Friday, 20 March 2009

"Stockhausen Serves Imperialism" - Cornelius Cardew

A really exciting biography of Cornelius Cardew has been recently published in paperback by Copula (Matchless Recordings). It is entitled: Cornelius Cardew, A Life Unfinished. Written by the pianist John Tilbury - a close friend - , this complete account (1069 pages) offers a sincere, vibrant and truly touching portrait of one of the most remarkable British musician. It is just quite regrettable that no disc is added as a useful supplement to the book - so the reader would be able to turn words into sounds - and vice versa.

The dialogue Cardew set up between marxism and contemporary music reveals indeed more than a theoretical interest. It's useless - and in some extent dishonest - refusing the fact that a creative process always carries social consequences - for the creative process itself necessarily taking root somewhere, in a particular social context. 
Cardew's work and reflections simply undermine this illusion and redefine the subversive potential of music: 'Music is a vagrant; it has no fixed abode. It's a menace to society. It needs cleaning up. The impossibility of abolishing music. Its omnipresence. Its uncatchability. Perhaps after all we have to step down and let music pursue its own course.' (Diary entry, 25 February 1965).

When I heard about Cardew for the first time it was through his articles - even though he is not (alas) well recognized in France. Had until then a really nice professor of philosophy, Monsieur Dubois, who unfortunately for his marxist students devoted himself both to Heidegger and Stockhausen. Meeting Cornelius Cardew at that point was saving!
A powerful and exhilarating antidote to what Theodor Adorno called The Jargon of Authenticity, this sort of coded language filled with esoterism and hieratic pretension, turning ordinary concepts in more - allegedly - profound sense.

Adorno demythologized the world of philosophy and it's quite probable that Cardew did exactly the same in the world of experimental music.
That's why his sounds, writings and thoughts deserve to be remembered.

In that respect, Tilbury's book is essential.

A comprehensive review is available in the London Review of Books (12/03/2009)