Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Violence, Philosophy & Gaburo's Embodied Maledetto

I'm working in concert with six others, including usual partners in crime Arun Chandra & Elizabeth Williamson, in crafting a performative panel discussion, principally for the 2010 Radical Philosophy Conference. This year's conference, in Eugene Oregon, is devoted to discussing violence, oppression & society. Broad set of issues, but narrowed thus (from the conference website): 

With the US engaged in imperial wars around the globe and amidst the collapse of the most recent mode of global capitalism, we at the Radical Philosophy Association have found reflection on violence both timely and imperative. The theme for our upcoming Ninth Biennial Conference will, therefore, be “Violence: Systemic, Symbolic, and Foundational”. Unmistakably, violence shapes our social world. Oppressive systems are founded in and maintained through violent action. Capitalism demands and enforces conditions of starvation, brutalization, and alienated experience. Patriarchy thrives on the threat and reality of physical and sexual assault and pervasive psychological debasement. Racist and colonial structures demand occupation, enslavement, and incarceration.

We want to both riff of this rather full thesis and complicate it, composing as well as performing extant work that discusses a notion of violence as emerging from, a la Benjamin, lack or closing off of opportunities, access. Yet complicating that now widespread causal position.

In parallel with this conference we're working on Kenneth Gaburo's Maledetto, Lingua II. The very piece my students last year performed for our poets theater week, and performed beautifully--so, bar is high. I actually liked my students' work on the piece better than I do the very good (but a bit slow) version on UBU WEB. It provides interesting contrast to the rehearsal tape excerpt I have here.

This piece for seven virtuoso speakers is challenging, and I'm loving it. The large score (which serves as prop during live performance) is something to decode, is deeply unconventional--a work of art in itself. Rehearsals are becoming reprieves with this monstrous piece. Of particular difficulty is the varying tempi needed to be kept in mind while syncopating the voices. The work itself is what we might call performed violence, and though Gaburo's work in cognitive research and linguistic expressionism (not to mention seriality and minimalism) might appear to be "purely formal" and (as I'd thought when I worked on this piece for the first time around) disembodied, Maladetto is rather deeply political and subtly embodied--embodied in the sense one might think of Beckett's Not I as embodied--the shorn body present in its absence or furious neglect.

Gaburo himself was a composer who worked mainly out of the University of Illinois, though he also did crucial work with Lingua (also founding Lingua Press around this time) while at UC San Diego.  A self-described feminist, Gaburo was an anti-war activist, an ecologist, as well as an instrumental member of faculty unionism in the 1970s and 80s. I read Maledetto as principally a feminist piece, a work in which six voices perform their own failure to undermine a main speaker, a foil of a pedant expert in "screws" and "screwing," (this is my voice) the various glottal voicings of the other six under constant siege, in fact, oscillating between protest, complicity, and internalized resignation to their positions as bodies to be raped, voices to be made sublingual, or at least sub-cognitive, in effect sub-human. A very different piece of Gaburo's, RE-RUN, was composed after 20 hours of self-imposed sleep deprivation.  Gaburo, not unlike myself for various pieces, explores both extremes and subtleties of bodily subjugation or vulnerability, corporeal practices' relation to compositional process and output.

I'm now beginning to work on a piece for live voice and taped voice (2 channels) that hopes to read RE-RUN, or translate it, as text--to do a poetic reverse engineering on it. Never mind that my audio is not cooperating at moment. The lovely thing is that unlike many of my venues, this one I have pictures of (sent graciously by the curators of the conference). This way scouting can be done, and the piece can utilize the aspects of the (very large) room. How we translate the tailored work for the ensuing tour becomes another problem--a good one to work on as (yikes) I prepare for teaching this week. 


  1. Dear David,

    Thank you so much for bringing Gaburo to my attention with this post!

    I wish you the best in the challenge to produce the event of his piece and the event of the panel.

    Violence is in the air, so invisibly. And it's something so hard to approach thematically in text, music or performance. I also did a performance on the theme recently and found it extremely challenging how i was teetering between invocations of speechlessness or provocations of platitudes, or expressions of inadequate means in both myself and the audience.

    But to bring the problem forth is the point, no?


  2. Hi Konrad,

    My pleasure (and pain)! Gaburo is often left out of discussions re political avant-gardism of the 70s-80s, both in composition and in poetry. So we felt he would be a good--and right, very challenging--recovery project for a wider audience than those of us here in Olympia, who have, espeically due to Arun Chandra (who worked with him, I believe), heard/seen his work performed before.

    I like how you say "invisibly...". Absolutely. There's the obvious physical movement the term is assigned to, but getting at structures/systems/sub-structures, aesthetically, for me at least means coming up with a new aesthetic vocabulary. One that factors in our contradictory and often paradoxical impulses.

    Not that our performances or my work or performances thereof gets at neo-liberal capitalism's violent joints any better than any other work, but that yr right--the challenge needs be met, or not ignored. The slogan/platitude effect swings often all the way over to quietude/quietism/just plain too quiet, or as you say "inadequate." I'm not sure what an adequate vocabulary would be, but for me it would have to involve physical--person to person--aesthetico-political work. Labor.
    Any case, thanks. And good luck with yr work...