Failure to Communicate

If you go to enough performances of contemporary chamber and solo music, you’ll eventually see someone play Vinko Globokar’s ?Corporel. It’s been years since I first saw a performance of ?Corporel, but I had the pleasure to witness it again tonight in the context of an excellent solo recital given by Scotty Horey, the Twin Cities’ hungriest young percussionist. (If you don’t know the piece, go check it out on YouTube. I’ll still be here when you get back.) Whenever ?Corporel is brought up, I think back to a criticism one of my teachers leveled at it some time ago: ?Corporel “never really develops a language”; its menagerie of primitivistic gestures seems, condemningly, to lack an overarching syntax.

Even if this complaint were accurate, it would be irrelevant to ?Corporel, which is in some sense a “musicalizing” of symbolic communicative and demonstrative behaviors. And it’s especially strange that “language” is at the crux of the accusation, because the piece is indeed about the failure of language, the unacceptability of existing concepts of language as thought-models (q.v. the percussionist’s declaration that “I recently read the following remark: ‘Human history is a long sequence of synonyms for the same word. It is our duty to disprove this.'”) Of course the piece isn’t just about the failure of language; more broadly, it’s about the failure of society one short generation after the even more spectacular failure of Aufklärung was made undeniable.

The first time I saw ?Corporel, of course, I understood none of that. I figured it was a piece of woolly, naïve, zany, insufficiently theorized, vaguely leftist theatre in the early-’70s rural-public-university vein. How wrong I was. It was written in 1985, for one thing; for another, its tone is in fact wholly un-zany: The bizarre caperings and muggings of the performer are, in the logic of the piece, the actions available to a debased political subject. This makes perfect sense to me now but couldn’t have been further from my mind in 2002 or whenever it was.

It’s remarkable that you can revisit a piece years after first encountering it and understand it so much better than you did before but not because you know more about music than you did then. That’s as strong an argument as any for aspiring to well-roundedness: It’s all well and good to study music, but all the score analysis in the world will leave you high and dry when it comes to a piece like ?Corporel.

6 thoughts on “Failure to Communicate

  1. davidcoll

    i agree, its a piece that benefits from repeated viewings, but not just for the thoughts behind it, also for adjusting your ear for the subtle qualities of sound that are inextricably related to every other aspect of the performance- and then theres the amplification, which can sometimes appear as some ‘other’ imposing itself on the subject.

    wondering, though, what this has to do with ‘aufklarung’. I admitably just looked this word up and see only quickly that it has to do w/Kant and enlightenment. While the political is there, I see this piece connected with Artaud. But then again, I’m always looking for that!

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  2. barakperelman

    Globokar the genius
    Vinko Globokar is one of the most original and amazing composers of the 20th century. I remember as an undergraduate student he visited my school and presented his double-orchestral work that he was composing at the time. I also recall how the faculty composers argued that his work lacked in development of material.

    I would like to respond to those faculty composers that had negative opinions about Vinko’s composition right now in my comment by stating the following: no one cares about you and your ignorant opinions, Vinko Globokar is one of the most influential composers of the last fifty years and composed music unlike anyone before him, what did you ever do ?

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  3. colin holter

    wondering, though, what this has to do with ‘aufklarung’. I admitably just looked this word up and see only quickly that it has to do w/Kant and enlightenment. While the political is there, I see this piece connected with Artaud. But then again, I’m always looking for that!

    I’m by no means an Artaud expert, but I always assumed there was a strong political dimension to his work (under the surface, maybe). Again, it’s a criticism of no-longer-viable means of communicating with an audience that’s particularly necessary if the promise of the enlightenment was at least partially squandered by the middle of the 20th century. I may be totally missing the boat, though.

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  4. rtanaka

    I did an analysis of Vinko Globokar’s Kolo in an ethnomusicology course once, and I found all kinds of political references to historical happenings of the Yugoslavian region when he spent much of his time. If I remember correctly, there were 6 “factions” represented in the piece, which seemed too coincidental not to be representative of the 6 main regions of that area. The factions would sometimes interact with one another — sometimes in a cooperative manner, sometimes in a hostile manner, while there were sort of looming militaristic gestures in the background that alluded to the attempted takeovers by the Soviet Union.

    His music generally has a lot of violence embedded in it and has a pessimistic outlook, and many of his interviews also tend to reinforce this point of view. In that sense his approach reminded me of Schostakovich in a lot of ways since they were dealing with similar types of problems. Probably the best bet to understand his works is to go the political route — it’s complicated because his interpretation of history is very nuanced, but it’s not obscure at all once you make some of the connections.

    I think Vinko Globokar is an interesting composer because 1) he has an interest in improvisation, 2) he often performs his own works himself (which is something that comes from the former), 3) his music has a kind of overtness that you don’t see too often in the new music community. Probably the most interesting thing about the concerts I went to were the audience — there were the composers interested in his works, musicologists who were interested in his politics, but also a lot of trombone players who respected his playing abilities. I hear he can play Bach chorales by himself using multiphonics!

    Either way, someone worth paying attention to, in my opinion. Not many people can bridge those gaps.

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  5. Lisa X

    ?Corporel “never really develops a language”; its menagerie of primitivistic gestures seems, condemningly, to lack an overarching syntax.

    It is always useful to remember that when someone says something like the above they are really saying something more like:I value work with overarching syntax that develops a language.

    Nothing wrong with that, it just says more about the critic than the work.

    Reply

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