Sunday, September 02, 2007

Landmarks (26)

Giacinto Scelsi Okanagon (1968) per arpa, tam-tam e contrabbasso.

A work with a strongly authoritative voice usually implies the presence of a definite personality behind the voice. Scelsi did what he could to render that personality ephemeral. He avoided photographs and kept his biography largely to himself but for a pair of essentials -- he came from old Roman aristocracy, had a fascination with things mystical and oriental, had decisive, if brief encounters with dodecaphony and surrealism, suffered a failed love, and underwent a self-cure for his subsequent depression through the investigation of the sound-world inside a single tone. He preferred to be identified by simple graphic, a line under a circle, and, considering himself a conduit for his music rather than a composer per se, produced his works with the assistance of a few very accomplished hired musicians who transcribed and orchestrated his piano or ondioline improvisations. The amount of work which was shared has caused no small controversy, especially in a music culture obsessed with authoriy, yet Scelsi was largely using the resources available to him to make the works more efficiently, resources, I dare say, of which most of us would be jealous and would use similarly, if we had them avaiable. (For examples of other composers who composed with assistance, consider those of Lully, or the late Delius). But for all that obfuscation, the voice that emerges from most, if not all, of Scelsi's works is a distinctive one. None of Scelsi's collaborators produced work of similar character or sharing similar concerns under their own signature. One cannot but conclude that the degree of Scelsi's direction and editing in the process of producing a score was always substantial and, paradoxically, the voice from which Scelsi tried so hard to erase the aura of authority speaks as single and recognizeable. (Even more paradoxical was the noise which emerged in the 1980's against a so-called "Scelsi-Nono-Feldman cult", led by Ligeti, a man not shy to his own own brand of cultivation).

In another life, I'd fancy going to the Scelsi archives and trying to trace the evolution of the score to Okanagon from the original recorded improvisations with extremely different media into its finished form, and then to trace its evolution in the repertoire, as a work which has become marked by the development of a unique performance practice culture.

With its deliberative pacing and sharply punctuated continuity Okanagon has the character of a ritual music, yet it lacks concrete tonal landmarks and labored repetitions. But it is not a ritual , or at least not one belonging to a faith known to me, or perhaps to anyone. It has the linear drive of an improvisation, never really looking (listening) backwards, but instead from side-to-side, as the two string instruments articulate and reflect the resonances of the tam-tam, and the tam-tam does the same in return. I am certain that the process through which the score came to be is far less mysterious than that through which the final pieces coheres as a whole, even taking on something of a dramatic form, without, however, ever doing anything particularly dramatic.


FJ.MJ said...
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Anonymous said...

"Even more paradoxical was the noise which emerged in the 1980's against a so-called "Scelsi-Nono-Feldman cult", led by Ligeti, a man not shy to his own own brand of cultivation"

I would never really bracket those three together?! It can get pretty quiet, but so what?

Btw, I've been enjoying a piece by Carold Bauckholt lately. I recall you said you were going to write about one of her pieces? Which one is it?

Anonymous said...

Carola Bauckholt...sorry.