Jane Siberry, “Lena Is A White Table” (1987).
(6’42”, 10.9 MB, mp3)
After Saturday’s post, a few more friends have sent in music with evil cackling. From Mark Harwood, Jani Christou’s Epicycle:
Clive Graham sent in a couple: Daphne Oram’s Dr Faustus Suite, and this:
I was just listening to Salvatore Martirano’s Underworld and I realised that there’s just not enough evil cackling in modern music. Underworld is probably the monarch of this petty kingdom, although Frank Zappa was probably the most prolific contributor to the genre, most notably in The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny, in addition to sundry appearances in RDNZL and elsewhere. Karlheinz Stockhausen also gets off a particularly good one in Der Jahreslauf.
Apart from these I’m drawing a blank. I suspect there are further examples lurking amongst the later works of Stockhausen, and possibly in one or two of Kenneth Gaburo’s pieces. This sorry state of contemporary music reflects a general dearth of evil cackling these days. Even the worst of evildoers are so cowed by political correctness that they now feel obliged to pretend their nefarious deeds are committed for the greater good. If only they could show they were getting some enjoyment out of their evil, then the world might start to make sense again.
UPDATE 2: of related interest.
Last night I was listening to a concert recorded in Phill Niblock’s loft in SoHo in 1979. Tom Johnson was performing his piece Nine Bells, for suspended fire alarm gongs. Right at the very end of the piece, a telephone in the room starts to ring. I’m talking one of those old-school Universal Telephone style BRRRRINGGGs. Nobody is outraged and Johnson doesn’t imitate the phone, even though he is ideally equipped to do so.
James Brown, “Doing The Best I Can” (1974).
(7’42”, 17.6 MB, mp3)
Can you imagine after all these years if you asked John Cage, “Do you really believe in Zen?” and you get the answer, “No.”
— Morton Feldman
I’m interested in John Cage but I’m not interested in Zen, so I don’t want to get too tangled up in origins. When reading the Pan Zen parables in The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium I wondered at first if Mathews was using Cage as a source, or if the two of them had each read the same, common book of Zen stories. After the briefest of research, it was obviously the former case.
Next thought: why Zen? Was Cage consulted as a handy source of Zen parables, or would any thought suitably exotic have fitted Mathews’ purposes and Cage’s anecdotes made good material? Come to think of it, is there anything wrong with Mathews’ versions of these stories? The linguistic joke is a broken-English rendition of Cage’s English, transformed completely, yet still recognisable. What we have is a (fictitious) English translation of a (fictitious) Pan translation of Cage’s English interpretation of and English translation of…. What is the original? Cage’s retelling of Zen stories are impossible to pin down. They drift back and forth between China and Japan, and some of them must originate in India. Cage’s versions must be as alien as Twang Panattapam’s. Where is the Patriarch and where is the poem?
The inevitable cultural distortion produced by imitation is as much a voluntary act of rejection as it is a voluntary, albeit imperfect, embrace. These transformed Zen stories, iteration and iteration, reminded me of the frontispiece of Guy Davenport’s book of essays, Every Force Evolves A Form. He draws a design from a Celtic coin, and observes that it’s creator was
trying to make iconographic sense of others derived from a stater of Philip II of Macedonia, which bore a head of Hermes on one side and a winged horse on the other. Copy after copy, over centuries, provincial mints in Aquitania had already misread the face of Hermes as a lion’s head, as sun and moon, or as so many abstract lines and dots.
A quick google finds plenty of examples of imitation Philip II staters, with a multitude of variations on the single, original design. One blog on Bulgarian Celtic culture charts the various paths by which the designs evolved. The author argues that these designs were “the result of a conscious and deliberate rejection of Greco-Roman art and experimentation with alternative artistic ideas that would not resurface in European art until the modern era”.
Davenport concludes that in his example, the profile of Hermes has been transformed into a horse. Based on the many examples found on Google Images it appears that he goofed and is looking at the reverse of the coin. This misinterpretation, accidental or not, draws its subject to a conclusion (“All art is a dance of meaning from form to form.”) as fruitful as Cage’s study of Zen – however faithful, misguided or superficial it may or may not have been. It is all so much raw material for an active mind to work on.
This bears repeating: I keep coming back to the idea that all creativity is an act of distortion. I’ve just been reading Harry Mathews’ epistolary novel The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium. One of the story’s protagonists – Tro-tsi Twang Panattapam McCaltex, from the former Italian colony of Pan-Nam in Southeast Asia – writes in her imperfect English a Zen story well-known in her native Pan.
In the po test by whiwhich the 6° arch of zen was chose, there were poems. One say, “Dis-like roil dust. The probes remove the dust.” The “head wing” poems are their. It said, “He ‘s the mind. Where, is dust?” Some lat-er Pan masters: a monk who was stak-ing bats, a young-er monk up to his id in the dust – “Are you a-staking-bats?” “No. Why?”