen, die er mit seinem Stiefel zu zertreten sich hüten muß. Ein Gewitter schwillt an, Wolken sammeln sich über der Stadt, brüllend folgt nun die Detonation. Ein Berg steht auf, dein erstaunter Blick hängt an ungeheuerer Schattenwand, und eine rote Sonne füllet die Welt gleichmäßig mit ihrer Wärme. Das Mannigfaltige aller Bewegungen, den Sturm und die Ruhe der großen Formen, das auf und ab, das hin und wieder, Ebbe und Flut, das Kreisen der Monde - alles umfaßt der neue Mensch mit seiner Seele, die an den Dingen wächst. Der neue Mensch fühlt seine Demut in der Kenntnis der Dinge. Er weiß das Leben der Protozoen, und er kennt das Wachstum der lebenden Substanz bis zu den Gehirnbahnen des Menschen - o - er hat sich vertieft in die barocke Wunderlichkeit ältester Gesteinsformationen, und der Dom van Toledo zählt zu seinen intimsten Freunden und Gesprächsgenossen. Der neue Mensch sagt: Die Modernen wissen van den Dingen nichts, sie haben keine Sehnsucht nach der Rundung der Gegenstände, die Sinnlichkeit der Formen rührt ihre Netzhaut nicht, am trägsten aber sind die Dichter. Mit Versen läßt sich keine Welt erobern. Die Modernen wissen nicht, daß ein Tropfen Wasser den Extrakt aller Dramen Shakespeares enthält, sie wissen nicht, daß der Blick auf ein engbegrenztes Stück Wiese eine Tiefe des Himmels entschleiern kann. Demut ist meine Kenntnis aller Formen und mein Glaube an ihre Göttlichkeit - wie kann man, frage ich, abstrakt sein, malen, schreiben, bildhauern, wenn man nicht Dinge hat, van denen sich abstrahieren ließe.
· Der neue Mensch verwandelt die Polyhysterie der Zeit in ein ehr1iches Wissen um alle Dinge und eine gesunde Sinnlichkeit. Der neuer Mensch zieht es vor, ein guter Akademiker zu sein, wenn er die Möglichkeit hat, ein schlechter Revolutionär zu werden. Jenes antike Mädchen bleibt Vorbild, wenn sie sagt: Nicht mitzuhassen, mitzulieben bin ich da. Alle Problematik, jeder Satz, jede These kann und darf nur Interpretation dieser Sentenz sein.
· Der neue Mensch hält folgende Rede an seine Jünger und Zuhörer: Suchet euch einen Mittelpunkt für euer Leben und beginnet wieder an die großen Eigenschaften der Heiden zu glauben. Wo ist euer Plutarch, aus dem ihr lernen könnt, was es heißt, für geistige Dinge zu sterben? Warum rührt es euch nicht zu Tränen, wenn ihr von den Märtyrern lest, die sich für ihre Überzeugung rädern ließen - warum habt ihr keinen Begriff von der Schönheit und dem Mut jener Jeanne d'Arc, warum fallt ihr nicht auf dem belebten Platz auf die Knie wie Raskolnikow und schreit: Herr, Herr, schaue auf mich herab, ich bin ein sündiger Mensch. Ihr habt kein Verhältnis zu den Dingen, ihr seht über die kleinen Dinge hinweg zu großen fiktiven Bergen - ihr sucht den Heiland in aller Welt und denkt nicht an euer Herz, das in ängstlicher Brust der Erlösung entgegenschlägt. Warum denkt ihr nicht an den Tod - jenen großen allmächtigen Tod, den Tod der spanischen Stierarena, den Tod der antiken Relieffe, den Tod der Cholera und Beulenpest - warum denkt ihr nicht an ihn, der die Glieder auseinanderreißt und die Familienmitglieder in Mordsucht aufeinander hetzt? Warum denkt ihr an nichts, was die Welt groß und furchtbar macht? Wie? Seid ihr nicht klüger als der kleinste Medizinstudent und naturwissenschaftliche Figurant, der eine physiologische Angelegenheit aus dem leben der heiligen Mutter macht? Der neue Mensch weiß den Tod zu fürchten um des ewigen Lebens willen; denn er will seiner Geistigkeit ein Monument setzen, er har Ehre im Leib, er denkt edeler als ihr. Er denkt: Malo libertatem quam otium servitium. Er denkt: alles soll leben - aber eins muß aufhören - der Bürger, der Dicksack, der Freßhans, das Mastschwein der Geistigkeit, der Tierhüter aller Jämmerlichkeiten.
Richard Huelsenbeck, 'Der neue Mensch', in Neue Jugend Nr. 1, May 1917
vendredi 24 octobre 2014
Kurt Beals . « Text and the City: George Grosz, Neue Jugend, and the Political Power of Popular Media ». Dada/Surrealism. ISSN 0084-9537. Volume 19, Number 1 (2013)
(Marcel DUCHAMP, Louise NORTON et Beatrice WOOD). « The Richard Mutt Case » ;
Louise NORTON. « Buddha of the Bathroom ». The Blind Man, numéro 2, mai 1917.
Louise (NORTON) VARÈSE, Edgard VARÈSE, Suzanne DUCHAMP, Jean CROTTI et Mary REYNOLDS. Photographie, Paris,, vers 1923
Edgard Varèse: The Idol of My Youth
By Frank Zappa
Stereo Review, June 1971. pp. 61-62
I have been asked to write about Edgard Varese. I am in no way qualified to. I can't even pronounce his name right. The only reason I have agreed to is because I love his music very much, and if by some chance this article can influence more people to hear his works, it will have been worthwhile.
I was about thirteen when I read an article in Look about Sam Goody's Record Store in New York. My memory is not too clear on the details, but I recall it was praising the store's exceptional record merchandising ability. One example of brilliant salesmanship described how, through some mysterious trickery, the store actually managed to sell an album called "Ionization" (the real name of the album was "The Complete Works of Edgard Varese, Volume One"). The article described the record as a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds.
I dashed off to my local record store and asked for it. Nobody ever heard of it. I told the guy in the store what it was like. He turned away, repulsed, and mum- bled solemnly, "I probably wouldn't stock it anyway . . .nobody here in San Diego would buy it."
I didn't give up. I was so hot to get that record I couldn't even believe it. In those days I was a rhythm- and-blues fanatic. I saved any money I could get (some- times as much as $2 a week) so that every Friday and Saturday I could rummage through piles of old records at the juke Box Used Record Dump (or whatever they called it) in the Maryland Hotel or the dusty corners of little record stores where they'd keep the crappy records nobody wanted to buy.
One day I was passing a hi-fi store in La Mesa. A little sign in the window announced a sale on 45's. After shuffling through their singles rack and finding a couple of Joe Houston records, I walked toward the cash register. On my way, I happened to glance into the LP bin. Sitting in the front, just a little bent at the corners, was a strange-looking black-and-white album cover. On it there was a picture of a man with gray frizzy hair. He looked like a mad scientist. I thought it was great that somebody had finally made a record of a mad scientist. I picked it up. I nearly (this is true, ladies and gentlemen) peed in my pants . . . THERE IT WAS! EMS 401, The Complete Works of Edgard Varese Volume I . . . Integrales, Density 21.5, Ionization, Octandre . . . Rene Le Roy, the N. Y. Wind Ensemble, the Juilliard Percussion Orchestra, Frederic Waidman Conducting . . .liner notes by Sidney Finkelstein! WOW!
I ran over to the singles box and stuffed the Joe Houston records back in it. I fumbled around in my pocket to see how much money I had (about $3.80). 1 knew I had to have a lot of money to buy an album. Only old people had enough money to buy albums. I'd never bought an album before. I sneaked over to the guy at the cash register and asked him how much EMS 401 cost. "That gray one in the box? $5.95 - "
I had searched for that album for over a year, and now . . . disaster. I told the guy I only had $3.80. He scratched his neck. "We use that record to demonstrate the hi-fi's with, but nobody ever buys one when we use it . . . you can have it for $3.80 if you want it that bad. "
I couldn't imagine what he meant by "demonstrating hi-fi's with it." I'd never heard a hi-fi. I only knew that old people bought them. I had a genuine lo-fi . . . it was a little box about 4 inches deep with imitation wrought-iron legs at each corner (sort of brass-plated) which elevated it from the table top because the speaker was in the bottom. My mother kept it near the ironing board. She used to listen to a 78 of The Little Shoemaker on it. I took off the 78 of The Little Shoemaker and, carefully moving the speed lever to 33 1/3 (it had never been there before), turned the volume all the way up and placed the all-purpose Osmium-tip needle in the lead-in spiral to Ionization. I have a nice Catholic mother who likes Roller Derby. Edgard Varese does not get her off, even to this very day. I was forbidden to play that record in the living room ever again.
In order to listen to The Album, I had to stay in my room. I would sit there every night and play it two or three times and read the liner notes over and over. I didn't understand them at all. I didn't know what timbre was. I never heard of polyphony. I just liked the music because it sounded good to me. I would force anybody who came over to listen to it. (I had heard someplace that in radio stations the guys would make chalk marks on records so they could find an exact spot, so I did the same thing to EMS 401 . . . marked all the hot items so my friends wouldn't get bored in the quiet parts.)
I went to the library and tried to find a book about Mr. Varese. There wasn't any. The librarian told me he probably wasn't a Major Composer. She suggested I look in books about new or unpopular composers. I found a book that had a little blurb in it (with a picture of Mr. Varese as a young man, staring into the camera very seriously) saying that he would be just as happy growing grapes as being a composer.
On my fifteenth birthday my mother said she'd give me $5. 1 told her I would rather make a long-distance phone call. I figured Mr. Varese lived in New York because the record was made in New York (and be- cause he was so weird, he would live in Greenwich Village). I got New York Information, and sure enough, he was in the phone book.
His wife answered. She was very nice and told me he was in Europe and to call back in a few weeks. I did. I don't remember what I said to him exactly, but it was something like: "I really dig your music." He told me he was working on a new piece called Deserts. This thrilled me quite a bit since I was living in Lancaster, California then. When you're fifteen and living in the Mojave Desert and find out that the world's greatest composer, somewhere in a secret Greenwich Village laboratory, is working on a song about your "home town" you can get pretty excited. It seemed a great tragedy that nobody in-Palmdale or Rosamond would care if they ever heard it. I still think Deserts is about Lancaster, even if the liner notes on the Columbia LP say it's something more philosophical.
All through high school I searched for information about Varese and his music. One of the most exciting discoveries was in the school library in Lancaster. I found an orchestration book that had score examples in the back, and included was an excerpt from Offrandes with a lot of harp notes (and you know how groovy harp notes look). I remember fetishing the book for several weeks.
When I was eighteen I got a chance to go to the East Coast to visit my Aunt Mary in Baltimore. I had been composing for about four years then but had not heard any of it played. Aunt Mary was going to introduce me to some friend of hers (an Italian gentleman) who was connected with the symphony there. I had planned on making a side trip to mysterious Greenwich Village. During my birthday telephone conversation, Mr. Varese had casually mentioned the possibility of a visit if I was ever in the area. I wrote him a letter when I got to Baltimore, just to let him know I was in the area.
I waited. My aunt introduced me to the symphony guy. She said, "This is Frankie. He writes orchestra music." The guy said, "Really? Tell me, sonny boy, what's the lowest note on a bassoon?" I said, "B flat . . .and also it says in the book you can get 'em up to a C or something in the treble clef." He said, "Really? You know about violin harmonics?" I said, "What's that?" He said, "See me again in a few years."
I waited some more. The letter came. I couldn't believe it. A real handwritten letter from Edgard Varese! I still have it in a little frame. In very tiny scientific-looking script it says:
Dear Mr. Zappa
I am sorry not to be able to grant your request. I am leaving
for Europe next week and will be gone until next spring. I am
hoping however to see you on my return. With best wishes.
I never got to meet Mr. Varese. But I kept looking for records of his music. When he got to be about eighty I guess a few companies gave in and recorded some of his stuff. Sort of a gesture, I imagine. I always wondered who bought them besides me. It was about seven years from the time I first heard his music till I met someone else who even knew he existed. That person was a film student at USC. He had the Columbia LP with Poeme Electronique on it. He thought it would make groovy sound effects.
I can't give you any structural insights or academic suppositions about how his music works or why I think it sounds so good. His music is completely unique. If you haven't heard it yet, go hear it. If you've already heard it and think it might make groovy sound effects, listen again. I would recommend the Chicago Symphony recording of Arcana on RCA (at full volume) or the Utah Symphony recording of Ameriques on Vanguard. Also, there is a biography by Fernand Oulette, and miniature scores are available for most of his works, published by G. Ricordi.
Frank Zappa on Edgar Varèse
DownBeat Magazine November 21, 1981
By John Diliberto and Kimberly Haas
If any composer has come to epitomize the neglected genius, it is Edgar Varèse. Born in France in 1883, Varèse was a student protege and friend of 20th century masters such as Debussy, Busoni, Richard Strauss, Ravel, Picasso, and Rodin. His quest for artistic freedom and a release from the traditions and dogmatism of the classical music hierarchy placed him on a search for the "liberation of sound" that culminated in his moving to America. This search led him to the use of new and found instruments in the from of sirens, Chinese blocks and countless other percussives, a break from traditional tonalities and structures, and eventually to the use of magnetic tape constructions – "musique concrete" – in composition and performance.
Until the last decade of his life (he died in 1965), Varèse created in relative obscurity. His works were performed only as controversial premieres by the likes of Leopold Stokowski, and they never entered into the standard classical repertoire. In spite of a lack of recognition in his lifetime, Varèse's influence was widely felt by those who subsequently questioned the creativity and meaning of music. Composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and George Crumb have all sought answers based at least partially on Varèse's work. Charlie Parker begged to be taken on as a pupil of Varèse, and in recent years his shadow has hung over Joe Zawinul, whose dynamic percussion figures in "Unknown Soldier" are derived from Varèse's "Ionisation". Many artists from the AACM, such as the Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Anthony Braxton, have Varèse as a precursor in the use of "little instruments" and atonal structures. In rock, Pink Floyd's earlier works, such as "Atom Heart Mother" and the studio album of "Ummagumma", employ the use of tape constructions interpolated with real time playing a la Varèse's "Déserts".
But for many people the first knowledge of Varèse's name came from a 1966 LP entitled "Freak Out!" by the Mothers Of Invention, in the form of a quote attributed to Varèse: "The present day composer refuses to die" (He actually said "The present day composer in America ..."). Though he has been one of Varèse's most ardent public supporters, the Varèse influence is not always evident in Frank Zappa's rock songs. It turns up in his more serious music, tape constructions, and arrangements, especially on "Lumpy Gravy" and the "200 Motels" soundtrack. It is more Varèse's spirit of breaking from conventions and finding your own voice that one finds in Zappa's work.
This past spring, Zappa served as master-of-ceremonies at a Varèse retrospective conducted by Joel Thome with the Orchestra Of Our Time, playing to an audience for whom Zappa was the principle draw at New York City's Palladium Theatre. Zappa's obvious regard for Varèse's music served him well in a role reduced to keeping the audience quiet during the performances. The day before the concert, Kimberly Haas and John Diliberto interviewed Zappa, during which he elucidated a contemporary perspective on Varèse and his music.
John Diliberto: How did you first find out about Edgar Varèse?
That's a very simple story. I read an article in Look magazine in the early '50s which was a feature saying what a great guy Sam Goody was because he was such an exciting merchandiser and he could sell anything, he could sell any kind of record. And to give an example of what a great merchandiser he was, it said that he was even able to sell an album called "Ionisation" which had a bunch of drums banging, and it described the album in very negative terms. When I read that, I thought it sounded exactly like the kind of album that I wanted to hear because I had been playing drums since I was 12. So I went looking for the album and I finally found it after a couple of months' search, and I took it home, put it on, and I loved it as soon as I heard it.
JD: What year was that?
JD: So Edgar Varèse was still really active at that time?
Well, as a matter of fact he was just becoming active again. He stopped composing pretty much around 1940 because nobody would play his music, and he couldn't earn a living. So he was messing with various other odd jobs trying to keep himself afloat, and he just stopped writing. When I called him up in 1955, he had either just finished or was in the process of working on "Déserts", which according to his wife Louise (I talked to her last night) he just sort of did bits and pieces on for 15 years. That was the one he started around the '40s and just didn't have any urge to complete because he knew nobody was going to play it.
JD: Do you think the fact that Varèse was alive and relatively active during the time when you were getting into his music affected you differently than if he was an older composer?
He was already quite old at that time, and I just liked it because of the way it sounded. It didn't have anything to do with the splendor and charm of all the folklore that goes with being a composer. I was dealing with it just as something that I heard that provided enjoyment for me.
JD: Do you think that your response would be different if you were hearing it for the first time now, with the background that you have?
No, the only difference would be that the background I have now is probably stronger in the technical field, and I'd be able to listen to a recording, say, and make judgments about the quality of production, the quality of the pressing, the quality of the engineering, and the quality of the performance. Whereas at that time I didn't know any of those kinds of things, and I just accepted it and liked it. Today I would make more critical distinctions between one performance and another; I have just about every record of any of his pieces that's available, and I do have my favorites among those.
JD: Do you think that people in general would have a different reaction if Varèse's music was happening now as opposed to 70, 60 years ago?
People would have a different reaction to it today depending on the packaging in which it was presented. For instance, if he suddenly jumped on the scene with his fingernails painted black, shocking orange hair, some funny-looking sunglasses, maybe a skinny tie and pants that were too short, pointed shoes, and he bopped around a little bit while the thing was being performed, it would probably register as very exciting and new. But if a man who looked like Varèse actually walked out and presented this to today's world, I don't think that people would be too stimulated by it.
JD: What aspects of his music do you think have been absorbed into contemporary music now? On one level, say, the contemporary pop level or the rock level and on another level the contemporary classical music level?
Anytime you watch a show on television and there's a scary scene and there's one sustained chord and one or two tiny little percussion bips in the background, you'll know the guy who wrote that movie score, that TV score, never would have thought of it unless Varèse had done it first, because percussion just wasn't used that way, and he proved that one little knock on the claves or one little boop on the temple block against a tense chord told so much about a certain topic; nobody had done anything like that before. He just said hey, this will work, and he did it and a lot of people when they hear that scary music don't know where a lot of the mechanisms of scary music came from. But he didn't write the things to be scary, I don't think, he just wrote them because he was dealing with the musical raw materials in a very individualistic way.
JD: I think Varèse often said he wanted to liberate sound from the limitations of the keyboard. Do you think that he succeeded in doing that in his music?
I don't know.
JD: Do you think he would have succeeded more so had he had access to a current synthesizer?
No, not necessarily, I mean he would have written a different kind of music. But the thing that is fantastic about what he wrote for normal instruments is that he got sounds out of them that nobody had dreamed of before. For instance, "Déserts", which is probably the starkest of the pieces in terms of the way they deal with the raw material, there're special overblown chords that produce difference tones, which you wouldn't be able to get any other way – you know what I'm talking about? If you take two intervals and play them very loudly on a woodwind instrument – for instance, this one spot where two piccolos are playing either a Major second or minor second apart, very high octave – when you blow it real hard you hear a third note that's not there. To know in advance what's going to come out and to plan your composition to achieve effects like that was something that people just hadn't thought of doing before.
JD: Do you think that Varèse's work with electronics was very influential on the academic level and on the pop level?
No, because the things that he was doing with electronics were probably related more to sculpture than they were to electronics. The tapes that he did were collages of sound sources and not necessarily electronic music as people think of it today.
JD: It was musique concrète.
Yeah, it was musique concrete.
JD: But he was still breaking into new territory at the time with "Poème Electronique" and "Déserts".
Well, I don't know historically who came first – the chicken or the egg – in that realm. I know there were some other composers working in that medium at that time – I don't know who fired the first shot, so to speak – but he didn't really have good equipment to do it on. I mean some of the tapes were distorted, and I don't think that he wanted to hear that rough kind of sound. I think that some of the effects are gotten just by over-modulating input and saturating the tape. To me it's like a guy who didn't really know how a tape recorder worked and wanted this part to be really loud, he didn't know that if you just cranked it up it wouldn't get really loud, it would just get really shitty. I mean that's what it sounds like to me, he might have had something else in mind, but the equipment that he had access to was not very elaborate – things were pretty crude back then.
JD: In Varèse's biography there are times where Louise seems to indicate where Edgar, like Stravinsky, didn't like emotion in his music.
Well, it depends on how you're going to use the word "emotion". I think that from a scientific standpoint the way that materials are put together you wouldn't think of as an emotional procedure, but the materials have a very emotional impact when you hear them put together. And there are certain indications in the score that aren't just "play this loud, play this soft." There's one part in "Hyperprism" where the trombone player is instructed to say "ho ho ho" through his horn. That's not much of an emotion, but it's not exactly scientific either. And in either "Amériques" or "Arcana" it has that little piccolo melody that's doubled with bells dancing along up on the top, and when he wrote that she told me that he would demonstrate it and whistle it and kind of dance around the room a little bit, and it was a cheerful thing – not all deadly serious in the sense that these are measured qualities being played against each other in order to yield this scientific result at the end of the piece. I mean, it's human music, and that's one of the reasons why I get such a good feeling from it – because it's not based on a mathematical formula. It's not like that other sterile kind of music that's really pretty hard to take. He's dealing with SOUND; he writes that stuff because it SOUNDS good.
JD: That's one aspect that I wanted to get into, Varèse's breaking away from common melodies, common rhythms, and the way he was dealing with SOUNDS. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Well, a lot depends on how much you understand about ordinary music, you know, music of the so called "real world" and what people normally think of as being "acceptable" classical music and what they think of as being "quality" classical music – the good stuff that had gone before. My theory about all that runs something like this: as soon as it was discovered that a man or anybody, even a dog, could write something down with symbols that could be decoded by another person, or dog, later to produce music, it was discovered right about that same time that you couldn't earn a living from doing this. And it was also discovered that if you wanted to do this and hear music, you had to be patronized – somebody had to pay the freight – this was either the church or a king. If the church didn't like what you wrote, they got out the red-hot tweezers and pulled out your toenails; if the king didn't like what you wrote he'd chop your head off. The kings all had syphilis and were crazy, and the church was, you know, the church. So, just because somebody is paying to have a composition done or is paying to support a composer doesn't necessarily mean that the music that is written to assuage the taste of the paying entity is good, but all the music that survives that we call classical music is based on the taste of either a clerical person or some crazy rich person with a crown on his head. Those norms are perpetuated by music critics who now stand in the shoes of the disgusting clerics and the crazy kings, and they keep judging the music based on these norms which shouldn't be applied, and it's unfortunate that the norms came into existence in the first place.
JD: So how did Varèse move away from these norms?
He just said that this is wrong. I never spoke with him about it, but I would imagine from listening to the music that he just chucked the whole thing out the window, and said "I'm going to do it my way." It sounds like that because it doesn't depend on any of those mechanisms; it has a whole different set of mechanisms that makes it work, and it's very ingenious the way it's put together, and it's a very brave step to take.
JD: The one thing I notice about Varèse's music is that you have to approach it with different ears so you can feel what's going on.
Right! I'll give you another quote that I got from talking to Louise yesterday. She told me, "I'm not a musician, I don't have any technical skill and I like his music," and she said that she asked Varèse to teach her some music, and he said it's not necessary – "just be like a blotter and absorb it."
Kimberly Haas: In retrospect, I've seen musical historians call Varèse the most influential or the most innovative composer of the 20th century. Do you think that is true?
Well, I would say that he's not the most influential. He was probably the most innovative in terms of one guy against the world setting out on his own and doing individualistic-type things. Probably the most influential composer in terms of how many people imitated his style, in recent years, that award would go to Webern first, for being the founder of the "boop-beep" school and also to Penderecki because of the "texture" music that a lot of people imitate. But I think that even his music grows out of some of the textural experiments that Varèse did.
KH: What about Aaron Copland?
I think Aaron Copland probably did more to foster the stereotype of American music as being any symphonic event that has a xylophone doubling the violin section. There is so much American music that has been written by the American academic branch of composition and you're going: "Hey, it's an American symphony they're playing – it's a hoedown tune and there's a xylophone doubling the melody on top." I mean there're certain things that Copland has written that I really enjoy, like the "Fanfare For The Common Man" is one of the really hot tunes of the century I think, but there's something too easy about it.
KH: It seems like he's the mentor of many, many composer today.
Well, if you want to be immediately accepted all you have to do is write those American kind of tunes, put them in an orchestral setting, and then everybody will say that you are really great. Or you write fugues – well who gives a shit about that? That's not the problem anymore. I mean if you want to write a fugue, fine, but to use all of those norms to judge the quality of what's being done ... that's a bad thing because there're people working in other fields of music looking to do other things, and as long as the music critics judge their work by those other standards, they're always going to come up losers. And with the public only being told negative things about new music, this image being perpetuated of this music being something for the few, is bad; it keeps you dumb; it keeps you mediocre. America should take pride in things that have been produced here that are exceptional, that are different, that are daring, not things that pretend to be artistic, things that pretend to be different, or things that pretend to be daring. America should opt for the real shit. But they don't because they never get exposed to it. The really dangerous stuff never gets on the radio, and you never hear about it. Because everything you hear about the so-called musical life in the United States is told to you in newspapers and magazines by people who are not qualified to speak of it, because they can't tell a good composition from a bad one, and they can't tell the difference between a great composition that has been badly performed or a mediocre composition that got the big MOLTO VIBRATO treatment by a major American orchestra. There's no taste involved there.
KH: I've never seen any of Varèse's music performed in concert. Is it captured well on record, compared to the performance?
It's two different experiences. In the performance you can see what the people have to go through in order to play it, and that's exciting; remember that when you go to a concert, easily 50 percent of what you experience is visual. But on record I would say that I've heard a couple of the pieces that I thought got real good performances. But not all of them have been performed greatly, yet. You know they're just sort of mediocre performances, because nobody spends the amount of time to perfect the recording. You hear of groups like Fleetwood Mac spending $1,300,000 over 13 months in the studio to record "Tusk", and they don't spend anywhere near that to get a good performance of orchestral music because the records don't sell, and the companies that put the records out don't want to invest a disproportionate amount of money on something that's not going to bring them a return.
KH: It was the last couple of years of his life, during the early '60s, when Varèse finally got some acclaim here. The way it's always described, it's like he got his first recognition fromColumbia Records, and then all of a sudden everyone was applauding him.
I think that in order for him to make it, he had to get on Columbia Records so that the pieces could be heard, so that there could be some distribution of the pieces. I know that if Columbia hadn't recorded the music and done a certain amount of promotion for the release of those albums, then his royalties during the last years of his life wouldn't have been what they were. He actually managed to make $6,000.
KH: Do you think Varèse might have achieved his acclaim earlier, or that his career might have gone differently, if he had stayed in Europe?
If he had stayed in Germany, I don't know, it's hard for me to speculate about that because I'm not familiar with that part of his career. He did go to Europe for a while and achieved more success in France during the '30s than he had experienced in the United States. Even the critics that didn't like his music didn't dismiss him as a buffoon. You know, he was written about in the United States like he was some kind of quack who didn't know what he was doing, but even the people who didn't really care for the pieces in Paris still admitted the fact that he was a genius and he was definitely doing something that nobody had attempted to do before. Americans don't give you that break; everything in America is designed to be mediocre – everybody craves mediocrity here – and it's the wrong way to do it. Life is more fun with a few things that are excellent, that can be appreciated, you know. Life doesn't get better if everybody is the same; that's boring. You want that, move to Russia. Put on a grey suit and everybody do the same thing, work the same job. Being in a land that is supposed to provide opportunities to do things that are personal and individual – they're punished here. That's the temper of the times. You do something that is really daring, and you take your life in your hands. Everybody goes for the mediocre stuff.
SOURCE : http://wiki.killuglyradio.com/wiki/Frank_Zappa_on_Edgar_Var%C3%A8se