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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