ALL WAS MUSIC. On Walter Marchetti.


Walter Marchetti on the cover of the CD "De musicorum infelicitate" (Alga Marghen, 2000)

Walter Marchetti on the cover of the CD “De musicorum infelicitate” (Alga Marghen, 2000)

“…naturally music had surrounded me ever since infancy as an unquestionable and indisputable element of life, but nothing had impelled me to distinguish it from the rest of my experience”

(Franz Kafka: Investigations Of A Dog)

1. Shadowing Conceptual Art and Fluxus, Walter Marchetti is perhaps one of those many involutionary figures who have stealthily stepped only at the edges of an institutional recognition. Having been at Darmstadt in the mid 50s and with John Cage during his 1959 sojourn in Italy, Marchetti embarked upon an exploration of music that began with composing for small acoustic ensembles in a way that, using space as a rhythm, allowed for a clash of timbres and an acoustic diffusion of sound to become prominent. The concert at the Rotunda del Pelligrini, where his music was played alongside that of Juan Hidalgo, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Leopoldo La Rosa, marks a brief moment of conjunction between the New York School and Milan – a synchronous exploration in creating a non-spectacular music of liberating duration. Never as internationally known as Cage and to some degree struggling with “Cage’s cage”, Marchetti, always accompanied by others, preferred to work as part of a collaborative effort and to this end has spent much of life as a member of the much neglected Spain-based Zaj group. Established in 1964 with Juan Hidalgo and Ramon Barce, the many members of Zaj, perhaps uniquely for composers working at the fringes of a ‘classical music’ idiom, chose to adopt a collective identity rather than, as would be usual for ambitious composers, embark upon the creation of an individual opus. Preferring a constant interrogation of music (“music sets up an act of uninterrupted brainwashing”) to the authoritative pitfalls of the canon (“the composer… always acts within the realm of dominion”), Marchetti has, since then, determinedly sought to ignore the single minded specialisation that hinders a praxis of the senses and has thus won a liminal space of freedom for a practice that is no longer reliant upon the separate conventions of notation, improvisation or performance nor upon the “eye/ear dichotomy”, but which seeks to present listeners with a music “without beginning or end or development”, a music as experience that can be written and performed without instruments; a music, at times, without sound and demanding the ‘El Dorado’ of uninstituted reception contexts (1).

2. In going against the institutional requirements of music to be expressive or narrational, by rejecting linearity and canonical themes, Marchetti, always interested in the diffusion of sound, its ubiquity, has been led to make a music that is indistinguishable from experience and which takes as a given the transversal actuality of sound. That sound is ever present as a material means for Marchetti and others, that its capture at the hands of the institution, its being fodder for pre-arranged forms and the expectations that ensue, is tantamount to a reification of musical experience wherein the potential subjectivising ‘affectivity’ of a sound is softened by the already emplaced frameworks of its reception. The point for Marchetti seems to be that the sounds should be kept free not so that they can, after Cage, become autonomous, self-referential and asocial (2), but so they can serve as a means of interlinking experience across a social field that, in currently serving the needs of capitalist categorisation, is repeatedly striated by boundaries to experience and mediations of experience: “definition invariably hinges on separation”. Definition and coherence have been rejected by Marchetti in favour of a contradiction (“a constant inconsistency”) that continually fuels the interrogation of music and therefrom does not allow its practice to settle in with those too accommodating definitions that not only limit our experience of music, but our social experience as well. Why, asks Marchetti, should music serve such alienating ends? Why should it alienate us from the subjective possibilities of our own perception? The series of pieces he has entitled ‘Chamber Music’, first begun in 1974 and now approaching the 300 mark, are fine examples of Marchetti’s approach to sound and the tyranny of categorical imperatives and their collusion in a separation of the senses. In one of the pieces he has been photographed asleep in a gallery, in others he comments upon the canonical symbol of the grand piano by making the shape of one from toilet rolls and bricking-in another. This conceptual approach to music, wherein soundlessness resonates in the viewer as imagined sound or whereby a refusal to sound traditionally militates against canonical conformities, is emotionally provoking even though it does not seek recourse to swelling chords or an emotive expressivity: history dwells in an object that has been defunctionalised and urged to cease in its traditional reiterations, but desire is also being circulated in that we are being urged to bring ourselves to a halt “at the threshold of music”, to cease to be content with the same sounds, to deny ourselves music in order to make our experiences audible: “The musician always condemns the listener to deafness, deafness to himself”. The image of Marchetti asleep on the gallery floor carries these ideas further. It raises the idea of his making his own time, of being unperturbed by the pressures of canonical production and, of course, it raises not only the idea of the sounds of his sleep as a music, but also Marchetti’s distance from the object of music, a distance through which sound is left to its affective ubiquity and listeners are confronted with the subjectivising fortuitousness of uncategorisable experiences: “I have nothing to explain because I have nothing to prove, no one to convince”.

3. It is not surprising, then, that Marchetti has turned towards the environment as a source of music, but unlike the musique-concrete of Pierre Schaeffer with its tendency to arraign diffuse sounds as ‘sound-objects’ and to score them in conventional, often narrational, patterns, Marchetti is interested, in such pieces as Antibarbarus and Per La Sete Dell’orecchio, with an immersion in sound as an extended snapshot of a continual experience – sound as social relation. As his fellow Zaj collaborator Jose Luis Castillejo has remarked, Marchetti “gets rid of the musical object or of music as object”. The musical object, when separated from its context, as Schaeffer urges, can come to be “arranged according to its familial relationships and the concordance of its characteristics” (3) which, rather than leading to a disordant expansion of experience, limits such experiences to those deemed institutionally and categorically viable: it impedes experience by becoming the raw material of a hematic representation. However, Marchetti uses the location recording as simultaneously a source of sound and as a reception context and with the sounds escaping on all sides and coming from everywhere there is a strong sense that the resultant ‘music’ is occurring in the very process of its being dematerialized as an object: it neither relies upon instrumentation nor upon an apriori knowledge of what music should be and, as is the case with Per La Sete Dell’orecchio’, with its sounds of stones falling into a well, there is a strong sense that the activity itself, with all its experiential connotations, replaces our apprehension of the music as a ‘piece’, an object of contemplation. The object, if anything, becomes blurred and, as an indistinct edging, it merges into the social field neither as foreground nor as background, but as the offer of a ‘scene’ which is in continuity with experience and not alienated from it by the concordance of institutional categorisation. Movement there may be but, with Marchetti moving to the side, it is not a movement of progression tending towards a resolution. Rather it is the movement of a microscopic aural texture that animates perception at the same time that it withdraws from that perception a distinct object from which it could cathect. Attention, the modulation of desire and perception, becomes focussed but diffuse and, under these conditions, experience can admit of an unconscious discordant dimension that may enable us to speak of an ‘auricular drive’ .Such micro-events are assured in Antibarbarus by the fact that listeners are not presented with the succession of sounds they would expect from music, but a continuum of the same sound whose rhythms become contiguous to the moments of their recording. The effect is one of “entering time in depth”, an achronological time of suspended habit that is not marked by notes or intervals, and which has the further effect of making audible an “empty space coming alive” – a renewed reception context, a stratum of subjectivity. With ‘Antibarbarus’, then, we are being offered the sound of our own experience as listeners, an experience in differential relation to that of Marchetti’s but through which desire is summoned as a desire to no longer hear the mediated music of categories, the authoritative concordance that assures us of idealised identities, but to listen and by listening to build an ‘auricular drive’.

4. In another of his pieces, The Hunt, Marchetti uses as his instruments an array of birdcalls and numerically scores what is essentially an open-ended drift through the countryside or city. With simple instructions as to the amount of paces and in what direction to take them and with instruction about how many times to sound each bird call, Marchetti not only conceptually widens the reception-context of music to be that of the urban or rural environment, he seeks collaboration with birds in the making of music. Whether these scores were acted out or whether they are, like the Fluxus scores they reference, means by which Marchetti extends music into a potential language of poetic absurdity that highlight the limitating concordancies of language, it is nonetheless their vivid intention to comment upon the categorical restrictiveness, the “senseless rationality”, of classical scoring, whilst offering in their stead an open-ended duration of experience, an affective intensity, and an always inevitable ‘failure’ to achieve the aim of the hunt. This latter, being suspicious of idealisation, is in-built into his Twenty Solos from The Hunt where, taking each birdcall individually and seeking its corresponding bird, there is a strong sense that, in sticking closely to the scores, the listener/composer will not actually hear anything. The word ‘solo’ of the title thus takes on a greater musical significance in that by means of the meta-music of the graphic scores the readers become listeners who can potentially hear more than the soloist who, with an ideal object in mind, is resistant to perceiving what else there is to hear. In another of the adapted pieces based around The Hunt, Marchetti’s score is concerned with a city-wide hunt from dawn until dusk for the ‘Bird of Paradise’ and is a means by which Marchetti’s concern for music to “find its realisation in the destruction of the status quo” becomes revealed as his partaking in a revolutionary teleology, an invocation of a “forgotten El Dorado (which never existed, was never experienced, never conceived)”. This diffusion of music into an experience of the social-field that begins with Marchetti’s Gamapirt piece premiered at the Rotonda concert in 1959, increasingly becomes an immersion in what Deleuze and Guattari have termed the “non-personal flows of desire” that make of experience a non-categorisable social experience and install subjectivity ‘before’ the circumscription of identity.

5. If the musical object is dematerialized then it must be a matter, too, of Marchetti dematerialising as composer and musician. This intentional submergence within the social field, becoming just another punter propping up the bar, being no more musical than the birds, is not only a way of assuring a communicational intensity, but marks a strategic practice of de-specialisation. The readymade roles allotted through the idealising categorisations of ‘musician’ or ‘artist’ are rejected by Marchetti and others in favour of a sensual praxis (“the eye brimming with sounds”) that does not conform to the categorisation of experience nor to a division of labour that, under capitalism, extends towards the senses. In this way de-specialising, removing the encumbrances of expectation, becomes a means of heightening perception and coming to grasp the social field as a “suprasensible” scene, a trauma. Such an intentional submergence with its opportunities for intensive experiencing and ‘pre-personal’ subjectivity, enables Marchetti and others to escape from the delusory grounding of a ‘self’ that is inveigled to both seek the succour of a ‘self-image’ (composer) and internalise the authority of institutions (canon). As opposed to the first Marchetti presents his experience in a way that avoids the encumbrance of its being the expressive outcome of Marchetti as a ‘self’. Having said that one of his main preoccupations with music was to “block the road to the expression of the ego”, we can see in the conceptual and compositional layering of a piece like Nei Mari Del Sud, how Marchetti deliberately distances himself from any ‘creative’ input into the piece (4). As a ‘composer’ he is present at every stage of the production process and his ‘self’, dispersed, becomes more a matter of ‘precipitative selves’ that resist their idealised confinement in any one representative or specialist role. The ego can not only be an attractive trap for desire to implode and become narcissistic but can, in its being summoned to defend such roles and maintain an idealised ‘self-image’, limit the diffuse experiences and interaction that make the self not a monad, but a modulatable social container, a music. This leads to the way that the strategy of submergence is resistant to institutional authority. With Antibarbarus, which at times actually sounds submerged (5), it is as if the listeners actually accompany Marchetti and are alongside him as he makes the music. Having said that “my ears betray no emotion in the presence of sounds; they seem content simply to be present” there seems with Antibarbarus, very little to detract from the sounds being experienced by the listener as an intensive experience rather than the consumption of an object of music.The sounds have undergone minimal or subtle transformation, but it is a transformation that is not framed by an interpretive thematic from Marchetti. There is no authority vested in Marchetti that gets in the way of the musical experience, but similarly there is – bearing in mind Marchetti’s collaborative interactions with Zaj, his use of contradiction and his experiential dispersion – no individual Marchetti around which such an authoritycould accrue. This element of the ‘pre-personal’ along with the refusal of mediation is often experienced as traumatic for it is not only perceived as a loss of control, a breakdown of language, but, perhaps concomitantly, as a threat to the idealisation of the ‘self’ which authority builds upon. Marchetti’s unspectacular and unsung music, unable to be distinguished from experience and thus verbalised, is, a conscious sounding of this trauma, an autotraumatisation that enables a wielding of a discordant idealistion, an El Dorado.

Howard Slater
Break/Flow May 2000

Except where otherwise noted all Marchetti quotes are taken fromWalter Marchetti, Exhibition Catalogue, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver, 1999. Thanks to Ed Baxter of London Musician’s Collective (LMC) for the loan of this book. Several Walter Marchetti CDs are available through These Records, 112 Brook Drive, London SE11.

(1) In putting on their own concerts and performances Zaj created their own reception context. In one written statement Marchetti has likened Zaj to a bar in another, entitled ‘Running’ he has said “this is Zaj running and screaming without interruption, without rushing to any call, without always responding yes, without always maintaining the same speed. This is zaj.” Whilst mainly surfacing in Spain and Italy the Zaj group were internationally visible, in the person of Juan Hidalgo, at the Destruction In Art Symposium held in London in1966 and at the Prospect 69 conceptual art show in Dusseldorf where they made 5 photographic actions. They contributed to the Koln Happenings & Fluxus show of 1970 with the statement “we are not interested in this exhibition”. They have since then been regular contributors to various retrospective Fluxus shows and in 1996 the group had a major retrospective at the Reina Sofia, Madrid. See the Chronology compiled by Gabriele Bonomo, ibid, p111-122.
(2) Walter Marchetti: “Music always refers to itself and to nothing else; and this tautology satisfies everybody, even musicians”, ibid, p93.
(3) Pierre Schaeffer in L’oeuvre Musicale, INA/GRM.
(4) ‘Performing’ this piece at the LMC’s Ninth Annual Festival Of Experimental Music (May 2000), Marchetti, seated at several feet from the bass end of the piano,dropped strips of paper containing unplayably low notes, whilst the CD version, containing these very notes in a slow sombre sequence, was played though the PA. Whether Marchetti could have been said to be miming, whether the ‘music’ was becoming visible theatre parodying a virtuoso performance, it was still a matter of Marchetti listening to the notes along with the audience.
(5) Jose Luis Castillejo has referred to Marchetti’s music as being a “fall of sound”.

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