Stockhausen's Originale: Doubletakes, The Film (1964) 22-07-08 Ubu
In 1961, at age 33, Karlheinz Stockhausen was already among the most well-known of living composers, though not yet the guru figure of Beatles tributes and electronica lore. He had just finished composing Kontakte, a piece for electronic four-channel tape and piano/percussion duo, in which he attempted a high degree of interaction between live performers and taped sounds, as well a new degree of theatricality in the onstage movements of the musicians. He received a commission for a "theatrical" work from a theater producer in Cologne, and Originale (Originals) was scripted rapidly during a visit to Finland in July of 1961.
The composer Jonathan Harvey, in his book The Music of Stockhausen, describes the form of Originale:
"It consists of eighteen scenes in the form of instructions for the dramatis personae carefully placed in timeboxes. Each character's actions, in other words, must take a specified number of seconds or minutes [hence the frequent appearances of the clock in Peter Moore's film]. These scenes are grouped into seven 'structures' which may be performed successively as 'normal', or simultaneously (up to three at once), or both."
The idea was to organize spoken language and stage actions in much the same way as musical materials had been organized in Stockhausen's previous pieces.
The stage actions consisted largely of normal activities undertaken by actors who were basically playing themselves: a poet played himself as "the poet," reading poetry on stage; a "painter" paints; a "film man" and "lighting man" and "models" go about their normal business, all within their allotted times (hence the title of the piece: "originals" playing themselves). A visual and aural complexity was created by the juxtaposition of these simultaneously occurring activities, creating an aura of absurdity which contrasted with the normality of the events themselves. In addition, some of the performers, such as the explosive performance artist Nam June Paik, went the opposite direction, performing bizarre actions within their roles. And certain elements of the set, such as goldfish swimming in a bowl hanging from the ceiling, contributed to this contrast between the mundane and the absurd.
Stockhausen added another layer of irony to the title by basing Originale on his previous work, Kontakte, rather than composing new music for the piece. So, at the beginning of Originale, we see a pianist and a percussionist (playing themselves, of course) performing Kontakte. However, there is a film camera and a tape recorder present, as well as a stage manager shouting instructions over the music. After a few minutes, the players stop and the tape of their performance is heard, along with the recorded shouts of the stage manager. Thus we see a pianist and percussionist, recording and filming themselves playing a composition which itself contains prerecorded sounds - performances within performances, by "originals" playing themselves.
The premiere of the work in Cologne in autumn 1961 was a success for the participants and a scandal for the organizers, who pulled funding two days into the twelve-day run, forcing composer and company to take financial responsibility for the rest of the run.
ORIGINALE The New York Performance
In summer 1964, Charlotte Moorman, cellist and tireless promoter of cutting-edge art, was putting together her 2nd Annual New York Avant Garde Festival. Both Moorman and artist Allan Kaprow, who was well-known as the originator of the term "happening," had been in touch with Stockhausen about Originale. According to Barbara Moore, the producer of tonight's film, Stockhausen gave his approval for a New York performance on one condition - the piece could not be performed without Nam June Paik. Moorman had never heard of Paik, but as it happened, the Korean-born performer and video artist had just arrived in New York and coincidentally was about to contact her. (This initial contact was the start of a long artistic partnership between the two.)
Born in 1932, Paik studied as a composer but also made assemblages and performance pieces, including his infamous One For Violin Solo, which consisted of slowly raising a violin over his head with intense concentration, then suddenly bringing it down on the table in front of him, smashing it to pieces. His reputation as a ferocious and charismatic performer preceded him to New York, and his presence dominates the middle section of Peter Moore's film. Paik is listed in the cast as "action music," and performed three of his own pieces during Originale - including Simple (1961), in which he covers himself with shaving cream, flour, and rice, and climbs into a tub to wash off, then drinks the water out of his own shoe.
Barbara Moore recalls that aside from the casting of Paik, Stockhausen entrusted the New York performance entirely to the organizers. Kaprow directed the piece and assembled and rehearsed the cast, which was drawn from the close circle of avant-garde artists in New York.
The venue was Judson Hall, across from Carnegie Hall at 165 W 57th St. Not to be confused with Judson Memorial Church - which actually was a noted avant-garde venue - Judson Hall was used mainly for traditional classical recitals. An onstage scaffolding was constructed, and the New York run of Originale began on September 8, 1964 (with composer Edgard Varese among the audience members). With the exception of September 10, it was performed every night through the 13th. (A full week of concerts and events organized by Moorman had preceded the five-night run of Originale.)
The performance seems to have been well-received for the most part, though there was inevitable bemusement and unpredictable reactions among some of the audience members. For instance, catcalls can be heard on the film as the models undress. And in his book The Art of Time, Michael Kirby, who was a cast member, recalled that at one performance Paik was suddenly handcuffed to the scaffolding by a well-coordinated group of audience members who then disappeared. Everyone thought it was part of the show until Paik called "feebly but only half-intelligibly about his inability to get to the piano." For his part, Paik varied his performance each night, as he had done in Cologne, throwing curve balls to the cast and audience.
Adding to the general unpredictability was the concurrent protest undertaken outside the concert hall by a number of New York artists, including Henry Flynt, Tony Conrad, and George Maciunas, who collectively denounced Stockhausen as a "cultural imperialist." (Maciunas, the leader of the Fluxus art group, also considered Moorman something of a rival within the New York art world, though other Fluxus members were performing in the show.)
STOCKHAUSEN'S ORIGINALE: DOUBLETAKES The Film 16mm, black and white, sound, 32 minutes, 1964-93
Peter Moore (1932-1993) was a distinguished photojournalist who beginning in 1962 documented many of the most well-known avant-garde art events in New York. He was commissioned by theater producer Rhett Brown, wife of artist Robert Delford Brown (who appeared as the painter in Originale) to produce a film of the event. Shooting in 16mm and using available light, Moore documented two nights of the run, and took still photos at the remaining shows. The film's subtitle, Doubletakes, reflects the fact that the film was shot during two successive evenings, so different views of the onstage events are seen in the film.
Art historian and Moore's wife Barbara, who was present, recalls that the camera used to shoot Doubletakes was borrowed from the filmmaker and video artist Ed Emshwiller. Talking from New York in a recent phone conversation, Ms. Moore also noted that the onscreen presence of Brown as the painter indicates that Peter Moore shot the film during the early nights of the run, since Brown was soon kicked out of the performance after a disagreement with Kaprow about his approach to the role.
The footage was stored away until 1993, when Peter Moore began preparations for editing. After Moore's sudden death that year, Barbara Moore took over producing the film, drawing on extensive conversations she had had with her husband about his intentions for the film. The footage was edited by Susan Brockman.
The soundtrack for the film consists of what is known as "wild sound" - that is, the sound is mostly independent of the images. However, the sounds you do hear are always being made by the performers you see at that moment on the screen. The result is a skillful distillation of the original 94-minute work into a 32-minute film. Doubletakes is also an invaluable document of a particularly fertile moment in the New York avant-garde and, since Originale has been withdrawn from public performance by the composer, it also represents a rare glimpse of this unique work in Stockhausen's output.
STOCKHAUSEN'S ORIGINALE: DOUBLETAKES A Partial Guide to the Cast
Director - Allan Kaprow Assembled and rehearsed the cast and directed the show. He is the bearded man seen near the end of the film reading from a book and then holding large clumps of straw.
Pianist - James Tenney A pioneer composer of electronic music as well as a performer of Stockhausen's and others' music. Seen here performing Kontakte.
Percussionist - Max Neuhaus Perfomer of Cage, Stockhausen, Feldman and many other composers, and later a creator of his own sound art works. Seen here performing Kontakte with Tenney. The duo began the evening in formal concert dress, but had several costume changes including states of undress as seen later in the film. (The feral costume worn by Tenney was created by artist Carolee Schneemann.)
Film Man - Robert Breer Noted avant-garde filmmaker and animator. His film "Fist Fight," which according to Barbara Moore consists of baby pictures of the cast interspersed with animation, is seen playing during the performance.
Action music - Nam June Paik
Child - Anton Kaprow The child plays with boxes to the side of stage, and also, in Stockhausen scholar Robin Maconie's phrase, "acts as a silent observer of what the adults are up to."
Models - Olga Adorno and Lette Eisenhauer Both women were performers in early 60s events in New York. Eisenhauer especially was a contributor to Kaprow's early happenings
String Player - Charlotte Moorman Seen playing the cello while lying on the floor and later from the balcony.
Jazz Musician - Don Heckman Seen playing saxophone. Later moved into jazz journalism. Together with Ed Summerlin, curated the jazz events at Moorman's festivals.
Actors include Dick Higgins and Jackson Mac Low, two language artists associated with Fluxus. Mac Low is seen near the beginning of the film, wearing the CORE/Freedom Now shirt.
Conductor - Alvin Lucier The noted electronic music composer is briefly seen conducting the actors in their simultaneous readings.
Painter - Robert Delford Brown Commissioned the film from Moore. Replaced by Fluxus artist Ay-O after a disagreement with Kaprow.
Poet - Allen Ginsberg The Beat poet is seen early in the film observing the models, then drinks water from Nam June Paik's shoe, and later chants mantras in his role as "the poet."
Producer (film) - Barbara Moore Editor (film) - Susan Brockman
For assistance with tonight's screening, thanks to Oliver Smith, Robbie Land, and Eyedrum.
Special thanks to Barbara Moore, who provided many of the details of the film's production and also shared her recollections of the performances.
Program notes: 2003 Andy Ditzler
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