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Raped by Modernist Zeal

Raped by Modernist Zeal

The left had a very good showing in major cities.
On the other side of the fence, the governing coalition saw
its combined tally as strong evidence of its
solid leadership position nationwide.
By Brazzil Magazine

Música de Invenção [hereafter Invention Music] is a collection of
articles written by Augusto de Campos and published in 1998 by Perspectiva, São Paulo.
They originally appeared between 1957 and 1997 in Suplemento Literário de Minas Gerais,
Enciclopédia Abril, the magazine SomTrês, and the newspapers Folha de
São Paulo, Jornal da Tarde, and Jornal do Brasil. The book is divided
into an introduction, three chapters, one post-chapter, two appendixes, and an index of
illustrations.

Chapter I, "Word and Music", contains articles on Occitan music, Pound’s Le
testament, the music of Pound/Antheil and Stein/Thompson, and Schoenberg’s and
Giraud/Hartleben’s Pierrot lunaires; it includes Campos’ recreation of Hartleben’s
translation of Giraud’s Pierrot lunaire and Campos’ translation of Schoenberg’s
preface to the piece. Chapter II, "Radicals of Music", contains articles on
Satie, Joplin, Smetak, Webern, and Varèse; it includes translations of excerpts from
Satie.

Chapter III, "Musichaos", contains articles on Cage; it includes Campos’
interview to J. J. de Moraes and pastiches of Cage. "Post-music", the
Post-chapter, contains articles on Scelsi, Nancarrow, Antheil, Nono, Ustvolskaia, Cowell,
and post-music. Appendix I, "Notes on Notes", contains articles on timbre
melody, microtonalism, and Stravinsky. Appendix II, "Polemics", contains Campos’
1957 defense of Boulez and his translation of Boulez’s "Homage à Webern".

On the back cover, Tragtenberg sets the tone. The book is for those who enjoy music
"with love & rigor". Campos has been "the first to tackle composers
such as Webern, Varèse, Cage, Boulez, and Nono, the first to champion true `underground
sonic earthquakes’ such as Antheil, Cowell, Nancarrow, Scelsi, and Ustvolskaia". He
is "the poet of post-everything" now introducing readers to "the post-music
of silences, sounds, and noises." Invention Music is "the most important
book on the subject" ever published in the "land of `deaf musicians’",
a.k.a. Brazil.

As Campos explains in the Introduction, the articles serve no systematic purpose. What
links them is the fact that all deal with what he terms, after Pound, inventor musicians.
Having fought for the Tropicalist composers of the sixties (Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, and
Caetano Veloso) and seeing them enthroned in the media, Campos now turns against "the
aural desensitization to contemporary music". It is utterly unacceptable that
"the marvelous adventure of […] high music" be thwarted by "aural
laziness" and the "mercantile eagerness of the media". We must all rise
from "the sound cushions of palatable music" and listen to "the
thought-music of the great masters and inventors", "the saints and martyrs of
the new language". Campos will tackle "questions to which contemporary
invention-music has given admirable answers". Between the lines, he will recount
"a bit of the history of artistic guerilla."

According to Campos’ introduction to Pound’s ABC of Reading, there are six
categories of writers: (1) inventors, those who may be held responsible for the
discovery of a new process; (2) masters, those who explore some such processes; (3)
diluters, the less successful followers of the former two; (4) good writers
without qualities, who produce reasonable work in period style; (5) belles lettres
types, who cultivate particular fields; and (6) faddists, fashionable but
forgettable. The best critics, Pound says, are those who effectively contribute to improve
the art they criticize; then come those who focus attention on the best writing; the worst
are those who divert attention from the best to second rate works or to themselves. One
recognizes a bad critic when he or she starts going on about the author and not about the
work. The preliminary and simplest test is to check the words that do not work.

As Perloff suggests in "The Music of Verbal Space" (in Sound States,
1997) and Hollander notes in Vision and Resonance (1975), the concrete poets of the
Brazilian Noigandres group (Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos, and Décio Pignatari)
are not particularly remarkable for their aural explorations. Invention Music is
prodigal with assonances, consonances, alliterations, epithets, commonplaces, adjectives,
and metaphors, not always in the best possible taste: the music of Provence is "a
prowess"; "the era of Erik" is "the era of rag"; music is
"the most abstract of artistic genres"; Ustvoslkaia is "the musical Sphinx
from Russia"; Reich’s music is "the provocation of molecular tautology".

Cage is "the prophet and guerilla fighter of interdisciplinary art"; Cowell’s
pieces "adumbrate the polyrhythmic pranks of Colon Nancarrow’s unbridled
pianolas"; Eisler is "that mediocre disciple of Schoenberg, whom the bad
conscience has sought in vain to raise to the rank of first rate". Outbursts of
reactive rhetoric are legion. Apparently, artistic guerilla started when Willy Corrêa de
Oliveira vetoed Universidade de São Paulo Press support to one of Campos’ publishing
projects.

Invention Music wears the appearance of a biblia pauperum of the concrete
poet’s musical cult. Upon a page of Quattro pezzi per orchestra, Campos
superimposes Scelsi’s signature and symbol. Upon a photograph of Webern in the Alps,
Campos superimposes a page of Piano variations op. 22. Upon a close-up of
Schoenberg’s eye, Campos superimposes Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic scheme. Upon a close-up of
young Varèse, Campos superimposes a page of Ionisation. Upon a close-up of elderly
Varèse, Campos superimposes a page of Hyperprism. Upon a photograph of an
interstellar phenomenon, Campos superimposes middle aged Nono’s balding head: "Big
Bang Nono" (!).

Upon the photograph of another such phenomenon, Campos superimposes elderly Nono’s
balding head: "Quasar Nono" (!!). Upon a photograph of Cage and himself, Campos
superimposes the score of 4’33". Campos himself is everywhere to be seen: with
Olga Rudge in Castel Fontana in 1991; with members of his household chez Cage in
1978; cleaning lipstick from Cage’s face in 1985; molesting Cage with concrete poetry in
1985. Invention music abides by the rules of neither etiquette nor scholarship. So why
should Campos? And why should we?

How does Campos fare when Invention Music is set against Pound’s agenda as
expounded by Campos himself? Neither a belles lettres type nor a faddist, he stands
in between. Specializing in record review, Campos sets forth the ins and outs of his
modernist creed while inexorably marching towards the concluding instance of record
company vituperation. In this kind of upper highbrow Hello! there is little room
for whatever theoretical apparatus the subject may require.

Those who share in Campos’ tastes will find that he fulfills the task of the second
rate critic. But he cannot help diverting attention to himself. Campos talks about authors
and himself. As to the works, he has precious little of interest to say: "Long Life
Webern!", "Long Life Varèse!", mind the similarities between these names!
The reader is made witness to a competition where it matters to ascertain: (1) who has
discovered the last composer first; (2) who has written about his first work first; (3)
who has bought his first record first. Having made the wrong choices, Mário de Andrade
(Nationalism) and Willy Corrêa de Oliveira (Bolshevism) have lost their ways and lose the
game. Seconded by Nestrovski, Campos wins.

In his Pequena História da Música [Short History of Music] (1942),
Mário de Andrade states that "also in trios, quartets, and quintets, there has been
a most interesting blossom, employing the most unusual and curious soloist ensembles (Kurt
Weill, Falla, Ezra Pound, Anton Webern)". This leads Campos to conclude that Andrade
was a musicological travesty. And yet one reads in Invention Music that "from
him [Nestrovski] I have received two tapes with musical novelties: Wishart, Ferneyhough,
Smalley, Philip Glass etc. Everything very interesting."

Now, the founding father of Brazilian ethnomusicology was a modernist in the early
twenties, when being a modernist was de rigueur for a bright youth of progressive
São Paulo intelligentsia. The modernist Campos is a latecomer, the postmodernist Campos
is unconvincing; he strictly fits into the high-art-plus-best-of-pop-culture pattern that
Born identifies at IRCAM (Rationalizing Culture, 1995).

So far as it presents an essentially visual poet in the role of avant-garde music
beacon, Invention music indeed is, as Tragtenberg wishes, "a unique document
on the Brazilian musical and cultural life of the last decades", from Maestro X to
Maestro Y. Campos is to be held responsible for the fact that facile punning has come to
be viewed as an honorable form of mental activity, and hence for the fact that pop singers
have come to be viewed as intellectuals. In this manner, thinking has been debased.

The ease with which the amateur Campos collects and distributes novelties from abroad
is the ease with which the retired intellectual Cardoso collects and distributes writs
from the International Monetary Fund. The musicologist Campos will be rendered redundant
by the World Wide Web.

In the meantime, Brazilian poets are post-everything, Brazilian composers are the
greatest of the Americas, Brazilian transvestites are the most sought after of Europe,
Brazilian intellectuals are the most Marxist in the world. Abroad, they come from the land
of coffee, Carnaval, and football. At home, their houses are barbed-iron fenced and their
teeth are missing. They have been raped by a feudal elite, of modernist zeal. The country
of the future went wrong. "Yes, nós temos Augusto de Campos!" Anyone
interested?

Carlos Palombini currently lives in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, and
holds a PhD in Music from the University of Durham, UK. His articles and reviews appear in
scholarly journals as the Computer Music Journal (Cambridge: MIT Press), Music
and Letters (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Organised Sound (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press), the Electronic Musicological Review (Curitiba:
Universidade Federal do Paraná) and the Leonardo group of publications (Cambridge:
MIT Press). He has written contributions to Música y nuevas tecnologías: pespectivas
para el siglo XXI (Barcelona: L’Angelot, 1999) and The Twentieth Century Music
Avant-Garde: a Biocritical Sourcebook (New York: Greenwood, forthcoming). You can
contact him at palombini@usa.net

This article was originally published in Leonardo Digital Reviews

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