J-S Bach
John Cage
John Zorn


Pablo Neruda

[1] Die Kunst einer Fuge. Ten interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Contrapunctus I'. Ten encounters, ten dedications to ten different composers of which seven are from the 20th century. Ten dedications? Not really. The entire project is dedicated to the German philosopher Theodor Adorno. 'To Theodor W. Adorno (for his 65th birthday)'. So, there are eleven dedications. Eleven dedications and ... a quote. Immediately after the dedication to Adorno one finds the opening lines of a poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. 'When I am asked where I have been I must reply: it happens'.

[2] 'When I am asked where I have been I must reply: it happens'. The first two lines of the poem 'No Hay Olvido (Sonata)' [There's No Forgetting (Sonata)], a poem from the second volume of Residencia en la tierra [Residence On Earth], written between 1931 and 1935.

No Hay Olvido (Sonata) There's No Forgetting (Sonata)
Si me preguntais en donde he estado If you should ask me where I've been all this time
debo decir 'Sucede'. I have to say 'Things happen.'
Debo de hablar del suelo que oscurecen las piedras, I have to dwell on stones darkening the earth,
del rio que durando se destruye: on the river ruined in its own duration:
no se sino las cosas que los pajaros pierden, I know nothing save things the birds have lost,
el mar dejado atras, o mi hermana llorando. the sea I left behind, or my sister crying.
Por que tantas regiones, por que un dia Why this abundance of places? Why does day lock
se junta con un dia? Por que una negra noche with day? Why the dark night swilling round
se acumula en la boca? Por que muertos? in our mouths? And why the dead?
Si me preguntais de donde vengo, tengo que conversar con cosas rotas, Should you ask me where I come from, I must talk, with broken things,
con utensilios demasiado amargos, with fairly painful utensils,
con grandes bestias a menudo podridas with great beasts turned to dust as often as not
y con mi acongojado corazon. and my afflicted heart.
No son recuerdos los que se han cruzado These are not memories that have passed each other
ni es la paloma amarillenta que duerme en el olvido, nor the yellowing pigeon asleep in our forgetting;
sino caras con lagrimas, these are tearful faces
dedos en la garganta, and fingers down our throats
y lo que se desploma de las hojas: and whatever among leaves falls to the ground:
la oscuridad de un dia transcurrido, the dark of a day gone by
de un dia alimentado con nuestra triste sangre. grown fat on our grieving blood.
He aqui violetas, golondrinas, Here are violets, and here swallows,
todo cuanto nos gusta y aparece all things we love and which inform
en las dulces tarjetas de larga cola sweet messages seriatim
por donde se pasean el tiempo y la dulzura. through which time passes and sweetness passes.
Pero no penetremos mas alla de esos dientes, We don't get far, though, beyond these teeth:
no mordamos las cascaras que el silencio acumula, Why waste time gnawing the husk of silence?
porque no se que contestar: I know not what to answer:
hay tantos muertos, there are so many dead,
y tantos malecones que el sol rojo partia and so many dikes the red sun breached,
y tantas cabezas que golpean los buques, and so many heads battering hulls
y tantas manos que han encerrado besos, and so many hands that have closed over kisses
y tantas cosas que quiero olvidar. and so many things that I want to forget

from: Neruda, P.; Selected Poems. A bilingual edition, edited by Natheniel Taru (reprint 1982).

[3] According to René de Costa, the dominant difference between the poems in the first and the second Residencias is one of tone: the difference between describing an experience and relating it. The second volume is instilled by an attitude that, in spite of the fact that all things must die (the main theme of the first Residencia), life goes on and is not so bad after all. Let's accept it as it is. Neruda would like us to forget all that metaphysical posturing of the past. To forget, not to remember. To survive, not to philosophize. To write a poetry of the present, of the circumstantial here and now, of life not death. This seems to be Neruda's ambition in 'No Hay Olvido (Sonata)' (cf. de Costa, p.76-8).
To forget, not to remember. Life, not death. A poetry of the present. If de Costa is right, why would Zacher have chosen this poem? Probably the ten encounters and dedications already provide (for) an answer. They make Zacher's view quite clear, very audible: interpretations of 'old' music cannot be restricted to a reactionary historicism, the ideal of the historically first rendition (cf. T.W. Adorno). Die Kunst einer Fuge can teach us how interpretations of 'old' music are able to open up the revenue of surplus value in music. That's what a score is: it does not merely fix 'the economic property of a focus, but regulates the possibility of play, of divergences' (The Truth in Painting, p.6). The score regulates the possibility of new interpretations, new performances, new encounters. Die Kunst einer Fuge: receptive to the advent of the other. The ability to respond to the call of the other. 'Sweet messages seriatim through which time passes and sweetness passes'.

[4] De Costa states that in the first two volumes of Residencia en la tierra Neruda is speaking out against the elitist attitude of later modernism. Impurity, in contrast to refined writing, the everyday as opposed to the extraordinary, the real as opposed to the ideal. Neruda provides a voice for what is voiceless (cf. de Costa, p.84).
What about Zacher? Does he occupy a position similar to that of Neruda? First, he provides with many voices what is in fact voiceless: the score. And second, he gives voices to what was silenced in the dominant discourse, silenced in the dominant practice of interpretation. A responsible musician is receptive to those who cannot speak for themselves. Receptive. Zacher not only knows how to play, to provide with a voice what is voiceless, he also knows how to listen, listen to the silent, concealed voices of the other, listen to other voices. An attentive musician, allowing himself to be interrupted because others are calling. He is invited to listen and he has accepted the invitation. The musician becomes a listener, the listener a musician. These are not opposing positions anymore.

[5] 'Si me preguntais en donde he estado debo decir 'Sucede'. 'If you should ask me where I've been all this time, I have to say 'Things happen'. (Or should we opt for Zacher's translation: 'When I am asked where I have been I must reply: it happens'. Or this one: 'Ask me where have I been and I'll tell you: 'Things keep on happening' (Belitt, p.44-45). The Spanish text immediately gives rise to different translations, different meanings, different time adjuncts.)
This sentence reminds me of Derrida's 'Letter to a Japanese Friend' in which he tries to explain deconstruction. Deconstruction is not an act or operation. It does not return to an individual subject. Deconstruction takes place, it is an event that does not await the deliberation, consciousness, or organization of a subject. It deconstructs it-self. And it is the 'it', which is not the reflexivity of an ego or of a consciousness, that bears the whole enigma (cf. Wood and Bernasconi, p.3-4). 'Deconstruction takes place'. 'It happens'. The first-person narrator is addressed as a self-conscious ego, someone who knows, someone who took the initiative to go or hide. But he simply (apologetically?) replies: 'Sucede'. Things happen. It happens. It takes place. No personal, conscious legitimization. No 'ego-logical' explanation. It happens. However, one thing should be clear: 'The 'it' is not here an impersonal thing that is opposed to some egological subjectivity'. Says Derrida. Should Neruda agree? And should Zacher?
'Why waste time gnawing the husk of silence?'