Anagrama

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Published on: 30 September 2008

In questo podcast, dopo una breve presentazione, potete ascoltare Kagel che commenta, in inglese, il suo brano Anagrama del 1957-58, per soli, coro e ensemble, basato sul famoso palindromo In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Segue poi l’esecuzione dell’opera e al termine, Kagel risponde a domande di Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, e Will Ogdon.

Il podcast proviene dalla stazione radio KPFA. Registrato nel 1963, è attualmente disponibile sull’Internet Archive, da cui è scaricabile in MP3 a questo link.

Per gli interessati ecco delle note al brano, in inglese, tratte dalla vecchia e non più disponibile edizione:

The composition “Anagrama” for four solo voices, speaking chorus, and instruments, written between February 1957 and November 1958, after preparatory work in Argentina, was given its first performance at the ICMS Festival in Cologne on nth June 1960. Nearly all the speech elements and sounds are derived from the palindrome on gnats and moths (wrongly attributed to Dante):

In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni
(we circle in the night and are consumed by fire)

whose completely symmetrical structure is the equivalent of Webern’s late twelve-tone rows. This is not a superficial comparison, for this piece, constructed in five sections and in three levels, represents no less than an attempt to match in vocal music the standard of synthetic sound differentiation based on Webern’s work achieved in electronic music of that period. Of course, “Anagrama” at the same time also has its sources in completely different worlds, above all in Romanic- Manneristic Surrealism, but also in the Romantic-Universalistic spirit, which was obsessed with the idea that everything was connected with everything else. Kagel uses German, French, Italian, and Spanish; Latin is reserved for the palindrome, whose vocabulary of sounds (i, n, g, r, u, m, s, o, c, t, e) is extended by transposing the letters into acoustical terms; the c of consumimur, for example is mutated into a German k or a Spanish q (as in queso), the k in turn – together with s – provides the German x (as in Xylophon). It is not the meaning of the words, then, but their sound values which are the most essential part of all sound, word, and text composition here – most obviously so in what Kagel calls “acoustical translation”. Pure sound imitation produces from the palindrome a sentence like: “In giro immoto notte e quieto ingu” (p. 36, b. 15). In line with Kagel’s conception of lexica as the “summa summarum of all permuration systems”, most of the new words are formed out of more or less regular rearrangements of the palindrome syllables. From “rum”, for example, the words rumor (Sp.: rumour), rue (Fr.: street), Ruhe (G.: rest), Russe (G.: Russian), and rustre (Fr.: boorish) are derived, and there is an effortless development with about 30 intermediate steps from rime (Fr.: rhyme), ruinoso (Sp.: ruinous) or ripieno (It.: full) to Regung (G.: movement, emotion etc.), Regen (G.: rain) and requiem – partly via regular, partly via associative word production.

The sentences formed from the new words are superimposed, as in a palimpsest, to form absurd dialogues, as in, for example: “Quien teme?” (Sp.: whom do you fear?) – “Tiens, mon Seigneur, ecoute un cri rôti” (Fr.: Well, sir, hear a roast cry) – “Je suis innocent” (Fr.: I am innocent). Or they are vaguely related: “Ein Ritter sitzt im Griinen” (G.: A knight sits in the open – “ieri ricino” (It.: castor-oil yesterday) – “er summt in seinem Eisen” (G.: He hums in his iron) – “oggi riposo” (It.: closed today). In general, a lack of syntactical connection between parts of sentences, dense polyphony, and an additional darkening of the sound (by use of vocal clusters, for example), combine to make such speech compositions almost totally incomprehensible. The phonetically written vocal sounds, the counterpart of the diversity of forms in the “Streichsextett”, form a compendium of articulation methods, resembling electronic amplitude and frequency modulation. Pursing of the lips, breathy notes, nasalization, diverse vibrati, etc., create a rich spectrum of individual tone colours and transitions which before this composition had been restricted to electronic sound synthesis. The instrumental articulation is also alienated. Their sound spectra and the connection of the palindrome letters with certain pitches aims at the acoustical integration of speech and music. That this does not lead to any kind of mechanical rigidity, but on the contrary, contributes towards a multifarious and large-scale structure is already made clear by the fact that identical connections only recur after 12 (pitches) times 11 (letters) =132 notes. In fact the form of the work is an implied criticism of the rigid formal structures of serial music; its ideal is constant transition even in the smallest elements – a concept derived partly from painting, in particular from Klee’s “visual thought”. “Anagrama”, then, is a passing tableau of colours and relationships which half conceals an anagrammatic form of semantics deriving from spontaneous and intentional associations and which occasionally descends from the heights of serial rationality – as in a passage of extreme density and intensity on which Kagel comments: “If these creams should awaken in the listener an impression that these are injured, suffering persons, then the chorus is to be heartily congratulated.”

Werner Kluppelholz (Translation: John Bell)

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