1. The Problem of the Term Musikperformance
"This method, that of pasting a few definitions from a general schema onto everything in heaven and earth, onto all natural and intellectual forms, and in this way classifying everything, is nothing less than a crystal-clear account of the organism of the universe, a chart resembling a skeleton with slips of paper pasted onto it or a row of closed, labeled drawers in a spice shop. It is as clear as either of these, and has likewise omitted or concealed the living essence of the thing, just as in the former the flesh and blood are stripped away from the bones, and in the latter the thing itself, though not living, is concealed in the boxes."(2)
Hegel's vehement criticism of scientific formalism must be leveled at anyone who attempts to go beyond phenomenological description to conceptual definition in the study of music-historical developments. The reciprocity between Europe and North America in the history of Musikperformance poses an additional difficulty in that in both cultures, the same phenomenon is described against the background of differing models. In the attempt, therefore, to trace the course of this history, the "drawers in the spice shop" must be continually interrogated in order to understand the differences in the objects and categories of the two forms of description.
The term Musikperformance, firmly anchored in the linguistic usage of both artists and theorists in Germany, is found neither in the standard music encyclopedias nor in the most important musical bibliographies.(3) My purpose here is not to attempt a definition; nonetheless, it is clear that the composite term Musikperformance emphasizes the musical aspect of that which is implied in the loan word "performance." A "performance" in general is a presentation(4); accordingly, the "performing arts" are those in need of some kind of live presentation (music, dance, theater). There is no direct English equivalent for Musikperformance ("music performance"); instead, the term "Performance Art" has become established. The latter, however, places the emphasis on the theatrical element of a performance.(5)
The visual aspect inherent in every musical presentation(6) has been variously interpreted in the course of music history. In the second decade of our century, for example, Igor Stravinsky developed the idea of a gestural music which rejected the separation of sound from its production.(7) (In modern-day terms, one would perhaps say that he emphasized the performance character of the presentation.) This position is carried to an extreme when the visual aspect of the performance, e.g. the observation of unusual playing techniques, pushes the acoustic result into the background. Virgil Thomson described his impression of a performance of John Cage's Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) in this way: "As for the spectacle of David Tudor crawling around among the pedals of his pianoforte in order to knock on the sounding-board from below, that too was diverting to watch, though the knocking was not loud enough to be funny. All in all the visual show added so much to the whole that when, again for students, I played the recording of this piece (made in the hall itself at Cage's twenty-fifth-anniversary concert), we were all disappointed, I think, at its puny and inconsequential sound."(8)
It is significant to note that in Thomson's words, the "visual show" added something to the composition. Accordingly, it does not represent a part or an object of the composition, which only organizes the acoustic events. Later we will return to this distinction between intention and reception in Musikperformance.
The development of Musikperformance is marked by two phases of mutual influence between Europe and North America. In the 1930s, many artists associated with the Bauhaus fled to the United States to escape the Nazis. Their subsequent teaching activity shaped the young generation of artists in North America, and John Cage was influenced by European theories in the area of theater. Then, in the 1960s, the direction of influence was reversed with the strong reception of American Fluxus artists by the European avant-garde.
Since the second decade of this century, the Bauhaus stage had offered artists the opportunity to work in the area of avant-garde theater. Oskar Schlemmer's Triadisches Ballett premiered in 1915, and Wassily Kandinsky developed his color operas and abstract stage compositions Pictures at an Exhibition after the piano cycle of the same name by Modest Mussorgsky.(9) Bauhaus student Xanti Schawinsky described a spontaneous improvisation in the 1920s, which he designated as a "Bauhaus-Happening":
Someone presented himself as Napoleon Bonaparte and addressed another as Frau von Stein. In no time the two were embroiled in a dialogue - to the side, against a bare wall, they moved in the light of a lamp as if in a dance. A few props and pieces of clothing helped support the roles and lend illusion to the thread of the improvisation. Waterloo, Sunday hats, market prices, and marriage proposals were all the subject of discussion. In the middle of the scene, a dog barked, played by a third person. During the kiss - the first, as she indicated - the dog bit the lady in the leg. She fainted. Napoleon stood over the collapsed lady waving a little American flag and barking in duet with the dog. Curtain.(10)
The theoretical ideas of Bauhaus teachers such as László Moholy-Nagy postulated a Theater der Totalität (Theater of Totality) which, building on the experience of Futurism and Dadaism, sought on the one hand to abolish the boundary between stage and spectator and on the other to combine events in different media into a theatrical whole. Musical aspects were also included: the "sound design" was to "employ in the future various sound apparatuses driven electrically or by other mechanical means. Sound waves occurring in unexpected places - such as a speaking or singing arc lamp, loudspeakers emitting sounds under the seats or the floor of the theater, amplifiers - will serve among other things... to raise the acoustic surprise level of the audience."(11)
Significant for the history of the term Musikperformance is the fact that Moholy-Nagy described the overall form of the Theater der Totalität in categories that retained validity for Musikperformance as well. The "articulation and mechanization" of the time structure, the subdivision of the event into Aktionsmomente (elements of action), and the design of the "total stage action" as a "great, dynamic-rhythmic process of creation"(12) are aspects which, in addition to sound, are also central to Musikperformance.
After his emigration, Xanti Schawinsky directed the stage class at Black Mountain College from 1937 to 1938. His first performance of 1937, Spectodrama: Play, Life, Illusion, combined "symphonic interaction and effect; color and form, movement and light, sound and word, gesture and music."(13) Another production in the spring of 1938 used Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate. Unlike the theatrical improvisations of the Bauhaus, these performances were carefully planned and rehearsed.(14)
It is unclear whether John Cage knew of Schawinsky's performances when he wrote his Untitled Black Mountain Piece in 1952. The influence of Moholy-Nagy, however, who had invited Cage to give a course in experimental music at the Chicago School of Design in 1941,(15) may be taken for granted, along with that of Dadaism.(16) In any case, there is evidence for Cage's interest in Antonin Artaud's concept of theater as expounded in Das Theater und sein Doubel (1938): during the summer semester of 1952 at Black Mountain College, Mary Caroline Richards read from her translation of Artaud, and John Cage, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham all reacted enthusiastically.(17)
Like Moholy-Nagy before him, Artaud described the overall form of his "Theater of Cruelty" in musical terms: He mentions the "physical rhythm of movements whose crescendo amd decrescendo will accord exactly with the pulsation of movements familiar to everyone"(18) as well as new musical instruments for production of sound and noise, "treated as objects and as part of the set."(19) Furthermore he suggests to "abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind. [...] The public will be seated in the middle of the room, on the ground floor, on mobile chairs which will allow them to folloe the spectacle which will take place all around them."(20)
Cage followed these principles in the spatial organization of his Untitled Black Mountain Piece. In the dining hall of Black Mountain College, the seats were arranged in a square crossed by two diagonals, so that the spectators sat across from one another. When Mrs. Jalowetz, who was the first to arrive, asked Cage which was the best seat, he answered that they were all equally good,(21) for the performance took place both in the diagonals between the members of the audience and outside the square.
In the Untitled Black Mountain Piece, Olson and Mary Caroline Richards read their poems, Robert Rauschenberg - who had installed his white paintings above the audience - played popular music from the 1920s and 30s on an old gramophone, John Cage held a 45-minute lecture interspersed with many pauses, David Tudor played piano, and Merce Cunningham danced, while Tim La Farge and Nick Cernovich projected films and slides. The performance followed an overall time frame which specified the beginning and end of each player's action, but otherwise allowed complete freedom.(22) The score was produced using chance methods(23); at present, only one page of the score is known (in Cage's hand, unsigned)(24):
Begin at 16 min.
Play freely until 23 min.
Begin again at 24:30
Play freely until 35:45
Begin at 38:20
Play freely until 44:25
In the United States, the Untitled Black Mountain Piece was interpreted not as Musikperformance, but in terms of the "New Theatre." Soon Cage was considered as the "backbone of the new theatre"(25) and his Black Mountain work as "in fact probably the first [happening] in America."(26)
In his description of this combination of theatrical and musical performance, Michael Kirby emphasized the ritual character of the latter. From the pleasure of watching a traditional musical performance, he said, it is only a short step to the interest in new instruments and playing techniques: "How the sound is produced becomes as significant a part of the experience as the quality of the sound itself."(27) But, according to Kirby, the decisive difference between the traditional and the New Theatre lies in the fact that in the latter, the musicians do not represent something. Their performance is "non-matrixed," i.e. the actors do not move within the traditional theatrical matrix of the who (character) and the where (place). Thus in the final analysis, a Happening (a term borrowed from the title of Allan Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts of 1959) can be defined as "a performance using a variety of materials (film, dance, readings, music, etc.) in a compartmented structure, and making use of essentially non-matrixed performance."(28)
The terminology developed by Richard Kostelanetz in The Theatre of Mixed Means (1968) for the description of the performances of the New Theater has become widely accepted. Kostelanetz provides no category for the specifically acoustic event, and sees an established time frame (which could be considered as musical) only in the "staged performance." The latter resembles traditional theater, though it does not place the medium of the spoken word in the foreground:(29)
According to Kostelanetz, the concerts of John Cage are for the most part "staged happenings."(30) Probably thinking of the performances from Cage's Variations cycle, Kostelanetz emphasizes the clearly defined space (of the stage) in which the event takes place, a space which is separated from the spectators, as well as the variability of the individual actions, which can differ widely from performance to performance. According to this scheme, however, compositions in which the performance is not always also the realization of the work would probably be designated as "staged performances".(31)
Exploration of the development in Cage's own thought on the distinction between theater and music would exceed the scope of this essay. In the 1950s and 60s, he conceived of theater very broadly ("theatre takes place all the time wherever one is")(32) and even applied it to traditional symphony concerts.(33) Later, however, he narrowed his definition: "When we make music we merely make something that can more naturally be heard than seen or touched."(34)
Cage's conception of theater makes it almost impossible to distinguish those of his compositions which are conceived expressly as Musikperformance (see the discussion of Audio-Visual Compositions below) from those whose presentation has a stronger performance character. In the most extreme case, if one follows Virgil Thomson's description of the performance of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra quoted above, these are all compositions for prepared instruments or for instruments with "additional instruments."(35) In the 1950s, however, a change in the instrumentation of Cage's compositions is observable, a shift which may help to distinguish between intentional Musikperformance and works which are only perceived as such: beginning in the 1960s, his Audio-Visual Compositions specify the instrumentalist rather than the instrument. While Variations I (1958) was still written for "any kind and number of instruments," Variations II (1961) is intended "for any number of players with any sources of sound."(36)
The catalogue raisonné of 1962 edited by Cage's publisher lists four works under the category of Audio-Visual:(37) Music Walk (1958), Theatre Piece (1960), Water Music (1952), and Water Walk (1959). Sounds of Venice (1959), a variation of Water Walk, was apparently overlooked (perhaps because the score has not been published, even to the present day); in addition, the following compositions may justifiably be included in the list as well: 4'33" (1952, the instrumentalist does not play his instrument), 45' for a Speaker (1954, the speaker also performs visual actions), Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957-58, voice for the conductor), and Fontana Mix (1958, "for tape or any kind and number of performers").
Probably the first work by John Cage intended as Musikperformance was "Water Music or a pianist, using also a radio, whistles, water containers, a deck of cards, a wooden stick and objects for preparing a piano". Later, he designated it as his "immediate reaction" to the Untitled Black Mountain Piece,(38) though it was written a few months before the latter.(39) The score is a large poster visible to the audience; on it, the individual events are noted or described with exact time specifications. The graphic arrangement, moreover, is proportional to the passage of time. Apart from the use of the radio (time switched on and off, volume, reception frequency), the events can be predicted.
The "indeterminate" score of "Music Walk for one or more pianists who also play radios and produce auxiliary sounds by singing or other means" consists of a number of transparencies with lines and dots that are used according to particular rules to establish free events within various parameters. The important elements are the time frame and the different places to which the performers move on or behind the stage.
Cage used the "indeterminate" score of Fontana Mix (1958) to develop this score, which consists of a list of 49 events fixed in time and place.(40) From 0'10" to 2'58", the three-minute piece "Water Walk for solo television performer," uses magnetic tape (mono) with sounds of clattering containers, flowing, dripping, and poured water, and an (unintelligible) male voice. Other objects include an open grand piano with raised dampers played with the help of a toy fish, steam, an electric mixer (with ice cubes in it), five portable radios of inferior quality, and a confetti bomb.
The composition "Sounds of Venice. Television performance for one soloist, who operates four tape players, among other things" (1959) is a variation of Water Walk. Here, another sequence of events is accompanied by four tape recorders (mono) with: 1) sounds of bells, dogs barking, birds twittering, and water (at the harbor?); 2) footsteps, engine sounds (on a ship?), a clock ticking; 3) Italian folk songs (sung on the street?); big band music (from the 1940's?); and 4) ships' sirens, an organ playing, wind noises, and wood creaking.(41)
The "Theatre Piece for 1-8 performers" likewise represents an expansion of Fontana Mix. The performers establish their own actions, the appearance of which is defined by a score which, for its part, is to be interpreted by means of a transparency. In the accompanying text Cage notes: "Each performer is who he is (e.g. performing musician, dancer, singer), but he is also performing a piece of theatrical music. Music is here understood to mean the production of sounds. Thus a performer's decision as to what he is to do will often be determined by whether he thus makes a sound."(42)
This series of Audio-Visual Compositions from the 1950s reflects not only the expansion of Cage's concept of music, but also the development in his work from the use of the I Ching chance operations since Music of Changes (1951) and Water Music (1952)(43) to the concept of "indeterminacy" in Music Walk (1958) and the Fontana Mix variations from 1958 on. The opening up of the musical space toward the theatrical corresponds to the movement from the determinate to the indeterminate score.
In the language of the New Theatre, this might be grasped as the passage from the "staged performance" to the "staged happening." Thus it becomes clear that this terminology is not limited, as it might at first seem, to purely visual phenomena, but is also capable of describing genuinely musical relationships such as that of score and performance.
Many of the artists later associated with the Fluxus movement visited John Cage's course on the "Composition of Experimental Music" at the New School for Social Research in New York City in the summer of 1958. George Brecht and Jackson Mac Low presented their newest works, and Al Hansen, Dick Higgens, Allan Kaprow, and Toshi Ichijanagi were regular students.(44) After Cage left the New School, the Fluxus artists concentrated their activities in the loose series of performances in Yoko Ono's studio and George Maciunas' gallery in 1961. In 1963, Jackson Mac Low and La Monte Young edited An Anthology in which, in addition to texts by American Fluxus artists, contributions from Europe also appeared, for example by Nam June Paik and Emmet Williams. These contacts had been made by Dick Higgens, who was provided with addresses by Earle Brown.(45) Finally, from April 1962 to September 1963, George Maciunas traveled in Europe and appeared in Fluxus concerts with artists including Joseph Beuys and Wolfgang Vostell.(46)
Five years earlier, Nam June Paik, who had just completed his studies in composition with Wolfgang Fortner, had attended a performance of Music Walk by John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, and David Tudor.(47) The exhibition Dada - Dokumente einer Bewegung, shown at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf in 1958, encouraged him in his search for new forms of musical performance. Finally, in the same year he gave his first Musikperformance: Hommage an John Cage, six minutes of "electronic music for three tape players and a pane of glass to be shattered."(48)
During this period, the Cologne atelier of the visual artist Mary Bauermeister, later the companion of Karlheinz Stockhausen, developed into a meeting place for the Cologne avant-garde. Compositions by George Brecht and La Monte Young were performed in concert series, and artists from America often visited there. Here, on October 6, 1960, Nam June Paik cut off Cage's necktie and began to cut up his clothes. Finally. he left the room, leaving the confused audience behind, and shortly thereafter informed Mary Bauermeister by telephone that the performance was over.(49)
The concentration on the visual and the theatrical in these performances led Paik from Musikperformance to Performance Art and later to his well-known video sculptures. But already with reference to his works of the 1960s, Cage expressed some reserve: "A person will say, I saw it, not I heard it."(50)
Karlheinz Stockhausen's interest in the new ideas of Musikperformance developed at the same time as his work on precisely determined compositions that attempted to serially organize the performance space as a musical parameter. Confronted with the work of John Cage in Darmstadt in 1958, he reacted with a lecture on musical graphics. He described Cage's presentations as Musikperformances and - reflecting on the form of notation - viewed them less as a theatrical than as a music-theoretical phenomenon:
While the autonomous graphics, visible for non-musicians as well, do in fact create an image of the sound processes, they negate themselves again as such by becoming ambiguous and symbolizing the laws of combination rather than the determinate realization. Instead, the action itself becomes the vehicle of the sound: hearing and seeing coincide, heard processes are understood as the direct results of acted ones. Here lie the beginnings of a real musical theater, an art theater (analogous to art graphics) which does not mean anything beyond itself. The musical action serves to associate the music that is heard (and at the same time seen) with the music that is read (which I "see" and at the same time inwardly "hear").(51)
Consideration of the form problem in his own compositions as well, however, induced Stockhausen to conceive new forms of presentation. He analyzed the "Kontakte for electronic sounds, piano, and percussion" (1959-60) with respect to the formal components Moment (element), Momentgruppe (group of elements), and Prozeß (process), developing at last the "open form" for compositions "which have always already begun and which are always able to be continued."(52)
Against this background, the rupture that occurred in Stockhausen's work with the composition "Originale. Musikalisches Theater" appears less surprising, a rupture that resulted in part from influences from America. As "Werk Nr. 12 2/3," the piece is classified with the Kontakte, which also attain completion in the performance with interruptions and repetitions of individual sections. The verbal score of the Originale establishes 18 scenes organized into seven structures; although the duration of these scenes is precisely specified, within certain bounds they can be rearranged in their sequence. The formal conception with "independent elements combined according to intensity, duration, density, degree of renewal, range of effect, simultaneity, and sequence"(53) corresponds to that of the Kontakte. But on the material level, as well, there are parallels between the speech of the actors and the electronic sounds, which Stockhausen characterized in his sketches using verbs of enunciation ("speaking; chattering; whispering; murmuring, mumbling, calling, crying"(54)).
The Originale mix elements of "matrixed" and "non-matrixed" performance. Musicians, conductor, director, and sound and lighting technicians are not roles, but persons who perform their usual tasks. The fashionable lady, on the other hand, is a character played by an actress. The score specifies the characters and persons of the "painter Bauermeister," the "poet Helms," and the "cameraman Ramsbott"; in the program, however, Nam June Paik, who is designated as "action musician,"(55) is identified only as "Paik."
The particular significance of Stockhausen's "time composition,"(56) i.e. the structure of duration, distinguishes the Originale from the American Happenings.(57) While the theorists of the New Theatre described Cage's performances as theater, Stockhausen organized theatrical events within an explicitly musical structure, as indicated in the stage directions for the conductor:
Density, entrance intervals, durations, intensities, and group lengths should be constantly varied. Polyphonic up to ca. 36'30"; from 36'30" - 37'45" homophonic with many rests (some very long) - "block structure" -; from 37'45" to 39' a mixture of polyphonic groups, homophonic blocks, and points (individual values, individual sounds, short lights); from 39' - 41' a periodic structure, becoming ever more transparent, occasionally mixed with continuous murmuring and whispering.(58)
When Originale was performed in New York in 1964 under the direction of Alan Kaprow,(59) it precipitated a split in the American Fluxus movement. As director of the "Bureau for Action Against Imperialistic Culture" (A.A.I.C.), Henry Flynt organized a demonstration in front of Judson Hall, the performance venue, on September 8. He accused Stockhausen and his magazine, Die Reihe, of being decorative elements of West German capitalism. Even worse was his charge that Stockhausen had disparaged jazz at a conference at Harvard in 1958. Paik and Higgens took part in the performance, while Flynt, Maciunas, and others boycotted it.(60)
To date, the last in the series of Stockhausen's "Concert Installations" or "Wandering Concerts"(61) was the installation on September 23, 1972 of "13 Musical Images for Soloists and Duos" in the basement rooms of the Belgian radio broadcaster, a work which Stockhausen entitled Alphabet für Liège. As in the American "Environments,"(62) the visitor was free to move throughout and linger in the prescribed area of action. Each of the 13 rooms, connected by a passage, was assigned a "situation" which is described in words, with the exception of the conventional notation of the Indianer-Lieder. Most of these descriptions consist of texts for "intuitive music" ("Situation 10: Use notes to beat back thoughts and keep them at bay"(63)) or suggestions for physically inspired sound installations ("Situation 2: Make sound vibrations visible in liquids, light rays, flames..."(64)).
Yet not only space, but time as well is composed in Alphabet für Liège. A play director must develop an overall time plan for the four-hour performance, which among other things includes mandatory intermissions of complete silence and inactivity for all actors.(65) Thus the musical environment is subjected to a time structure resembling that of a Musikperformance.
The score of Stockhausen's "Herbstmusik for 4 Players" describes a Musikperformance in four movements: 1. Nailing a roof (duo with accompaniment), 2. Breaking wood (quartet), 3. Threshing (trio), 4. Leaves and rain (duo). In the last movement, a pantomime ends with a duo for clarinet and viola in traditional notation; otherwise, the actions in the other movements are written in words (e.g. the rhythmic improvisation in the second movement of breaking twigs of varying thickness) and do not follow any specific time frame.
The composition has been accused of inappropriateness for concert hall performance and reflecting instead the tradition of the radio Hörbilder (sound images) of the 1920s.(66) Stockhausen's decision to abandon the "Environment" form and exchange the barn in which the Herbstmusik was created(67) for the stage may already point to his later concentration on traditional musical theater.
While the expansion of the concept of music in the work of John Cage enabled him to compose theatrical situations as well, Karlheinz Stockhausen always placed the emphasis on the musical aspect in his works with theatrical elements. He referred to the Originale as musical Theater, and to the situations in Alphabet für Liège as musical images. To be sure, these works may also be described in the language of the New Theatre as "staged performances" or "kinetic environment," but this terminology does not grasp their primarily musical character. On the other hand, the performance character essential to Musikperformance is absent from Alphabet für Liege, though it was emphasized once again by Stockhausen in the concert hall presentation of Herbstmusik.
The musical character of a performance, mentioned earlier as an essential element of Musikperformance, can be attained not only at the levels of time structure and the production of sound as described above. Imaginary sounds, as well as the use of traditional instruments in a new way or of objects as instruments in the context of a performance, likewise fulfill the requirements for Musikperformance.
The Action Music for Piano, Book I (1962) by the American composer Alvin Lucier offers an example of imaginary sound. The page "s" uses graphic notation to indicate approximate pitch and rhythm, as well as dynamics and fingering; the performance instruction, however, states: "The whole page is played with movements 2-30 cm above the keyboard; without sound."(68) The same is true for the "imaginary pizzicato" on the inside of the grand piano.
The Zwei-Mann-Orchester (1971-73) by Mauricio Kagel, who has lived in Germany since the 1950s, uses a machinery of freely selected "wind, string, plucked, and percussion instruments of the usual kind";(69) these instruments, however, are remote-controlled by the two performers using threads, rotating sticks, etc.(70) Melodic and rhythmic models are composed, as well as body movements, so that the sound event is determined in part by the choreography of the musicians.
Finally, Kagel uses the most diverse objects as instruments in his "Acustica for experimental sound producers and loudspeakers" (1968-70). The "musical and half-scenic actions of the performers,"(71) such as the blowing up and playing of a balloon, are indicated in musical notation, graphic illustration, and textual description.
In more recent times, the actual phenomena in works designated as Musikperformance and Performance Art by artists in North America and Europe seem to be essentially the same. What continues to differ are the terms used to describe them. A new distinction could be drawn between Performance and Klanginstallation (sound installation), as well as between authors who see themselves primarily as visual artists and those who consider themselves composers. While the latter generally continue to record their works in notation - Alvin Lucier's verbal scores often attain a poetic quality - the former tend to resist the distinction between author and performer and see the focus of their work in the actual presentation, which is documented only later.
An altered usage of the terms Musikperformance and Performance Art might well serve to describe this art-theoretical distinction. Nonetheless, it would have to be preceded by the reception of the term Musikperformance in America.
Volker Straebel 94/95