Composer Kenneth Gaburo
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Gaburo, 65; Composer and Teacher
Published: January 29, 1993 in The
New York Times
Kenneth Gaburo, a composer, writer and teacher, died on Tuesday at his
home in Iowa City, Iowa. He was 65.
He died of bone cancer, said Philip Blackburn, a friend.
Mr. Gaburo was a prolific composer of experimental vocal, chamber and
instrumental works. He began his career as a proponent of Schoenberg's
12-tone system of composition, but later developed his own theory of
"compositional linguistics," which explores the components of language
as musical elements. Among his works are "On a Quiet Theme," which won
the Gershwin Memorial Contest in 1954, and a set of "Antiphonies,"
which reflect his interest in electronic music.
Mr. Gaburo was born in Somerville, N.J. He earned a master's degree
from the Eastman School of Music and a doctorate from the University of
Illinois, and studied in Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship. He won awards
from the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Koussevitzky and other foundations.
He founded the New Music Choral Ensemble in 1960 and the Lingua Press
Publishing Company in 1974, both of which focused on 20th-century
experimental music. He also established the Institute of Cognitive
Studies, in 1982, and taught at several colleges, including the
University of California at San Diego and the University of Iowa.
He is survived by his companion, Carmen Grier; two sons, Mark, of
Brookings, Ore., and Kirk, of Minneapolis, and a daughter, Lia, of Los
One of the great things about having a guest who loves to speak about
his works is letting him or her wax on about these pieces or
ideas. Kenneth Gaburo was one of those who often seemed to go
into a trance-like state and simply expound about the grandeur or
minutiae of some detail. As you read this interview, you will
find several very long sections where he did just this. I have
eliminated many of my own interjections of “Yes,”
or “Oh,” or “[laughs]”
in order to allow his flow to be uninterrupted.
This meeting took place in Chicago in April of 1987, when Gaburo was
attending a convention of composers in Chicago. It is fascinating
for me to read this now, at a remove of nearly thirty years, and
contemplate how much has changed and how much is still the same
— especially in the political arena.
You just had a premiere. Tell me about the joys and sorrows of
having a premiere in New York.
Actually, the piece premiered at Cal Arts in 1984, and the work was
commissioned by a really superb percussionist, Steve Schick, who’s
getting pretty well-known around the world now. He’s actually in
California, and as these works go, for the last twenty years there has
to be a very intimate kind of interaction between the performer and the
composer... in any case that the ones that I’m interested in. So
that means not only knowing the person, but he sent me video tapes and
stuff like that. This is a round-about way to answer the question.
Especially for percussion, it seems logical that he would send you a
videotape as well as audio material.
because my work is essentially theatrical even if it appears to be just
acoustical. That’s why I don’t have a lot of records out.
Now that video is around I can really go for it, but just the sound
basis itself doesn’t make it anymore. That’s been true for about
twenty years. So anyway, we get to know each other. I learn
some of his idiosyncrasies, study his gestures, and in a sense derive a
certain kind of language from the persona. It’s as if I’m doing a
biography, in a way, from the persona as well as from my whole sense of
what I’m going to go for in terms of sound. So by the time the
piece got made, the demands on him were outrageous. It was not a
mere percussion piece. He actually has to behave as if he’s an
actor and also an acrobat. The rig is set up in such a way so
that he has to make gigantic leaps from some point to some point, like
literally a fly, and has to use his voice some. It also happens
to be an anti-nuclear piece, so it’s got political overtones — some
parts of which come from a much larger work that’s going to be a big
installation. So these are all kind of joined. So it had to
do several things. It had to act as an independent piece that
would work on its own, but then ultimately connect to this large
installation. He has to do a lot of things, some of which were
natural to him, but on the other hand there were things like asking him
to drop, to lose a stick near the end of it, which percussionists never
do. He had to learn how to really do that without making it look
fake, or that it was a major trauma for him.
BD: No matter
what, though, the audience is going to think, “Oh,
my God, he dropped a stick!”
Yes. It was done in New Mexico about a month ago, and two people
immediately ran up and gave him the stick back. He said, “I don’t
want the stick. I don’t need it.” [Laughs] So there
was a lot of frenzy. Anyway, it was really quite wonderful.
BD: Now with
something like that, should you prepare the audience for it with a
little program note, saying that toward the end the player loses the
KG: Not that, but
what didn’t work for a long time is that the audience these days is
simply not prepared for the kind of stuff that I’m doing. It’s
not even avant-garde; it’s really radical, and I consider it a
primitive kind of thing, mainly really very fundamental, and very
basic. It’s no longer theoretical. There are theories here
and there, but it really does come from concrete things like people,
and the earth, and problems, and stuff like that. So it’s not
what an audience usually expects. It seems to me to be obvious
that it’s a theater piece. There are lights; there are dimmers.
He comes on and off stage — all the trappings that make it appear to be
a theatrical piece. There’s language; there really is a
character. In this case he goes through four changes of character.
exactly dress, but actually changes in the way he plays and the way he
looks, and the way of his behavior, which corresponds to four basic
moods, really four basic feelings. These are not the only ones
that people have today about their response to the whole nuclear thing,
such as “what can I do about it?”
So there’s a kind of an indifference level, and there’s a kind of fight
fire with level, and all these things are perfect for percussion.
So he’s in and out of it in degrees.
BD: Is there
any chance that you’ve asked too much of this player?
no. I ask too much of the audience. [Retracting his
statement] No, I shouldn’t even say that. I don’t think I
ask too much. I ask just enough. [Both laugh] So the
upshot of all of that is that in the next stage you also have the very
unconventional. It is not simply a matter of turning over a
rather complete score to a group of musicians, or in this case, a
single musician. You just learn it, you memorize it. He
memorizes everything, by the way. Just learn it, and then when
you get it up you perform it. Because it is essentially a theater
piece it requires, in a certain sense, a kind of director. So I’m
still involved in looking at him from an objective view. As he
began to learn the piece, I would say, “Okay, you’re coming downstage
too fast,” or, “This gesture shouldn’t be quite so much to stage left,
to stage right.” We had weeks and weeks of discussion about where
the rig itself should be. He plays about sixty-eight percussion
instruments, so there’d be stage center, or it should be to the left or
to the right, all that kind of stuff, as in the case of directing your
real play. What are the most dramatic moments, and where should
you be? Should you face the audience at this point? Plus
there are a lot of random elements in the sense that there’s nothing
absolutely fixed until it starts to get on stage. Then it begins
to take life, just as if I were directing a play. All of that
integration, the whole mind-body integration, the actor-player
integration, has taken about two years. Each time it gets closer
and more fine-tuned.
BD: Is this
something that can be done even without your physical presence there?
KG: If there
is somebody as sensitive as Steve is. He would still probably
need somebody to assist from a dramatic and musical point of view
because there is a precise score. But it’s about as accurate as
would be a theater script. It’s right in the ballpark. You
have a metaphor for what has to go on, but the exact details need to be
worked out onstage. There’s no other way to do it.
BD: So then
you are requiring not only the performer, but the director to perform
your score in a situation when you’re not available?
Yes. Steve is already very sensitive to the gestures that belong
to him. He has a very dramatic way of using his sticks, which I
sort of stole from him and then gave back to him in a particular
context. This is just as you might write for a particular actor
who has a certain kind of voice or something like that. But I
would say that it’s still very difficult for a person to actually see
themselves as they are, as an audience would see them in a dramatic
way. He can certainly hear what he’s playing, but it took about
two years to really get that finesse. It’s one of maybe fifty
pieces that I’ve made for performers. Part of the idea of it is,
philosophically, that music in the most profound sense is not only a
human act, but it’s also a social act that takes place in
society. So I wanted to have the intensity and the seductiveness
and the attraction that things ought to be not just trivial but really
important things that would grab people.
BD: Are you
then encouraging a new group of musical-visual directors?
KG: I am, and
musicians, too. In some of my more radical works I still think of
them as musicians, but they have to do things that normally would not
be required of musicians at all. To look at it another way, what
I’m really concerned about is the presence and the utilization of the
entire persona. Pianists have been taught to not move too much,
to just keep focused on the keys, and anything else is regarded as
peripheral and probably annoying to the audience and to the music
itself. The same is true of people in the orchestra who take off
their mouthpiece — like French horn players to clean their spit
valves. During a concert they are regarded as terrible because
that interferes with the music. But that objection that I have
there is an objection to a nineteenth century kind of idea, where the
music, as such, is regarded as not only the entity, but also the
perfect sort of thing that an observer participates in.
BD: Are you
at all harkening back to the days of the flamboyant pianists like Franz
Liszt, or the flamboyant violinists like Paganini?
KG: Yes, or
even more than that. There are two things that are my big support
systems for what I do. My great loves don’t come from music so
much. They come from theater, and I’m also a formal linguist, so
I’ve studied linguistics and language. These go hand in
hand. Theater began, as you know, with people telling stories
around a fire. So that’s the way I see all of this. He’s
telling a story. He’s not around a fire anymore, but the same
kind of basic, primitive, as close to earth as possible sort of image
is what I want. So it’s not twentieth century in a super-gloss
kind of way at all.
BD: So he’s
more than a percussionist; he’s a minstrel?
sure. He’s telling a story. He has to come to terms with it
himself. It’s very different for a musician who has musical chops
and knows how to interpret a model score, but has never been asked to
really be aware of what his body is doing. Your feet have to do
something. The expressions in your face have to be such and
such. The act of playing is not enough. So that’s usually
the difficult part.
BD: Is it
really possible to concentrate on all of these things at once, and get
where it takes two or three years, you see? I’m very
greedy. I want all of the person. Take an actor, for
instance. The only way we’re going to believe that King Lear is
really King Lear when he puts his eyes out in the Shakespeare play
— when we know perfectly well that he might be some guy
I’ve just seen on the street — is for him to
actually go through all these years of thinking about training, so that
he actually convinces us that he is Lear. So Steve, for instance,
in this case has to convince the audience that he really lost his
stick, which for a percussionist is like losing a very vital part of
his life. It’s a metaphor for the nuke thing, in some
cases. He has to really convince the audience that he’s going
through a psychological change of state. It is a
psycho-drama. He can’t just fake it. He really has to do it.
BD: How do
you prevent the audience, then, from running on stage and helping him?
KG: Well, you
don’t. If they do, then you deal with it. It’s a political
piece, so there are plenty of places that it’s played where people have
said, “Oh, not any more of that crap. We’re so tired of political
work that we don’t think artists should really be involved in political
things.” So there are all these arguments around the work that
I’m involved in, with audiences who react against the notion that art
should be anything but some pure thing detached from life.
BD: Then are
you manipulating the audience, as well as the performer?
KG: I don’t
know if I’d call it that. I make demands of them. That is
one of the basic premises for theater. Talk to any playwright,
even people who write comedy or something like that. They really
want the audience to go through some kind of an experience.
Everything militates in that direction. The quality of the song,
the quality of the acting, the sets, everything is designed to put the
audience in a particular kind of place, which is where the artist wants
them, so they can experience not only an entertainment, but in some
sense be changed by the time you’ve gotten through the drama.
You’ve had an experience that in some way changes you. You don’t
come out the same way you went in. Now I don’t see that as
manipulation. That’s understood as okay in terms of
theater. So when I do a theater piece that happens to be in the
musical context, it becomes difficult only because people expect
music. Even though the signs are there, such as the lights and
the acting and all that kind of stuff, they still think it should not
be what it really is. I want them to actually believe that here’s
a guy who is actually acting. He happens to be acting by way of
his instrument, and sometimes by way of his voice instead of maybe just
using words, as in theater, but what he does with all these gestures is
still acting. They really do it, but that is extremely
sophisticated and that’s an immense demand, but when somebody really
sees it and experiences all of it, they are moved. It happened
today and it happened in New York. That’s what I want, first of
all. I want to move people in terms of the subject. I don’t
want them to say, “Ho-hum, here’s another one of those.” Life is
up for grabs here. So I want them to be moved in the same way
that Shakespeare wanted his plays and his wonderful words to move people
— not to tell them how to think, because that’s
manipulation, but actually have an experience; to put the music in such
a way so that if they’re sensitive at all and open and aware, they
really do have a profound experience. Then they can think of it
any way they want, but it’s the experience that’s important.
BD: It’s a
very forward-looking piece, but let’s look forward even farther,
twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, when it gets reinterpreted.
What instructions are you going to leave for a reinterpretation, in
terms of what is happened fifty years hence?
KG: Well, I
don’t know. What I hope will happen is that it might contribute
its small part to the stop of this nonsense. I don’t know where
your political persuasions are, but I can’t believe anybody really
wants to get bombed off the earth, or have to have this really happen.
KG: So it may
very well be that in fifty years it would be like Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, that we
understand was written in his time and in his own way as a powerful
political action against the things that were going on there.
Now, whether in 1985 we hear that etude as a historic piece, as some
kind of museum piece, or whether it still strikes a kind of fire in us
— even though that fire that he wrote it for is out
— it still strikes a sympathetic chord. So it’s
a question whether we can be moved by anything that is, in fact,
historical. All of this will someday surely be historical.
There’s no question about that. Assuming that the event does take
place, then my hope is that this will have been one of the things that
helped to bring that about. I only know how to do it in my own
way. That’s why I resent musicians saying, “But you should just
be a musician.” This is what I do. My background is in all
of those areas, and I’m really interested in the kind of
integration. I teach that way. I want to be that way as a
human being, as unbiased, as unprejudiced as possible, as accepting as
possible. I believe in an integration of all of these
things. First of all, I don’t think there is anything, strictly
speaking, that specific about any of the arts. They all overlap
in some way or another, so I can think about my works in terms of
architecture, as Beethoven did. The kind of expansive space and
the kind of thing that special concerns connote are not out of line at
all with building buildings. It’s a different, it’s an acoustical
area, but nevertheless it has the same kind of resonance. So I’m
against the idea that music is here, and dance is there, and painting
is elsewhere. Conceptually, at least, they have an awful lot
talking to each other, and they each contribute a certain part of
it. So I’m greedy. I want to do all of that. I want
the artist, the so-called musician, to be able to paint or to be able
to move, to dance. When I work with dancers I want them to be
able to use their voices and sing. So it doesn’t only go one way.
not going to be another Wagner and build a theater for your pieces, are
partially a Wagner thing, but it’s much more closely related to the
work of Harry Parch, whose first political act was to take the
musicians out of the pit. I don’t think I realized
that until maybe a few years ago. To him, playing operas in the
pit is the most demeaning thing that a musician should ever have to
do. If he wanted them to just play, they had to be onstage.
But as soon as they were onstage playing, then he wanted them to do
more than that. Their gestures had to also begin to mean
something. So gradually he built this enormous schematic that
involved making instruments. It involved the performers being
actors as well as dancers. He wanted them to be whole people, to
utilize all their energy rather than just a mere business of
playing. I’ve been artistic director for some of his major stage
works. I did The Bewitched
for the Berlin Festival a few years ago. So you see, I move in
and out of all of those. Sometimes I actually am involved in
staging legitimate works. I staged Beckett; I do a lot of
Beckett. I have ensembles that work with just actors, and then I
also sculpt and I build things. I am a musician, but I also write
texts that get published as literature, not as some crony. By the
time you do that, they all sort of get kind of merged together, so any
time I get an idea it already includes all of that. It would be
impossible for me to write a text without thinking of it acoustically
as a performance piece, for instance.
BD: What do
you expect of the audience that comes to hear the music or the theater
works of Kenneth Gaburo?
KG: What I
expect of the audience is actually the same thing I would expect if I
were not me, but some other composer — for them
to be sensitive to a couple of very basic things. First of all,
that the music you hear actually had a real person behind it even if
the composer is not present, and that the person who wrote one piece
was probably not the same person as the person who wrote the next piece
on the program. In every case I know, there are no two things
alike in the world. Everything is unique. That’s my
philosophical position. So what I would like is for somebody to
listen to my work and say, “Okay, what is unique about that work?” not,
“What do I like about that work?” or, “What work
I would rather write instead of that work, and which work would I
prefer?” Each work demands its place in the world, and each and
every work should be treated as if that were the only one at the
moment. I really am talking to you right now; it’s not like I’m
talking to fifteen other people. So the way we are with each
other, in the best possible circumstances, is to really be there and be
with that person at the time. When you’re really doing your job,
it is a very simple human basic thing, and that’s not elegant.
It’s not something mysterious. That’s what I expect, that the
work has certain properties about it which demand a certain kind of
attention. The best analogy would be to talk about a very young
infant. If I don’t have yet the vocabulary or the experiences to
be able to really perceive or describe or in some way be involved in
the thing that I’m actually experiencing, if I can’t call it something,
if I can’t recognize it, then I’m going to be limited in my
mind. I’m going to be limited by my empty bag. I don’t have
a lot of experience; I don’t have many words; I can’t say a lot.
Any new piece — such as I think my things are
— is really only out of my own experience. Until I
make them, I never make a piece that I have experienced before.
It’s a very strange process. They’re out of my own experiences,
so I know they’re not out of anybody else’s experience. It’s very
startling, and by and large most people don’t yet have the language for
that piece. So part of appreciating anything is to develop and
learn a language for it. I can’t appreciate anything new unless I
have some sense for that language. It’s not enough to just call
it a piece of music.
BD: Are you
expecting the audience, then, to have as much sophistication as you
have in order to appreciate your music?
KG: I expect
them to have the same desire that I have, to come to know it.
BD: Can they
do that in one experience?
I can’t come to know you on one experience, and this is the way I
teach. Anything that can be said about some discussion that has
to do with art or literature, can be said about the interaction between
humans. People are different. We would be enormously
presumptuous if we thought that we could know each other by the first
glance, or if I said, for instance, “Hey, you’re not the first one
who’s talked to me with a blue shirt on, and has a beard.” To say
I know you already would be preposterous! The essential concept
here really is as whole a one, as complete a one as possible. My
art is not separated from the way in which I live my life, or the way I
think about the interaction between humans. In this case, my
piece is a strange one, so it is analogous to a person that I met two
weeks ago who speaks Yugoslavian but doesn’t speak English.
everything that you write, then, is really part of your autobiography?
KG: Yes, and
if I don’t do well — in that case, if I don’t know Yugoslavian
— we’re not going to get very far.
BD: Do you
like baring your soul all the time in these autobiographical sketches?
KG: You can’t
avoid it. There’s no way you can hide it. Nobody can.
It’s really a mind-set pretense to think so. There are lots of
things that you’ll never find out about me, but the things that I know
about myself I’m perfectly willing to reveal. The things that you
may intuit about me, I don’t know. It’s the most embarrassing
when I’m talking to kids, young people! This question is a
profound one. Without ever really thinking of it seriously, the
act of music, which is the act of self-expression, is in fact a
hiding. As I say, “Do you know that this is your autobiography?”
they get terrified. They say, “Oh no, it can’t be! I don’t
want to reveal myself.” How do you address the
contradiction? You say, “I’m trying to express myself and not
have it be hiding.” [Both laugh] So whatever it is that
shows is what shows. I’m certainly not revealing everything about
me in any single piece.
BD: Is there
ever a case where it can be analyzed too much? In this percussion
piece we’re talking about, perhaps you didn’t choreograph a certain
wrist movement, and yet someone says, “This wrist movement is so
significant; it takes precedence over all the rest.”
okay with me as long as it in some way could make sense to this person
in the relationship, and not be in isolation from what else is there.
you’ve choreographed all the notes on the page. You’ve
choreographed all of the instruments on the stage. You’ve
choreographed what the guy does, and yet they focus in on something
that was completely unintentional!
fine, but it isn’t, really. If three quarters of the car is
built, if we know anything about cars the other quarter is pretty
obvious to figure out. For instance, the percussionist comes in
clicking his sticks. The actual playing of the instruments is
minimal, compared to the amount of time that he spends clicking his
sticks. And he changes sticks, so sometimes they’re wood and
sometimes they’re plastic. As each goes through his emotional
changes, the clicking of the sticks essentially will tell the audience
that he’s getting more uptight, or he’s less uptight, and about how he
does that. After the first performance at Cal Arts, somebody came
up to me and said they were fascinated by the clicking of sticks, and
that surely it must have been some code. The guy said, “What code
was that? It wasn’t Morse code. What kind of code was
it?” This is really answering your question — I
said, “Actually, I never thought about it as a code.” These are
conveying emotional things, and emotional things are codes. Of
course! It wasn’t Morse code but, in fact, it was a code.
BD: It’s a
Right. So the point is that I didn’t use that word, so he
startled me by the question, and I realized that he was right on
without my having thought about that. In that sense, it was an
accident, but ultimately it was the difference of two different words
that actually could have signified the same thing. I was thinking
about expression, but expression is a code. Even thinking of it
more literally, that wasn’t so far off from his wondering if it was
some kind of Morse code, or some kind of CIA code that he would have to
break. Nevertheless, it was in the ballpark, so it was not so far
off from what I really meant.
BD: Maybe he
didn’t realize that he had already broken the code!
Yes. It’s really extraordinary because I do a lot of work with
what’s called psycho-acoustic perception. That has to do
precisely with that kind of thing. I’ve done some strange things
in strange environments with certain kinds of music, and I really like
the idea of having an opportunity after a show to sit and talk with
people. I invite them, and it’s usually mentioned in the program
that I’ll hang out with people. If they’re interested they can
stay and do just what you’re doing now. So that’s one way of
increasing the lag time of my strange language. The chances are
they may never hear it again, so I want them to get something from it.
BD: Do they
come back and talk to you?
Yes. I always sit there, so there are usually some who come back
to talk. I had a piece that was done in a regular theater called
the Berkeley Stage Company. It’s a language piece, very little in
it that you would recognize as music, although it has meter and changes
in polyrhythms and all that kind of stuff. It’s for seven
virtuoso speakers and very little stage design, and it was set by a
design and staged by a friend of mine. We did our usual asking
for a discussion afterwards, and people came. They were
regular. They were violently for all the work that was done
there. It was kind of like an experimental theater situation, and
they hung out afterwards. Part of their joy was they had an
opportunity to talk to the director and ask questions of the
actors. This happened many times, and they began by saying, “I’m
a regular member of this. I contribute to it every year. I
come to everything. Some things I like, some things I
don’t. Some things I really don’t understand, and blah, blah,
blah.” Then one lady said, “I’m not really sure about this piece
at all. This is the strangest thing I ever experienced.” It
has to come after intermission, when the audience is just settling
down, and begins with all seven speakers using a whole bunch of
sibilance, all going “Ssssss.” The lady first thought it was hot
air, which is nice, not a bad metaphor because it’s about being
shafted. So she wasn’t wrong. Then she said, “I thought
they were just doing something silly until I began to be aware of the
fact that sometimes two or three of them were doing it, then maybe only
one would do it, so it looked organized to me.” So she began to
see some kind of organization, even though it wasn’t an orchestra
playing. So she went on, and every couple of sentences she would
say, “But I don’t have any idea whether it was what you really had in
mind because it was very strange.” Then she said something really
wonderful. She said, “About three quarters of the way through it,
after I was aware of the fact that even strange sounds, such as these
nasty phonemes that you were using, were not accidents or
mistakes. You must have intended those.” So that she at
least understood that all that she heard was not some random kind of
thing, but it was intended. That’s pretty good. Then I had
this flash. I live very near a freeway, and had forgotten about
how annoyed I was years ago when they put the freeway in front of my
house, and felt that I had been shafted. That word has never been
used, and that was never used in the show. It’s the aesthetic
behind it. So I was sitting there sunning, and I realized how
much noise there was in my environment that I’ve sort of tuned out, and
I began to think maybe this piece is really about noise and how much
things like Muzak or a highway or something like that have invaded our
privacy. I said to the lady, “What word would you use for that to
express your feeling? ‘I’ve been, what? Taken?’”
She said, “Oh, I’d say I’ve been shafted.” I said, “I used the
word ‘screwed’ instead of ‘shafted,’
but they’re so close, right?’ Actually, what you said is right
on. The piece came from a very similar kind of experience you had.”
Then she looked at me square in the eye, and she said, “So the only
difference is that I didn’t know it. I didn’t know for sure until
you told me that what I was experiencing was what you intended.”
I said, “That’s all you really needed.” It’s like when the
teacher finally says, “Okay, you get an A because you answered the
question.” Somehow that became a very interesting kind of polemic
for me. I’m absolutely convinced now that if people are sensitive
and listen carefully or attentively, that they really get it, that they
really get what seems to them to be something impossible. The
only thing they don’t have is somebody to come along like some Deus ex machina to confirm what
they already really have experienced.
BD: Is their
insecurity which is showing.
right. But that’s so far away from not really understanding a
piece. I think they really get it. They just need to be
told that they got it.
insecure that what they’ve thought is right.
Exactly. That’s extraordinarily different from saying they don’t
have the aptitude or the intelligence, or other words to that
effect. My stuff is very physical acoustically; it’s physical in
terms of what performers do, and unless you’re totally insensitive to
it, you will understand. People get mesmerized by acrobats, by
jocks that are doing all this kind of stuff. Forgetting about all
the points, the physical part of basketball is immense. So if
they can see that in it, and this physicality conveys something very
direct and very dramatic, then I’m convinced that they’re getting the
story in some kind of way.
BD: For you,
what is the difference between music and noise?
much. I work an awful lot with synthesizers. That’s not all
I do, but as a result of the electronic revolution in the sixties, when
composers such as myself and a whole bunch of others began to really
work in studios with what are now called synthesizers, it was not
really possible to think about music in the same way. We had
oscillators and things that generated crude wave forms. So
instead of notes, I think about wave forms. I think about sound
shapes. I think about densities. I think about how space is
occupied or not occupied, how porous it is; all kinds of strange things
that have to do with the physicality of how sound is, rather than
scales and things like that. That’s easy to translate into pieces
such as the Schick piece, or Maledetto,
which is the language piece I was talking about, that is essentially a
curse piece. It’s easy to translate that stuff into physical
sounds and wave shapes and forms that experience
something, that present something physical, so that if I want to
— as in the case of Maledetto
— I can increase the sense that we are inundated and our
privacies are invaded, not just by the ideas that are contained in
propaganda, but by the acoustical world itself. Where I taught at
California, we were right near Miramar Air Base. There were jets flying
ten or fifteen feet over the classrooms all day long. You
couldn’t say that was a peaceful act. It was like an act of
violence. So it is true that the noise in the world is also part
of my work to, in fact, condemn the thing by using it.
BD: Are you
optimistic about the future of (a) music, (b) the world?
KG: I’m not
very optimistic about the world. So if I can’t be optimistic
about that, I can’t be optimistic about anything that happens in it.
BD: Do you
have a sense of finality, then?
KG: Well, this
testimony project that I’ve been doing has been more than an
education. It’s been almost debilitating. About six years
ago I decided I had to take on, in my own kind of way, the whole
issue. It comes out of the whole human rights movement; it comes
out of the idea of humankind. The nuke thing is the worst act
that has been perpetrated thus far against humankind, against life
itself. So I’m concerned about life, the life of the earth, the
life of all living things, and it happens to be that taking on nuke is
one part of it. But the base is really how life is, and what
we’re losing in terms of CO2 in the atmosphere, in terms of acid
rain. We can’t really talk about quality of life in the same way
we could twenty or thirty years ago. It’s not the same. I’m
concerned about that, so about six years ago I really could not be
quiet about that. I’ve always been political on specific things,
but this is like the Grand One. This is it! We’re talking
about your life and my life. I started a television series —
which began in Schenectady — using a VCR to tape interviews
one-on-one. The person that I’m asking a particular question of
faces the camera and the mike, and answers the question. The face
is full. It’s a tight shot, so their face fills the entire
screen. They’re asked a question, which I’ll mention in a
moment. They are also invited to ask the question of the very
next person, so what happens is very interesting. First of all,
person A answers the question verbally. Often times the
expressions on their face betray what they’re saying, but at least
there are already two languages — the whole
gestural language and the verbal language. Then when they ask the
question of somebody else, it’s very different in the way they weight
the words. So this is like three in one. I now have done
600 of those one-on-one interviews with people from kids to old folks,
to various ethnic groups, to college students, to people who were bums,
to the far right, to the far left. I’ve had some very large
difficulty with certain ethnic groups who just don’t think that it’s
their problem. They think that it’s Whitey’s problem or something
like that, so they’re difficult. But that all happened, and it’ll
be part of a large installation some time. One of the channels on
this percussion piece, which is part of this installation, has
extractions from some of these testimonies. That’s what drives
Steve Schick to go through these various psychological changes.
It’s the way in which certain people answer these questions which he
personally had trouble with when he first started the piece. He
had to go through a whole bunch of changes to really become convincing
about it, because he really was one of these people who said, like so
many have in this interviewing process, “What is one person? What
can one person do? I can’t do anything about it.” That’s a
very common one, but the most common one for old people and young, if
you really probe it deep enough, is, “I don’t think I have a future.”
BD: So what
is the question that you ask?
question is, “In the event of a nuclear war, human life 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?” It’s a fairly straight
question, but that’s not the kind of question that’s being asked too
often. We’re talking about MX Missiles and stuff like that.
I believe in protecting our borders and all that kind of stuff, but if
I were to be invited into the Pentagon, I’d say, “You can spend, as far
as I’m concerned, all the tax dollars you want on all this crazy
stuff. You can do SDI up the kazoo. But I would like you to
take one operating parameter out of it, and that is that no human or
any living thing would ever be hurt.” Do you suppose they think
that would be possible? It would be unthinkable! They
couldn’t possibly do it! So, the assumption is, always implicitly
there, that we’re working against our best interests by even supporting
the thing, because it could never be without the understanding that
humans would be sacrificed in some kind of way or another. It’s a
given. Anyway, it’s very interesting because right now, up to
this point, in spite of the differences in the way in which people have
expressed things, there really have been only eight basic responses to
that question. One is, “I can’t do
anything about it.” A second is, in the
case of the fundamentalists, “I look forward to
it. It’s sort of like the second coming. It’s the way we’re
going to be paying for our sins.” Well, I’d
like to kill the bastards, so there’s kind of a fight fire with
one. The one that hurts the most is, “I
don’t think I have any future.”
Yes. Some are cynical, as was one after the percussion piece that
drives Steve crazy. This kid said, “Well, if we blow ourselves
up, that’s what we do. We did it.” So like, we deserve
it. It’s kind of true, but that’s not the one I want to
hear. I’m going back to the question that you asked earlier, that
profoundly, each time I go through one of these it’s a very deep kind
of experience. Sometimes people will really cry. Some of
them just don’t know what to do when faced with it directly. The
camera very often, which is about two and a half feet away from your
face right, becomes a gun. It’s a terrifying experience. I
didn’t mean for it to be vicious in that kind of way, but the
parameters of being faced with a gun all of the time? One very
interesting idea that needs to be really developed an awful lot is that
in terms of these kids especially, young people don’t feel they have a
future. There’s no need to even talk about the possibility of the
button being pushed someday. The damage has already been done.
BD: It’s not ‘if’,
Right. The only thing they can do is work hard every day.
Many people have said, “Work hard every day to pretend that it isn’t
there.” It isn’t as if they’re insensitive. The only thing
they can do to make that moment worthwhile is to pretend it’s not
there. That means the presence of it in any sense dominates their
lives to the point that it is really already destroying them.
When I was in Southern California as a student, somebody I knew who I
thought was just a smartass cynic because he was grumbly and kind of
disagreeable, but was a very nice musician. So when I was in San
Francisco and he happened by at the place where I was doing this one
day, I asked him if he’s like to do one, and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do
one.” He said, “I was about ten years old when I saw a clip on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it just blew me away. I didn’t
understand it, but it blew me away, and I said I think the earth is
probably going to go in about ten years.” So he made this kind of
prediction. So ten years later he said, “Well, it didn’t happen,
so since then I have been living on borrowed time. My prediction
was wrong, but I’m living on borrowed time.” Then he looked at me
and looked at the camera square in the eye, which means he’s looking at
you in the eye, because you’re the viewer here, and he said, “Since
that day I have never cared about anything or owned anything. I
get a $50 car. When it falls apart, I just leave it on the side
of the road and hike until I get another car.” In fact, he was
living in the back of his car. He wouldn’t even live in an
apartment. He had absolutely nothing! He wasn’t a bum; he
was a very intelligent person, but he never wanted to possess
anything. There just wasn’t any point in it for him. That’s
maybe extreme, but it’s not uncommon that in some way the kids that I
teach have given up the idea that they have a future. So when
somebody says, “Students aren’t the way they were twenty-five years
ago,” I say, “Yeah, but they’re not dealing with the same kind of
problems we have. Those problems were not there then.” So
if I have a kid who’s having trouble with his studies, nine times out
of ten, if we’re talking like this for a whole semester, it ends up
being that. What’s the point? That was the hardest one of
these basic eight.
BD: So then
obviously you haven’t reached that point. You are still
yes. I shouldn’t have been so quick to say I’m not so sure about
the future. Nobody can make any predictions about it one way or
the other. Maybe you gave me a clue before. I’m more
optimistic than I was because there seems to be less and less
controversy about the idiocy of it all. There are more people
who, even if they don’t understand, who still think it’s probably not a
bad idea to have that stuff around, are much more doubtful. The
more times we have a Chernobyl, the more difficult it is to say that
it’s good for us. I think there is some reason to be hopeful with
Gorbachev. Who knows about that? But it’s with considerable
caution that I feel that way, because I don’t see anything
changing. We’re already spending fifty or sixty percent of our
budget for this stuff. Once these get in place it’s going to be
difficult to stop. What are you going to do with SDI after Reagan
goes, and all of this money has already been appropriated? You’re
going to have to continue this in some kind of way. Then there
are the real problems of what to do about all the nuclear waste, all
the toxic waste and all that kind of stuff, so we’re not in very good
shape. I still think that humans can stand up. My only hope
is that enough voices stand up eventually and simply just say, “Stop
it.” That’s the only thing that can happen — raising
human voices. I just did a marvelous weekend in
Minneapolis. Most of my work when I am traveling is like
this piece of poetry that I read, stuff which is not political.
But I always try to find an opportunity to get some testimony at the
same time. As a matter of fact, it’s almost a condition for
taking some of this work, is that I’ll do that. So that’s how
I’ve been able to pick up all this diversity.
BD: Maybe you
should endow that to somebody else in the next generation.
KG: That will
happen. That’s really a very, very good idea. I have names
of everybody, and they’re all roughly categorized. For instance,
I refer to one group as the Schenectady Testimony, and there’s the
Minneapolis Testimony. It’s amazing how different parts of the
country are different. I have the Cuernavaca Testimony. I’m
going to be in Australia this summer and I’m going to try to get some
of the Aborigines to testify. But you’re right, they all want to
know what’s going to happen to this? So at some point the project
will happen. It’s going to cost mega bucks to put it up in terms
of major installations like in art galleries, but it’s going to
happen. I want to do it in four places — Washington,
New York, maybe Chicago or in this area, and the west coast. I
have now about 600 voices. Each person talks between three and
four minutes, so I have something like thirty hour-long video
cassettes. Each one will be in its own play-back system, so
there’ll be thirty monitors around the perimeter of the museum.
talking at once?
talking at once, at a level which won’t interfere with others.
I’ve done some small setups already, like ten at a time to see how it
works. They’ll be about five feet apart, and won’t necessarily be
symmetrical. Some might be in the center. Some of the
museums in Chicago have second floors, so they can be all over the
place. But there’ll be this grand noise. It’ll be just
human noise — talking — and
if you just want to listen to that and hear how monitor fifteen is
talking to monitor twenty-five across the way, these words will sort of
jut out. That’s one way to experience it, but it is also possible
to get close, like you would to a painting, and have this great viewing
and listening to any one. My idea is that it would be something
like paintings. They will continue to recycle all day long, so
people can drop in any time they want to experience some or all of
it. It’s all in color, and it’s just going to be absolutely
mind-blowing. Inside of that will be three other major works of
mine that are almost all done now. One is Antiphony Eight, which is this
piece for percussion that lasts forty minutes. There will be all
these literary texts that have to do with violence and male sexuality,
and the connection of all of that with a gun.
BD: Will the
TVs be going on while the piece is being performed?
KG: At that
point they probably will be brought down to a very, very low
threshold. Maybe all the images will still be there, like so many
audience members looking at themselves in some other form. I
don’t know. That has to be worked out yet. There are three
acts plus the testimony, so it’s kind of like a four-act thing.
It’s called The Scratch Project.
In the fall of 1988 it’ll be ready to go. I’ve got somebody
already working on the funding, and getting to reach the right people
who can begin talking about spaces. So while I’m finishing it,
that’s all going.
BD: Are you
using music as a continuum?
KG: As a
continuum, until it finally stops it. There was showing in
Chicago about two years ago of the families of the descendants of
people who were maimed or hurt or killed in the Nagasaki thing buying
back pieces of film — I think it’s ten dollars a frame from the
Department of State — and they showed about an hour’s worth of it in a
Chicago theater a couple of years ago. It was very
powerful. I want as much as anybody for this particular kind of
insanity to stop. I think it’s time we really recognize that what
we had were each other, that the world is just full of humans and we
can’t keep doing this to each other.
BD: Is music
itself a kind of insanity?
about the world, then, is not insanity?
KG: I don’t
know. I think it’s all crazy. I don’t mind crazy
people. I love them. I just don’t want them to kill each
other. There are kinds of insanity, right? [Both laugh]
BD: Where is
music going today?
KG: Music is going
every which way in a pluralistic society, such as we are here.
Since the whole business of cross-over began five or ten years ago,
serious musicians are beginning to incorporate rock or grass root kind
of stuff, bluegrass music or whatever in their pieces. The kind
of mixtures are endless and various. Also, with the availability
now of various kinds of synthesizers, with canned software programs
where you have stored wave forms — so you can
get trumpet sounds out, you can get violin sounds out — you
can play around with that stuff. So it’s becoming much more
mimetic, which is one of the grand old Aristotelian kind of complaints,
that mostly the thing that stops our imagination, the thing that stops
us from growing, could stop us from growing, is to imitate. Kids
begin by imitating. We learn by imitating. Most of the
music that I hear is an imitation of imitation of stuff that already
exists. It’s not difficult at all anymore to have a synthesizer,
which you get for $2000, simulate an orchestra. That part, I
think, is really dangerous — not because in
itself it is intrinsically good or bad; it’s fun and games and stuff
like that; it’s like the videogames — but to the
extent that it nulls the imagination. We really have to have
imagination to get on with the problems of the world.
imitation is good up to a point, but if it doesn’t go beyond that, then
it’s a waste?
KG: Yes, I
think it’s a waste. It becomes a loop; it becomes redundant; it
becomes self-serving; it becomes status quo; it becomes static.
BD: So we
should progress forward rather than looping?
Yes. You have to, yes. You have to really take new chances
and new steps, but I don’t consider this kind of thing we were just
talking about madness at all. That’s just buying into whatever
the status quo is. Once that goes out of favor, something else
will come in. But it is a kind of madness to decide that what you
want to do is go against the grain to begin with, to really do
something that hasn’t really been done before. It’s not just that
it’s an exercise of the imagination, but it’s invoking things that take
you down dark channels, and to places that you’ve never experienced
sometimes for the hell of it... like guys that climb that big mountain
in India just like because it’s there. That kind of curiosity is
BD: Is this
why you do music, because it’s there?
because my music is not there. I want it to be there.
BD: You want
to put it there?
KG: I want to
put it there.
BD: Are you a
creator, or a gatherer, or a re-creator, or how do you see yourself?
KG: I’m a
maker. I make. I like “maker.” That bothers a lot of
people because that gets very close to sounding religious. I like
the idea of maker rather than creator, for there’s something physical
about that. When I work with tape or machines, it’s very kinetic.
BD: Are you
making music out of something, or are you making it out of nothing?
yes. My sense of what I do is the opposite of the conventional
way of actually thinking about this whole process of making. An
innocent person or an artist will begin by assuming that somehow, by
some strange and mysterious process which we don’t understand, there’s
a light bulb that clicks and we have an idea in our head. That
idea is intangible; it’s hard to grab, but nevertheless it’s there and
we fixate on it. It’s like ideation, and the task is to somehow
realize, to make that idea concrete, to take something which is
intangible and amorphous, maybe even abstract, and make it into
something concrete that I can touch and you can touch, and we can all
experience. That general process is felt physically from like the
mind to the page, or from the mind to the wall, literally in that
direction, putting ideas down on paper. I’m stressing that point
because mine is the opposite. I don’t give a damn what’s
down. I do all kinds of crazy things which are called random
processes, stochastic processes, mathematical processes, random thisses
and thats. The idea is to make the concretion without an idea,
and then to see what idea is in the concretion; as if I’ve discovered
something that I know I made, but didn’t know until I began to discover
it coming back. So it’s the opposite. It’s receiving it
this way. It’s like people. If you look at that wood over
there on the other side of this room, you probably see a character or
something like that in that wood. We all have had that experience
of seeing things in things. But I push that to the extreme, in
the sense that I work also at putting myself intentionally in states
that prevent me from actually working from idea to concretion, but
rather, with concretion itself. I made a piece two years ago
after having been up for forty-eight hours. The only thing I
could think about was just falling over, and I did it in studio.
I made a patch very quickly, and just did something which I don’t
remember at all, and it came out just beautifully. So what it
showed me is that the subliminal mind and the subconscious is still
working in an organized kind of way even if your conscious mind
isn’t. This piece that I made for Steve was done in a very
interesting way. The only real intention here that could be
called composition, in the conventional sense, is setting up an
apparatus that will guarantee that I can’t possibly make the same
piece, because I’ve never done that thing before and I won’t do that
BD: Do you
ever go back and listen to your old pieces?
BD: Are you
pleased with them?
Sure. Sometimes I don’t remember doing them. That’s very
often the case. I remember having the experience, but I can’t
remember what motivated me to make this shape rather than that
shape. So in a certain sense, it is just as in this
discussion. I hope you don’t mind these analogies. If we
were to start over again, I might say the same thing, but I doubt that
I would say it in the same order or stress the same kinds of
things. Or maybe I might say something altogether
different. I see composition as kind of incredibly important act
of self-realization, which, if I backed up the tape to the point where
I started, I might take a different route, and it might be or probably
would be just as satisfying. Any finished composition of mine
— including the one with Steve — actually
means to me one pass of a very large number of possible passes.
That one happened to be the one. So even my sense of finality is
in itself kind of arbitrary, a random sort of thing. That’s done
now. I feel satisfied with it, but it isn’t as if I exhausted
this idea, because there wasn’t any one in the first place. I can
make hundreds of pieces out of that same graphic or that same
BD: There’s a
work in your catalog listed as an opera. Tell me about
that. It’s an early work, dating from around 1954.
KG: There are
two. There was one that I did in 1954 that’s based on the Hans
Christian Andersen fairy tale, The
Snow Queen, and then there was one about ten years later.
I was just out of school. It’s not the typical form. I used
a lot of kids in it, and I wanted them to really sing as if they were
trained opera singers, so that was fun. But I worked with a
playwright for the first time, and so it was actually a play that could
have been staged without me. Because we were colleagues in the
same campus, it kind of grew together, so every once in a while we’d
talk about the possibility of music here or there. Eventually it
became an opera, but it was written in a way by a play, and that was my
beginning with theater. It was written for two pianos and some
percussion, which is nice. There was no orchestra. It has lots of
interesting things, but it was a very literal translation of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian
Andersen. However, I really consider the work that began to
really reflect me more than it reflected who I’d studied with probably
didn’t begin until about ’55 or ’56.
after the opera?
Yes. About three or four years later I began to just throw things
away. Part of composing is not only finding things like I just
explained, but also throwing things away, getting rid of things.
I now carry that to an extreme. I get rid of the actual process
that I just used to make something. I’ll throw that away, because
I know I won’t go through that same process again. If I were to
do another piece that’s based on an old process, I’m not likely to come
out with that piece, so it’s all random that way. I’m very lucky
in that way. I’m not played a lot. I’m not really
known. My work is not really known in the way that it would be
nice to be, but it’s because it’s so difficult and it takes so much of
a whole person to do it. There are lots of pieces that are like
the one I did for Schick that require more than just being a good
musician. So there are people that just are not interested, that
don’t want to do it. But I am very fortunate in the sense that
everything that I made I’ve heard; it’s been done well at least once,
so I know that it’s doable. For instance, Steve will do Antiphony Eight. He’s already
done it about thirty times. Usually, when somebody goes to the
extremes that are necessary to really bring the piece off, it becomes
part of their repertoire. Bert Turetzky, who is this marvelous
bassist, does a piece of mine called Inside,
in which he has to do four things. He has to treat the bass as a
drum. He plays it normally, has to sing, and dance a little bit
around the bass and stuff like that, and it’s a solo piece, but it’s a
quartet. It’s really called a quartet for one bass player, and I
treat it like he’s actually doing four parts. He’s done that now
about 600 times. [See my Interview with Bert
Turetzky.] That’s an old piece which was done in ’62, and
he’s done it at least 600 times. He’s played it everywhere in the
world. I have a bunch of pieces like that, which are ongoing by
people who’ve taken the time. It took him two years; it seems
like that is the standard routine for him to get it and learn it.
He could really sing, and he has to make all these incredibly funny
vocal sounds and stuff like that.
BD: Does the way
he performs the piece metamorphose a little bit as he’s going along?
KG: Yes, and
every once in a while it’s like something will dawn on him to add to it.
BD: Do you
ever drop into his ongoing performance of it?
Yes. It gets very creepy, but opera singers do that.
Everybody that performs has a coach someplace. Pianists will go
back and have somebody check their pedaling. It’s very easy to
get sloppy with it. Well, not sloppy but you could lose something.
of doing it many times, does Turetzky ever find something new, and add
it, and you think, boy, that’s great?
Sure. The pieces are strange in that way, because they’re all
complicated. I think this is also true in general. What’s
the real performance of the Eroica
Symphony? If you could put the 5000 performance recordings
of that on top of each other and try to match them point for point,
there wouldn’t be any two alike, and yet they’re all correct.
None of them are necessarily a corruption of it at all. They’re
all within the generality of that piece.
protesting] But there must be a corruption of it someplace.
Probably someone pulled it too far, or compressed it too much, or
KG: No, I
don’t think so. Toscanini is usually cited as the real culprit,
which is very interesting, because everybody thinks he’s a god.
But if people were really annoyed at the way he conducted certain
works, through his life nothing ever changed. Right down to the
last second, they were done in the same time. If it’s forty
minutes, it’s forty minutes; it was never one second past that.
His performance is so undeviatingly the same, that that in itself is a
kind of corruption. I’m saying that it’s a mistake to assume that
anything we make is that frozen, and that rigid with a human. It
has to be acknowledged that it’s bringing a certain part of their life
to it. It isn’t as if they’re slaves, or transducers through
which this music flows. Everybody understands that a performer in
some way transforms a piece. I have lots of songs, for instance,
and if each soprano sang it note perfect, never missed a note, and it
was always same intonation and everything, and had the same approach to
it, the mere vocal qualities would be enough to cause it to be
different. But that’s not a corruption; it’s just part of the
BD: Is this
one of the things that you dislike about records — that
they are the same every time?
Yes. I don’t like records at all. I have some; I have a lot
of them, and I have cassettes and all that stuff, but what is the
future? What I find is wrong with all of that is our genuine fear
that they have become substitutes for experiencing the real
thing. In a certain sense they’ve made people who couldn’t have
become more socially involved with each other — since
I think music is a social act — become less
involved, because just as in the case of video, they have all that they
need right there. So it’s not so much the fault of the thing
itself; it’s what you don’t do because you have that. They think
they’ll just listen instead of going to concerts. So there’s some
reason why concerts are sometimes in trouble, why certain organizations
are in trouble with their concert clientele because it’s easy to have a
kind of second-hand experience, and just not get dressed and go.
BD: We seem
to be getting more and more young people who want to spend their lives
KG: Yes, and that’s
wonderful. It’s a growing number. That’s not a problem but
it is when you consider that a university such as Northwestern, or
probably three or four of them in this country, graduate ten or so
composers a year. It is an awful lot.
BD: Are we
getting too many?
KG: Yes, I
think we are, actually. That sounds terribly stuffy, but it’s
also true of pianists and organists and singers and dancers.
There are just not enough opportunities and outlets for everybody to
have a real chance at it. Assuming that they’re all at the same
level of goodness and competence, there just are an awful lot.
I’m at Iowa now, as you know, and we graduate fifteen or so each year,
and when I was at California it was probably about the same. They
wait two or three years just to get a job, and then it’s usually some
half-assed job someplace, a part-time kind of thing. So there are
not enough situations that can absorb all of that. What I’ve been
doing as a kind of a beginning of an answer — I’m not alone in that
several places around the country have done this — is to get involved
in multi-dimensional stuff that I’ve been talking to you about, so that
a kid doesn’t have to rely on having just one string to his bow.
The composers today do very well with computers, for instance. I
have lots of my composing students who are really good enough to do
programming, so they can program for half a week and then are free half
a week. And they make good money. Some have aptitudes in
drawing, or in doing layouts, or in doing sound tracks for video.
BD: So they
do something else so they can eat, and then they can spend the rest of
the time pursuing what they want?
Yes. Some of them are able to do that and feel they get
encouraged. For instance, one of my students is really down on
how trivial music is in video ads, for instance, with respect to the
nature of the visual aspect and the ad itself. Usually the sound
part of it is really pretty dumb if you listen to that in an isolated
fashion. So he thinks that he can probably earn a good living and
not sacrifice a lot of his self-esteem by actually getting them to be
more conscious of kinds of sounds that would be infinitely more
interesting and more integrated with the visual images. He’s been
doing a lot of that kind of research and work for the last two years,
and he’s got some companies that are already interested. Iowa
made this big mistake in that it was essentially an agricultural,
agrarian state, and they’re in deep trouble now because the farmers are
in real problems and there’s no other industry. There’s nothing
else to offset that. So when the farm community goes down, so
does all the university. Everything goes down. So that in
that same sense, it’s very smart today, because of the saturation of
artists of all kinds, that they really try to diversify, and that they
develop skills in being able to do it. So the person who
represents me and is representing me for this massive project that I’m
talking about, is a trained singer with a very beautiful voice.
But she also knows people, and she’s very lovely, and is a very shrewd
young lady. She makes quite a salary every year representing
people for specific projects. I might say, “I need $25,000 to do
this video piece. Do you have any way of getting people
interested in that?” Then, for a rather large fee, she would do
that and get it. In the meantime it feeds back on itself, because
in the process of searching for people who are donors, she also gets
herself known more. They would just as likely sponsor her for a
concert sometimes. So she’s doing two things at the same
time. I used to think that was compromising the perfection of the
art, so a lot of the stuff I said today seems to be against the general
assumptions we make about the purity of the art. I’ve had to work
through and see how really dumb those ideas were, in a way, because it
kept us from being part of society. Artists have never had any
problem about putting price tags on their work. Composers, such
as half of the people who are at this convention, feel that it is
beneath their dignity to charge. They’d rather send scores out
free. They’re so delighted to have somebody be interested in
their work that they’ll just do that, and as long as you buy into that,
then you’re always going to be impoverished. We should be able to
make a reasonable living at what we do without having to compromise it,
and more and more people are doing that. It’s no longer just the
Coplands who are able to do it. I’m beginning to. It really
is possible for me now, if I live modestly, to actually live off my
work and not have to compromise.
you’ve spent a lifetime doing it, and building up a reputation!
Yes. I also love to teach, so that helps. But beginning
next year I’ll probably go on half-time, and then gradually reduce that
until it’s nonexistent because each year I get more and more
work. As long as I stay healthy, it’s going to go.
BD: I hope it
continues for a long time.
you. Well, hey, I just really appreciate the chance to talk to
you. I told you, I talk a lot.
that’s just great! The best interviews I have are where I put in
a nickel and let the guest talk. [Both laugh]
KG: Well, you
ask good questions, too. They’re hard things to answer.
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on April 9,
1987. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1991 and 1996, and on
WNUR in 2002 and 2013
This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.