Saturday, October 28, 2006

Can you take it? Kenneth Gaburo turns all the ScREWs

Posted by olvlzl

..... among our far-outs, has the finest ear. Virgil Thomson

After mentioning him in a comment thread elsewhere last week someone kindly sent me a link to MP3s of Kenneth Gaburo’s legendary work, Lingua II, Maledetto. The piece of theater-music has a lot of material illuminating issues about misogyny discussed here earlier this week.

If you take the 45 minutes to listen to the two sections you will hear a lot of unsettling things about sex, anger, objectification and hate. It is called “Maledetto” for a good reason, a lot of this is about hostility and hate as well as about eroticism and humor.* I don’t know if he liked the term but this is avant-garde art of an extraordinarily original and disturbing kind. It uses cliches and an astonishing array of vulgarity (I’d never heard a lot of it before). But this isn’t used as Robert Mapplethorpe depicted similar material. It isn’t merely presented to shock and as a demonstration that he can do it if he wants to. The way they are used here opens windows into what they reveal about people and the communities that those people belong to. A lot of the things it contains are not easy to take, some are pretty disturbing. It’s purpose is to provoke thinking, not to please.

The delivery of the texts even those that are quite banal sometimes carries the meaning past the words themselves. When those are spoken in close succession or at the same time they become a contrapuntal experience. The canonic sections in which the same text is spoken by different voices beginning at different times are striking for the difference in tone and emphasis, from erotic and loving to contemptuous to angry that the same text can have.

As to the sound of the piece, Thomson was right, it contains great beauties, many of those in the form of wrenching emotional contrasts. The beginning with the group sustaining the sound “s” for a couple of minutes gives way to a reading of an entirely banal text about screws. A couple of minutes into that the other voices break in with challenges and commentary. The timing and skill of the ensemble is amazing. I’d like to see another group try to perform it without Gaburo’s direction to see what they came up with. It’s certainly not everyone’s idea of a good time but it isn’t likely to be like something you have experienced.

Gaburo was one of the most varied composers in the history of music. The pieces I’ve heard go from a very fine and original but clearly traditional string quartet to some of the most beautiful (as well as disturbing) electronic music to a series of these spoken pieces. One of the most difficult to listen to is “The Flow of (u)”, three voices signing the same pitch on the vowel “u” for 23 minutes. I don’t recommend that for the first time listener. The electronic pieces collected on “Tape Play”, Pogus CD P21020-2, would be a good place to start listening to Gaburo’s music. These include his revenge on a (literally) violent enemy of new music “Fat Millie’s Lament”, the pellucid “For Harry”. The collection “Five Works for Voices, Instruments and Electronics”, New World 80585-2 , including “The Flow of (u)” and the String Quartet, is more of a challenge though rewarding.

Other out of print CDs and LPs of his music can be bought second hand. One of these is the Music & Arts CD- 832 that contains ENOUGH! —(NOT ENOUGH)— for forty voices and percussion on a text by Benjamin Franklin. It speaks to our political condition.

* Gaburo once said that he liked forms that were exhaustive of ideas. His music didn’t leave much out. His Mouth-Piece: Sextet for Solo Trumpet on the New World CD is a good example of that. Kenneth Gaburo 1926-1993