Danish Interview (with Ole Reitov) – 8

Robert Wyatt – photo by Polly Samson

Ole Reitov’s interview with Allen Ginsberg continues from here (and concludes here) 

OR: Did you see Robert Wyatt when you were in London?

AG: I haven’t been there for a couple of years

OR: Because he’s been moving into very traditional Communism..but he is interesting in a sense, because he…

AG: Robert Wyatt?  who is he?

OR: He was the drummer in Soft Machine, originally.

AG: Aha

OR: He was doing some amazing work for Italian radio. They asked him to come and make thirty minutes of music with the title of how Chairman Mao’s wife was realizing the power fall, and he ended up doing thirty minutes on the rise and fall of the English empire, which was pretty good ( Robert Wyatt – Radio Experiment, Rome, February, 1981). He’s an interesting person.

AG: I have never met him.

OR: Yes, he went out from the second-floor once and ended up in a wheelchair.

AG: What does he play?

OR:  Drums, sings..

AG: In a wheelchair?  still?

OR: Well, only hand drums now. But he’s done some pretty interesting work, really.

AG: You know, speaking of that same transition, from esoteric to popular…the mantra idea, and then the Fluxus group, and the experiments of (Karlheinz) Stockhausen and others, and the experiments of LaMonte Young, and a guitarist (I’ve forgotten his name) who worked with LaMonte Young…they evolved through Philip Glass and Brian Eno, and now affect popular music with the synthesizers..or David Bowie and others. So what began as total esoteric winds up common ear.

OR: Yes, but it is also interesting to see that these people are now searching for..we were talking (earlier) about the poets moving to sort of.. tribal people.. and they.. like Eno’s in West Africa..  and a lot of the electronic composers went to Indonesia and got the gamelan music, and so on.. Because what they’re doing has always been there.

AG: Yes, so there’s an enormous richness and variety of individualized, differentiated, style and pulse and information and living sensory energy that’s (been) deposited for many years in every tree and every skull and in every  tribe and in every locality. Like the young people in Copenhagen (sic), like the people who live here know how to get around the streets.

OR: Yes, but it’s interesting that people have to go through a development where they seek sort of the most advanced expression in our culture to find the original expression in traditional societies..that they have to go that way around

AG: Well, I think it begins with people thinking that the binary digital Aristotelian “either/or”   (the thing is either a, or not a mechanism), reason and machinery, finally, cannot include as much information as the six senses. And that the brain is a much more subtle instrument for perception than any machine, because, by definition, all a machine can do is take the mass of data and reduce it to an abstraction, and reduce the amount of information so that you can manipulate it one way or another, but the nature of a machine is to replicate information rather than expand the sensory input into the person. So that all the nightmare horror of machines replacing human beings, I think, is, like, a machine fantasy rather than a real threat. I mean machines can fuck people up, and alter politics, and alter the ratio of the senses, but still.. as it took billions of years to get to the awareness that we’ve have.. a stupid machine (by definition stupid, since it can’t register simultaneously all the information we can register) can’t really compete to make music with..any old village doctor in Zambia..much less an Australian Aborigine, who’s developed this fantastic epic tradition. It takes forty years for an Aboriginal song man to learn his trade, because their epic material concerns all the details of astronomy, agriculture, hunting, food sources, water sources, that have been known as a map to guide them in a twenty or thirty or forty year migratory nomadic cycle.  So you have to go through it a couple of times to be able to remember it all. It’s like an encyclopedia.

OR: When did they get fire?

AG: I don’t know.. I don’t know if they have it even.. They did have the wheel

OR: Yes, like, there are some tribes in Asia, who also..

AG: The reason I find them interesting is that the developed in a different evolutionary direction than the West.. in the opposite.. where they reduced the number of extensions of their senses, mechanical extensions, to four sticks – the map stick, the song stick, the boomerang, and, I think, a digging stick. And also, the didgeridoo instrument. And (they) were very conscious of not trying to delegate the authority of their senses out to robots. And so what they did develop was a consciousness memory, an auditory consciousness that is much superior to ours. When (Andrei) Voznesensky and I were there we traded songs with the Aborigines and we had to listen ten times to get the tune of a kangaroo jumping or a children’s game song, but we could sing a song to them once and they could sing it right back. That is, to get the melody and get the pulse. Like Hare Krishna I sang once and they were immediately singing Hare Krishna, amusedly, very simple.  Whereas I remember that I had to hear it dozens of times before I could figure it out. So they have developed something that we don’t have.

OR: But when did you start developing that sense of being able to improvise?  You had that from a child? or…

AG: No, I got that from (Jack) Kerouac.. or, at least, I guess I had it but he gave me permission, so to speak, by saying that’s what I should do, instead of trying to write like Andrew Marvell, a seventeenth-century poet.

OR: Yes.. because I suppose that the reason why Western classical music never developed more than it did was that it was so notated as it was. It takes so long a time to learn the notation that you never really get to express anything.

AG: Well, a lot of classical composers can’t… but then Beethoven specialized in improvisation. And the younger musicians now who can go back and forth. Like Steven Taylor can play along with Peter (Orlovsky)‘s erratic rhythm, or mine when I stumble, and sustain and support it. And he can improvise both words and music. And at the same time, he can write.. he wrote, over New Year’s, a four-part (two violin, cello and viola) score for a poem in three days. And can write symphonic orchestration, and can conduct, and can read and write music.  So there are a lot of younger musicians who develop both.

OR: Yes, they were never put into the frames.

AG: Well, I think the cultural realization around the “Fifties and “Sixties, of the nature of spontaneity and improvisation, and the cultural heritage of the age where improvisation and spontaneous mind are stressed as aesthetic practices, has now become…(is) beginning to affect our culture after we’ve tried to exterminate it..  I think I should probably take off.

OR: Yes, we’ve kept you a long time

AG: It’s twelve-thirty.  Was that what you… Did we finish what you were..

OR: Yeah, well, you never finish, but…

AG: We got the general….

(interview concludes here)

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