Composer  Kenneth  Gaburo

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Kenneth 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 Angeles.

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. 

Bruce Duffie:    You just had a premiere.  Tell me about the joys and sorrows of having a premiere in New York.

Kenneth Gaburo:    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.

BD:    Especially for percussion, it seems logical that he would send you a videotape as well as audio material.

KG:    Yes, 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!

KG:    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 stick?

gaburo 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.

BD:    Changes of dress?

KG:    Not 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?

KG:    Oh, 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?

KG:    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?

KG:    Yes, 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 them right?

KG:    It’s 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 streetis 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.

BD:    Not today, no.

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 outit 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.

BD:    You’re not going to be another Wagner and build a theater for your pieces, are you?

KG:    It’s 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 piecesuch 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.

gaburo 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?

KG:    No.  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.

BD:    So 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.”

KG:    That’s 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.

BD:    But 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!

KG:    That’s 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 human code?

KG:    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!

KG:    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?

KG:    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.

KG:    Yes, 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.

BD:    They’re insecure that what they’ve thought is right.

KG:    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?

KG:    Not 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 toas in the case of MaledettoI 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?

gaburo 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?

KG:    The 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.

BD:    Resignation, then?

KG:    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, it’s when?

KG:    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 optimistic.

KG:    Well, 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.

BD:    All talking at once?

KG:    All 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
talkingand 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?

KG:    Yeah, sure. 

BD:    What 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?

gaburo 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 outyou 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 dangerousnot 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.

BD:    So 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?

KG:    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 vanishing.

BD:    Is this why you do music, because it’s there?

KG:    No, 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?

KG:    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 again.

BD:    Do you ever go back and listen to your old pieces?

KG:    Sure.

BD:    Are you pleased with them?

KG:    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 Steveactually 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 concretion.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

gaburo 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.

BD:    Just after the opera?

KG:    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?

KG:    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.

BD:    Because of doing it many times, does Turetzky ever find something new, and add it, and you think, boy, that’s great?

KG:    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.

BD:    [Gently protesting]  But there must be a corruption of it someplace.  Probably someone pulled it too far, or compressed it too much, or something.

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 humanness.

BD:    Is this one of the things that you dislike about records
that they are the same every time?

KG:    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 actbecome 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 composing.

gaburo 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?

KG:    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.

BD:    But you’ve spent a lifetime doing it, and building up a reputation!

KG:    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.

KG:    Thank you.  Well, hey, I just really appreciate the chance to talk to you.  I told you, I talk a lot.

BD:    Oh, 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 website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as 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 like 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.