In Search of Mavericks
Story and photos by Gary Singh
hanks to a Eurail Flexipass, allowing random infiltration on whatever
days I deem necessary, Vienna presents itself to me as a global epicenter
of both traditional creativity and avant-garde lunacy. I can easily
follow in the footsteps of tradition, but so much of the maverick spirit
emerges instead. This is what Vienna
does to me.
For example, as a locale steeped in cultural aristocracy,
gives me the likes of Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss,
all of which constitute vital, must-see components of the city's storied
musical landscape. This is the classical music capital of the world,
as more composers operated here than in any other place. In today's
Vienna, those guys are everywhere, especially the Central Cemetery.
The Central Cemetery in Vienna
But I find alternative inspiration without even trying.
I don't have to plan. In Vienna, I navigate a psychic maze of boundary-shattering
creative types and crossover artists who could not function within the
established compartmentalizations of the western world. They seem to
find me, rather than the other way around.
In the MuseumsQuartier, William S. Burroughs emerges
in pieces all over the Kunsthalle Wien. Cut-ups, Cut-ins,
Cut-outs: The Art of William S. Burroughs nearly eludes
me, as the show seems to be ending in a few days. To neutralize the
alien gods, I slither in.
Tons of William S. Burroughs underneath museum glass
Burroughs, of course, pioneered a new form of writing,
the cut-up method, and upon viewing the show I almost feel like writing
a cut-up review of sorts. Maybe it would go something like this:
The exhibition extends through many rooms and corridors.
Busted wooden door, painted collage, staring at intrigued German woman
with camera. High school kids fill the entire gallery and know not what
their instructor sees. Or wants to know. There are two instructors,
actually. Man. Woman. All the shotgun artwork rankled with bulletholes.
Coins, portraits, cartoons he shot up. Now all framed in a museum like
canned pickles. Decades-old RE/Search volume between Rolling
Stone and Esquire under glass museum glass! the
magazines, the pamphlets, letters, words, typed, zigzagged across the
page, circled, squared and trapezoided in red, black, gray and pencil.
Original collage from William
His suggested library, just one shelf, cold against
the bone-white walls, presented with a Euro-chic lamp and headphones
to listen. The high school kids appropriate 8x11 sheets of paper, "VIRUS"
it says on the back, one after the other, with words, mixed up and mixed
up over and over again. They learn collage and mystery and violence
and heroin and typewriters soaked in dust. Language as virus, as Uncle
Bill always claimed.
Videos. Old and black and white. Those present don't
seem to get it. Especially not the high school teachers. WSB drinks
bourbon in the chair, in the video, as Kathy Acker interviews him outside
in the lobby. Inside, the glass cases carry decades of shotguns, drugs,
tape recorder experiments, typewriters, raincoats and stale newspapers.
Sounds, cut-up, spliced, mixed, predating hiphop by
decades. A masterpiece, this show. It goes on and on and on. More smartphones
taking shots of decades-old newspaper collages and magazine pages underneath
museum glass, matted and framed and everything in a precise logical
order, cannot be mixed up. Or cut up.
Shot up coins from William S. Burroughs
Evasion. Sidetrack. No press kit. Pristine restroom.
Call it a done deal.
Back to the front. What's next:
In a perfect example of carrying on the Burroughs anti-tradition,
an outdoor sonic sculpture titled, The Morning Line, draws me to Schwarzenbergerplatz,
not too far away. It is there that J.G. Thirwell of Foetus, Lee Ranaldo,
et al, participate via their sound contributions, in this audio pavilion
of sorts commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. The sculpture
utilizes speakers from Berkeley's Meyer Sound.
The Morning Line at Schwarzenbergerplatz
Berkeley's Meyer Sound provided the speakers for
The Morning Line
As I show up, the whole thing is turned off, but as
far as I can tell, Max/MSP software is utilized to distribute the different
compositions throughout the space. As observer/participants enter the
area, they hear the various recordings playing from various speakers,
depending on where they are, and the 3D space becomes immersive and
ephemeral. Some of the compositions are cut-ups and mashups, while others
are more traditionally composed, but all pieces are designed to highlight
the routes between the disciplines of architecture and electro-acoustic
music composition. It's the cutup techniques of Burroughs meets the
landmark spatial sound/architecture crossover projects of Edgard Varese
and Iannis Xenakis. But brand new for Vienna.
Inside the Morning Line, surrounded by sound
Across the street from The Morning Line, I feel obligated
to invade the Arnold Schoenberg Center, a first-rate repository of the
famous 20th century composer's musical and creative legacy. Musicologists
might shudder upon these words, but since Schoenberg also painted, I
tend to call him a "crossover artist."
As I snoop around inside the place, an entire smattering
of material related to Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire confronts
me, primarily since upon my visit it's the 100th anniversary of this
groundbreaking melodrama cycle. In 1912, Schoenberg originally placed
this music in the extreme danger zone of post-Romantic composition.
It caused a riot.
In Pierrot lunaire, the title hero is a bizarre,
uncomfortable and nervous figure, lured into a nightmarish world of
phantasms and hopeless passions. Crossing over between singing and speaking,
the vocal sonics unfold against a complex kaleidoscopic maelstrom of
atonal sound. At least that's the way I see it. The exhibit presents
facsimile manuscripts, documentation, film footage, riot reportage from
newspapers and other scraps and bits from Schoenberg's career of music
instruction in universities. I even scope out photocopies of homework
he handed out in class.
Scores of Arnold Schoenberg, in my face, everywhere
Feels like I'm finally using my music degree for something.
I feel at home. This is what Vienna does to me.
As I prowl around Vienna, the city begins to play games
with me. Back at the MuseumsQuartier, the transdimensional presence
of legendary Atari founder Nolan Bushnell emerges at Subotron, a retail
and cultural incubator for digital gaming culture. Past, present and
future smash together in this place. Atari 2600 meets Second Life. I
grew up in Silicon Valley with the Atari 2600, so the space-time continuum-shattering
spectacle of this machine, auf Deutsch, blows me away.
The legendary Atari 2600 in German
Unlike Schoenberg, Bushnell is still actually with us.
It was he, as head of Atari 40 years ago, who helped launch the video
game industry, as we know it. He is a maverick just like the rest of
these characters. I feel no distinction between home and abroad, between
foreign and domestic: Instead of those two opposing each other, they
compliment each other.
Games. Cut-ups. Music. Sonic distribution. Literature.
Hopeless passions. Crossover. This is what Vienna does to me.
Tear Through Graz; Vienna:
The City that Endures; Waltzing
Through Vienna; My
Vienna; My Native Cuisine; The
Rosengart Collection; Innsbruck,