Kenneth Gaburo: Maledetto/Antiphony VIII

Pogus 21047

Kenneth Gaburo



Kenneth Gaburo


Lingua II: Maledetto (Composition for 7 Virtuoso Speakers) 1967-68

[Kenneth Gaburo provided liner notes for the CRI release of the original-cast recording of Maledetto. The performers in that version, referred to in these notes, were Alan Johnson, Elinor Barron, Bruce Leibig, Sherry Dorn, Bonnie Mara Barnett, Robert MacDougall, and Bruce Rittenbach. Those notes are reproduced here.]



Language is context-bound and context is language-bound. Thus, any attempt to describe that which Maledetto already puts forth would require either a complete re-statement of the work (obviously ridiculous), or some meaningful extractions (obviously simplistic and censorial). But, to put forth the assertion that Maledetto is a bounded, self-contained entity requires the further assertion that any other language which attends to it, i.e., any and all statements which give/gave rise to it, and any and all statements which follow/followed from it, resides in the domain of a para-language. A para-language is herein defined as some sort of corona which surrounds, accompanies, and presumably attends to a given composition, but is not the composition, nor can it be. Para-languages appear. Sometimes they seem to constructively fulfill (I think) the need to go beyond that which any particular phenomenon (say a composition) generates, and sometimes they seem to replace (I think) the very language they are “para’s” of.


More precisely, Maledetto is sub-context-bound because it belongs to LINGUA (a massive 6-hour theater written between 1965-1970). The four segments are: LINGUA 1: Poems and Other Theaters, (Inside, The Flight of Sparrow, Dante’s Joynt, Mouth-Piece, Poesies, Glass); LINGUA II: Maledetto, (Composition for 7 Virtuoso Speakers); LINGUA III: In The Can, (a Dialectic Mix in 3 Rounds); LINGUA IV: The Flow of (i), (Composition for Assorted Phenomena). LINGUA speaks out for language as my compositional concern and thus reflects the expression: Compositional Linguistics (i.e., language as music, and music as language). In this regard the range of LINGUA extends from nonverbal communication to structural linguistics (e.g., generative grammars), from explorations beyond concrète poetry and text-setting (e.g., What is constituted by the expression: minimal intelligibility?) to contextuality (e.g., the structure of a composition is looking at you), from sound for its own sake (e.g., the acoustical properties of language) to perception (e.g., What is constituted by the expression: observer?). These pursuits fall out into three broad and ultimately mutually inclusive areas, namely: physiological, acoustical, and structural linguistics. It should be obvious that the articulation and reception of even the most primitive musical signal likewise embraces these areas. From this it follows that one can view each human as a unique and complex linguistic system, capable of generating more than one kind of language at a time. Say, trivially, sound, gesture, energy, thought, feeling. Thus each human can be viewed as a contrapuntal, rather than a mono-lingual system. So can a composition. LINGUA as a total structure, and Maledetto as a particular segment of that structure, places itself right in the middle of this conceptual position.


Since it is also theatrical, the ‘’theater-Maledetto’’ cannot be the “disc-Maledetto,’’ for here it necessarily leaves out such matters as the kinetic energy transmitted by the performers, the crucial function of observer feed-back, the intimate salon-living room, voyeur-like atmosphere. However, there is included the long introduction of phoneme (S) which: (a) bridges the gap between the last term of LINGUA I (Glass), and the first term of LINGUA II (Screw), (b) mixes with audience chatter as they move in on the already-present-and-articulating Maledetto performers after intermission, and (c) is a primary structural element.


Statistically, Maledetto was written during 1967-8. Rehearsals began in my garage in the summer of 1969 simultaneously with the formation of NMCE III (a group concerned with gesture, action, talk and theater music). It was premiered at the San Diego Ballet Theater Studio, October 31, 1969. The last NMCE III public performance occurred at UC-Riverside, November 18, 1972. During that period some 250 hours were spent on Maledetto. It was performed about 40 times in environments from Los Angeles to New York and Washington, and non-statistically: For: as part of its charge, NMCE III had not only a desire to probe deeply into each composition which it undertook, But: to investigate the very process and nature of performing, i.e., to discover what it meant/means to be in, into, within, inside a composition as distinct from merely reproducing the signs of a composition. In short, (although this must be a subject for an extended discourse elsewhere), the process of probing Maledetto was the process of transforming an explicit, detached object (i.e., a ‘’score’’ presented to NMCE III) into an implicit awareness of subject (i.e., for all purposes NMCE III was Maledetto). I shall never forget the group nor the para-linguistic components which enclosed that three-year drive, including: BR’s difficulty with rolled R’s, RMD’s concern with getting his reverberant voice soft enough, BB’s incessant glee each time she expressed “I affirm the right to singular bargaining with all of the collective governing organs,” BL’s machine-gun precision given his incredible list of fricative curses, SD’s fear that as an actress she could not also be a musician, EB’s efforts to get into a child-like state, AJs approach to “(7) stopperscrews, such as are described by Cipriano Piccolpasso for his pottery bottles.” (at a wpm rate of 300), my not-without agony determination to not impose as composer, but to help the group reach its own Maledetto. And, thus, while I believe this recording to be impeccable, it is so only insofar as it is NMCE III, and therefore is not a model to be imitated, but simply “A Maledetto.’’


Pre-composition is also a para-language of quite another kind. and has always been necessary for me. In one sense it involves serious research which follows from an initial, intuitive notion of the parameters of a composition-to-be, and which eventually provides me with some sort of linguistic foundation. In another sense, pre-composition allows for the formation of precise structural questions of such substance to me that the act of composing, thereby initiated, necessarily becomes the act of seeking and finding answers to these questions. In the case of Maledetto my intuitive urge was to do a curse piece. Eventually the screw became my metaphor. On the research level of verbal language, per se, (to say nothing of the structuring of other compositional parameters), I spent about six months reading everything I could find relative to the subject, from mechanical technology (including that of Greek and Roman Antiquity), and slang and its analogues, and medical documents having to do with the physical, moral, ethical aspects of artificial insemination, to the elaborate means by which certain extracts are obtained from animals in the production of perfume. At the same time I was deeply involved in such coronas as Chomsky’s: Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (MIT Press), Whorf’s: Language, Thought, and Reality (MIT Press), Levi-Strauss’: The Savage Mind (U. Chicago Press), Merleau-Ponty’s: Phenomenology of Perception (Humanities Press), Grotowski’s: Towards a Poor Theater (Clarion). Thus, in a certain verismo-and-statistical sense Maledetto is simply a document of facts (screw research), supported by whatever else I was (into). But, the transformation of fact and experience into metaphor is quite another matter. Certainly it can be easily assumed that Maledetto’s explicit scatology reflects one structural question I posed. But even from so-constricted a view an answer does not come easily, for: Is Maledetto scatological? Or, Is Maledetto scatologically not scatological? Or, Is Maledetto not scatological? However, questions I really raised, the answers to which I believe Maledetto to contain in its deep structure, I prefer to leave to the observer to discover. Thus, language is a very complex matter.


The para-language of Maledetto generated by the language of Maledetto as it inserted its structure right between 1969 and 1973 has been fascinating in its own rite, and has resulted in a Foundation, which consists solely of a large, growing, pulsating box of collected anecdotes, tiny grooved objects received in the mail, assorted-and-related bric-a-brac, critical reviews, and general commentary, and thus it was that Barry (the poet) C., came to Muse: “It is obvious that one cannot engage Maledetto while in bed munching pizza with one’s best friend,” and Andrew (the High Fidelity) D., came to Avow: “my reaction was - screw it,” and Walter B. (alias Snoopy, Jr., alias Peanuts International Ltd.) S., came to Labialize: “at long last we may be on the verge of discovering the origin of those recent earthquakes in California,” (with reference to NMCE III), (and to labiate): “the faults according to certain unnamed scientists were held together with the land masses by tremendous screws,” and Manfred (the bio-cyberneticist) C., came to Enquire about dizzyness as an “essentic” form because Maledetto made him so, and William (the composer) B., came to Decode the cry in Maledetto’s deep structure, and thus it was that Donald (the San Diego Union) D., and Alan (the Washington Post) K., and Irving (the Washington Evening Star) L., and John (the Los Angeles Times) R., in that order came to Entertain: “the idea was much too long, and largely a failure, unless the intention was to bore,” “sophomoric,” “of one thing you may be sure, Compositional Linguistics has nothing to do with music as music, or language as language,” “his (Gaburo’s) predilection in his work for sophomoric sexual innuendoes (which marred LINGUA II to no purpose as well) seemed in the final analysis less a dramatic device than a personal hang-up,” and William (the percussionist) P., came To Tears but otherwise could not speak, and Oh, as the box gets larger, a para-maledetto emerges.


We, (NMCE III and eye) have put it away. It was necessary for me to make it, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. It was necessary for NMCE III to be within it otherwise it wouldn’t exist. Now that it does, I immodestly submit that it is indestructible. Not so simply because its existence is independent of any para-language which addresses or does not address it, nor because one’s view of it may be thought to be independent of its view of one, nor because it won’t translate, BUT simply because sometime (say) in a conversation (say) between (say) two people (say) it should be possible (say) and (say) desirable (say) to simply (say) perhaps with a slight knowing-nod of the heads, say: AH ( ) HA!


—Kenneth Gaburo; December, 1973; La Jolla, California


Unified Diversities

The Work of Kenneth Gaburo • by Warren Burt


The work and thought of the American composer Kenneth Gaburo (1926-1993) exhibited many striking changes during his lifetime. In fact, while the world of commercial endeavor still insists that artists develop a recognizable personal “style,” Gaburo’s life-work can be seen as one of continual change and exploration, rather than one of codification and promotion. Some of these changes are beautifully illustrated by the two works on this CD, Maledetto, for seven speaking voices, from 1967-68, and Antiphony VIII (Revolution), for percussionist and electronic tape, from 1982-3.  Both are intricate and powerful works, both take their inspiration from “non-musical” materials, and both require virtuosity of a most uncommon order. However, beyond that, the two works could not be more different.

Maledetto is a wild choral piece, a great complex cry, a work that, while reveling in a surface texture of innuendo, word play, and pseudo- and real- history, spoken/shouted/sung by 7 amazing speakers, contains within itself a deep and profound celebration of the body, the physical, the sexual. It is one of the earliest of Gaburo’s works where his concern for holistic thinking and art-making comes to the fore. This sort of thinking was in the air, of course — many works were written at this time that were multi-layered in their meaning and intent, but Maledetto seems unique. It’s combination of profundity and what might be called adolescent sniggering, and almost every emotional state in between, seems unprecedented. The subject of the piece is the word screw, in all its connotations, from the sexual to the mechanical, from the mildly obscene to the boisterous, with diversions along the way into topics such as perfume manufacture, printing, classical design, and structural linguistics, all of which connect with the small ridged, groovy object of attention.

Speaking voices also figure in Antiphony VIII, but here they are the voices of people giving their heartfelt reactions to the notion that nuclear war has made their lives expendable. This work was created at least 15 years after Maledetto, and the boisterous energy of the Sexual Revolution, one of the earliest counter-cultural movements of the mid-1960s, has given place to the grim organizational determination of the various Anti-Nuclear movements of the 1980s. Gaburo’s attitude has also changed. If Maledetto is a celebration, Antiphony VIII is a wake, and a wake-up call. Not content merely to protest, or to document people’s reactions, the percussion, electronics, concrete sounds, and voices in this piece each embody within them Gaburo’s analysis of the most common attitudes people have to the problem of governments treating them as expendable - helplessness, indifference, anger, uncertainty, and presents them all to us as a summary, and a questioning of our own attitudes to the problem. Gaburo the deep analyst of phenomena is still here, but now his analytical mind is dissecting not just a problem, but the wide variety of people’s responses to that problem — both as a structural resource, and as a means perhaps of intuiting the way forward.

Both Maledetto and Antiphony VIII are works which come from an intense concern with language. Language was Gaburo’s central metaphor. He even called his area of interest “Compositional Linguistics,” which put forth the proposition, “What if we treated language as music, and music as language?” To this end, all manner of strategies were employed, and they are heard most clearly in Maledetto. On one level, the work can be heard as a compendium of techniques used in concrete and performance poetry, extending and layering those in a way that only a composer intensely concerned with counterpoint could. (In fact, I remember a virtuoso lecture Gaburo once gave on “the body as a contrapuntal system.”) Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate seems positively austere (and monomaniacal) in comparison. Gaburo’s own notes (included here) to the CRI release of Maledetto show both the complexity of his thoughts on the matter, and also the sheer fun he is having treating language as a toy as well as a tool. (This attitude consistently gets poets into trouble.) The CRI version, performed by Gaburo’s NMCE III ensemble, is still available. This recording, from 1974, of his NMCE IV ensemble, features several of the same performers, principally the marvelously fluent Alan Johnson as the narrator. Comparisons of the two versions are instructive, and of interest. (And how many contemporary works can you actually say that about?)

One aspect of Gaburo’s work that exist in both works, but most clearly in Maledetto, is the use of unlikely elements as central structural supports for a work. So, for example, the word ‘screw’ is not just the subject of Maledetto, it is the backbone of its structure as well!  Spread throughout the work are four large sections which consist solely (or nearly so) of the four phonemes of the word ‘screw’ — s (ssss) — k (kuh!) - r (rrrrrr (rolled)) — and u (oooooh!).  Thus, over the course of the 45 minutes of the work, skru — highly fragmented and extended — forms the framework within and around which the rest of the work takes place.

One of the chief aspects of Maledetto is that it is fun. It’s a fun work to hear, a fun work to perform, for those rare individuals with access to the concrete poetry score, fun to see on the page, and for those even rarer individuals who had the good luck to be present at one of its performances, fun to see in the flesh. The last time I saw it performed was in 1974, by NMCE IV, the group on this recording. That was the third time I saw it performed, and delightful memories of all three performances are with me still. Gaburo’s making of a work that dealt with sexual innuendo (and complex scientific mechanics!), the speaking instead of the singing voice, theatrical presentation of contrapuntal material, and joyous fun, in a field (the new music arm of classical music) known mainly for its puritanical denial of the body, emphasis on “proper sung tone”, highly ritualized concert presentation, and focused seriousness of demeanor, can be seen as almost suicidally willful, or as bravely oppositional. It was neither. It was simply Kenneth, embracing (as his spiritual ancestor Walt Whitman had done) the totality of his interests in a rigorous, enthusiastic manner.

Theater was central for Gaburo. Both these works come from larger collections, which he called “theaters.” Theatrical presentation is paramount here. In Maledetto, the seven performers are in a living room-like situation, reading their scores, which can be seen as large tabloid newspapers. In Antiphony VIII, the percussionist is surrounded by four large loudspeakers, and his performing has to embody various emotional states, ending with exhaustion. Gaburo was insistent about this, to the extent that before one performance (in Melbourne) percussionist Steve Schick found Gaburo moving the instruments farther apart. On being asked about this, he told Schick that his performing was getting too accomplished, too easy, and that his moving the instruments was a way of Schick really being exhausted by the performance, rather than simply “acting” it. I know of few other composers who were so insistent about composing the situation of their work, as well as the sounds of it. For Gaburo, all musical performing was theatrical, and as a composer of theaters, he exercised the right to compose the nature of the theater that each work lived in.

The theater that Maledetto was part of was called Lingua. It consisted of an anthology of electronic, movement, poetic, and instrumental works (Lingua I), Maledetto, a play, and another collection of works for voices. Each of the works sounds and looks different, but all are united in their joyful and intense explorations of language. Mouthpiece from Lingua I, is a short virtuoso piece for solo trumpet, in which a poem is articulated through the horn. The piece is subtitled “Sextet for Solo Trumpet” and is, in fact, a six-part contrapuntal work in the tradition of Bach solo string works, but one in which the timbral palette is considerably widened. Lingua I also included Dante’s Joynte, a wild tape collage of African music fragments, drums, yelling college kid voices, and electronics, which coexisted with six dancer/actors doing martial-arts based movement while yelling out a highly fragmented excerpt from Dante, and a medical film of cancer cells multiplying. And unlike many of the happenings of the 60s, where the juxtapositions seemed arbitrary, here all the elements seemed to fit together, held there by some kind of tight underlying logic. Fast forward 15 years, and Antiphony VIII is part of another theater, this one called The Scratch Project. This uncompleted work also consisted of four parts — Testimony, Antiphony VIII, De/Bate, and Pentagon/y. Of these, Antiphony VIII is the most traditionally musical. Testimony is a series of audio and video interviews with people, arranged in various media presentations (such as the 1987 Australian Broadcasting Corporation version, produced in collaboration with Australian radio-art legend Andrew McLennan). De/Bate is a play, while Pentagon/y is a series of 10 texts for solo reader, of which, to the best of my knowledge, only one, the searing confessional Ago, was ever completed.

Testimony is doubly important, for it provides the texts, and the background to Antiphony VIII. It arose out of a theatrical workshop Gaburo was giving in 1982 at Union College in Schenectady, New York, a city whose economic lifeblood was military spending. In the workshop, students were so concerned about political issues, especially nuclear weapons, that working on more formal theatrical matters became impossible. Responding to their concerns, Gaburo prepared a question, and their video responses to the question formed the basis for their presentation at the end of the workshop. The taking of testimonies continued, too, until the late 1980s; several hundred were eventually recorded. Some of the voices from the original Union College responses formed the basis for the tape part of Antiphony VIII. The question was:

“In the event of a nuclear war humans would be sacrificed. This sacrifice could not occur unless human life was thought to be expendable. In this, your life is included. How do you feel about being expendable?”

In this performance, the percussion sometimes drowns out the voices. But enough of them remain that one can hear both the words and tone of voice of the Union students. It’s worth turning up the volume and listening closely for the words — they form a philosophical background for the work. Gaburo’s own description of the work (from the Australian media art magazine Cantrill’s Filmnotes, issue 53, 54) is

“It is a psychodrama. During the course of its performance, the percussionist is literally bombarded by four loudspeakers which surround him. The sounds have to do with metal on the one hand (metal signifies ‘death’), and skin on the other (skin signifies ‘life’). On one of the speakers are text excerpts taken from Testimony. Each time the percussionist is bombarded by another response to the testimony question, he is somewhat changed by it. During the course of the work, the percussionist goes through many changes of which the chief ones are indifference, anger (fighting fire-with-fire) and ultimately uncertainty.” Of the electronic and concrete sounds, two in particular attract me — the mournful dipping and diving pure electronic tones heard near the beginning of the piece, and what sounds to me like an electric drill, heard several times in the last third of the piece. If it is indeed a drill, it would be a droll, perhaps unintentional reference back to Maledetto, as an electric drill, of course, is used to automate (dehumanize?) the insertion of screws. In terms of recording, both these pieces are vintage recordings, made under less than ideal circumstances, although they both represent their works admirably. The closeup voices and intimate textures of Maledetto make a marked contrast to the incredibly wide dynamic range, and change of focus from near to extreme far distance that characterizes Antiphony VIII. You may not have to adjust your volume between the two tracks on this CD, but you might have to adjust your ears. And this is in keeping with Gaburo’s idea that each work should put forth is own world, with its own philosophical, stylistic, theatrical, musical and sonic ideas.

This then, is the work of Kenneth Gaburo — multi-layered, from diverse sources, participating in both political and structuralist formal thinking, breaking new ground, exploring physicality, virtuosity, and fun; and changing, ever changing in an unending series of explorations. The interest in free speech, dirty speech, and the kind of sexual liberation that existed before the rise of 1960s feminism that characterize Maledetto gives way, over 15 years, to Antiphony VIII’s more involved politics of personal liberation and power, its more intimately involved working with “the people.” Both works, however, have in common the notion of taking an idea seriously, exploring it thoroughly, and seeing what kind of artwork results from that taking seriously. In this, despite all the vast differences in ‘style’ that Gaburo’s work exhibited in his 40-some years of composing, his work does indeed exhibit a kind of higher conceptual unity of ‘idea.’



Steve Schick on Antiphony VIII (Revolution)


The theater of Antiphony VIII (Revolution) proceeds along a path of expanding sonic materials as the performer gradually explores the large number of instruments, and is related by gesture to the growing potency of the material on the tape. The piece opens as the percussionist walks on stage clicking his or her mallets and casually “discovers” a very large percussion set-up. The pointed testimony on the tape is sparse enough to be ignored. (“What does it feel like to be expendable?” “I think maybe the question is so absurd that I don’t have an answer for it.”) Accordingly, the percussionist responds with indifference to the tape, and slowly explores the set-up as a musician might do in the early stages of learning a piece. The score is not metered, but rhythmic relationships and phase trajectories are carefully indicated by small and large accents. As the tape material becomes more emotionally provocative, the sonic exploration also grows in intensity. (“How does it feel to be expendable?” “I feel helpless. I feel empty. My life may be too small. Insignificant.”) In the next section the percussionist begins to join phrases from instruments on opposite sides of a kidney-shaped arrangement. Under growing distractions from the tape, the player is suddenly indecisive and can’t quite choose which side of the set of instruments to perform on. The noticeable increase of gestural torque involving large and rapid side-to-side movements makes the percussionist suddenly appear much larger against the setup. The next passage (section C in the score) “bombardment” involves the length of the set-up as well as its breadth. Here the tape can no longer be ignored. (“It’s scary and if I think about it, I get outraged.”) The percussionist races from one end of the set-up to the other: the large number of instruments, which had once signified opportunity, now seems more like a trap. Gestural and sonic vigor grows, in response to the provocations in the text throughout the sections that are marked “fire with fire” and “revolution/transition.” The voices on the tape have the player’s full attention by now. (“If we all blow ourselves up, I guess there’s nothing lost.”) The fight is on; the noises of the percussionist rise in confrontation. Finally the percussionist is convinced that a course of action that seeks to meet force with force is fundamentally unwise. “Change” the final section of Antiphony VIII (Revolution) means calm and not acquiescence. (“I hope that it never happens, because I like looking forward to the future, making plans.”) The player runs out of combative energy, first dropping one stick and then the other out of exhaustion, and finally finishes peacefully with a new sense of resolve. The final phrases of Antiphony VIII (Revolution) are played on a hand drum stationed far outside the constricting circle of instruments - the percussionist finally escaping all of those drums and cymbals with their traditions in military history. The piece ends simply with skin on skin. Kenneth never ran short of metaphors.


Steven Schick, percussionist

Steven Schick was born in Iowa and raised in a farming family. For the past thirty years he has championed contemporary percussion music as a performer and teacher. He studied at the University of Iowa and received the Soloists Diploma from the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany. Steven Schick has commissioned and premiered more than one hundred new works for percussion and has performed these pieces on major concert series such as Lincoln Center's Great Performers and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Green Umbrella concerts as well as in international festivals including Warsaw Autumn, the BBC Proms, the Jerusalem Festival, the Holland Festival, the Stockholm International Percussion Event and the Budapest Spring Festival among many others. He has recorded many of those works for SONY Classical, Wergo, Point, CRI, Neuma and Cantaloupe Records. He has been regular guest lecturer at the Rotterdam Conservatory, and the Royal College of Music in London. Schick is Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego and a “Consulting Artist in Percussion” at the Manhattan School of Music. Schick was the percussionist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars of New York City from 1992-2002. From 2000 to 2004, he served as Artistic Director of the Centre International de Percussion de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland and is the founder and Artistic Director of the percussion group, “red fish blue fish.” In 2007 Steven Schick assumed the post of Music Director and conductor of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus.

In 2006 Schick released three important publications. His book on solo percussion music, “The Percussionist’s Art: Same Bed, Different Dreams,” was published in May by the University of Rochester Press; his recording of “The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies” by John Luther Adams was released at the same time by Cantaloupe Music; and, a DVD release in collaboration with the percussion group, red fish blue fish, of the complete percussion music of Iannis Xenakis has been released by Mode Records.


Funded in part through a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc.

Maledetto was recorded June 10, 1973. Antiphony VIII was recorded in 1984 at Cal Arts.

Premastering by David Dunn

CD mastering by Tom Hamilton

CD design by Matt Schickele


Kenneth Gaburo's original notes are from CRI SD 316 - Lingua II: Maledetto - Kenneth Gaburo