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Mauricio KAGEL (b. 1931)
The Mauricio Kagel Edition
CD I: Kagel plays and sings
Pandorasbox, bandoneonpiece (1960/....) [12:32]
Tango Alemán (1977-78) [9:48]
Bestiarium (1974-75) [34:51]
CD II: (Hörspiel) Ein Aufnahmezustand (1969)
Speak softly [6:29]
Lullaby [3:03]
Spinning top [9:12]
Acoustic lessons for children [1:18]
Ethnophonation [5:32]
Excursus about the love in the Christian theology [4:52]
Onomatopoeia and musical pictures [12:28]
Ludwig van (Film - 1969) [90:41]
CD I, Musicians: Mauricio Kagel, Alejandro Barletta, Jorge Risi, Carlos Roqué Alsina, Beth Griffith, Mesías Maiguashca
CD II, Musicians: Peter Brötzmann, Heinz-Georg Thor, Michael Vetter, Alfred Feussner, Deborah Kagel, Mauricio Kagel, William Pearson, Christoph Caskel
DVD-Video, Cast: Joseph Beuys, Günther Boehnert, Carlos Feller, Werner Höfer, Mauricio Kagel, Linda Klaudius-Mann, Klaus Lindemann, Heinz-Klaus Metzger, José Montes, Schuldt, Victor Staub, Otto Tomek, Ferry Waldoff, Ursula Burghardt, Robert Filliou, Diter Rot, Stefan Wewerka
rec. WDR Köln, Germany, 7 January, 7 November 1965 (Pandorasbox); 19 May 1978 (Tango Alemán), 3 March 1976 (Bestarium); 18 May-7 June 1969 (Hörspiel); 23 September/October 1969, WDR Köln and locations near Köln and Bonn, Germany (Ludwig van)
WINTER & WINTER 910128-2 [57:10 + 42:55 + 90:41]


By happy coincidence, I happen to be writing this review on and around 24 December 2006, Mauricio Kagel's 75th birthday, which is the occasion for which Winter & Winter have brought out this special edition. This set has been limited to 3000 numbered copies, and celebrates the diversity of Kagel's creative output in the 1960s and 1970s. "Beautiful packaging - crazy music" is how my mate Graham of Leeds respectfully sums up Winter & Winter's productions, and while this is of course a sweeping generalisation, Kagel's work in this set does seem to fit the description like a glove. The CDs are housed in a nicely bound gatefold cover in W&W's typically thick card, with a nicely illustrated and informative booklet in German and English. All of the works presented have been digitally re-edited and re-mastered by Kagel in 2006.

Mauricio Kagel as a creative force has long been a kind of legendary figure for me. Discovering his light and often humorous touch via BBC broadcasts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was delighted to discover his incredible 'Two-Man Orchestra' machine on permanent exhibition at The Hague's Gemeentemuseum and have been itching to have a go on it ever since. Many of his ideas are regularly 'rediscovered' by composition students I have come across at the Conservatoire - I know, I have to admit we did it too. His influence on 'contemporary classical' music is inescapable - even if you think you are being original, you will quite often find he did it all already, thirty years ago. Within the space of a few days I have had my Kagelian horizons broadened once again with Naxos's new release of 'Duodramen' and other later works, and this set, which brings to life some of those mad stories and fascinating film stills which awakened my imagination - obviously more than my resources of inquisitiveness - all those years ago.

CD 1 emphasises Kagel as a performer as much as a composer, the improvisational elements in his work of the time turning the musician into a decisively important link in giving his intentions form in sound. The first piece, Pandorasbox, is written for and played on that insanely illogical instrument the bandoneon, whose obsolescence appears only to have been avoided by the popularity of the Argentinean tango tradition. The original mono recording has been given a new lease of life in this re-processed version, and the work sounds fresh and up-to-date. Clusters and bellow-shakes, the dissonant resonances between keyboards, clattering wood, whistles and laughter from the performer - all of these elements create a strangely elemental sound-world. The performer - Kagel himself - almost seems swallowed into the belly of a big bandoneonbeast, writhing and quivering in ghastly mirth at the absurdity of the whole situation.

Tango Alemán has that inescapably pungent and emotionally entangling instrumentation of bandoneon, piano, violin and singer - whose text in this case are scat, but in the words of the composer, expressive of "disappointed hopes, of the remembrance of past longings, of... unhappy love". This 'unintelligible phantasy language' is eloquently ardent, nostalgic and passionate by turns, ranging in Kagel's vocal performance from something akin to medieval chant, to a gravel-gruff Tom Waits bass. Argentinean by birth, Kagel has the tango in his blood, but while the instruments always retain their tango identity there is little opportunity for ballroom dancing - this is the essence and the atmosphere of tango, the personification of the genre in a nightmarish scene where the beautiful bare feet which bled against the broken glass strewn on a bar-room floor are long gone, forgotten by all but the dark, brooding singer.

Bestiarium, Music for bird calls in three movements is "a score about freely invented zoological encounters". Kagel had been collecting bird calls and hunter's whistles for many years, so it was always going to be a logical step for him to create a piece for them. Three performers have a number of identical whistles, and a variety of different ones, so that the pitches and gestures indicated in the score can be 'transposed' and transformed by the adoption of a new bird. There is a great deal of variety of sounds, although a good number of them are quite high pitched and potentially hard on the ears. The birds and animals are sometimes imitated as intended, and sometimes the whistles are used purely musically - the effect being about as far away from Messiaen's kind of references and compositional practice as possible. Sometimes magically nocturnal, aboriginal, certainly bestial in character, the fascinating potential of the various materials used in the whistles and the environments from which they have their origins are sometimes disturbingly realistic. It still might not be easy to take it all in as thoroughly enjoyable music, but close your eyes and let it wash over you, and you might find things appearing inside your mind's eye that you never knew where there.

The second disc is taken up entirely with Kagel's first Radio-Piece or Hörspiel, Ein Aufnahmezustand (A Recording Situation). Klaus Schöning, the producer of this work, writes a memoir in the booklet notes about how the piece was put together - the actors being given little more than a 'project description' rather than a text, and their actions and words being constantly recorded even without their knowledge. There is no story, although the brain might stretch to provide its own narrative. There are noise events, sounds typical to a radio sound-effects store cupboard, unusual vocal noises, some singing and music, but the overall effect is like that of a dream from which you are always about to awake in a cold sweat - but never do. There are Dadaist traditions which might trace the origins of such work, but it is equally interesting to follow the resonances which follow. It is sometimes difficult to put your finger on or prove such influences, but I will bet my collection of used wisdom-teeth that composers like Globokar, Stockhausen, Berio, Cage and many more all heard Kagel's pioneering work in this field at some stage.

The script extracts for the DVD third disc: Ludwig van which are given in the booklet, alongside stills and pictures of the film in production, end with "This film is truly a report". Indeed, the character of the filming in the first half, which is largely done with a shoulder-held camera, has very much the feel of a documentary, albeit a bizarrely strange one. The visual images are punctuated by Kagel's familiar improvisatory language, based around the work of Beethoven. In some ways more significantly Beethoven's own music "will sound as if He could still hear it in 1826. Pretty badly". Extracts from symphonies are played by small ensembles, sometimes sounding like they are attempting the music as if reading from sight. Despite this reversal of our memories of polished performances, the strength of Beethoven's genius remains irrepressible - the music takes on a kind of Kurt Weill café orchestra character at times, and we are given insights into the mad world in which listeners and musicians must have found themselves when presented with the challenges of his work for the first time.

Filmed in black and white, the early sequences are something of a time-capsule for those who might never have seen a train or a railway station with manual doors, or a proper record shop, filled with the image-rich sleeves of the top LPs of the time. The camera dips to show early 19th century breeches and buckled shoes - we are looking at the world through Beethoven's eyes, discovering the familiar anew, all the while aware of the suspension of disbelief: Beethoven knows how to open the train door, coolly, while the train is still moving, and the amused or baffled glances of the public are for his strange dress and disturbingly familiar looks, not because someone is walking along with a large film camera on their shoulder.

Beethoven certainly knows the way to his own house, and it is within these environs that many strange scenes enfold. The bath filled with "busts of L.v.B made of fat or marzipan covered in chocolate are piled up in a bathtub filled to the brim with water". Beethoven lifts each head out, many of them so badly dissolved to be unrecognisable. The associations with decay and human remains make this more than a little repellent, but this is a theme which suffuses the entire film. The music room with which every surface has been papered with Beethoven's music will be familiar to many, stills of which have been some of the most reproduced images from the film.

Intensely of its time but arguably about 30 minutes too long, there are elements in this work which rattle around in the brain long after having seen it. The brief clip of some conducting ribs is one, and I must admit to finding the 'Morning Drinks Show' with as a theme for redundant debate and diatribe "Is Beethoven Abused?" quite hilarious - I'm sure many others who work in the often petty and pretentious world of classical music will agree. The whole film is a kind of deconstructivist 'Tombeau de Beethoven', from the scores falling from the cupboard, the disappearing protestations of Beethoven's supposed last living ancestor, the banality of objects (medals, ear-trumpets, boots and the eternal flame-in-a-drain) and of the 'chit-chat' which was one of Beethoven's weaknesses, dung, decay and dissolution: the symbolism is clear, and sometimes a little heavily plastered over what is otherwise some fascinating material. Even the beautification of Beethoven's music with recordings and performances by Herbert van, no - is it von Karajan? - is denounced as a disservice to Beethoven - he's damned if he does, damned if he didn't and anyway he can't anymore because he's dead. Poor old Beethoven can't win in this film, but the beauty of it is, despite everything, he does win: Beethoven is Everything; we are the dopes, the passive pelicans, chimps and cud-chewing camels in the zoo.

This is an entirely fascinating and absorbing issue, and most certainly a must-have for fans of Mauricio Kagel. While not all of the music or aural and visual imagery is universally appealing there can be no denying the vibrant, energetic creative brain at work. This issue revives the vigour of a time in which anything seemed possible, and in which pioneers such as Kagel explored barely-trodden avenues and expanded them into highways of avant-garde creative production. We'll never have the chance to say it again, so: happy 75th M.K!

Dominy Clements

The Mauricio Kagel Edition



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