Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-03-20 - 7:59 a.m.
My portable has developed autism. When you switch it on it progresses as far as the stage before password entry and then refuses to do anything no matter what key is pressed. How long will this condition go on? One of the documents it has ensnared is a half written diary entry about gender issues in musical form – especially some early views of Deleuze.
I have been looking Tomara Levitz’ paper about David Tudor from the Getty site – short but very stimulating. The New York School seems to have been radical about everything – the picture plane, the popular song and piano performance. When Tudor first started to perform contemporary pieces – just after the second world war – he was stumped by Boulez 2nd Piano Sonata. He and Cage dug into the philosophical background and became very interested in the French theorist Artaud – the originator of the Theatre of Cruelty.
Its easy to forget that at that point having lived through all that violence, artists obviously wanted to factor in the enduring cruelty of human life. Those early Boulez pieces seemed to embody that violence. I included a 1945 Boulez piece on Serious Music and the violent aspect came through – maybe unwittingly – as I reshaped it on the sequencer in real time to make the finished version. In fact the 1945 Boulez is meant to link to a 1919 Stravinsky piece a few tracks later. The Fifths piece with Robin and Gilbert used on Wednesday as Blink music also has some later Boulez piano – taken from a midi file – used as a disruptive force. So I was especially open to the idea that performing Boulez pushed Tudor’s thinking around.
Artaud was interested in the body as an artistic resource – and this connected with Cage’s interest in the artistic potentiality of “ordinary” things. Tudor started to think in new ways about how his body was used in performance. Initially he was a romantic Beat Generation figure but he moved away from that persona. His performances expressed a violent relationship to the piano – its tempting to wonder whether this violent strain in NYC based performance influenced Jimi Hendrix when he was developing his style in the same locality a few years later. Tudor’s practice also reaches back to Henry Cowell – the composer who taught both Gershwin and Bacharach.
Tudor saw himself as the passive interpreter of the composer’s intentions – and indeed there are reference to this extending to other aspects of his life – maybe even sexual impotence.
Tudor and Cage were united in being anti-improvisation – and this is perhaps where the body expresses its own agenda in the performance. Tudor before long decided to take his body out of the sound system altogether – by way of concentrating on recorded sound. So here we are already in the BEAST zone. But by way of Rauschenberg. Levitz points to the Rausch bed piece – which anticipated T Ermin by several decades – as an artwork which is about the body but in its absence. The bed piece is also very much about Pollock and freely expressive use of paint – but also about art emerging from everyday objects treated in a certain transgressive way. It seems that Rausch and Tudor even did joint performances – painting and playing – in the early 1960s – just using the sound of painting but not revealing the painting to the audience.
Tudor’s Rainforest always comes up – indeed I think Bill Viola worked on this. Andy Warhol designed the set. The dances had oscillators in their costumes and the movements of Cunningham’s choreography created a sense of alienation as the dancers moved delicately like fauns amidst all those strange sounds.
Rainforest seems to have become one of those long evolving avant garde works – like the Well Tuned Piano or the Tortoise Dreams from around the same time. There is a Viola quote in the article where he tells Tudor that he taught him to hear with his eyes.
So there is a picture of an evolving aesthetic endeavour – which as with o much which happens in that part of the world – connects into a surprisingly broad network of collaborators – and is intellectually radical. Radical for example to combine so much chance and chaos with an aesthetic of mental self control – plus a set of ideas about where the music occurs – inside the head or out in the world.
I watched the Gram Parsons doc – not a lot of self control there, except on the part of Emmy-lou Harris.
The music keeps getting played on the KK site.