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CD: Crotchet


Mauricio KAGEL (b. 1931)
Acustica (1968-1970):
Première version [38:58]
Seconde version [35:53]
TAM Theater, Krefeld
Tape playback: Mauricio Kagel
rec. 31 March, 1 April 2007, L’Opéra de Monte-Carlo
Experience Classicsonline

As with much of Mauricio Kagel’s work, there is a strong theatrical element in the appearance and sound of Acustica. Even before the music takes hold, one’s eye is drawn towards photographs of some of the wondrous inventions used in the performance: a compressed air cylinder connected to a bush-like stand of pipes, a trombone connected to a bowl of water, a variety of ways of reproducing sound from the grooves of LP records, numerous bicycle bells mounted onto a stick, a keyboard of over-sized castanets.
Acustica, for experimental sound sources and loudspeakers is, by way of its ambitious duration and extremes of content, one of Kagel’s major compositions. As Werner Klüppelholz describes in the booklet notes, the sounds “suck the listener into a world of sound that remains mysterious to the last.” While the staggering variety of instruments used might seem to invite chaos, Kagel’s score has precise determination for the individual actions which apply to each instrument. The differences which make each performance unique are down to the freedom in which these sounds are combined: even the points at which the fixed elements of the instrumental and vocal sounds on the tape are started can and do change with every version, so that the legitimacy of having two versions of the same piece on one CD is clearly valid. Indeed, I have often argued for this on recordings of pieces by John Cage, which also contain the element of chance. The very act of committing such work to a recording which, by its very nature, must be the same each time it is played, contradicts the concept of this kind of piece. This said, the fascination of experiencing such pioneering work and bringing it to a wider audience far outweighs such purist arguments.
While the work going on in this piece is deadly serious, Kagel’s sense of humour and parody, even self-parody is never too far away. One of the pre-recorded instrumental sounds over the loudspeakers is from his own Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen, and the entire bizarre conception of such a piece has a kind of inherent intellectual wit which goes beyond the ‘Darmstadt School’ of dissociative atonalism. While one’s mind needs to be free, and able to float beyond Bach, Beethoven and Brahms for both absolute atonal composition and the kind of music on this release, Kagel’s arrows seem deliberately aimed at conjuring intellectual associations at all kinds of levels. As an example, the vocal cries toward the end of the first version of Acustica on this disc will always bring some kind of extra-musical image to the listener’s mind. The associations will be different, depending on whether that listener has had experience chasing vandals through the empty corridors of an empty school at night, or encountered the residents of a mental asylum or prison, or merely seen too many Hollywood horror movies. Kagel himself wrote “I want to write music that stimulates thought, and is supplemented by thought.” As the imagination is poked by the sharp stick of Kagel’s world of Acustica, it has little choice but to ‘escape within’ to a certain extent, and by exploring our own inner mechanisms we can be brought into our own creative places.
Acustica is a rich source of aural stimulation through its sheer variety of fascinating and unusual sound, and the effect it can have on your imagination, but even nearly forty years on the barriers of convention still need to be broken down if the average listener is to appreciate its strength. To begin with, a seemingly random procession of rattles, bumps, whines and whistles assault the ear. Then, you might hear the more familiar sound of a trumpet or an accordion, sounding as a lonely but inaccessible friend through the mysterious mire of noise. Voices speak, cry, even sing, but there is rarely comfort in any recognisable language. Strange sonorities and musical patterns intrigue, baffle and fascinate. The isolating nature of the music is reflected in the staging of the players. They sit, facing their battery of instruments but away from each other, so that their only communication is through sound: “they should never look at each other.” Seriousness always has an element of comedy: “...all players should act facially like Buster Keaton”: in other words without expression, and most certainly without smiling or laughing. Such instructions ensure and heighten the sense of theatrical ritual inbuilt in the instructions for playing the instruments.
This release is very nicely presented, with the aforementioned photos and plenty of reproductions from Kagel’s characteristically graphic score. With the composer himself manning the buttons for the tapes in these performances and being part of the team of artistic directors, you can be sure that the recordings represent as close as possible a realisation of Kagel’s conception of how the music should sound. The recordings are full of depth, and come as close as possible to creating a ‘live’ sense of the performance without having it on DVD, which might also have been a good idea. Some of the high pitched whistling sounds are a bit hard on the ears, reminding me a little of the Bestiarium, which can also be quite demanding in this respect. This is something we poor headphone listeners have to deal with sometimes – at least it will give your tweeters a good workout. I can but recommend you try this disc, with no guarantee that you will like it first time around. Give it time to work on your inner film set however, and you may find it transports you to places you have only ever dreamt existed.
Dominy Clements


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