Philip Lionel Corner (Phil Corner)
Born in the Bronx, New York in 1933, he studied composition at City College of New York. He also studied analysis with Olivier Messiaen at Paris Conservatory. After returning to the U. S., he studied composition with Henry Cowell and Otto Luening at Columbia University, where he earned his MA. Around that time, he met Cage and his associates, setting out performances at Judson Memorial Church, New York. In 1962, at International Contemporary Music Festival, Wiesbaden, Fluxus members conducted the now notorious “piano destruction event,” which was actually a unique interpretation of Piano Activities by Philip Corner. Besides composition and performance, he also participated in gamelan group Son of Lion in New York, presenting a variety of activities, which included calligraphy and visual art as well. In 1992, he moved to Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Oral History Interview with Philip Corner
I: From childhood to college, and study in France
II: Back to the U.S.
III: Cage and Flux
IV: Piano Activities
V: Stockhausen’s Originale
VI: Piano Moving Event and Dick Higgins’ Thousand symphonies
VII: Nam June Paik and A la Mannière de
VIII: Tone Roads Ensemble and other activities
IX: Eric Satie
XI: What is Flux?
I: From childhood to college, and study in France
Kakinuma: Today is September 20th 2015, and this is an oral history interview for Philip Corner. The interviewers are Luciana Galliano, Italian musicologist, and I myself Toshie Kakinuma.
Kakinuma: So may we start with some biographical matters?
Philip Corner: Yes of course…
Kakinuma: You were born in 1933?
Philip Corner: I came in with Roosevelt, so with President Roosevelt.
So I’m a… I’m a new deal baby.
Kakinuma: Where were you born in New York?
Philip Corner: The Bronx. Everybody loves that.
Kakinuma: Your parents were also musicians?
Philip Corner: No, no. No music. Well, but there was a piano in the house. And my mother as a child stopped piano lessons because she only wanted to play popular songs and not classical music. So she stopped playing. So she would play the piano for songs, but that’s the only music… it’s the only music we had in the family.
Kakinuma: Then why did you start studying music? How did you start?
Philip Corner: Well, as a monk once said to me in Parma, “I was called.”
Philip Corner: Well, in a certain sentence… no. Yes, I think it’s true. I am… well I didn’t start actually until very late. I was 13 years old when I… even before I start playing the piano. So I wasn’t like Wunderkinder or anything like that, there’s nothing like that at all. As a matter of fact… and then when I started, I found I wasn’t… I wasn’t even very talented as a pianist, and I’ve never been a great pianist or so. I… I’ve never been good at sports and I have a… not good coordination and all that. So physically speaking, so I’ve never had a great piano technique or anything, so I’m not a very good pianist. But I worked very hard, and I studied very hard. And right at the beginning I had this creative thing, you know, and that’s why I say facetiously that “I was called”. But even long before, I always had some kind of a creative type of thing.
I remember that all the things that they taught in school for arts, you know, we had water color and ceramic and drawing, and was just like, art weaving and metal work, and wood work, you know. And they always gave out some kind of model that everybody was supposed to do, and I always made up something of my own. So already from when I was eight years old, I mean I have these ideas in my head, that I would… I even designed a model airplane, I was making. It couldn’t possibly have flown, but it was totally designed, you know. And I had this idea and I was working on it. So that was something was just inherent with me. And when I started music, what happened first was that we… but I and my twin brother, we just climbed up on the piano bench and looked at the thing and figured out how to read notes. Then at that point my mother said, “well I’ll give you piano lessons.”
So I was already 13 and right away the same thing was happening with music that I had these… and I even thought, “Oh this is great.” Because music is… I thought it was easier because you didn’t have to work at anything, you didn’t have to take, you know polisher or something or carve or do anything physical. It’s just like the way I did it, you just think it, you know. And then I found out that, that made it more difficult, you know. I would go to… the piano, I said, “No wait a minute that’s not the right note, you know,” then to try to find the right note I never could do it, you know. I remember… I had the idea of doing a kind of… what we call it now like a sound collage and musique concrète. And of course musique concrète did exist at the time but my teachers and nobody… we didn’t know… knew anything about it, and teaching in high school, so nobody was teaching. As a matter of fact it was… even if you were just you know, a little bit modern, the teachers were against you. So you could imagine musique concrète.
Galliano: Sorry. You were in a public…
Philip Corner: Yes, yes I went to …
Galliano: School, in Bronx.
Philip Corner: No, no I wasn’t in Bronx anymore, we moved to Manhattan. And there was… there were some special schools in New York. One is like dedicated to science, and others. So it was dedicated for music and art. And you had to take an examination to go into it and then no, so I was… I was there. They of course were very conservative, but I mean I did get an education and had to learn the trombone, played in the symphony orchestra you know. But you know composition was a disaster because I always got tremendously criticized. Although I looked at the music, I wrote when I was 16, 17 years old and it’s very, very, conservative. And so at that time… but I had this idea. I was even younger, I think I was 14 and I know that I was already… I guess like listening to the sounds. I mean now looking back, I can see the line you know. But I said oh yes, the way that this particular curve, you know, and going to the Bronx with very slow curve and that it goes, eeeeeeuuuuu. Well that’s… that’s great, then there was another place where, you know the train goes very, very fast between two stations because it’s a long thing but they don’t stop. So there were all these things, so I said, “Well, I’m going to write a suite New York City Transit.
Kakinuma: And you composed it?
Philip Corner: I never composed it because I went to… you know and now I could imagine often that you go with the tape recorder and you make collage and you do the whole thing. But I had no idea, the tape recorder called collage music, even noises. But I thought well I could take it down in some kind of way. But I never got past the turnstyle where you go into the, and that time it was the nickel. So they had the thing, so click, click and the nickel goes in then you grr grr, they had to turn that and people are going in. So I would go there and just listening and hearing click, click, grr, grr. And you know I start to go home and I tried to write that down. And I tried to write it down, trying to get the notes on the piano. Of course it never sounded l like the turnstile. So I never got beyond. That was like a failure. So I never thought of doing it kind of as a musical abstraction let’s say you know Pacific 231 of Honegger where you make just kind of music out of it and you abstract it. No, I really wanted the sounds of the click, click grr. And so …
That’s where you were at the high school?
Yes, yes I was maybe 14, 15 years old.
Kakinuma: 14 years old, great.
Philip Corner: I was just starting… I mean I hadn’t written any music at all. I mean my first piece was Sonatina in the style of Clementi. It goes bampararpampam because that’s what, you know was playing as I was beginning piano student. So I had no experience even as a composer but, you know when you get these visions, and I said, “Wow! I like it, the New York City subway system.
Philip Corner: So I see now that it’s very visionary and certainly has a link through, you know, John Cage, fluxus, musique concrète, electronic… all of that, you know. But of course I didn’t, see that at the time.
Kakinuma: So you studied at the City University of New York?
Philip Corner: It’s called City… at the time it was called the City College and it wasn’t a university yet.
Kakinuma: Oh and you…
Philip Corner: And then it became the City University and there’s four campuses which used to be colleges, and they still exist. But now it’s like only City College of the City University of New York. And anyway it’s yeah that’s…
Kakinuma: And you studied composition at the time?
Philip Corner: Oh yes, yes, I went and studied composition.
Kakinuma: And then you…
Galliano: You started composition with whom? Who was the teacher?
Philip Corner: Yeah, Mark Brunswick (1902-1971). You know I’m very conflicted about this, maybe it’s a little bit of a denegration but I have to say this. But I was interviewed a few years ago. And the interview actually was published in the Wire, and about, you know Fluxus and various things like that. And he mentioned one of my kind of situational, also politically relevant pieces where we call them “an antipersonnel cluster bomb will be thrown into the audience”…
Philip Corner: And that’s become, in a certain sense a big mistake and now that’s followed me and people have helped me understood it and people have written wrongly about it and sometimes it’s like, you know… and on a certain level I considered the piece was a failure but on another level it’s interesting because it’s dealing with the idea of politically relevant… but I don’t want to get too far off. The reason I’m mentioning this is that the piece was never played. I mean the performance of the piece is not to play it. You announce that the piece will not be performed. You do not throw it. Plus there was another composer on the program and he was actually… he was a friend of mine, and he said, ‘If you do that, I’m not participating. I’m taking my piece off the program. ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because I would be afraid if you would do it.’ I said, ‘What? I or anybody else would actually throw a bomb into the audience? You got to be kidding. You must see that it’s ironic. That it is symbolic’. And he said, ‘No! These crazy times or so. You can’t tell what anybody will do and all that. And if you put that on the program, I’m out of there. You know, and If you put that on the program I’m not coming at all!’ So I took it off the program.
And as luck would have it on the program was also a piece turned out to be a very, very important and I can walk through the world of music and we did that as if that was the first performance of a sheer music listening piece. But the reason I’m mentioning this is, is because in this interview, this interviewer said to me, ‘Would you give me the name of that composer?’ I said, ‘No. I won’t tell you who it is.’ So I feel a little bit that way about Mark Brunswick. And the funny thing he wasn’t that bad a composer. But he was, I mean… it was totally wrong for me. He was a kind of guy who takes four years to write a symphony you know. And only wrote music during the summer. When he was teaching, he was teaching, you know.
I remember when I was a professor too, I would come home from teaching be excited then sit down and start writing… no, no. Then he would go to his summer house, stay there for two or three months or so and write music and as he said, ‘More eraser than pencil. So, it was totally the wrong way for me you know, you figure out this note then you write it all down and then you go in and figure out the next note and you need to write it all down. And this painful slow way of writing a a serious composition and his music was also like very serious. And of course at the beginning, you know, I followed that. I mean he was my teacher. But now in retrospect, I see it was completely wrong and maybe it’s all right that you come across somebody who you have to confront and then it was later that I just found out how I had to work and how I had to do things and in a way he represents… And I say for what he was doing he was not a bad composer. But he really represents everything that I…
Kakinuma: You were against…
Philip Corner: I was…and in certain sense I still I’m. I don’t believe in ‘progress’ in a sense but I think that there are certain things that change. And that this way of writing down every note for… every player has to play exactly that then you’re writing notes and for standard instruments or so; and especially this way of like, you know, note by note. Because it relates to what I just said about the ideas I got for model airplane and everything else. I get a vision of a piece. It took many years to work out a technique to clarify like the vision and get that down and then work out the details.
So at the beginning, of course, it was making some kind of a sketch or so that would put the essence of the piece down and then you can see how that would gradually evolve through putting down less and less details, you know and also that the piece is seen as a whole. So all the things that we now associate with great innovation like, going up and going down and going backwards and freedom of interpretation, indeterminacy rather than going from the beginning to the end. You can see that, that’s already implicit in the sense of having a vision of the whole. So that you put it down on a piece of paper and you say, “Yes, you can start from the bottom, you can start from the top. You can go around that way.” And it becomes very, very open and even then, leading to the verbal score which makes a general way and you say, well this is the general idea of the piece. And instead of like writing all the details just do it yourself. So then now sum my things up, I just told this organist who’s going to be playing, playing tonight. Well the piece she’s playing is from 1963 and that has semi-specific…; it’s got designs and I made them actually with cut paper collages. So… and each design is very specific, but since it’s… you might say floating in total space. And just it’s the design and mostly clusters and some kind of movement or so. So there’s still indeterminacy, how big do you make the cluster; how wide is it? Exactly what registers is it in; how long does it take. So already even though there’s a sense of sequence and one page after the other and… But there’s still some freedom but still a lot related to the old way of doing things where you tell people from left to right and then going on and on.
So that’s where I was in 1963. But I told her I said well now you know I’ve been very concerned with ugliness lately, you know, I’m like what are the limits of… I mean a lot of things I’ve been into that’s like where are the limits? You know, I think you can see that in a lot of the pieces you know. So I said, ”Where are the limits?” So I’m now concerned with where are the limits of beauty? And so I’ve been doing things like… So I had a piece called Ugly Music. And actually there is one version which has pages and score, sketch designs and all that. But then I made the, can I say, the definitive version. And the definitive version just like, “play as ugly as you can”. And so I said to her, ”See if you want to play it just remember that, that’s the score. Play as ugly as you can.” And the funny thing is everybody always says, ”It’s so beautiful!.” We had this group from Paris doing a concert here in Parma and with trombone, violin, and guitar, and I was even doing with voice and I added that, ‘Aah!’ something like, ‘Aaaagh!’ You know you brought the obvious kind of ugliness…
Galliano: Of ugliness…
Philip Corner: And scraping instruments on the floor, and doing… you just imagine what they were doing. And I ended going like, ‘Aagh… Aagh!’ you know. Actually it’s like, no, Acoustic Butoh, you know. And everybody said, ”That piece was so beautiful.” So that in a way it’s a great mystery, I’m going into this one. And I don’t know what I’m doing, I mean I don’t know what I’m finding. But if that’s… if that’s beautiful, anything is. But on the certain level maybe that’s a discovery too. Its… anything is beautiful. And somebody just suggested to me maybe the ugliest thing is a bad musician playing classical music. So… ha, ha, ha, ha…
Kakinuma: May I go back to?
Philip Corner: Yes.
Kakinuma: School years.
Philip Corner: Right so that’s…
Kakinuma: So from City College of New York you moved to Colombia?
Philip Corner: No, no. I got a scholarship to go to France.
Kakinuma: To Paris, first Oh.
Philip Corner: Yes. And now it’s strange too.
Kakinuma: Did you study with Messiaen?
Philip Corner: Well, I’ll tell you the story because it’s interesting. I was accepted to go to graduate school. I applied to a number of graduate schools and one of the ones was Princeton. And, but I was… I was so naïve. I didn’t know what was really happening in the real world. I mean like at the time I went to City College instead of Mark Brunswick, I mean I could have been studying with Stefan Wolpe; I mean there were people in New York, but I didn’t really know what was happening. I heard a few Cage things, and at that time in the early 50’s I really rejected Cage when I first heard him. It was only when I came back from Paris. So I even applied to Yale when there was Hindemith, you know, Hindemith, he is a famous composer. You know imagine me studying with Hindemith, I mean it was crazy.
So but I was accepted at Princeton and I thought if I go to Princeton I’ll be studying with Roger Sessions, also a serious 12-tone composer. What I didn’t know was that I would actually have been studying with Milton Babbitt, and Milton Babbitt was of course you know the American Boulez, you know the total serialism was that the other I think I can just imagine. I don’t know how I would have reacted to being that because there’s a whole lot of people who are Milton Babbitt’s casualties and they you know they go through that and they, and then they totally reject it and they end up into anti-classical music, doing rock or pop, or doing some kind of synthesis, and trying to… Frederic Rzewski (1938- ) is a perfect example of it here. Music for the people and working class tunes, harmonizing the traditional way and that’s like reacting against Uncle Miltie; I mean a very sweet guy, I mean and he was very nice to me on a personal level. But I don’t know I just think of the way I evolved and where I am now. He shocked me like he was not accepting John Cage and by the time I came back from Paris, I was open for Cage and I was…
Well, the story of Messiaen was I didn’t know what to do when I got to Paris. So I thought well I should be studying in the conservatory, so I went around to various bureaucrats and there was one guy who knew something about music and he invited me to a party and they were playing the Three Little Liturgies for the Divine Presence (1944), and I said, “That is my music, that is like…” and he said, “almost he didn’t like it at all, but if you are interested in him, I suggest you go to his church and wait at the foot of the buffet d’orgue on Sunday, which I did and my French at that time was very stammering and all that you know, and I accosted him and said I would like to come to his class. He was teaching analysis and he said, “Well I have my quota of foreigners.” I think they were allowed it was around five foreign students and it was interesting. I mean, there was Alexander Goehr (1932- ) who became a famous composer in England, there was Gilles Tremblay (1932- ) who became a famous composer and director of the conservatory in Montreal. So there was a really quite – those who were among the five, but he said, well come anyway and sit in and then finally when he did put an official list down in the offices I was accepted. So that meant I was able to take a concours and everything else and I stayed for two years.
I mean it was very important you know he was… and I studied his music, I took an abonnement at Durand, and I took the scores out, and I went to the conservatory library, and I studied the scores. I was very much influenced by what he was doing and I would still say that even though in a certain sense, where you could say he’s old fashioned and a certain sense, especially after the 50’s, he reverted you know he kind of, became anti-avant-garde, but that business of the disjunction you know the extreme contrast from one note to the next that each note was you know individual and separate. I mean that’s really the John Cage idea, it was each note for itself, except that Messiaen would put it in a context in which all the notes were abutting each other. Like it wasn’t like floating in silence but each note still had it own intensity, its own duration, its own something and then it would change suddenly to something else with no transition.
So there was no context and you could really do the same thing that Cage once did with the prepared piano and his charts were by chance you could go from any place to any other place. Well if you look at some of those pieces of Messiaen with the Modes de Valeurs et d’Intensités (1949) and you can actually, because they’re modes and it is not serial, you can go from any place to any other place. I think that that’s even more radical than what Boulez did with Structures (1952). You know and then he said well he is still doing modes or something, but then we will do like a total serial, but total serial means that it has to be done this way, this sequence. So we don’t have the situation where you can go from any place to any other place. So and I realized that if once you understood that that was possibility, you could improvise it.
In other words take all the notes that let’s say that Messiaen set up for let’s say in the, the famous rhythmic etude where you have three sets of 12 tones superimposed on top of each other. They said, all right if these are the notes and everyone has a different intensity, and a different duration, well you know you could improvise a piece like that and the same thing with Cage. He said “Well these are the preparations, these are the sounds you get and then you throw dice and from anyone you can go to any other one.” Well I would say like you could improvise that and that was the difference you might say… of course I came back from Paris and I had already begun to, I’d say be against in a way, Stockhausen and all those people. I just like, I was very worried because I was writing music that was going you might say in that direction, was going more in a Messiaen direction.
And say well I don’t want my music to sound like that, now I’m very, very clear about how different it was what I was doing and the Messiaen thing that is the idea of disjunction. You don’t have that in Boulez and Stockhausen and all those people that they still have a rhetoric and a linear flow in all that. So in that sense from my point of view, that’s very reactionary. So the serial thing is actually reactionary because of the imposition of these basically motivic elements and sequence. Whereas the modal thing because ultimately Cage’s use of chance is also a modal thing, you have a limited number of possibilities and then by chance you use them well that’s modal right in the deeper sense. So Messiaen was doing that with modes and basically that’s what I learned, the idea that you can go from anywhere to anywhere and of course Cage is the one who really clarified that and Messiaen the idea that every note is completely distinct and really disjunct. So the piece you’re going to hear tonight* is really based on it and it’s called High Contrast. And that was based on the idea that the biggest disjunction is between sound and silence. So you have these islands of sound separated by silence and each island is a little different.
* Philip Corner’s HIGH CONTRAST (1963) was performed by German organist Katharina Schröder at the church San Francesco da Paola via Emilia all’Ospizio, Reggio Emilia.
It’s a graphic design which you interpret and I just said I made it by cut paper and all that and there are clusters and it’s basically noise and on the organ it’s actually great. It is noisy and a lot of it is very loud you know; not all of it is super-duper loud, there is some subtlety to it, but it’s a violent interruption of silence by loud sound and so, that was one way of extending something which really came from a synthesis of Cage and Messiaen was the idea of disjunction.
Kakinuma: That’s very interesting.
Philip Corner: And noise, silence, and…
Galliano: Not function in a sense.
Philip Corner: Function?
Galliano: I mean the seriality was sort of teleologic and functional.
Philip Corner: Yes, no I think the seriality is basically… the series is basically a passacaglia. It’s based on the endless repetition of – now they do everything they can to make it un-hearable. You know the notes are skipping around all over the place and they are going but the idea that you go from one, to two, to three, to four and then 11, 12 and back to one, to two, to three. It’s a passacaglia, so no matter how they extend it. And so basically, there was a crisis of thinking, and it’s much more traditional than you think. Oh, it’s 12 tones like there’s atonal this that and the other thing, atonality already existed even with chromatic diatonicism in the late 19th century stuff, there is stuff which is atonal. The stuff, passages in (Carlo) Gesualdo (1560-1613) which however chromatic, however consonant that they are, are basically atonal. So the idea of not having a clear tonal center that’s old-fashioned, that’s not important at all. But somehow to have the idea that there’s this, the way it’s 12 tone does relate to Cage is that it’s a pre-determined idea which generates automatic results and I think that that’s important also. But the total serial thing once you get the total serial thing stretched to the way you know the 12-tone composers in Europe did it you can’t hear anything. I mean you can’t look at these pieces and infer the analysis. I mean the way you can with Bach and anything, and you think really you can see what they’re doing. So basically it’s a way of somehow proving that you’re still a composer and intelligent person of doing this piece and that you have an idea and the idea gives a justification, and then it creates the results automatically in certain circumstances and ways as a fugue or canon or something. Once you got the subject or so, the thing starts writing itself automatically. You know pretty well like what to do up to a certain point. So this is an exaggeration of the old fashioned way of doing things where the idea of the piece or the form generates and in this case an extreme, an extremely… but Cage is the same thing. He also doesn’t know what the result is going to be, but he’s got a method which will generate automatic results. And in that sense I say this people are so surprised because they say when Cage came to Darmstadt “Oh the difference between the American chance music and 12-tone-music and all”, and I said they’re not so different, they’re both part of the same world. Like the American thing, you know America is like you know cowboys and a little bit free and not so intellectual, and that’s good. The use of noise there’s something that’s very generous and Cage is a wonderful composer. But that the idea that you have a total field of possibilities and that you have a system which will generate automatic results whether it’s chance or total serial on a certain level… on a structural… an ideal level, philosophical level, it’s equivalent.
Kakinuma: Well in this album, Short Piano Pieces from 1957, you mentioned about Messiaen’s influence on those pieces.
Philip Corner: Well there’s some that are perfectly obvious like with the daa, tee, da-da-da-da, da, tee, da-da-da.
Kakinuma: And you used 12-tone-melody in these pieces you said.
Philip Corner: Some of them are 12-tone yes.
Kakinuma: Yes but it sounds like a Gregorian chant.
Philip Corner: Oh yes. that particular one what number was it, five or six…?
Kakinuma: Four or nine.
Philip Corner: Yes okay the one that just goes in the octaves and… that was…
Kakinuma: It slowly moves and…
Philip Corner: Yes well that was…
Kakinuma: Kind of disconnected.
Philip Corner: Well it’s like, it’s like minimalist, is about as minimal as you can get, it’s just don’t… an octave is basically is the unison melody and that the idea comes from Messiaen of that the 12-tone-row is treated by permutation. So, but it stays clear, he does that one of the Il de feu, where it just repeats over and over and over again but in the same register, you know, you can hear that there’s this 12-tone-thing repeating over and over and over again, but he repeats for juxtaposition. Well I’m afraid he does it in a systematic way. I didn’t do it in a systematic way. So here’s the one line, note number one becomes note number two and note number 12 becomes note number 11 and, so every time it repeats, within the 12, the order is different. So this idea of permutation of course is in a certain sense anti-serial. It destroys the series but the thing that holds it together is the fact that it’s always in the same octave and there is continuity. That you hear. It’s like the passacaglia theme that you can hear as being repeated even with these variations so that’s what I did in that, and the image… But that’s on a technical level, but the image of Gregorian chant was very, very clear in my mind and of course in a way it’s much more extreme than Gregorian chant like very regular. There’s not even any reciting tone… and just 12 notes and it’s all just repeating, repeating, repeating, repeating, so in a certain sense it’s very proto-minimal but there was definitely pushing that idea of expressivity to as far as it would go. Then later on there are pieces of mine that developed from that but…
Kakinuma: So you had a nice time studying with Messiaen?
Philip Corner: Oh he’s fabulous, oh he’s fabulous and all we did was analyze the classics. I mean we did analyze Stravinsky and you know some of the ideas the overlapping ostinati and things like that were you know Stravinsky and you might say it’s contemporary already, but basically he was not even analyzing twentieth-century music. Every once in a while he talked of his own music or so, but I was studying his scores and I could see that. So these short piano pieces were all ways of assimilating things so there is the overlapping ostinato piece, you can say that it’s Stravinsky, except that I never, never tried to imitate anybody and this became a principle in my teaching. You don’t try to imitate anybody and that’s another thing that my teacher Brunswick said to me. “Well, you’re going all over the place. What are you looking for, so why don’t you take Bartók… a young composer can take a model and imitate the model until you find your own style.” I guess that is a traditional well you know… You imitate somebody and then you break loose or so, I was appalled even at that time, and when I think of it now I think this is anathema. I think it’s absolutely students should be protected from this way of thinking but even at that time I was appalled. That instead of searching for what I wanted to say I should…
So when I have the one of the Short Piano Pieces overlapping ostinati, it doesn’t sound like Stravinsky at all. And there are a number of pieces like… with 12-tones and I was doing things that, like the people who’re involved with doing 12-tone-music never did, of course, you might say, some of the things are Webern, but even then on a certain level I’m always interested in clarity. And people have commented on that, even my pieces that seem like just all over the place and improvising crazy that there’s a clarity of concept. So, on some level I was always interested in clarity. So I have these pieces which are basically the row treated in unison, there’s not even counterpoint, and there’s never any transposition or retrograde or anything. It’s just the row going over, and over, and over again, but the variety comes from changing the register and changing the shapes and forms or so. So there was a way that I was using the row in a very, very simplified way and you can imagine that I was criticized for that. I showed these pieces to some French composer and he said… well you know it’s like, even Boulez said the same thing to me. Well yes you know you’ve obviously listened to some modern music or so but you’re treating it in a very simple naïve… later on I found out that this was American. You know, but Americans are anti-intellectual you know, intellectual cowboys they call it.
II: Back to the U.S.
Kakinuma: So after coming back to The United states, you studied with Henry Cowell (1897-1965) ?
Philip Corner: Well that was an accident. I came back to United States and I studied at Columbia.
Kakinuma: Columbia, yes.
Philip Corner: Now I was again… as you say I was so naïve or so I thought oh after going off to Paris for two years, and especially even maintaining a friendship with Milton Babbitt to let me go back to Princeton. They said no, this guy refused to go to Princeton, went on to Paris, we don’t want to see him again you know. So I have to give this to Mark Brunswick he helped me and helped me get into Columbia. And the person there was Otto Luening (1900-1996), so I was in contact with Otto Luening, and Otto Luening accepted me and we started talking, and we got along very, very well. So I went to Columbia, and usually you only got Otto in the second year of graduate work. They had two years of graduate thing, but I was put into Otto, so I had two years of Otto Luening, except I only had a year and a half. And the reason to why I got Henry Cowell was that Luening had a Prix de Rome… the American Academy accepted him in Bellagio. So he was off to Bellagio for a semester and during the semester that he was gone, I got Henry Cowell was on the faculty of Columbia.
Kakinuma: Substitute for Luening?
Philip Corner: He substituted for Luening. So when Luening was gone I got Cowell – that was very fortunate to me, it was a very good experience, I mean Cowell was a very wise man. And he said to me “I see what you’re doing, it’s very interesting I hope that you understand that you’re going to have a very hard time getting performances and if you understand that, that’s all right. And I also see that you are not open to criticism, so I’m not giving you any.” He was a very wise man; I also like his music you know. I found that his music is interesting too.
Kakinuma: Oh that’s great. So may we move to Fluxus?
Galliano: Shall we ask the last biography question? How was it that you came to Italy that you settled in Italy.
Philip Corner: Oh that’s still biography, is that? I couldn’t stand it in New York anymore.
Galliano: Does it have something to do with the Rosanna Chiessi in all the…?
Philip Corner: Yes, because I had been coming to Italy long before. In a way this relates to Fluxus because I first met… well it was very interesting when I came back after two years in Paris it was like, I don’t want to hear from Europe. It doesn’t… absolutely does not exist for me anymore. Like at the beginning I loved it, it was very important; it was very difficult being for two years in Paris. And then particularly at that time you know the French have this extremely precise meticulous hyper-academic way and that time with the total-serialism and all that you can just imagine what… it was very, very difficult you know. Of course I learned some… I mean pieces about those short piano pieces. When one composer I showed them to said, “Well they don’t look composed. They look rather improvised”. And I said, “What does that mean?” I thought improvised is when you don’t compose, when you… it’s not written you just like… he meant was written without a structure. An idea, some kind of a principle that of course there is but the… so that was their idea of this hyper-rational, and there was this business why do you have that note there? You know and the answer should be because it’s the fourth note of the retrograde inversion of the seventh inversion you know. And I would just say, well it’s the right note, I put it there because I like it they go “Bah!” and that was like, “Oh you are so American, you know you just because you like it.” So this is like… I can’t live with this mentality, so when I came back from… fortunately my real friend and mentor was the Canadian painter Paul-Emile Borduas.
And he was you know the great North American adventurer, Jackson Pollock and the American action painter, because he was one of the great pioneers himself. Tachisme (action painting) in Montreal and of course in Paris you had (Pierre) Soulages (1919- ) and (Georges) Mathieu (1921-2012) and that so all of that was going on in the art world, and I was very, very interested in that and then of course Borduas was a great painter and so I was very enriched by that and very supported by him, and I just knew that like, I was not in this European intellectual world. And at that time, you know if I had maybe gone to Italy, maybe if I had found something I would have somehow been able to find (Giacinto) Scelsi (1905-1988) or (Franco) Donatoni (1927-2000), I mean there were people around you know Dieter Schnebel (1930- ), if I met him later. So maybe at that time it would have saved me from France but there was this very hyper-rational structural design… I don’t want to write music though I have to justify a note because it’s note number seven and …
So anyway, so I had heard some Cage before I left for France and I asked Borduas and well there must be a musical equivalent. He says, “Well it must be the school around John Cage”. So when I went back, the first person I contacted was Morton Feldman (1926-1987). And of course Morton Feldman was also close to the art people, he was very close to the art people. So I met Morton first and I went to some of the concerts and I realized, yes this is the music I want to hear, I didn’t feel like, “Gee does my music sound like that? Oh my music is going in this direction, I don’t like the way it sounds.” And that’s why I always felt at the Domaine Musical Concerts, I was at the first performance of Le Marteau sans Maître (1955). I was at the first performance in France of Gesang der Jünglinge Il canto sospeso of Nono(1956)…. The only thing that I remember that I ever liked was Oiseaux exotiques (1956) of Messiaen. But the other stuff I said like, you know if my music sounds… Is like this, I’m not doing it. So when I heard Cage and Feldman, and Earle Brown (1926-2002) particularly and then Cage introduced me to Christian Wolff (1934- ). So I knew all these people and there were other people in New York that were interesting also. There was Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) and of course the person he worked with a lot, Ralph Shapey (1921-2002). There was also somebody who I think is very unfortunately neglected, Lucia Dlugoszewski (1925-2000) from that time who I think she’s really one of the most interesting people.
And… So all of that was then happening when I got back to America. And I said oh I feel at ease with that. Also I felt at ease with the idea of writing music. You don’t calculate transpositions of the 12-tone rows, you just throw dice. And even then eventually I said to John, said “You know as influential as you are to me and as much as I love your music, I can’t work the way you do, I’ve never done any systematic chance and I don’t see how I…” and now just, go back to what we had said before about the American and the European thing being on some essential level the same. That even his way of doing chance is very much related to this idea of like I am a composer, I am doing a highly intellectual highly intelligent serious piece of music. He wouldn’t just like Duchamp, pick the notes out of a hat. He had to have the I Ching and then the computer – make a computer funny and complicated thing if you put it on this way and you lay one layer over something else and you go through the extremely complicated procedure and if it’s chance it’s chance you just like throw stuff on the… and that’s when I started doing it. One of my first pieces was called “Soloist Piece” and it was first played at one of the uptown concerts for solo cello and I just threw rice on two pieces of paper and traced the rice you know. And then I started finding all sorts of ways in which I would basically like you might say improvise like that just by an action. There is one piece where you do that as part of the performance where the performer is throwing these… squiggle the notes around down on the score and then playing what… shows instant chance.
And so even then I wasn’t willing to follow in Cage’s systematic highly complicated systematic things. You had the material to make a piece you know. That relates very much to the 12-tone where you set up a system which automatically generates these results and I think that, that’s part of the old fashioned idea. It’s like I’m a great composer and I’ve got this very intelligent difficult way of doing things that’s hard to understand and… But I thought if it’s just chance, if it’s just chance anything is possible so what do you need all this complicated crap for?
So that was my… and John was very generous in the initial, well I had to do it, if you don’t have to that then that’s fine for you. No, actually I was very, very good at it and none of this… if you don’t recognize the necessity of 12-tone-music you are irrelevant, useless, useless. So there was none of that dogmatism. So I always got along very, very well with Cage. Not so well with Feldman. But Earle Brown I liked very, very much so then I felt very much at home and I was studying at Colombia. I also went back to City College as teaching assistant, so I was… and then I realized how much things had changed. They just didn’t accept me anymore at all. Even Messiaen was too much for them in like that time we were discovering Varèse. You know and Mark Brunswick brags…”I’ve never made a 12-tone analysis.” He was so hostile to certain kinds of things then he became very hostile to the music I was writing. So that’s the reason why I hesitated to mention him, you know I don’t like to speak badly of people.
As I said he was a good composer and a serious person, so but he had these limitations and he became like very, very defensive and dogmatic and I wasn’t even doing things that were so crazy. And I could have explained indeterminacy or why I did things or, I could have explained simply why I chose to do it and why I was… and he was, “Oh, look and you know” he was telling me. “Oh well you just have like…” I had a flute and bassoon piece. With a flute and bassoon went for some point with each had ostinati, and so they were playing independently until they came together. I just, “Oh you think you are so far out to be.. anytime in the orchestra that somebody is out of time and tends to come in at the wrong time, you get an effect like that.” So I got offended so I said, “So every time they play a wrong note they get wrong harmonies, you know.” So you see like suddenly these people who are very supportive and very close to me… suddenly I was like totally out of it, in which in a way is a very, very good thing because if I had been accepted more by them or even felt more at ease in the academic thing, I would have ended up being a professor, spending my whole life at City College as a professor and I think it’s the greatest thing that happened that that didn’t happen.
III: Cage and Flux
And so I was studying at Colombia and at that time I discovered Cage. I went to some of his concerts, David Tudor concerts and because of that I asked John to let me photocopy a piece the Music for Piano because you couldn’t buy it then, it wasn’t published so we had to leave it at the printing company. And… so he did that for me and then eventually I went to visit him and let’s say through the years we got along very well and I started of course frequenting downtown, I mean that’s where the concerts were, where I went to David Tudor concert you went downtown and this is the famous division in New York of uptown and downtown. Which people uptown, of course it’s Colombia, Morningside Heights which another composer who had gone through Colombia and he rejected it, calls it Morningside Pits. And… but anyway so it went in… on a certain level it was schizophrenic for me but okay I was doing that and at least I could say for Otto Luening that he accepted what I was doing. I mean it wasn’t that far out yet, I mean I wasn’t using chance I mean I’m still writing notes and writing scores and all that this, we are talking about the late 50’s. And I think there are some very nice pieces from that time but I was always trying to do something which was clear and I thought that the whole 12-tone thing on a certain level was wrong but I was doing 12-tone things.
So, for instance like in the Short Piano Pieces. Well I would do it in such a way that it was simplified and you could hear what the row was, and you could hear what was being brought out of the row. And the first one is also… for instance, the first one is like two rows at the same time which is also… and one of them is arranged so that’s in C major and like just four triads which give a very, very clear C major progression through them with an orthodox C major progression. And that just repeats over and over and over again so you have this very constant and it’s always very soft… and then against that you have a very, very dissonant angular which is basically a chromatic scale, it’s just a descending chromatic scale. But mostly it’s all over the keyboard still since they are all major sevenths and minor ninths, so you can hear that this is this chromatic scale in every once in a while you do get brbrbr… you know, so those two things are going together and as far as I know there’s no other 12-tone pieces anything like that.
So I was doing things like that every time, just use it like a four-tone row so you can hear them or even with let’s say a row of rhythm, just four rhythms and you can hear just the four durations, 12 is too much to hear. So would I do this thing that it really was a sense of clarity you could hear what you were doing so even at that time that I was still doing 12 tone and things like that there was a sense of I think something different in the way I was doing them and the same thing when I really started getting into chance and the irrational and all that.
It was also very different. Of course the time I spent in the Orient was very important, and after Colombia… and just my first getting my feet wet in downtown, meeting some other people and at that time then I didn’t… I was interested in dance, I was interested and fascinated by dance so I was asked to do a piece for James Waring (1922- 1975) who was like the dancer equivalent of… and eventually out of his company came all the people in the 60s like the Judson Dance Theatre and the famous innovators in dance. So I got a piece, downtown piece of course, fix for Jimmy Waring and… so I had this beginning of a downtown existence and then I was drafted into the army and…
Kakinuma: In Korea, right.
Philip Corner: Huh?
Kakinuma: In Korea or…?
Philip Corner: Well I was drafted in the United States.
Philip Corner: Well, they sent me to Korea but I had been practically a year in the United States before…
Kakinuma: Going to Korea.
Philip Corner: Before I went to Korea. So the time in Korea was interesting and because then it added something that’s also I think quite unique to my music which is the calligraphy so that by the time I came back they were… I wasn’t using so many… you know the dots… notes is that as if I did was throwing rice on a piece of paper and drawing circles around them. But by then I wasn’t like drawing the notes calligraphy and of course the sounds were like that because they was taken from the Korean thing of… of course it’s Japanese thing too but I think that Korean music is even more exaggerated… a-an, a-nn, nnnannaa .. you know, there’s movement in the tone so if I’m drawing up and the whole length of the tone and the modulation in the movement was in there so…
Philip Corner: Yes, stuff like that.
Philip Corner: Well this is of course just calligraphy and this is the word I don’t know whether there’s a… so you begin to see that there’s… but this is still traditional, in a way an abstraction of traditional music. Yes for a matter of fact this is one of the things and this one is even… was the most extreme calligraphic things I did… because it was done, it was actually done with an oriental brush and ink, watered ink and all of that. Other things I’ve generally ended up using are markers and things like that.
I’ll just show you something that I’ve done, well already done on the record I gave you. But, for instance, the calligraphy has become very important and I use it so that here’s one I did. All my music, all of the records will have this. And that’s… I’ve just been very interested in developing that and I do think it’s gotten better and better and better because it all comes from oriental calligraphy, and then the musical equivalent of course is actually you may say now and much more likely to these markers rather than to do the whole brush watered ink…
Philip Corner: Brush, water ink and… but that’s the “Air Effect” and that was an extreme ___ and it was done right after I came back from Korea so…
Kakinuma: Okay you got much done so…
Philip Corner: I hope these are good answers.
Philip Corner: Yes okay what I’m saying? Like…
Kakinuma: And I mean in these notes that you’ve mentioned about Yoko Ono, and you wanted to perform your piece at the Yoko Ono’s studio or loft in New York, but it wasn’t realized.
Philip Corner: I knew Yoko before I went to Korea. She was married to Toshi Ichiyanagi and we knew him because my first wife was a cellist and she met Toshi at Julliard so through that we met Yoko, at that time she was doing origami.
Philip Corner: And I think some poetry too, but if she was doing any of the extreme Yoko Ono type pieces, she wasn’t doing it yet and from the dates I see they were all from the early 60’s except for the… it’ called the Secret Music [Piece], the one that they’re singing one note in the woods in the early morning. There’s an interesting story about that. I had an argument with a friend of mine who was very much into feminism, Yoko Ono was not appreciated enough as one of the great pioneers of the verbal score. And he got very angry maybe because I said Yoko is not a pioneer of the verbal score. She was doing verbal scores even before the dates of Grapefruit (1964) or, so after George Brecht, George Brecht in particular, but at that time Dick Higgins and some other people who were doing that, who were doing the verbal score and everybody La Monte Young, the pieces of 1960. So then a lot of people started doing verbal scores and of course Yoko has her own particular way of using the verbal score. But I wouldn’t say that coming three or four years later after some of those other people that she’s one of the innovators. But I said that piece Secret Piece is important because it’s one of the early minimal pieces and it’s much more minimal than these people who become icon and commercial minimalism. You know, the big four, the big names and so unless except La Monte, La Monte was, but the other three as far as I’m concerned is just semi-classical music, is just mass commercial music. But La Monte is interesting, but in any case she preceded him with the long note and it’s just a long note… one note piece, well she’s one of first people of course… no she’s not the first, I can think of like Yves Klein’s Symphonie Monotone (1960) you know. Of course with that stupid art world stuff and the naked women painting, but this still is a piece which was one note played for 30 minutes or so. So that’s a very important piece you know and Scelsi was doing one note pieces too but one his things are all you know very, very vigorous in action and so it’s not minimal in a certain sense except for the fact that it’s one note.
So but all these are all like coming together and everybody has a particular way of doing that. So the fact… a matter of fact this is just a story with the Secret Piece, when I was teaching.. this is later in the 60’s, teaching at a high school, I had an experimental music class in high school. I asked Yoko for a piece, I thought first that she was giving me a new piece, but she gave me Secret Piece and then I recognized later that it was the piece that already I knew from Grapefruit. And she put it in verbal score form in Grapefruit as I say that’s later. The first version of it is like “traditional musical score,” it has got a note written like a single note that’s of course then she’s got the verbal instruction. But verbal instructions to complement musical score… that’s old and Cage-Stockhausen were doing after 10 years and 20 years beforehand, adding rules or instructions to. So…
Kakinuma: So you asked Yoko Ono to…?
Philip Corner: Yes, so when I came back… so I came back and I found this completely different scene in New York. Say like Abstract Expressionism is finished, it’s now it’s Pop Art. And then these people doing proto-minimalism, I mean some of my pieces as we’ve seen already are proto-minimalist. But so I entered the scene and some of the people were people I knew already like Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles, I think I already knew Jackson Mac Low. But in any case these people some of them were involved around Maciunas who had this gallery, this art gallery, the AG gallery. And then I remember interesting concerts, Toshi gave a concert and other people. But with no lights and all that because already he was being kicked out and he wasn’t paying the electric bill and everything else and he wanted to give me a concert there but the gallery closed.
And I was hanging out as we said with those people and some of them were working on the anthology which Jackson and La Monte worked on that, I guess it was really La Monte’s work and George made a design and published it. So some of the meetings we saw some of the material they were putting it together and as I said I was friends with all of those people. And I got to know George [Maciunas] just because he was getting to know all those people and he’s beginning to get the idea of Fluxus that is like of making a label and marketing if you will, like poor man marketing and what eventually became known as Fluxus.
And so the series at Yoko’s loft was already finished. I would have had problems with that anyway because it was curated by La Monte, and even if I had been in New York, I don’t know whether I would have been there because La Monte never liked me, I don’t know why. But he didn’t… never liked very many people but it was… but he definitely did not like me, he told me no in certain words that I’m not going to be in the anthology and all that. But so what happened with as I said that was finished, because I spoke to Yoko and she said, “Well, you can use my loft.” At that time she was hardly ever in the loft, because loft was in… When I went down there the owner of the building said, “Look, all of that was illegal, all of that shouldn’t have happened, it was all illegal. The fire department could close me down and fine me all that, there’s no way you’re going to do a concert there.” So that’s why it didn’t happen.
So my first concert after the one I’d planned for was at the Judson Memorial Church and then later on the Judson Church. It was already actually those happenings and they had a gallery, so it was already… and then eventually became because of the dance theater and all that became a real center for creative activities or happenings going on and all sorts of stuff. So that’s was where my first concert eventually…
Kakinuma: So how did you get involved in Fluxus there?
Philip Corner: Well I told you already that the George was… George came and just he had this idea of being an entrepreneur. So he was cultivating friendship with all these artists, a lot of the ones I knew. But he was there, obviously if he’s saying I’m organizing a concert or I’m going to make a publication, people say, “Yes, okay, I’ll participate in that.” So people were relating to George on that level and as I said right from the beginning he said, “Oh I see you’re one of the creative people and so I’d like to do something with you.” But I can’t do it at the gallery because the gallery is closing and then I couldn’t do it in the anthology because La Monte didn’t want me in anthology. You know stuff like that.
So eventually, I mean I did some stuff with George but it was very crazy you know, because like, I performed… I was in the Fluxus Orchestra thing and Kuniharu Akiyama (1929-1996) conducted the piece going down from the steps and there’s that photograph in the… so…
IV: Piano Activities
Kakinuma: And before that in 1962 at Wiesbaden, they performed your piece Piano Activities.
Philip Corner: Okay, Piano Activities. That was not the first performance, nobody knows this. I had Piano Activities performed at my first concert at the Judson Memorial Church. That was…
Kakinuma: It was not included here.
Philip Corner: I don’t know, you can’t say everything and so. But then I… so I gave that score to the… but again that’s all verbal score, it’s not the vey highly reduced you know one sentence verbal scores that were favored by… you know George liked that very much that’s one instruction, one…
Galliano: And you gave the score to George?
Philip Corner: I gave it to Dick Higgins. Dick Higgins went over and he was like… of course this is like very long and I was still composing in a way. So even though it was words so it was kind of long verbal instruction. You know, later on I changed that, later on I made a… I did a workshop in Oldenburg in Germany and there’s a very extraordinary person named Gertrud Meyer-Denkmann (1918-2014) and who was doing new music and new music education in Germany and she was at the University of Oldenburg. She just died in her 90’s or something and that was last year, she was a very extraordinary person. And so I did a workshop with her, students at The University of Oldenburg. And I said, Oh, forget about all that stuff, I’m making a new version of Piano Activities, and all I said was like every player brings their own object and figures out how to work with that object on the piano so it became very, very open. But in this one I wanted to guarantee a certain… well just a certain result because I wanted… You don’t know the book about piano destruction do you?
Kakinuma: I don’t.
Philip Corner: Gunnar Schmidt. Oh, you must get that.
Kakinuma: Book, is that a book?
Philip Corner: He’s a published a book but it’s in German, it’s now they were trying to translate it, if they get a good translation…
Kakinuma: I got the LP record of the piano destruction.
Philip Corner: Oh yeah yeah, but that was brought out by Alga Marghen, right. But that they came up with the… you know that’s a funny story also.
Kakinuma: It was in the archive over Akiyama Kuniharu and you got it.
Philip Corner: Yes, yes. Well, do you know how I got it? This is the strangest story. There’s this… you probably know the guy from Omega Point.
Kakinuma: Oh yes, yes. I know, I know him. He is from Omega Point.*
* Omega Poinnt is a Japanese record label specialized in experimental, avart-garde, noise music, and sound art.
Philip Corner: He’s the one.
Kakinuma: Oh really?
Philip Corner: He’s the one who got it then apparently, you know, Gunnar no, no it wasn’t Gunnar there was somebody else a curator in Germany who also presented it. Apparently there’s another copy in the George Maciunas library in Kaunas in Lithuania.
Galliano: And is the guy who now in the MOMA, in the MOMA Archives got that one from Maciunas, yes.
Philip Corner: Well, I don’t know it was a tape but I don’t think there’s just one, there must be more than one, I don’t know.
Galliano: Yes, there are a couple of inventory, yes.
Philip Corner: So one of them was this one from Kuniharu Akiyama, and the story was this guy [from Omega Point] sends me the stuff, and the stuff was a little bit in a mess. There were two tapes and they were… things just seemed mixed up on it. There was a La Monte Young piece and there was… who is the violinist? Kobayashi Kenji and all that stuff was mixed up. Pieces of Piano Activity are separated and then on the second record some of them duplicated from the first one. So I had to make sense out of… and just when I ended up extracting all of the stuff there’s really only about six minutes of Piano Activities.
So it’s only part of it and there’s all these conflicting stories. For instance Emmet Williams says, well it was done on five different evenings. So there should be five recordings, well there’s not. But that there were five different … and it gradually got more and more destroyed every… so about the tape? What’s his name your guy from…?
Philip Corner: Omega Point.
Kakinuma: Omega Point, yes I forgot his name but I know him.
Philip Corner: He sent it to me with the proposal that he bring it out on Omega Point. So I said okay and he was very worried about who had the rights and he was concerned about. I said “Hey it’s my piece, I’ve got the rights. You just forget about everything else.” So cleaned up the tape separate it and it’s like this. These are the things that go together. And then I never heard from him.
Philip Corner: This went on for almost two years. I went and he… and first thing he had said he was going to make a recording of this and then he… I never even heard from him. He wouldn’t even answer any letters. So in the meanwhile [Emanuele] Carcano who does Alga Marghen, who for over 20 years has been interested in my archival stuff. All these recordings I have out from old stuff, from the Judson years and all of that, that’s all from Carcano. And eventually it goes back to Francesco Conz (1935-2010), who I met when I first came to Europe and he was interested in Fluxus, by that time Fluxus was already a name.
So there were all these connections and eventually that’s what led me to come to Italy. But in any case the first thing that Carcano did was music for Metal Meditations that after Francesco made his edition and he met Emanuele, he said, “Why don’t you make an LP and we put it in with the box?” So I had recordings of different performances of Metal Meditations. That was the first Alga Marghen record, and then he started doing others and … he was very angry at me. He said, “I thought that you promised me first choice on all of the old recordings.” I said, “You do but this is not my recording.” And I told him the story of how it was sent from Japan and I never even knew about it and that it was supposed to be done. I said “So I don’t even have it, it’s over in Japan and he said he’s going to do it.” So finally as I said almost two years I’m not hearing from this guy. So I said to Emanuele, “Fuck him.”
Kakinuma: Do you know who recorded the recording in Wiesbaden and gave it to Kuniharu Akiyama?
Philip Corner: No, it must I have been George, I’m sure it was George.
Kakinuma: George Maciunas?
Philip Corner: Yes, I’m sure it was George. How could it be anybody else but George? So anyway I said “Okay, Emanuele you do it” and that’s how that record came out that Emanuele brought it out and I brought together all the tapes. I made a new collage for it and the whole design for the record and everything else I… then I did that for the record. But there’s all the documentary material and the recording and it says it’s only about six minutes of it. And… so I want to talk about this misunderstanding about… because one of the things that I made clear to Gunnar Schmidt and if you can get the book even though if it’s in German, I think you should have it. And by the way he has a website and he has like a two-page-précis of the book and I made an English translation of it. So if you go to the website…
Kakinuma: This must be his writing I think. This is from the record.
Philip Corner: Yeah, yeah we took it off his website and we… okay so it’s included in the record. So this is the text…
Kakinuma: I took it yes from his website.
Philip Corner: Oh good, so that’s it and I think it’s also included with a record. Any case it’s on the website and I did the translation and…
Kakinuma: So this is your translation?
Philip Corner: Yes.
Philip Corner: But in the meanwhile it’s waiting now to have it… the whole book to be professionally translated and it’s been promised to MIT Press, yes. And I hope, I also… I hope it gets done in English. But in any case I made the point that I had no intention of any of this expressionistic stuff that the whole thing they’re talking about is a bourgeois thing and there is a quote from Nam June Paik—“The piano is bourgeois, it must be destroyed”– you know stuff like that. I don’t believe that. I mean I like the piano, I played the piano. I like the music and a matter of fact Paik as far as I’m concerned spoiled the recording from Wiesbaden.
Kakinuma: He played…
Philip Corner: Because he’s playing this doodlely shit nonsense on the piano, pseudo-Debussy and all that, just noodling. I hate it. It’s like… and that has nothing… you talk about following the score. I can make an argument that everybody else did follow the score, but he’s the one who’s not following the score by doing that thing. He’s not trying to destroy the piano even, but as I said the first performance was done in New York and you did not have to destroy the piano. Just basically you play on the inside of the piano, the other part of the piano with an object and then all of those ideas of order, the supplementary notes and all that are just more examples. And if you look at what they come to they want to guarantee a certain kind of like workman-like attitude toward the music. You don’t go and play funny little things or da dada da da da, you know you’re just not supposed to do things like that. But steady pulses, silence with a single tone. You know stuff that has to do like just with like raw material and that was my attitude, liberating the energy of the piano. There was a very good text by… I’m not sure you know Antonella Montanovesi or somebody who wrote for Sarenco. But she wrote a very nice text and she talked about liberating the, like the atomic bomb, liberating the atomic force inside and that what my piece is doing is like liberating the energy from the piano.
So in a certain sense you could say that the destruction of the piano is like the culmination of that idea. And yes, it’s true when I first heard it, I also thought of the same, oh no there’s a wanton destruction because other people have been doing that the biggest stunt. Push a piano off the roof and let it crash down and then, you know, épater le bourgeois [to shock people who have conventional attitudes], bang, bang, bang just destroy the thing. So I didn’t have anything to do with that but I told them that was not my idea at all. My idea really was like liberating the energy and like… so playing on all the parts of the piano.
As a matter of fact in some cases when I’ve done it as workshops, I’ve said “There are some parts of the piano which are very delicate like the dampers and if you… they can be destroyed even if you turn them, they don’t fit anymore. So don’t touch any of the dampers. So other versions, for instance the one that’s in the museum in Blois, now the, what’s it called? The Ben Vautier is basically a Fluxus museum, but they call it Fondation de Doute. And their performance of Piano Activities there, and there it was a very beautiful piano. So the whole outside of the piano was not touched. If you close it it looks like just a beautiful, beautiful piano, but you open it, and inside all the strings are broken and objects that were thrown in, broken cups and tools and all that, but the outside. So I always made something which was… and then there is another version that is called Piano Work and the thing that makes it Piano Work is that the idea is in a way it is different, but it is the same idea, instead of playing with an object you can only use your hands, but the object is to destroy the piano, but you can only use your bare hands. So you can see that, that gives a whole other set of limitations and there is… that was brought out on the Slowscan Records, and that’s what I did with my high school students and we’ve done it… it was done last year at the ESPE-Univerité de Strasbourg, and so that was after thinking about the destruction thing I realized that there are ways in which you can intend destruction. The first thing I did was a Quiet Work of Destruction, which was done down in Naples as a participation event and that means that everything has to be done very softly and minusculely you know just filing away with an emery stick on one string. You know and that’s like very, very delicate, so they took a whole day and then we just had these very, very fine little pieces of… Everybody had just to just work and just wee wee wee wee…. So that is a completely different spirit. There are like three different compositions. I thought about it, If your intention was to destroy the piano then you can do that way, but I thought that even coming back to the Piano Activities, if you think about it, the actions that you have to make, it became very clear if you see the video from Wiesbaden not ’62, but from 2012
Philip Corner: Yes we did it in Wiesbaden in 2012 yes because the 50th anniversary, we all went to Wiesbaden and I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do Piano Activities. When I came, they said, “Well we bought the piano for you.” We had the piano, but it was great. I mean you can imagine like Eric Anderson (1940- ), Alison Knowles (1933- ), Geoff Hendricks (1931- ), with Willem de Ridder (1939- ), I mean all people that you can trust you know. Nobody is going to noodle with the keyboard like Paik or go da-dada-da-da-da- da, you know on the, the… they are really working at it you know. I mean Geoff was fantastic you know, he is like (everybody out of the way) Whaaa-mm… you know. And then of course you get a cluster and it starts ringing and all that and somebody else is going gee-gee-gee…. So if you realize that if you are working, if you are really working to destroy the piano, you must be making all the gestures that I put in the score. So with… even if you forget the score, even if you don’t remember or not, what you are doing has to be what I described in the score. It’s just that I hadn’t thought that you would do it with so much energy that you must destroy the piano, and they just simply exaggerated the amount of force, the amount of energy, but it had to be the same kind of material.
Kakinuma: So in a sense they’re liberating the piano, right?
Philip Corner: Yes I would like to think it that way.
Kakinuma: So you are now a happy with that new performance in 2012?
Philip Corner: Yes, oh it was wonderful.
Kakinuma: Oh good.
Philip Corner: It was fabulous, there is a nice… it’s on YouTube and you can see that and I’m happy with all the performances and the one we did in Blois and the one we, you know we did it recently, the last one we did it in MUDIMA and that was interesting also because we had a huge you know saw that was used for cutting trees with two people, we had that and then somebody is doing something very delicate at the same time. And then at the same time as we were liberating the piano, they were attaching it to the wall. So then, it became a wall sculpture, so it was immediately transformed into art and I have written some of the texts that I wrote about it saying that there has to be an equivalent value, The number of them…. The Morality of Transformation and I said that the first thing is, it should be a shit piano, the piano must be an old not useable piano anymore. And now I notice that with the electric guitar and everything else people are throwing out pianos. If it’s a good piano …. and just people are throwing out pianos I read that in the paper that… I think that every piano when it is thrown out it should be thrown out that way, like with Piano Activities.
I’d like to see Piano Activities performed all over the world with pianos that are being destroyed because as a matter of fact that‘s what happened in Wiesbaden is they had this piano which was a German “schrott Klavier” which was just an old useless piano, and then they wanted to… they had to destroy it, so in order not to pay somebody to take it away. So that was the thing, but we also when I did it what became Piano Work with the students with their bare hands, we also had an old piano that they were going to throw out. So I said to my students, “Your assignment is to come up with a composition for destroying the piano.” And then you know students are, “Oh I have got a bright idea, we’ll do this that and the other thing…” Nothing much came out of it except there was one thing that was very, very good and eventually because what was finally left was a steel harp plus the strings were all broken and the wood was all gone, but… and we kept that and we did all sorts of things throwing balls at it and everything else simply came like a harp.
And at one of the concerts that we did downtown, we brought the harp down and they did a piece with …they took the pieces of stiff like cardboard, and they rolled it up… or let’s say paper, and they rolled it up and put it between the strings and then lit it, so it was very, very delicate so you just see the piano follow these little burning slow it’s like cigarette paper you know and when it comes down to the level of the piano, it heats the strings, so then you see it becoming green and like copper and all that and then the string goes, ‘pop,’ so you get this very delicate pizzicato piece just from everybody… and it was a wonderful thing that the students brought up… made up by themselves. So that was a nice you know after-thought for the piano, but that piano was being you know thrown out… and after I did the students had this idea, that idea. So I came up with Piano Work, and we brought it down to the lobby of the school when people were coming to work so everybody and the teachers and everything coming into the building had to pass by this piano that the students were… and it became that they were pulling it and they found out all the most extraordinary things, you think like what can you do with your… one of them was like working on a pedal and eventually with just your hand shaking the pedal bar you can break the pedal loose then you can use the pedal to hit the strings and then they found the way where the strings are attached that they could pull the string off the pin and then the string becomes loose, they could take the string out of the piano and then with the string that they have by themselves they loop it under the other strings and bow it like a giant cello I mean if you listen to that record, they are the most extraordinary, and meanwhile they are yelling and they are screaming, “Do this. Do that”, and it’s the most lively and beautiful… it was wonderful, so…
Kakinuma: May I go back to the 1962 Wiesbaden performance, when you first…
Philip Corner: Which I wasn’t there.
Kakinuma: You were not there, but when you first heard of that performance what did you think?
Philip Corner: Well I think I just said that, the first time I heard it I was a little shocked because as I said I was thinking about this destruction of anti-bourgeois, make a statement for a new. I think that is all bullshit, and I was very pleased in Gunnar Schmidt’s book. He talks about that. He points out that, if you listen to the recording, the audience is laughing all the time, nobody took it as a horrible except George Maciunas’ mother. Oh the instrument of Beethoven and Brahms, I mean you know it’s just absolute nonsense. And then, so the audience had a great time, it was laughing. And then he has chapters on, it’s called like piano destruction in avant-garde and pop art, and he mentions all the cartoons and all of the comedians like Stanlio e Olio (Laurel and Hardy) and trying to deliver a piano and the piano falls down the stairs and there’s Hollywood that … it went crazy; there’s lot of things and it’s all for fun. So, then the famous story of Jerry Lee Lewis ending a concert by burning the piano while he’s playing it. I mean, everything was just fun. It is no anti-bourgeois, “We hate the piano”, it’s like… So I accepted then on that level. But I said my first response was a little bit “oh yeah what kind of crap?” But all the things I said before was that, in order to destroy they must have done it in the way that I had conceived it and specified it even if they weren’t reading specifically from the score. So in a certain sense it was if I say like a precise Fluxus-type one line verbal score before it was even written. And now I could just say well what’s the score of Piano Activities; it was like “Destroy the piano seriously”. You know something like that, yes.
Kakinuma: So you heard of that performance and you said that score has been something else, so it’s a different music than you imagined.
Philip Corner: Yes but I, I…
Kakinuma: You still think so?
Philip Corner: No. No, I was wrong. Yes I was wrong. Because I said they had to have been performing in score. Even if they didn’t know they were performing the score, in order to do what they did, they had to have been performing according to my idea. So that’s the way I see it now.
Kakinuma: And did you write something about the piece of that later on, Memories of a Piano at Wiesbaden and you wrote it in 1982. Why did you write this?
Philip Corner: Because it’s not the same piece.
Kakinuma: Oh, this is different?
Philip Corner: “Look at it, standing near it, leaning against it, looking at parts of it, looking at the audience.”
Kakinuma: This is the piece.
Philip Corner: Yes.
Kakinuma: Ah, okay.
Philip Corner: Well I wrote it, I wrote it in Seoul, think I probably performed it. Is that when I was in Seoul in 93; it must have been so. But I was remembering it, and in 1982 that’s like 20 years we did this Wiesbaden thing.
Kakinuma: Yes, 20th anniversary.
Philip Corner: Yes. Yes and I did this piece. We didn’t do Piano Activities. We, as a matter of fact Emmet Williams wrote a very nice thing and said in a certain sense I was making amends to the piano because I did another piece of mine called Reverence to the Piano which we now use as a prelude because Phoebe and I work together. And we use Reverence to the Piano as a prelude to Piano Activities. So before you start destroying it yourself, you have to bow to it. You know. And so and this became an elaboration of Reverence to the Piano but it was not just a reverence but as I’m standing near and leaning against it and looking at it. So the piece was just like looking at the piano.
V: Stockhausen’s Originale
Kakinuma: I see. Okay another thing. Some Fluxus members performed Stockhausen’s Originale (1961) in 1964. Did you participate in the performance?
Philip Corner: I participated in the audience.
Kakinuma: Oh in the audience, you saw it?
Philip Corner: Yes.
Galliano: You were not picketing with the…
Philip Corner: No, no. But don’t forget that I think it was Higgins at least one person picketed it and then went in to sing it.
Galliano: Yes it was Higgins, yes.
Philip Corner: And he also said something very interesting. He said, Stockhausen should be picketed but that’s the wrong reason, that not because it’s serving capitalist imperialism and all that, he said “Unfair to consonant intervals”. There’s too much dissonance. So Higgins thought that Stockhausen should be picketed because of that. But I thought of you know this was a period when everybody was, everybody was picketing, and there were protests and everything else and like…
Galliano: Oh yes, yes. And I mean did you notice any special circumstances or conditions of Japanese artists around Maciunas in the Originale affair?
Philip Corner: Well Japanese artists?
Galliano: Yes because they’re… no, not audience; there were a couple of artists from Japan, Ay-o and…
Kakinuma: Ay-o was in the performance…
Philip Corner: Yes I met Ay-o in Canal Street long before Fluxus because he was a neighbor of Dick Higgins.
Galliano: Yes. And I mean because the point is that Japanese artists were all among the picketers with Maciunas, they shared very much these, how to say, anti-capitalistic stance.
Philip Corner: But they were doing Ongaku before Fluxus. It wasn’t Ongaku?
Philip Corner: Yes.
Galliano: The group Ongaku, yes.
Kakinuma: Oh yes they were about…
Philip Corner: Yes Kosugi and Mieko that’s before Fluxus, isn’t it?
Kakinuma: Before Fluxus yes.
Galliano: Yes, yes.
Philip Corner: Yes. So I don’t know. I can’t believe that Mieko would be a violent militant anti- capitalist like yes. Yes it’s hard to believe, ha-ha-ha.
Galliano: I mean not really. But they had this special relationship with Maciunas, didn’t they?
Philip Corner: I don’t remember… no I don’t remember anything…
Kakinuma: Mieko was close to Maciunas?
Philip Corner: Well, not such, not so close.
Philip Corner: You can see she (Yoko Ono) is not… she published Grapefruit on her own. She’s… now Yoko was very independent though. Yes of course she knew George, but I don’t think most of Yoko’s work is specific…
Kakinuma: No, no. I mean Mieko Shiomi.
Philip Corner: Oh Mieko, yes she was in Tokyo, also Osaka, so.
Kakinuma: Yes, she was close to Maciunas?
Philip Corner: I don’t know that she even knew him. I mean she participated as the… she published stuff with…
Galliano: Yes she… when the two of them Kubota and Shiomi crossed to New York, they first stayed at Maciunas. Maciunas was a lover and a connoisseur of Japanese culture.
Galliano: Well it’s okay if you do not know anything, it’s okay we can move on.
VI: Piano Moving Event and Dick Higgins’ Thousand symphonies
Kakinuma: 1965, you performed Piano Moving Event, what was the piece?
Philip Corner: I don’t remember.
Kakinuma: Yes, you carried the piano to somewhere?
Philip Corner: Well but it… it certainly wasn’t called Piano, Piano Moving Event; now where, where did I do it?
Kakinuma: I don’t know, I’m asking you.
Philip Corner: Where did you get the information?
Kakinuma: Oh it’s in some book I think.
Philip Corner: Oh God. Oh God. All these articles, that makes sense.
Galliano: Yes, there’s something.
Philip Corner: Some of the things I said were so stupid like that. Well maybe there’s something I can clear up but it’s obviously it is something that’s not accurate about this. Look there’s something; you can… that in one of the Sarenco books. He has a series of photographs in each of the various… Lotta Poetica. And the “Piano Story” is that, then the one he does, you see me underneath the piano and a little bit like Cristo porta- croce, pushing the piano, you know the, and I call that…
Kakinuma: That’s it.
Philip Corner: Well that was a kind of ironic thing I call it “Piano Work: a Movement.”
Galliano: Aha, it might be something like that.
Philip Corner: Because one of… oh it’s not there, I used to have it up there framed. But also that was published by Sarenco in the “Portfluxus” thing. One of the post Piano Activities, variations or so… so “Piano Activities concert suite”. And what I did… again I guess you could say this is this this desire to clarify and to… I looked at all of these details that I had first specified (1:40:00) and I made each one a movement. So everybody is doing the same thing at the same time It’s like pluck the strings with all your fingers. So you can imagine like well, it could be a solo and then you have these chords, but I did it as a duet with Carles Santos. So you would have like 20-note chords of people plucking; another one would try to pull the pins out with your finger nails, of course you can’t do it but you get…chchhhh-k-k. So, it’s a series of suite, like the classic suite of isolating the different things that you could possibly do, but again without destroying the piano. You know like all things that… like trying to destroy the piano with your fingers and so stuff like that. So that looks a little different, that has a series of small, it’s all verbal, but each movement is described verbally you know, like try to pull out the pins with your fingers or whatever. And one of the movements… of course this is a joke you know because “movement” of course is movement.
Galliano: Movement, yes.
Philip Corner: So is Piano Work: a Movement and you move the piano.
Kakinuma: Yes, this is it, Movement. You could see it in this book*.
* Sohm, h. 1970. Happenings & Fluxus. Koeln: Koelnischer Kunstverein.
Philip Corner: Yes right, so…
Kakinuma: Movement….. Yes, and Piano Moving Event.
Philip Corner: Okay, I see that.
Galliano: You must have explained it as a sort of…
Philip Corner: Well, for all I know it was gotten from one of the Wiesbaden people, and maybe it was even published like that where you know some of this… and let’s do Philip Corner’s Piano Moving Event you know. Well, maybe this is the title, it’s not Piano Moving Event and like Piano Work: a Movement you know, but they forget the titles, but this is typical Fluxus. Now Ben Vautier is always giving Fluxus concerts and he’s totally wrong. He gives the wrong title, you know, and then he likes to do this Kosugi piece with the cellophane around the microphone. First of all, the only thing he gets right is that it is by Kosugi. Then, I don’t know what he calls it, and then he…
Philip Corner: Huh?
Kakinuma: The piece is Micro.
Philip Corner: Oh I know that’s what Kosugi calls it but I don’t remember what…
Galliano: What he called…
Philip Corner: But every time he announces a piece it’s like it’s got the wrong title and then he used to give it an explanation of the piece and then he does it wrong. You know because it’s supposed to be, “When you let it go the volume is turned on”. I see him do it without the volume and then he anyway he didn’t have the right kind of paper, a sort of cellophane. He’s done it with cardboard and then while that’s going on, he just “Listen to that, isn’t this wonderful?” I mean, it’s just too ridiculous performance. So…
Galliano: Yes, he get’s crazy to love the same kind of pieces.
Philip Corner: So that… and I could go a whole list of reference to these performances which are for instance, there is this famous one where they say, “Now this is George Maciunas hammering down.” Well, I know that George wrote like what, 12 or 13 piano pieces or so but they’re all most of them are plagiarisms like the one about something about “move the piano bench or so”. That’s George Brecht and this particular one about nailing down the…, that’s from Thomas Schmidt, and so there’s a whole lot of… George already is like putting this thing down that he’s taking from other people. So then other people come like Ben Vautier and I’ve seen it published everywhere else as George Maciunas’ “piano nailing event”, and they forget what the original title is, but Thomas Schmidt had a title for it. Then there were other pieces that I can’t even remember the names of some of the people, that there are other people who have done this and he just, “Oh remember that piece?” Then he says, he makes up a title, and he makes up who did it or so.
Kakinuma: You conducted Dick Higgins’ Thousand symphonies (1967) and you used a stick to conduct it.
Philip Corner: Why is the stick so important?
Kakinuma: I don’t… I never saw the…
Philip Corner: I mean I’ve seen the photograph. It’s nice, it’s like a shepherd’s crook you know and like… it was a nice stick. Probably somebody gave me the stick, I don’t know.
Kakinuma: I thought that is some intention for you.
Philip Corner: No.
Kakinuma: No? Oh I see.
Philip Corner: But you know the whole thing was satirical, so being a conductor so you can say with a stick. Yes, I can imagine Dick saying, “Oh yes, you’re conducting so instead of that you use a stick” but it was crazy but you know the record, you have to get the record.
Kakinuma: Oh, you have a record?
Philip Corner: Not of that. Geoff Hendricks organized a festival at Rutgers University this must have been like, I don’t know maybe 10 years ago something like that and as part of the festival they did it the whole day even if it was holiday kind of thing but… So they wanted to do a… an evening concert so The Thousand symphonies of Dick Higgins. Well, I spent the whole summer making… performing arrangements of them because from Dick Huggins instructions. There were… the scores, now the scores now exist as art you know the bullet holes, anything within spray painting and all of that and they have been collected and they are known as art but they’ve never been… since that first time which I must say was a very in a way improvised non-exact and I would say not even very, very successful performance. But in any case, we did the best we could at the time and… so the ones we did at Rutgers University a few years ago is really beautiful. It was a whole evening and I think we made like five or six different Higgins symphonies and I had these scores when also this one was green, this one was red, this one had a lot of bullet holes in it. So I, because you could not play it from Dick Higgins’ instructions you know, it was totally incomprehensible and there’s just no way you can follow his instructions and actually play the piece. So I made a score where each page I use was a movement and I even transcribed some of them as accurately as possible like where there were dots in this that and the other thing… but I transcribed them. It’s like they were little notes and all that and I would measure what the relationship was between the notes and all that and I made them to look a little bit more like traditional music. But that’s the only way you could give it to musicians.
And we had a good orchestra. We had like about maybe 30 people and it was very beautiful and, of course, so that’s also put out by Alga Marghen but it’s not under my name it’s under Dick Higgins, The Thousand Symphonies of Dick Higgins and I think it’s very beautiful and every movement is different because I would look at each one and I would say, well, according to the… how he sprayed it and then what the thing was, “Oh this should be an adagio” you know or “This should be romantic” or “This should be vigorous” and… So everyone has a different character and I had to do that.
Galliano: As in a symphony.
Philip Corner: Yes but I had to do that in order to make it music and…
Kakinuma: And after the performance they performed your Fourth Finale, what is that piece?
Philip Corner: Food finale?
Kakinuma: Fourth Finale.
Philip Corner: Because I have some food pieces but Fourth Finale yes, well there… if you have The Four Suits, you must have the book The Four Suits. There is a Something Else Press book or so, well the “Second, Third and Fourth Finales” are all…
Kakinuma: In that book?
Philip Corner: In the book and again they are verbal texts. The Second Finale is where you play something that is very, very vigorous high-energy thing and you play it as long as you can until you have no more energy. So…
Kakinuma: Why do you call it Fourth or Second?
Philip Corner: Because that’s the numbers of them. There was a Finale before I did them and because they’re all to end the concert. After you do one of those pieces you can’t do anything else so….
Kakinuma: How many Finales did you compose?
Philip Corner: How many what?
Kakinuma: How many Finales?
Philip Corner: Four.
Philip Corner: Yes, except the first one really doesn’t count. The first one I did many years before and I called it, “Finale” and it’s a string trio: violin, cello and piano and it’s not the same kind of thing at all but then I thought, “Oh, these are finales.” So I send over to do the finales, like Second, Third, Fourth Finale. So I said the second one is the one where everybody goes…graaaah, and we did some interesting performances of that but at the end you know you can’t just play anymore, so you have to stop and that’s when the piece is over when everybody is….
Kakinuma: How about the Fourth?
Philip Corner: The fourth one is like a march and everybody is … but it’s like that Ives comment about them marching to a different drummer and so everybody has their own drummer. So everybody has to play a repeated pattern so it’s… I guess you could call it kind of minimal except it doesn’t really sound so minimal because especially if you have 15, 20 people. But it’s minimal in the sense that everybody is playing a repeated pattern; I mean Philip Glass isn’t minimal either. So everybody has a repeated pattern which is supposed to be a little bit march-like you know have something of a beat, but everyone is not the same. So it’s not just a mush of sound but there’s don-don-don, you know everybody has their own march and then they leave the concert. Doing that each one with their own beat, their own march and all that and that’s the one that there is the photograph of the Fluxus thing of Kuni conducting which shows Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991) of holding the cello and of course Kuni is doing his own thing. So nobody is following Kuni, everyone has their own rhythm, but Kuni is leading everybody down the stair at Carnegie Hall…..
VII: Nam June Paik and A la Mannière de
Kakinuma: Okay, so you also worked with Nam June Paik, and you have piece entitled A la mannière de Nam June Paik?
Philip Corner: Yes because he wrote a piece A la mannière de Phillip Corner. So it was…
Kakinuma: So why did you refer to the piece A la mannière de Ravel?
Philip Corner: Revenge against Paik.
Kakinuma: But why did you put the Ravel?
Philip Corner: There’s no Ravel.
Kakinuma: No, A la manière de something is composed by Maurice Ravel.
Philip Corner: Who got that? Where did you get that from? I never said Ravel.
Kakinuma: Ravel had some pieces called A la manière de something.
Galliano: Ravel wrote a number of pieces A la manière de and….
Philip Corner: I don’t know anything about that. Well what I know is like you know A la manière de… But there is lots of music like that could be just written not just a title just as performance instruction like you know “A la manière de la musique Baroque”….à la mannière de, it means in the mode of… it’s a very common…
Kakinuma: But why did you use French?
Philip Corner: Because Paik did it. Paik wrote A la manière de Philip Corner and I never understood what he did. I mean I like the piece but I said “What does it have to do with me?” He said “Oh you had a card, and there was…it had some design on it that’s even lost. I don’t even know what the card was”. But he, he, so Paik was like that you know you tell him to do one thing he just does something else you know. And so he called it the A la manière de Philip Corner. Oh but it’s also interesting..Ya, it also has this other thing where you break records. And that’s not me at all. But he did this piece where he’s sitting at the piano and he said “I don’t want this… I don’t want this kind of thing.” And then he puts on a… he has a turntable, and he… these were the old days with Shellac records. You can’t do it anymore because you can’t find it. If you can find old Shellac records they are too expensive to break. And you can’t find the ones you want. He always… He had this terrible satirical thing. Beethoven! All of these things, Played Beethoven badly played the Appassionata, all wrong notes. So some of the things I’ve written a number of things you know A la manière de and the Nam June Paik and you play Beethoven and you deliberately play it badly. But he had this thing and I guess it was revenge against the Western imperialism of course it’s all academism too. You know John Cage had the same thing. You know Beethoven like let’s destroy Beethoven. So he had this incredibly compulsive thing of satirizing Beethoven. So when he did it he had all these Beethoven records, and he’d be playing all this and then he’d put on ta-ta-ta-ti ti-ti-ti-ti on the record and then he’d try and play along with it but you know but he couldn’t play it. So you would just hear and then he stops, smashes the record and then so that became part of A la manière de Philip Corner. I have no idea what that has to do with me at all. But then I…when they asked… When Sukhi Kang (1934- ) called and asked me to come to Korea and do this concert at the Nam
Kakinuma: Pan Music Festival? (1:55:00)
Philip Corner: No, this was later. He… Sukhi did invite me… Oh yeah well the first time as a matter of fact …ya he invited me to the Pan Music Festival. And he said I should play some Paik. I played a lot of my own music but I also did play this particular piece. When…but what I was referring to was a few years ago, they invited me to be a resident at the Nam June Paik Art Center in Gyeonggi-do, and Sukhi had set that up and all that and then I did a piano evening and I did that piece again.
And that, that was really very funny because the first time I did with the Pan Music Festival, I had to go… I went to a flea market in Berlin before I went to Seoul, and I couldn’t find couldn’t find Beethoven. Nam June had always usually the most famous Beethoven sym–, but I couldn’t find those. So I suppose I found some Schubert and some other thing and I went with Viennese waltzes, then went with a stack of it. They were expensive you know, so I said “This piece can never be done again”. So when we went just a few days ago, I went with Phoebe, and Phoebe was my assistant, and the only thing we could do was to get CDs. And, try to break a CD! So it was really funny because then of course we could get the, like the Eroica symphony. Then you hear Dum! Dum! Then I start playing Dum! Dum! and playing along like the way Paik was along with the recording, and then after a while I just go shshtshh–stop it. Then Phoebe would take it off. Of course you can’t just smash it so she was doing it try to bend it, stomping on it. And fimally, you can’t break them and then throwing it at the audience you know. So we found some kind of a way of doing it with CDs as you see now we are not always making progress.
Kakinuma: When you visited Korea in 1983, you stopped by Japan too, to collaborate with Akio Suzuki
Philip Corner: Was it ’83 No it was 84… No it was 83 you’re right. Yes it was 83
Kakinuma: 83 yes.
Philip Corner: Yeah yeah Akio became a very good friend and I knew Nana Suzuki in Berlin. She said I should look up Akio. It was very good because I was very lonely in Japan you know as a foreigner in Japan you can be very lonely.
Kakinuma: I’m sorry.
Philip Corner: That’s the way it is. It was very interesting. The Japanese are like unfailingly polite. It be nothing like New York where stampedes… Although New York is deceptive, you know they say ‘Oh God they just want to push over you this is true but if you fell down, everybody would stop and help you. So that’s what people don’t realize. With all the bustle and the pushing and the seeming nastiness. Now in Japan I heard that there are problems because if you fall down, nobody will help you because that makes them morally responsible for you. You know.
Galliano: I don’t know these things…
Philip Corner: Isn’t that true? This is what I’ve heard that people like… would not touch you, give you respiration and this, that, and the other thing… because then they become responsible.
Galliano: Well I have seen a couple of them, people fall in Kyoto and people help them.
Philip Corner: Yes, well maybe things… you know things gradually change or so… I found that in Japan there were people who were very, very polite and if I tap somebody’s shoulder in the subway and say “sumimasen (excuse me),” they would say “hai (yes)” and then they would take me to the ticket office and make sure that I was buying the right ticket and take me to the turn- stile and then they bow…but then you would see that like it closed, the eyes, then I was dismissed, I just wasn’t there anymore. And you could be in a crowd nobody sees you, you know you just stand there they go… I think they are so used to crowding and all that. So it’s like you see people standing up and they are totally pressed by everybody else trying to read a newspaper. So I had the experience of like standing and people just moving around me as if I were a pillar, you know. So in a certain sense you felt never make eye contact with them unless you stop, say “sumimasen”, and ask for help and instructions and so and they are unfailingly polite. And they say “Follow me” and they help you and do all that and then when they finish with that then it’s you’re gone you know. You know do you know… what’s her name? I had that experience with this…
Philip Corner: Yes, the famous art collector, she has this big museum. That was designed by a Swiss architect, what was…? Said she collected Fluxus.
Kakinuma: Oh, galleries 360?
Philip Corner: No, but it’s her name, I keep forgetting her name. She’s… she must be very well known. Like she got this famous Swiss architect to design, Watari, I think Watari.
Philip Corner: Watari, Watari, Madam Watari. When I remember when I first went to Tokyo, I brought a gift from… She had come all the way from Tokyo to the Wiesbaden concert. So and then when I went to… that was ’82, when I went to Tokyo, René Block gave me something to bring to the Watari gallery. She was very nice, she had… helped me get a hotel and everything else. I went there and I gave her that and I talked because she showed me the gallery. And you know it was just the strangest thing… just at a certain moment, I felt “I’m dismissed” you know. We were just talking and then just somehow you…this conversation is over, she wants you to leave and nothing was said in particular but just you should leave. Just like you know, I think it’s very, very interesting and of course the politeness and the willing to help was very, very nice but there was like okay “I did it…”
Galliano: So it’s okay.
Philip Corner: Yes, nothing spontaneous.
Galliano: And she came to Wiesbaden?
Philip Corner: Yes she came a day late, there was some problem with her, so she arrived the second day and everybody announced that Madam Watari has just arrived from Tokyo and so everybody applauded …
Galliano: Oh, how was it that she went to Wiesbaden and who was the contact for her to be there?
Philip Corner: Maybe René Block, you know. He was one of the big organizers in there.
Galliano: Oh, that’s interesting, yes, yes. She was…
Kakinuma: It’s over two hours. May we ask a couple of more questions?
Philip Corner: Yes, it’s okay.
Kakinuma: Do you have time?
Philip Corner: Yes.
VIII: Tone Roads Ensemble
and other activities
Kakinuma: About Tone Roads Ensemble, there’s no recording of their performance and I’ve never heard of it. Did you perform trombone or piano in that?
Philip Corner: I don’t remember… I think I, I may have played trombone. We did some Ives (1874-1954) chamber orchestra pieces, and I may have, no I don’t think I played trombone, I don’t think I played it. I know I played piano in… we did Over the Pavements [by Charles Ives] which is essentially for piano and small orchestra. I played the piano in that it’s called Over the Pavements. I also did some solos, they were recorded two piano solos of Ives that I played. I played over WBAI [listener-supported FM radio station in New York City] and there was a recording from WBAI. Aside from that, surely some recording is there. Malcolm Goldstein was making recordings but he doesn’t remember and he didn’t keep everything and the stuff got dispersed or so. And so there’s probably a recording somewhere of James Tenney doing the Ives Concord Sonata, but it’s never been released or anything like that. And so and I think you could basically say that there’s nothing you can hear from that, any of that, yes.
Kakinuma: I’ve known Malcolm for years actually.
Philip Corner: Oh yes?
Kakinuma: Yes and I’ve heard you will perform with him this fall in London.
Philip Corner: Yes, I know he was, yes.
Kakinuma: Do you collaborate with him this fall, right? I saw it in the internet.
Philip Corner: Yes, not in London, it was in Huddersfield in the North of England, Huddersfield not London.
Kakinuma: Not London? All right in UK?