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Volume VII - December 2002

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Raped by Modernist Zeal

Música de invenção, by Augusto de Campos
Editora Perspectiva, São Paulo, Brazil, 1998
274 pp, illus.; paper, R$30,00
ISBN: not available.

Reviewed by Carlos Palombini

Música de invenção [hereafter Invention Music] is a collection of articles written by Augusto de Campos and published in 1998 by Editora Perspectiva, of São Paulo. They originally appeared between 1957 and 1997 in Suplemento literário de Minas Gerais, Enciclopédia Abril, the magazine SomTrês and the dailies 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 musics of Pound/Antheil and Stein/Thompson, and Schoenberg's and Giraud/Hartleben's Pierrot lunaires; it includes Campos's recreation of Hartleben's translation of Giraud's Pierrot lunaire and Campos's translation of Schoenberg's preface to that 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's interview to the critic 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's 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 & rigour". 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's 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 the 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"; Ustvolskaia is "the musical Sphinx from Russia"; Reich's music is "the provocation of molecular tautology"; Cage is "the prophet and guerilla fighter [sic] 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 the composer Willy Corrêa de Oliveira vetoed Universidade de São Paulo Press support to one of Campos's publishing projects.

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 credo 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's 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 musicology 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).

Invention Music wears the appearance of a biblia pauperum of the concrete poet's musical creed. 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 Variationen für Klavier op. 27. Upon a close-up of Schoenberg's eye, Campos superimposes Schoenberg's dodecaphonic scheme. Upon a close-up of the young Varèse, Campos superimposes a page of Ionisation. Upon a close-up of the 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 interstellar 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?

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". 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, carnival 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. "Yes, nós temos Augusto de Campos!" Anyone interested?

(c) International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (ISAST), 1999

Pesquisador Visitante, Fapemig
Departamento de Instrumentos e Canto
Escola de Música, UFMG
Belo Horizonte, Brasil
Visiting Research Fellow
Department of Telematics
Faculty of Technology, The Open University
Milton Keynes, United Kingdom