March 29, 2017
March 8, 2017
It was a wintry, gray London morning when Stanley fetched me at Waterloo station to take me to his home in Weigall Road. I had written to him, sending him the introduction of my thesis on South African music and asking for an interview. He consented at the 11th hour, a week before I was due to return to South Africa. Even before we arrived at his home, it became clear that he had much to talk about. Asking questions was not going to be easy.
SG: When I read your writing, it’s almost an Afrikaner writing as opposed to a South African.
SM: Yes it is. Very much so.
SG: And maybe that is what you want to do. Yours is a concern that I understand very well. But Afrikaner intellectuals are inclined to be elitist, even to their own Afrikaans people. They are so disciplined and conscious and intelligent and they work and they take a problem and they sort it out and their writing is very good. But how many of them have got black friends? Have you got any black friends?
SG: You see, here you are talking about things and you don’t even know one black guy you can discuss your ideas with. That is a problem. I am a very strong nationalist, but my nationalism is entirely inclusive. I am proud of the rich mix that you get in South Africa, which gives a certain character and strength. I feel that in many ways South Africans are more characterful than Australians, or New Zealanders or Canadians. Culturally I regard ourselves, potentially at least, as richer than these countries. We’ve got a lot to be proud of with the South African set-up.
SM: Can you expand on this idea of an inclusive nationalism?
SG: Nationalism is very important to a people. One of the big musics of the world is jazz. How many bloody American composers have infused jazz into their classical works? A few Europeans played around with it. There was Milhaud. And then there is Bernstein and perhaps one or two other examples, but jazz is full of the most fascinating things. If you take folk music and transmute it as Bartók did or perhaps some of the Russians have done, it enriches classical music. The Americans haven’t done anything like it for decades. You get a guy like Copland and they make a big fuss of him. Billy the Kid and Rodeo and the Mexican this and that. It’s skimming the surface. Folk music always enriches classical music, and in this regard twentieth-century music has failed. Composers in the twentieth-century have tried to show that they are technically and intellectually competent like their counterparts in the natural sciences. So you get guys taking up twelve tone writing and they throw a whole lot of things belonging to music out of the window. ‘Cesspool music’, that’s what one critic called it. I have tried to show that serial technique could go beyond what the practitioners of the Second Viennese School devised. I took a little six note African scale, got a friend of mine to write light little verses and I treated that six note scale very strictly according to serial rules. And they were light pieces! I am saying that technique doesn’t necessarily have to serve the purpose it had when it was developed. And now I come back to culture and inclusive nationalism. There are all sorts of infusions into a culture. Take Byrd, Palestrina and Victoria. All Catholics, all beholden to their faith. But when you listen to their music: Victoria is Spanish, Palestrina is Italian, Byrd is English. They’re using the same devices, the same words of the mass. But they haven’t lost their culture. There is always an element around which is essentially culture specific. That is what I think we could do in South Africa. There could be cross-fertilization. In the case of art music we could produce some wonderful works in the future, feeding new things into West-European classical music, refreshing it. The ethno-classical element in South Africa is full of promise, because you have the opportunity to produce a transmutation that can ultimately produce a new sound. In my music I often use a major third, E-C, let’s say, to a major fourth, D-A. Now that’s especially to be found in Nguni source music. And it is sunshine to me. Now let us go back to Afrikaans composers. What Afrikaans composers have taken ‘vastrap’ and worked that into their classical music? You see, it’s below them. Vastrap is not classical music. Bartók, who ranged all around the North-African perimeter and the Balkans was an Hungarian composer. It’s what he did with his stuff that counts. The Americans are in the best position to transmute jazz elements into classical music and they have not done so sufficiently. I feel we can do that in South Africa. That is what I’ve tried to do. I have a sense of private superiority about South Africa over dozens of other countries. When I am up in heaven playing my mbira, looking down, I want to sea Southern Africa like a European Union. We can become one of the power houses of the world.
SM: Do you thing there is down-side to writing ethno-classical stuff?
SG: Yes, of course. An example. Hans Roosenschoon is a very good composer. When he was doing a year or two at the RAM we performed a brass quintet of his at Goldsmiths. Excellent! Excellent! It had Zulu sounds in it, overtones, which even I can’t grasp. Excellent piece of music. The audience of lecturers and students didn’t know Zulu music from Adam, but they thought it a terrific piece of music. Momentarily, I feel, Hans let his hair down. It is one of his most original pieces. But when Hans wants to show himself, understandably, to be on a level with the leading composing schools whether it is in France or England or Europe or America, he is writing European music for South Africa, instead of writing South African music for Europe.
SM: Now that is interesting, I …
SG: Wait, I’m coming to the down-side of writing ethno-classical stuff. It is a question of attitude. He did another work some years later for a chamber orchestra and chopi record, recorded by Hugh Tracey in Mozambique, and he timed his music so that you put on the tape of the original chopi stuff to fit in and out with the chamber orchestra. Ingenious. But it was superficial. Technically very good, but superficial. So once when he came over to London we had coffee together and I asked him why he didn’t go and do some research. He answered that one didn’t need research, as everything had been recorded. Now you can’t just listen to records, that’s not the way to get to know music. You’ve got to be at the coal face and you’ve got to see what goes on. There are all sorts of things that you pick up.
SM: So do you think that ‘writing South African music for Europe’ will only happen when you do research?
SG: Yes …
SM: Composers have got to search for ethnic stuff?
SG: Yes, but you’re doing it out of desire as opposed to a duty. If you have no desire you mustn’t do it. I will do it, but you [Afrikaners] must do it as well. Go to a vastrap evening in Nelspruit or wherever and see what you can do with it. And see what it means, the dancing, the life, it’s all part of the music. If there’s a dance in Nelspruit on a Saturday night and all the farmers are coming in and the locals are coming in and there is a Boereorkes. Where are you guys? Do you ever roll up to that sort of thing? No.
SM: So you are advocating a flattening of the stubborn boundaries between musicologist, ethnomusicologist, composer? Is that what we are talking about?
SG: Look, composers in the previous century became too intellectual. When Schoenberg was heard to remark that he would like the butcher boy to whistle the main theme from his violin concerto – what utter tosh! What utter rubbish! Perhaps he meant that sincerely, but he was living in cloud cuckoo land! I mean, what happened to melody and rhythm, which is an essential part of music, during a lot of twentieth-century composition? If you take Schoenberg, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Bartók: who are the composers who are alive? It’s the less sophisticated ones: Stravinsky and Bartók. The more intellectualized composers are fodder for musicologists. Why don’t we ‘analyze’ Rachmaninoff rather than Tchaikovsky? Because the teachers find it difficult to pigeon-hole what Rachmaninoff does. In Schoenberg you’ve got note row, you’ve models on the Baroque Suite and this and that. Teachers can teach that, it’s easy. But can you teach something that is more spread-eagled and can’t be explained entirely? The academic world is to blame a lot for certain attitudes that their charges develop.
SM: So were the conceits of serialism a myth?
SG: Serialism had a very good function. Every piece of music has a role to play. The importance of serial technique was to put an end to outdated functional harmony. Important harmonists like Chopin began to expand and by the time you got to Wagner, you could go anywhere you like with regard to tonality! You could go from C to C flat, you could go from C to F sharp with a bit of chromatic twisting. That’s why I can’t stand Wagnerian music, because it’s a twilight, it goes on and on and on. But the Twelve-Tonalists spiked this bloody chromaticism, which just wafts off into orbit. And then, happily, the Minimalists came along and spiked the Twelve-Tonalists! And that’s wonderful! They did a very good job and a very good service to music. Today we are listening to musics, whether you like it or not. We are in a great mix, which is confusing and nevertheless also very gratifying, because it means all the more that we South Africans can pursue our own thing.
SM: I want to return to this thing about the ‘correct’ or the ‘wrong’ way to appropriate ethnic material …
SG: Look, South Africa is my love. I love it. I love the vastrap, I love a Zulu dance team, I love the topography of my country, I love all the different people. That’s what makes me do it.
SM: So if you get a composer living in white suburbia somewhere in Constantia or Bishopscourt and he does not write music with ‘African’ flavours. Is that a legitimate activity?
SG: Yes, it is. For him. It hurts me that he’s doing it, but he must write what he wants to write. He decides what he wants to write because of his history. My history is different from the composer who only wants to write West-European music modeled on Boulez, Stockhausen, Lutoslawski or Ligeti. If he wants to do that he must do that. In the end, if there is a composer from South Africa who becomes an outstanding ‘European composer’, that’s fine. But he would be unique. What about all of us, what about all the students, all the performers, the lesser composers – they’ve got to come from somewhere. And their cultural background determines what they will do. The chap who only writes European music feels that his surround is unimportant to him and that what is to be desired is what is ‘over there’.
SM: Well, if you look at white suburban South Africa your immediate surround still is very white, it is more American than African. Don’t you think, given our history of racial segregation, that you will find most composers writing with that sense of West-European orientation?
SG: Look, let us take Stefans. Stefans Grové is the most human of what I call the ‘five’ South African composers: four Capies and one Transvaler. The Transvaler is me and the other four are Arnold van Wyk, John Joubert, Hubert du Plessis and Stefans Grové. They were all Cape orientated and they didn’t have as much to do with black culture because of their environment. There have been attempts to do something with Cape Coloured stuff. But there’s been very little effort. Now suddenly, Stefans, who is the most humanistic and has the best sense of humour – a delightful chap with a lovely sarcastic twist in his humour – he is suddenly coming out with African stuff! Why didn’t he do that before? What has caused him to do that now? Because around him it has changed. It’s always getting onto the bandwagon. It’s the same with European composers. They’re now beginning to use folk music. Why weren’t they doing this twenty or thirty years ago? So it’s coming from outside, not from the inside. That’s the point.
SM: That’s the point then where politics intrudes into music, isn’t it?
SG: Yes, it is. But what I am also saying is that the composer today is looking over the wall outside classical music. I think that’s good thing. You’ve got to write music that people will like. I don’t want to use the word ‘responsibility’, because as soon as you use the word ‘responsibility’ it means it is a decision of the mind rather than a decision of feeling. It would not be to a composer’s advantage to say: ‘I’m now going to study black music’.
SM: What happens if there is black sensitivity about the appropriation of ethnic material by white composers for their own ends?
SG: I get your point. Well, I suppose what I am proposing is that one has to take that resentment on board, and fight it. I know that every time I have gone back to South Africa things have changed more and more. A lot of what I’ve been saying is a wish, an idealism. Now you’ve got to try to put that into practice and very often you might fail. I’ve never felt when I deal with Blacks or Coloureds that they resent what I’m doing. That might be because of what I say or what my history is or the way I deal with things. What you’ve underlined is very important and it is a difficult problem. I cannot give a well-defined solution or method of dealing with it. All I can say is one’s got to go for it, all the time. It has to do with projects, to my mind. There have got to be projects that everybody agrees to work on. What I call the ‘togetherness’. I can see that there are huge problems and of course I’ve have been out of the country in terms of living there for quite a few decades now. When I go back I am returning to my home as a visitor, so to speak, but on the other hand, no one will take away my attachment. If a Black or Coloured resents what I do, too bloody bad. My conscience is clear, you see, I have no guilt feelings. My temperament, my nature, believes in the mix.
March 6, 2017
March 5, 2017
January 21, 2017
The Song As Struggle and Resistance Caucus, is a Black Thought Symposium initiative. The initiative seeks to find ways to speak about what song means to black people in the struggle and how it can or has been used as a method of resistance. The caucus is interested in creating a dialogue between artists on the role of black acoustic practices in the struggle. This is to say, the caucus wants to create a community of practitioners who will interpret, archive and convey the struggle songs in the black experience. At its core the caucus seeks to find ways and vocabularies to stress the vitality of art negre in the de-colonial project.
The collaboration will take the form of three day events around Western Cape. The events will be hosted in universities and townships such that we are able to reach and accommodate as many people as we can in the dialogue.
15 February 2017
Discussion: The Role of Song in Struggle and as Struggle.
Description: The discussion will be a reflective one between Black Thought Symposium and the Rhodes Must Fall comrades on how they used song to struggle and what song meant for them throughout the protests. The discussion will be punctuated by performances from both BLKThought Music and Iphupho l’ka Biko. The performances will be followed by another conversation that will happen in the form an exchange of struggle songs where comrades of Rhodes Must Fall/ Fees Must Fall will share the songs that have touched them the most and vice versa.
16 February 2017
Symposium: Reflections on the Bana(abi)lity of Song in Struggle
Description: The symposium will be separated in two parts. The first part will be a feedback by Black Thought Symposium of the discussion on the bana(abi)lity of song. The feedback will include readings of some of the ideas that were presented at the symposium. The second part will be a conversation on how we can think more critically about songs and their animative power in the struggle.
Visit: Conversation and Performances at the PASS on ‘Song as Struggle and Resistance’
Venue: Pan-African Space Station
17 February 2017
Township Tour: Busking and Improvisation
Description: The purpose of this tour is to try and get a feel of what people who are not necessarily located in the university space think about struggle. We will go to specific locations in the township and have performances that will be followed by a conversation between the artists and the audience.
December 4, 2016
December 3, 2016
November 27, 2016
November 16, 2016
November 6, 2016
October 21, 2016
Transcription of recording – Hilde and Dan Apolles
DA: Yes, I used to dream out whole concertos with Chopin in the background. The thing… when we’re young we all loved Chopin for his uh… he’s so human and and and romantic uh… I mean that is a stage when you be… when you start to look at girls and so on and Chopin is definitely the influence.
HR: So did you did you did you play Chopin for your…
HR: Sweetheart at the time or…
DA: Oh no, I… Ja, ja… definitely. Chopin was on my list…
HR: And your own composition?
DA: No, I never played my own compositions.
HR: [Exclamation] Oh, that’s terrible.
DA: I don’t… I don’t know if you know Walter Swanson, or if you had heard… Uh, I used to play to him. He was… he was…
HR: Your own compositions?
DA: Yes, yes. And and he was he he wrote something about the the music that I wrote. But he he he took, he took up Chopin in it. He could hear Chopin.
SV: He could pick it up…
DA: Did you hear the Nocturne or… that I played… that my own work?
HR: I’ve heard some of Inge’s work on it uhm but not much yet.
HR: So, but we will certainly listen, you know…
SV: Unless you want to play again. [everyone giggles]. Uhm, so do you still compose?
DA: No no no no no. Not at this stage anymore.
HR: What is it about Chopin, except for being romantic, and uh that you like?
DA: It’s it’s just the brilliance of the the piano style that… and and… technically he is difficult to play, but uh, I enjoy playing Chopin. Uh. I used to play the A-flat Polonaise at at concerts and so on uh, but uh… When I was a student, I used to play lunch time con… not lunch time concerts… lunch time intervals. There’s a… there was a piano and I couldn’t wait for the bell to to ring for the… for the break, the tea break, to rush to the piano just to play.
HR: Did you listen to… did you have recordings of…
DA: Oh yes. Many many many.
DA: And I had many favourite com… uh uh uh pianists in my lifetime, like Vladimir Horowitz was one. Ashkenazy, uh… The Beethoven fans… I was I was a Beethoven fan in in those days too. Uhm, there was a pianist, uh, he passed away in the fifties, I think, Bacchaus, Bacchaus.
DA: Wilhelm Bacchaus. He was a Beethoven expert, so uh. The modern pianists, they are good, they are very, very good technically…
HR: Ja. Very brilliant, ja.
DA: …but they… I think they lack the intensity of the the old masters. Rubenstein…
DA: Dinu Lipatti… You know him?
HR: No, I don’t.
DA: He was a Chopin expert.
DA: But uh… the piano is my instrument…
HR: And uh, at the time… the recordings, where did you buy them? During… did you come come to town and buy them at Hans Kramer or…?
DA: No, no, no, no, no. In in in in those days, you, you didn’t buy, you didn’t buy, I didn’t buy records. I recorded from the radio.
HR: Oh, wow.
DA: You know RS… RSG?
HR: RSG, ja.
DA: RSG, and the the the the English uh programme on on on SAFM, on the radio. Those two programmes had many, many uh classical uh uh uh uh programmes… they had classical pro… they had a classical… you had classics every day of the week.
DA: Now you have it… half an hour and…
HR: If you’re lucky and then half the, half the movement.
DA: If if if… and… Ja, and if you’re lucky to… you you you don’t hear a a full symphony anymore over the radio.
DA: You know? That type of thing.
HR: So at the time, did you record it on a on a on a tape recorder?
DA: Tape recorder.
DA: No, I still have an old tape recorder. Not a recorder, a an old tape playback…
DA: … that I can… I’ve got… I’ve got many uh uh recordings of those days…
HR: And you still listen to them now?
DA: Yes, yes…
HR: Oh, you do?
HR: On the tape recorder?
DA: On the tape recorder yes.
HR: Oh, wow.
DA: And then I bought at the uh uh FMR, they had, they had one… once in a month on a Saturday morning… FMR radio station at at the ArtsCape, in those programmes…
DA: They had uh uh… they had a rec… a record uh uh sell out, once a… the first Saturday of every month.
DA: And I bought stacks and stacks of recordings.
DA: LP’s dating back to nineteen hundred.
HR: Oh, right.
DA: Carus… from Caruso’s time. I even have recording of Grieg playing his own music, I have Rachmaninov playing his own music, I have uh Pachman… You don’t hear these composers anymore… uh, uh, these pianists anymore. Uh, uh, but, but they recorded on those piano rolls even. You know?
HR: Those those those…uhm…
HR: …paper things? Those cylinder thingies. Ja.
DA: Ja, ja, ja. They recorded on on on that…
HR: DO you have an instrument to play that back with?
DA: I had a piano.
HR: Oh, you did? Like Tillie Ulster. I know she… Tillie Ulster also had one of those pianos where you can put in the roll.
DA: The roll, ja. I still have the piano but I took out the the mechanism…
DA: And now I’ve got a a piano that sounds like a grand piano.
HR: Oh wow.
DA: Because it’s such a big thing…
HR: Ok. So did… that piano, was it in the family…
DA: It’s twice the size of
DA: …twice the width of that piano.
HR: How did you get that piano? Was it something…
DA: I bought it from from a a piano tuner.
HR: Ok. Long time ago? Or…
DA: No, no. A few a few years ago.
DA: And then uh…
HR: Cos it’s very unusual those things.
DA: Ja, and then then then… well, you don’t get those rolls anymore…
HR: Anymore, ja…
DA: …so I told him to take, to take out the the mechanism, so I can have a a a loud, a bigger sound box. And now I’ve got a a upright grand piano.
HR: Well, it was great to, uhm, sit in the little bit that I heard but uh… and great that you’re here. [Laughs]
DA: Ok. I’m glad that you liked the music.
HR: Ja. And curious to hear what uh…
DA: I can play you the Nocturne for her [referring to SV]… she’s still young…
SV: I would love that. Thank you. [everyone laughs]
[Everyone move to the piano]
DA: I thought you were going to hang on the piano here…
SV: Thank you very much. That was wonderful.
HR: Is this your na… your nocturne?
HR: How, how do you find this piano? To play on…
DA: [pause] It, it, it’s good [clears throat]. It’s good… uhm… I don’t know if it’s my fingers that’s that’s, that tends to be slippery or if it’s the keys that’s that’s a bit slippery but my uh… especially the black ones… It’s almost as if the…
HR: So your own piano has more grip?
DA: I think my fingers are… I I think the grooves of of… like an old tyre that’s getting… losing its…
DA: …grip…. [everyone laughs]. But but otherwise the piano is is is fine.
HR: Tell us about the work. Is this the one you composed in the fifties?
DA: Ja. All my piano works were composed in in the in the fifties. [clears throat]. I’ve got an example there….
HR: Did you, did you sort of sit in front of the piano and it just came to you or did you actually sit with the music and did you write it down? Did you work it out?
DA: No, no, no… I never worked out music. I never worked it out. Uh, I got inspiration. I got uh uh like a motive and and the motive would then develop on its own.
DA: It would just expand as it, as you go along.
HR: Ja. And did you notate it while you working it out, or did it, was it just all in your memory?
DA: No tape. In those times there weren’t any tapes. Not that I know of.
HR: But you wrote it out in in in in notation, or not?
DA: In… yes, in staff notation.
DA: I wrote it out on the nearest piece of paper that I could put my hand on… [giggles]
DA: …before I work out the the the tune….
DA: …or the motive.
SV: Did you do it at the piano or away from the piano?
DA: Away from the piano. Ja.
SV: Away from.., Wow.
DA: I would perhaps wake up in the morning and I know that I, I uh… there was a time in… we were writing our matric examination and then I got… and I think it might’ve been this tune but uh… there were so many, uh… while I was writing and it was the German… I did German as one of my my subjects and uh… while I was writing German, suddenly I got this inspirit… inspiration and then I… Now we used to write with, in ink, and we had…
HR: Not pencil?
DA: …one of those… no no no not ballpoints. That was before the time of ball points.
HR: Oh, a… proper ink…
SV: The proper ink pots.
DA: Proper ink ink yes.
HR: Ja ja ja.
DA: Ink. It had a little tube inside that you had to draw the ink in and then you could write the whole day with it. Uhm [clears throat] and and to dry the ink…
DA: I used to write… I wrote one of my pieces on a piece of blotting paper in the final examination.
DA: Now that is… inspiration just just came anytime, you know, and then I could just write it, [clears throat] drew quick lines and uh treble clef. There wasn’t time to write the bass clef. The bass clef came later on. But uh the motive… Now the motive is like a little tune that comes to you from nowhere and then…
HR: In the middle of an exam. [HR laughs]
DA: Anytime. Anytime. In the middle of the night.
HR: Or in the night. Ok. And you just had to write it down.
DA: I had to write it down.
HR: So you would wake up in the middle of the night and put it down?
DA: Oh, if I if I got it in the middle of the night I would…
HR: …do that….
SV: And then would you go back to the piano to fill in the… the left hand? Or did you also write that away from the piano?
DA: The le…?
SV: The left hand. When did that happen?
DA: Oh oh oh. No no no that… the tune would then develop and as the tune develops, it… I would, I would always carry a a a manuscript paper with me and then, where ever I am, sitting on a on a on a rock at the beach or whatever I would write it. But it’s all from inside.
HR: From memory.
DA: That is long before I came to the piano. Most of the work has been written down already.
DA: Most of the ideas.
SV: That’s incredible music imagination.
DA: The the the piano only came in later on to to fill in, you know, the chords and so on.
HR: Did you did you write for other mediums as well, like singing or instruments?
DA: Yes yes yes… in in later years I I composed for for the church choir. I composed quite a few pieces for the church choir.
HR: Mm. Alright. And are they still being performed?
DA: Yes, by the… by the… by the church choir, the church that I belong to. Moravian church. Ja. They normally have music festivals, uh singing uh festivals once uh once… uh in Cape Town and and next year they will have it in in the in the Feather hall in Port Elizabeth. — saal. I have it there. And and… most of my works have… choral works have been performed by the combined choirs of Eastern Cape and the Western Cape.
SV: And when did you start composing? Did you do it still when you were quite young at school? Or when did you deve… ah well, uh, ja. When did you realise that you can compose or that you compose?
DA: I I don’t… I can’t really say. Maybe when I was round about twelve, thirteen.
DA: I started playing the piano when I was four.
HR: Oh wow.
SV: That’s very early. Did you start playing by yourself or did you have a teacher?
DA: By myself, yes.
SV: Oh wow.
DA: My my first… my first… uh uh uh music lesson uh uh formal music lesson I I think I was twenty-six or something. Twenty-six or twenty-seven years old.
HR: So you’re very self-taught?
DA: Self-taught yes.
HR: Ok. Even even notation and all that stuff self-taught?
DA: Ja. My mother, my parents they were they were good musicians. My mother was a a a solist in the… a soprano and my father was a very good pianist and organist. Uhm… My mother’s brother, my uncle, he was also an organist in the church and maybe I got the genes from them.
AK: Good genes.
DA: Yes. Uh. So.
HR: It was lovely meeting you. I’m going to get going.
HR: I will touch base again with Inge to hear how it’s… but it’s great that it’s been documented and it was wonderful, it was a privilege to hear you play. Thank you.
SV: Yes. Thank you very much.
HR: Thank you so much.
DA: And thank you for…
DA: For your interest and staying to listen to to some of the pieces.
SV: Next time I’ll lie underneath the piano.
HR: One underneath and one on top.
September 20, 2016
September 15, 2016
August 24, 2016
August 20, 2016
August 19, 2016
September 30, 2015, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1
This is the full text of enemyindustry’s presentation at the improvisation panel at The Society of European Philosophy-Forum of European Philosophy joint conference in Dundee, 2015.
1) Introduction: Improvisation and the Politics of Technology
Ray Brassier’s “Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom” (written for the 2013 collaboration with Basque noise artist Mattin at Glasgow’s Tramway) is a terse but insightful discussion of the notion of freedom in improvisation. It begins with a polemic against the voluntarist conception of freedom. The voluntarist understands free action as the uncaused expression of a “sovereign self”. Brassier rejects this supernaturalist understanding of freedom, arguing that we should view freedom not as the determination of an act from outside the causal order, but as the self-determination by action within the causal order.
According to Brassier, self-determination is reflexive and rule-governed. A self-determining system acts in conformity to rules but is capable of representing and modifying these rules with implications for its future behaviour. This is only possible if we make the rules explicit in language (Brassier 2013b: 105; Sellars 1954: 226).
Brassier’s proximate inspiration for this model of freedom is Wilfred Sellars’ account of language and meaning (1954.) Sellars analytic pragmatism buys into the Kantian claim that concepts are rules for unifying or linking claims to cognitive significance rather than representations of something outside thought – concepts are “cooks rather than hooks”.
Sellars distinguishes a more or less automatic and unconscious rule following from a metalinguistic level with the logical resources for reflection and self-awareness. Indeed for Brassier’s Sellars, thought and intentional action emerge only with the metalinguistic capacity to make reasons explicit in “candid public speech” (Brassier 2013b: 105; Sellars 1954: 226-8). Or as he puts it: “Autonomy understood as a self-determining act is the destitution of selfhood and the subjectivation of the rule. The ‘oneself’ that subjects itself to the rule is the anonymous agent of the act.”
For Brassier, an avowed naturalist, it is important that this capacity for agency is non-miraculous, and that a mere assemblage of pattern governed mechanisms can be “gripped by concepts” (Brassier 2011). As he continues:
The act …. remains faceless. But it can only be triggered under very specific circumstances. Acknowledgement of the rule generates the condition for deviating from or failing to act in accordance with the rule that constitutes subjectivity. This acknowledgement is triggered by the relevant recognitional mechanism; it requires no appeal to the awareness of a conscious self…. (Brassier 2013a)
Now, there are criticisms that one can make of this account. For example, Brassier struggles to articulate the relationship between linguistic rules or norms and the natural regularities and behaviours on which they depend. For this reason, I’ve argued that the normative functionalism associated with Sellars and, latterly, Robert Brandom bottoms out in Davidson-style claims about how idealized interpreters (privy to all the facts) might construe a given stretch of behaviour (Roden 2015).
Brassier’s position thus depends on the conception of an interpreting subject it is not in a position to satisfactorily explain. Despite pretensions to naturalistic virtue, his world is bifurcated between a natural real and an order of thought that depends on it without really belonging to it (Brassier 2013: 104).
These issues lurk in the background in Brassier’s short text on improvisation. This claims that the act of improvisation involves an encounter between rule governed reason and pattern governed mechanisms. However, Brassier does not specify how such rules operate in music, or how the encounter between rules and mechanism is mediated.
In what follows I will argue that one reason he does not do this is that such rules do not operate in improvisation or in contemporary compositional practice. Claims about what is permissible or implied in music index context sensitive perceptual responses to musical events. These exhibit tensions between the expectations sedimented in musical culture and actual musical events or acts.
However, I will argue that this perceptual account of musical succession provides an alternate way of expressing Brassier’s remarks on the relationship between music and history in “Unfree Improvisation” – one that eschews normative discourse in favour of a descriptive account of the processes, capacities and potentialities operating in the improvising situation.
This metaphysical adjustment is of interest outside musical aesthetics and ontology, however.
Brassier’s text suggests that the temporality of the improvising act is a model for understanding a wider relationship with time: in particular the remorseless temporality explored in his writings on Prometheanism, Accelerationist Marxism and Radical Enlightenment (See Brassier 2014). I hope to use this suggestion as a clue for refining an ethics that can address the radically open horizons of being I discuss in my book Posthuman Life (Roden 2014).
This paper can, then, be thought of as a staged encounter between Prometheanism and my own Speculative Posthumanism. Brassier’s Prometheanism, like Reza Negarestani’s “inhumanism”, proposes that all reasons and purposes are “artificial”: implicit or explicit moves within language games. (See Negarestani 2014b). Thus the Promethean rejects all quasi-theological limits on artificialisation and enjoins the wholesale “reengineering of ourselves and our world on a more rational basis” and (2014: 487).
Speculative Posthumanism (SP) does not propose any theological limits to artificialisation. Far from it! However, it holds that the space of possible agents is not bound (a priori) by conditions of human agency or society. Since we lack future-proof knowledge of possible agents this “anthropologically unbounded posthumanism” (AUP) allows that the results of techno-political interventions could be weird in ways that we are not in a position to imagine (Roden 2014: Ch.3-4; Roden 2015b).
The ethical predicament of the Speculative Posthumanist is thus more complex than the Promethean. Given AUP there need be no structure constitutive of all subjectivity or agency. Thus she cannot appeal to a theory of rational subjectivity to support an ethics of becoming posthuman. So what – for example – might autonomy or freedom involve from the purview of unbounded posthumanism? What counts as emancipatory as opposed to oppressive violence?
I will argue that the idea of freedom embedded in Brassier’s text on improvisation can be elucidated by comparing the obscure genesis of improvisation to the predicament of agents in rapidly changing technical systems. Thus Brassier’s treatment of improvisation retains its resonance on this posthumanist reading even if it militates against his wider ontological and political commitments.
2. Harmonic Structure and Succession
I will begin by making use of some analyses of performance practices in post-war jazz and Julian Johnson’s analysis of the disruption of the rhetoric of harmonic accompaniment in the work of Anton Webern to support this model of affective subjectivity in improvisation.
Novice jazz improvisers must internalize a large body of musical theory: e.g. they learn modal variations on the Ionian and harmonic minor scale or “rules” for chord substitution in cadences based on shared tritones. This learning enables musical performance by sculpting possibilities for action during improvisation. For example, ambiguous voicings involving tritones or fourths decouple chords from the root, allowing modulations into what otherwise distant keys to slide easily over a tonal center.
This harmonic know-how consists recipes for honing expectations and sensations, not the acknowledgement of norms. The statement that a tritone (augmented fourth) belonging to a dominant seventh chord should resolve to a tonic reflects listener expectations in diatonic environments where a tonal center is defined in practice. This is not an intrinsic feature of the tritone, though, since each tritone occurs in two dominant chords. For example, the B-F tritone occurs in both G7 (resolving to C) and Dflat7.
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This provides a recipe for substituting a dominant chord at a tritone remove in perfect cadences.
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However, it also allows harmonic series to modulate into unrelated keys.
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As jazz theorist Martin Rosenberg notes, the use of augmented dominants with two tritones by Bebop players such as Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk produce multiple lines of harmonic consequence and thus an ambiguous context that is not conventionally diatonic, even if (in contrast to free jazz) some adherence to a tonal center is preserved.
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Symmetrical chords built of fourths (as used by pianists such as McCoy Tyer and Bill Evans) or major thirds have a similar effect, whether in diatonic contexts (where they can render the tonic ambiguous by stripping it to the 3rd, sixth and ninth) or in modal contexts where a tonal center is still implied by a pedal pass.
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In consequence, the home key in the modal jazz developed by Miles Davis and Coltrane never prescribes a series of actions but furnishes expectations that can make an improvisation aesthetically intelligible after the fact. As Rosenberg explains, when Coltrane improvises in modal compositions such as “A Love Supreme” he deploys pentatonic or digital patterns modulated well away from the implied tonal center suggested by a bass line or by the “head” (the tune that traditionally opens or closes a jazz improvisation):
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During his solos, Coltrane performs constant modulations through a series of harmonic targets or, what avant-garde architects Arakawa and Gins would call tentative “landing sites” (2002: 10) that become deployed sonically over a simple harmonic ‘home’ through the use of centered and then increasingly distant pentatonic scales from that home. In doing so, Coltrane seeks to widen what I call “the bandwidth” of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic relationships possible. He does so as he maintains the coherence of the melodic line (or narrative) through the aurally comfortable shapes (from the perspective of the audience especially) enabled by those very pentatonic scales, despite the juxtaposition of distant and dissonant tonal centers implied by this method. (Rosenberg 2010: 211-12).
This differential/transformative structure is, not surprisingly, characteristic of scored Western art music. In his analysis of Anton Webern’s Three Little Pieces for Piano and Cello, Op 11, Julian Johnson argues that the opening two bars of the first piece allude to the framing and introduction of melody in traditional song and opera. For example, in baroque recitative the onset of a lyrical melody is frequently indicated by an arpeggiated chord. However, the high register chord that occurs in the first bar of the piece follows a single muted cello note and is followed, in turn, by a descending piano passage, bathetically marking the absence of the expressive melody portended by the chord (Johnson 1998: 277, 272.).
Culturally transmitted musical structures consist of exquisitely context-sensitive patterns of expectation– like the chord/recitative framing relation discussed by Johnson. These exist in tension with the musical act and are transformed in exemplary works. Their linguistic formulations do not prescribe but indirectly describe how musical transitions are perceived and felt. Thus in the context of improvisation and composition, we are not free in virtue of acknowledging or declining musical norms since these are not in place.
Brassier’s conception of autonomy seems ill adapted to musical contexts, then, even we if buy into his naturalist dismissal of the sovereign self. Thus if we are to tease out the implications of his text for posthuman agency, we need to formulate an alternative account of autonomy in improvisational contexts that is not predicated on the acknowledgement of musical norms.
3. The Time of Improvisation
An improvisation takes place in a time window limited by the memory and attention of the improviser, responding to her own playing, to the other players, or (as Brassier recognises) to the real-time behaviour of machines such as audio processors or midi-filters. It thus consists of irreversible acts that cannot be compositionally refined. They can only be repeated, developed or overwritten by subsequent acts.
Improvisation is thus committed to what Andy Hamilton calls “an aesthetics of imperfection” as opposed to a Platonism for which the musical work is only contingently associated with performances or performers (Hamilton 2000: 172). The aesthetics of imperfection celebrates the genesis of a performance and the embodying of the performer in a specific time and space.
If improvisation is a genesis, it implies an irreversible temporality. Composition or digital editing is always reversible. One develops notational variants of an idea before winnowing them down or rejecting them. One hits Ctl/Cmd + Z in the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) when a mix goes bad.
An improvisation, by contrast, is always a unique and irreversible event on the cusp of another. An omniscient being would be incapable of improvising because its options would be fully known in advance. Unlike the improviser, it could never surprise itself. Its act would be fully represented before it took place and thus reversible.
It follows that an improvisation must exceed the improviser’s power of representation. The improvising agent must work with things or processes that it cannot entirely control or fully know. Paraphrasing Amy Ireland’s discussion of H P Lovecraft and Michel Serres in her excellent paper “Noise: An Ontology of the Avant-garde” improvisation requires a “para-site” – an alien interloper capable of disrupting or perverting the prescribed order of events. In Serres’ retelling of La Fontaine’s tale of the country rat and the city rat, this might be the Master who interrupts the rats’ nocturnal feast and sends the country rat scurrying home. Yet from the human position, it is the rodent feast that interrupts the Master’s sleep. The take home moral of this – for Ireland – is that the context in which a disturbance counts as noise requires a subjectively imposed norm that distorts the radical otherness of an inhuman reality to make it comprehensible for a human subject (Ireland 2014; Roden Forthcoming).
With improvising subjectivity, however, parasitism is the rule – the noise that actualizes an always-tentative decision in real time performance. This sensitive, yet tenuous agency implies a complex disunified subject in the dark about its complexity. As the tagline to Scott Bakker’s ultra-dark near-future thriller Neuropath has it: we are not what we think we are (2010, 2014).
Brassier veers towards such a model at the end of his article. It is, in any case, implied by his naturalistic proposal for explaining the evolution of reasons in terms of the organization of pattern governed physical systems. The freedom of improvisation requires, as he puts it, “an involution of [or reciprocal interaction between] mechanisms” to compose the (“not necessarily human”) agent of the act.
The ideal of ‘free improvisation’ is paradoxical: in order for improvisation to be free in the requisite sense, it must be a self-determining act, but this requires the involution of a series of mechanisms. It is this involutive process that is the agent of the act—one that is not necessarily human. It should not be confused for the improviser’s self, which is rather the greatest obstacle to the emergence of the act. The improviser must be prepared to act as an agent—in the sense in which one acts as a covert operative—on behalf of whatever mechanisms are capable of effecting the acceleration or confrontation required for releasing the act (My emphasis)
The claim that there is a potential act needing to be “released” in a given music setting might appear to impute rule-like structure or normativity to the improvising situation: something that ought to be. However, this claim does not cohere well with context sensitivity and underdetermination of musical expectation described in the previous section.
So what, then, is the nature of the paradoxically compelling, selfless freedom that falls out of this interaction between pattern recognizers, pattern generators and effectors? If we exorcise the specters of transcendental thought –Brassier’s own normative functionalism included – how, if at all, do we conceptualise he calls “the subjectivity of the act” or its “self-determination”?
I think clues about this selfless self-determination can be gleaned from improvising situations we know about. The real of the improvising situation might be all protean complexity, but as with other aspects of the world, we have techniques for coping with that complexity. And these work (more or less).
For example, in a field study of post-hardcore rock musicians, Alec McGuiness provides a vivid example of musicians using a procedural learning technique to prime a series of musical riffs over which their intentional control is fairly limited. Songs are built by associating riffs with riffs, but, as one informant explains, are varied in performance when it “feels right” to do so:
[S]ometimes there’ll be moments when we’re not looking at each other but all four will either hit that heavy thing, or really bring it down […] And yeah, those moments […].. it’s priceless, when everyone just hits the same thing at the same time. […] That’s when you know that that song’s definitely going to work. ‘Cause it’s obviously sort of pressing the same buttons on each of us at the same time. (McGuiness 2009: 19)
So, here, releasing the act involves a distributed response to a “felicitous performance”. This is a collective judgement expressed though performance act itself rather than by application of formal musical rules (of which the performers are largely innocent in any case).
The phenomenology of this act is also dark. All experience is, I have argued elsewhere, striated with “darkness” (Roden 2013; Roden 2014 Ch. 4). Having it only affords a very partial insight into its nature. We are not normally aware of it because, as Bakker writes, consciousness “provides no information about the absence of information.” Experience seems like a gift because we are unmindful of the heavy lifting required to produce it. We are in the dark about the dark.
The “state of grace” felt in felicitous improvisation is, then, an artifact of our technical underdevelopment. A technics like chaining riffs enables a groove but not groove control. It allows us, in Brassier words, to do “something with time” even as time “does something with us” (2014: 469).
However, if this is self-determination but not rule-governed rationality, what is it? I think we can understand this better by utilizing a conception of autonomy that is not exclusive to discursive creatures (as is the case with Kantian or Sellarsian self-determination).
In Posthuman Life, I call this “functional autonomy”. This idea helps articulate an unbounded speculative posthumanism because it applies to any self-maintaining system capable of enlisting values for its functionings or of becoming a value for some wider assemblage. A functionally autonomous system might be discursive and social; it might be a superintelligent but asocial singleton that only wants to produce paperclips. It might be something whose existence is utterly inconceivable to us, like a computational megastructure leeching the energy output of an entire star.
A diminution of functional autonomy is a reduction in power. Arthritis of the limbs painfully reduces freedom of movement and thus the ability to cultivate agency in other ways. Acquiring new skills increases “one’s capacities to affect and be affected, or to put it differently, increase one’s capacities to enter into novel assemblages” (DeLanda 2006: 50).
To be sure, success at improvising is not like acquiring a new skill. However, it requires that the agent embraces and is embraced a reality and time that interrupts any settled structure of values and ends.
This embrace might seem atavistic, divorced from the Promethean prospectus for engineering nature in compliance to reason. But this assumes that the means for engineering nature are compliant. In Posthuman Life I argue, to the contrary, that the systemic complexity of modern technique precludes binding technologies to norms. Modern self-augmenting technical systems are so complex as to be both out of control and characterised by massive functional indeterminacy – rendering them independent of any rules of use.
As the world is re-made by this vast planetary substance any agent located in the system needs to maximize its own ability to acquire new ends and purposes or bet (against the odds) on stable environments or ontological quiescence. Any technology liable to increase our ability to accrue new values and couplings in anomalous environments, then, is of local ecological value (Roden 2014: Ch. 7). This is not because such technologies make us better or happier, but because the only viable response to this deracinative modernity is more of the same.
In this “posthuman predicament” agency must be febrile, even masochistic. The agent must tolerate and practice a systemic violence against itself and its world. Thus improvisation – because it necessarily embraces and is embraced by the involuted mechanisms of performance – rehearses our tryst with the ontological violence of the hypermodern.
Bakker, Scott. 2010. Neuropath. New York: Tor.
Bakker, Scott. 2014. The Blind Mechanic II: Reza Negarestani and the Labor of Ghosts | Three Pound Brain. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/the-blind-mechanic-ii-reza-negarestani-and-the-labour-of-ghosts
Beaty, R. E. (2015). The neuroscience of musical improvisation. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 51, 108-117
Brandom, R. 1994. Making it Explicit: Reasoning, representing, and discursive commitment. Harvard university press.
Brandom, R. 2001. Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Brassier, Ray & Rychter, Marcin (2011).” I Am a Nihilist Because I Still Believe in Truth”. Kronos (March). http://www.kronos.org.pl/index.php?23151,896 (Accessed 9 May 2015).
Brassier, R. 2011b. “The View from Nowhere”. Identities: Journal for Politics,
Gender and Culture 17: 7–23.
Brassier, Ray 2013a. “Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom”, http://www.mattin.org/essays/unfree_improvisation-compulsive_freedom.htm (Accessed March 2015)
Brassier, Ray. 2013b. “Nominalism, Naturalism, and Materialism: Sellars’ Critical Ontology”. In Bana Bashour & Hans D. Muller (eds.), Contemporary Philosophical Naturalism and its Implications. Routledge. 101-114.
Brassier, Ray (2014). “Prometheanism and its Critics”. In R. Mackaey and Avenessian (eds.) #Accelerate: the Accelerationist Reader (Falmouth: Urbanomic), 467-488.
Budd, M. (2001). The Pure Judgement of Taste as an Aesthetic Reflective Judgement. The British Journal of Aesthetics, 41(3), 247-260.
Hickey-Moody, A. 2009. “Little War Machines: Posthuman Pedagogy and Its Media”. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 3(3): 273–80.
Huron, D. B. 2006. Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation. (MIT press).
Ireland, Amy. 2014. “Noise: An Ontology of the Avant-garde” https://www.academia.edu/3690573/Noise_An_Ontology_of_the_Avant-Garde (retrieved 30th April 2015)
Johnson, Julian, 1998. “The Nature of Abstraction: Analysis and the Webern Myth”, Music Analysis, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 267-280.
Limb, C. J., & Braun, A. R. (2008). Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: An fMRI study of jazz improvisation. PLoS One, 3(2), e1679.
McGuiness, A. 2009. Mental and motor representation for music performance (Doctoral dissertation, The Open University).
Proulx, Jeremy (forthcoming). “Nature, Judgment and Art: Kant and the Problem of Genius”. Kant Studies Online.
Roden, David 2013. “Nature’s Dark Domain: An Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology”. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 72: 169–88.
Roden, David. 2014. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.
Roden Forthcoming. “On Reason and Spectral Machines: an anti-normativist response to bounded posthumanism” Forthcoming in Rosi Braidotti Rick Dolphijn (ed.), Philosophy After Nature.
Rosenberg, Martin E. 2010. “Jazz and Emergence (Part One).” Inflexions 4, “Transversal Fields of Experience”: 183-277. www.inflexions.org
Shaviro, Steven. 2015. Allie X, “Catch”. http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1287 (accessed 6 May 2015)
 These determine how one ought to move from one position in the game to another (language-transition rules), assumes an “initial position” in the game – say, by observing some state of the world (language-entry rules) or exits the game by intentionally altering a bit of the world (Sellars 1954, 1974). In the case of assertions, the language-transition rules correspond to principles of material inference such as that allowing us to move to x is coloured from x is red. Language-entry rules, on the other hand, are non-inferential since they are made on the basis of reliable dispositions to discriminate the world (Sellars 1954: 209-10). As Robert Brandom puts it, statements like “This is red” (uttered in response to red things) are “noninferentially elicited but inferentially articulated” (Brandom 1994: 235, 258).
 For example, Robert Brandom cites the conditional (if… then…_statement as “the paradigm of a locution that permits one to make inferential commitments explicit as the content of judgements” (Brandom 29914: 109)
 Compositional prescriptions are regularly honored in the breach: “For hundreds of years musicians have been taught that it is good to resolve a large leap with a step in the other direction. Surely at least some composers followed this advice? The statistical results from von Hippel and Huron imply that for each passage where a composer had intentionally written according to post-skip reversal, then they must have intentionally transgressed this principle in an equivalent number of passages. Otherwise the statistics would not work out.” (David Huron, Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation, p. 84-6). However, the post-skip reversal heuristic is, it seems, applied by musician listeners, which makes sense given that it is easier to apply than a more accurate regression to the mean heuristic – which would require the listener to constantly infer the range (tessitura) of the melody (Ibid.).
 “Improvisation makes the performer alive in the moment; it brings one to a state of alertness, even what Ian Carr in his biography of Keith Jarrett has called the ‘state of grace’. This state is enhanced in a group situation of interactive empathy. But all players, except those in a large orchestra, have choices inviting spontaneity at the point of performance. These begin with the room in which they are playing, its humidity and temperature, who they are playing with, and so on.” (183)
 As she writes: “Looking from the inside out, the transcendental conditioning of experience establishes clarity by admitting certain contents of an unknowable site of primary production; yet from the outside in, the transcendental conditioning of experience is itself a degenerative noise that degrades the clarity of its external input, rendering it unintelligible and ultimately inaccessible to internal modes of apprehension. What, for the observer-as-subject is clarity, for the observer-as-object is noise. As Niklaus Luhman once remarked: ‘Reality is what one does not perceive when one perceives it’ “ (Ireland 2014)
 For example, while improvising in the first eight bars of Miles Davis’ “So What” I might decide (more or less consciously) to play some digital patterns in the home key then transpose these up a minor third. I might have a conception of how I’ll land in the home key of Dm: say by transposing down a tone to Eflatm, resolving to Dm with in a semi-tone descent. This will leave much to be resolved on the fly as my body engages the keys. What patterns will I employ? Will they be varied melodically or rhythmically during the root movement from D to F to E flat? Will they employ chromatic elements (outside the related modes) that further muddy the sense of tonality; will I (at the last) refrain from taking that timid semi-tone resolution, instead repeating or varying the modulation into more harmonically ambiguous terrain?
 For example, space technology, nanotechnology, or the use of brain computer interfaces –
first published here: http://enemyindustry.net/blog/?p=5895
August 18, 2016
first published here: http://musicinafrica.net/zim-ngqawana-music-spirit
June 22, 2016
Musiek is hoog of laag. Dit kan styg of daal (soos berge en dale) met ’n opgaande lopie of ’n afwaartse toonleer. Dit is hier, digby die huis (tonika), of dáár by verwantes (relatiewe of parallelle mineur/majeur, miskien dominante of subdominante toonsoorte). Soms beweeg dit, soos in Schönberg se beskouing van tonaliteit, na verafgeleë uithoeke van groter tonale geografieë, tot by die verste verwyderde omgewing voor dit (indien ooit) terugkeer na die bekende wêreld van die tonika. Musiek as ’n soort res extensa. Orkestrasie is lugtig en ruimtelik, soos by Webern, of konstruktivisties gespierd soos by Brahms. Musiek maak horisontale kontoere en boë deur die afstande tussen note (intervalle). Hierdie afstande word in uitvoering bepaal deur die tydsruimte tussen die einde van een toon en die begin van die volgende te beheer (artikulasie). Musiek is argitektonies monumentaal in vorm soos ’n Beethoven simfonie, of dit is in uitdrukking en vorm intiem soos die salon.
Ons kan musiek nie in taal benader sonder die metafoor van ruimte nie. Individuele kombinasies tone (musikale ‘werke’) is afgebakende ruimtes. Wanneer die ruimtes deur herhaalde betreding bekend geword het, word dit bevolk deur kulturele geheue. Die koesterende aard van sulke ruimtes setel daarin dat die sentiment (emosioneel en/of kultureel) presies gevoel word, maar nie presies in taal uitgedruk kan word nie. Dit is ’n taalweerstandige ruimte.
Om Die Stem as ’n kollektiewe herinnering te ondersoek, steun op hierdie metaforiese verstaan van musiek in die algemeen, en van ’n spesifieke werk in die besonder. Dit is nie ’n ondersoek wat veel te doen het met die geskiedenis van die lied nie. C.J. Langenhoven se vers is slegs die fondament van hierdie plek, M.L. de Villiers se melodie slegs die buitemure daarvan en Hubert du Plessis se amptelike orkestrasie die binneversiering. Die vraag na geheue en herinneringe en van hoe hierdie dinge hierdie teks betrek het, is by uitstek nie ’n vraag na die skryf van geskiedenis nie. Die verbeelding wat op soek is na geheue moet meer poëties te werk gaan.
Figuur 1: David Goldblatt-foto met die beskrywing “Die Heldeakker, The Heroes’ Acre: cemetery for White members of the security forces killed in ‘The Total Onslaught’ Ventersdorp, Transvaal, 1 November 1986”.
Die slotfrase van Die Stem word heel letterlik ‘triomferend’ (die karakteraanduiding in die musiek) gespan as sin-gewende banier oor hierdie afgekampte ruimte. Dit skenk definisie aan die ruimte van die militêre begraafplaas. Hoor die kyker dit? Die twee gestorwenes in die begraafplaas word opgedra deur die kontoer van die melodie: B-mol-A-G-B-mol-D-E-mol. Die gepunteerde ritmiese aanhef van die frase, gerig deur die tussendominante harmonie besweer twyfel, stu vorentoe, mik na die oplossing aan die einde van die frase. Die einde is gerusstellend as einde. Dit maak sin. Dit besorg ons tuis.
Goldblatt se foto dateer uit 1986. Dit is verskoonbaar om Die Stem in hierdie tyd te hoor as ’n militêre lied; die kontoere en ritmes en harmonieë daarvan as skanse teen die vyand, as onderskraging vir dié wat oor die uiteindelike oorwinning sou twyfel. Vir André P. Brink is Die Stem egter ook die lied van marteling in die sewentigerjare:
… telkens word die belhamel van die betogers gearresteer, gemartel en doodgemaak: dan ontstaan nuwe protes, en daaruit kom nuwe martelaars. So hou dit aan tot daar ’n doodse stilte toesak waaruit Die Stem begin groei terwyl ’n groepie Volkspelers in spierwit maskers oor die lyke van die martelaars begin dans.
Dit is ook hierdie ‘Stem’ wat aan die einde van J.M. Coetzee se Age of iron die nagmerrie-visie van die hel van ’n klankbaan voorsien. “I am afraid”, sê die sterwende mevrou Curran, “of going to hell and having to listen to Die stem (sic) for all eternity”. Die Stem wat die kis van Milla Redelinghuys haar graf in begelei aan die einde van Marlene van Niekerk se Agaat, ’n ander teneur. Wanneer die plaas Grootmoedersdrift in besit geneem word deur die bruin vrou, Agaat, gevorm deur die wit vrou wat haar liefgehad en verwerp het, is dit Die Stem wat op ’n dubbelsinnige manier verandering en voortsetting artikuleer:
Gaat wat die mense by die graf die derde versie van Die Stem laat sing: … by die klink van huw’liksklokkies, by die kluitklap op die kis … Thys se liggaamstaal! Die skouers militaristies agtertoe, oë strak na bo, ou Beatrice starend na die einder. Die werkers, mans en vrouens, het dit gesing soos ’n hallelujalied, oë omgedop. Woordvas tot en met. Trust Agaat. Sy sal nie sommer gou die nuwe lied invoer nie.
Maar hoe het historiese resepsie gelei tot ’n stelselmatig-groeiende fascistiese timbre wat uitvoerings en resepsies van Die Stem in die tagtigerjare gekenmerk het en ook in bogenoemde voorbeelde uit die letterkunde opgeroep word? Daar was immers ’n tyd toe Die Stem ’n bevrydingslied was vir Afrikaners, ’n alternatiewe teks vir kollektiewe musikale mobilisasie as God Save The Queen. Hierdie essay wil die enkele aangehaalde voorbeelde van fiksienarratief-gemedieërde herinneringe aan Die Stem probeer koppel aan historiese proses, soos dit verteenwoordig word in argiefdokumente van die FAK uit die vyftigerjare.
In 1952, vyf jaar voor Die Stem die enigste amptelike volkslied van Suid-Afrika sou word, loods die Afrikaanse Kultuurraad van Pretoria ’n inisiatief om “drie gesaghebbendes se mening oor die gepaste geleenthede, wanneer ’n Volkslied behoort gesing of gespeel te word, te verneem”. Uit Stellenbosch skryf dr. C.G.S. (Con) de Villiers:
Ek is van geaardheid en opvoeding uiters konserwatief, veral wat die heilige dinge van ons volk betref. En Die Stem het een daarvan geword. Ek het dit selfs bitter betreur dat Die Stem aan die end van die voetbalwedstryde in Engeland gesing en gespeel is … Daar is vir my net een leidraad vir die sing: besit die vergadering poids et majesté in die Calvynse kriterium? Dan kan Die Stem gesing word!
De Villiers se antwoord kan slegs ten dele aangehaal word. In die res van die brief spreek hy hom ook uit teen die sing van Die Stem by politieke vergaderings aangesien hy as lid van die Nasionale Party dit sal “betreur indien die Sappe Die Stem as visitekaartjie van die [Nasionale] Party aanskou”. Die verskriklikste vergryp teen Die Stem bestempel hy as “’n juffroutjie [wat] aan die klavier gaan sit en haar eie, apokriewe harmonie (?) by die wysie maak”.
In 1952 het Die Stem vir De Villiers dus reeds een van die ‘heilige dinge’ van die Afrikaner geword, ’n plek van aanbidding. Sy afkeure dui op moontlike kontaminerende invloede: sport, politiek en ‘juffroutjies’. Wat laasgenoemde betref is die gevaar vir besmetting gesetel in die harmonie en nie enige van die ander parameters nie. Histories (’n mens dink aan Jean-Jacques Rousseau, die Konsilie van Trent) kan hierdie vrees gekoppel word aan ’n filosofiese en ideologiese verbintenis aan die woord, waarvan die helderheid deur meer komplekse vertikale musikale bedrywighede vertroebel word. Meer hieroor later.
Vir De Villiers is Die Stem as heilige ruimte ’n ruimte van goeie smaak en hoër dinge. Sy gepubliseerde geskrifte is deurspek met hierdie politieke en gender-vooroordele wat uiting vind as pseudo-estetiese oordele. Mussolini se ondertekende portret wat in sy sitkamer uitgestal was gekoppel met sy Verdi verering, die invloed van Engelse ‘songs’ wat soos ’n slegte reuk aan sy verlede bly kleef het, die herinnering van “hartstogtelike, barbaarse Sigeunervolksdanse wat die jong Jood vir die besadigde, burgerlike Afrikanerhuisgesin voorgespeel het”; koördinate van hoe ’n mens De Villiers se kamp ‘poids et majesté’ kan rekonstrueer. Die Stem as soete inval.
Doktor H.C.E. Bosman, destydse sekretaris van die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, skryf op 16 Junie 1952 dat Die Stem gesing kan word by “geleenthede waarin volksgevoel tot natuurlike uiting kom.” Dit sluit in “algemene Volksfeeste, Dingaansfeeste, Uniedag, Heldedag, Van Riebeeckdag, Parlementêre verrigtinge, funksies waarby die Staatshoof of regering betrokke is, funksies waarby die Provinsiale Administrasie of Stedelike Administrasie verbonde is”. Bosman dink nie dat Die Stem by groot politieke vergaderings ‘onvanpas’ is nie, en dink dat dit ook by “Kultuurbyeenkomste, Laertrekke, Volkspele, groot samekomste van die Jeug, Internasionale wedstryde of byeenkomste” gehoor kan word. Uitgesluit is “Bruilofte, Danspartye, Skemerpartye, Bioskope, Kampe, Toneelopvoerings, Konserte, Pieknieks”. Die rede wat hy hiervoor verskaf is dat dit ’n navolging sou wees van “die Engelse gebruik en dit is deels monargisties-tradisioneel, deels doelbewuste imperialistiese propaganda”. Die Stem is dus ’n anti-Britse ruimte, maar meer nog: dit beset ruimtes van die staat. In hierdie ontluikende diskoers is Die Stem as simbool nie meer ’n ruimte wat betrek word nie, dit is ’n ding met ’n plek.
Vir prof. A.N. Pelzer van die Universiteit van Pretoria is ’n Volkslied
… ’n verhewe uiting van die standhoudende aspirasies wat diep in die volksiel leef. Dit dui op die verlange dat volk en Staat sal voortbestaan en dit dien as ’n middel om die volk saam te snoer tot ’n hegte eenheid en hom also te sterk om die verhewe ideale wat vir volk en staat gekoester word, te verwesenlik. Dit styg uit bo die tydelike en dui op ewige en onverganklike waardes.
Die Stem is ’n metafisiese ruimte van aspirasie en idealisme. Daar kan slegs reg daaraan geskied word deur dit uit te voer by “byeenkomste waar die oogmerk van die byeenkoms nie tot homself beperk is nie maar die tendens inhou om waardes te wek wat ook vir die toekoms betekenis sal hê”, aldus Pelzer. Hy vrees ook dat Die Stem misbruik kan word, te wete deur Die Stem aan dieselfde “laagvloerse behandeling van die Engelse volkslied” te onderwerp. Die transendentale is nie ’n Engelse ruimte nie.
Die Afrikaanse Kultuurraad van Pretoria se intervensie oor hierdie belangrike saak het die FAK tot verdere ondersoek gedring. ’n Opinie is aangevra (en verkry) van die Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU), wat die sing van die lied by skoolfunksies aanbeveel het “om by die jeug van ons land gesonde vaderlandsliefde in te skerp”. Na al hierdie beraadslaging word daar ’n besluit geneem tydens ’n vergadering van die Musiekkommissie van die FAK op 25 April 1953:
Die vergadering beveel by die FAK aan om dit onder die volk te propageer:
a) Dat ‘Die Stem’ alleen gesing word by geleenthede wat landsverteenwoordigende waarde het;
b) dat daarteen gewaak moet word dat ‘Die Stem’ nie in dieselfde gebruik as ‘The Queen’ beland nie;
c) dat waar ‘Die Stem’ wel gespeel word, dit in sy geheel en nie verbrokkel gedoen moet word nie;
d) dat by die afsluiting van byeenkomste ander liedere bv. Afrikaners Landgenote gesing word.
Dit is belangrik om te registreer wat hier besig was om te gebeur: die kontrole, die anti-Britse sentiment, die van-mense-verwyderde estetika van ’n museumstuk wat gepropageer is. Die gevoel dat Die Stem nie net ’n lied was nie, maar ’n mistieke sleutel tot die Afrikanervolk se selfstandigheid. Dit is dus nie verrassend nie, dat wanneer Die Stem in 1957 as enigste amptelike Volkslied van die Republiek aanvaar word, geen oortreffende trap genoegsaam is om die vreugde in die geledere van die lied se kurators in die FAK te beskryf nie. ’n Telegram van gelukwense word aan die eersteminister gestuur:
Aan: Sy Edele Die Eerste Minister, Die Volksraad, Kaapstad
Die verklaring van Die Stem van Suid-Afrika tot amptelike en enigste Volkslied van Suid-Afrika is vir elkeen van die duisende lede van die FAK ’n bron van die hoogste sielsverrukking. Daarmee is ’n lang gekoesterde volksideaal verwesenlik en een van die belangrikste bakens op ons weg na volwaardige nasieskap geplant. Daarmee verdwyn die laaste van die voormalige veroweraar se simbole wat vir meer as ’n halfeeu triomferend oor ons getroon het. Ons bring hulde aan U Edele persoonlik en aan elke lid van die Regering.
Van: Sekretaris FAK
Hoogste sielsverrukking! Een van die belangrikste bakens op ons weg na volwaardige nasieskap. Die Stem het die Afrikanerpartituur van nasieskap geword. Drie dae na die versending van hierdie telegram, skryf die voorsitter van die FAK, prof. H.B. Thom, ’n brief van gelukwensing aan J.G. Strydom waarin hy die belang van Die Stem as volg verwoord:
U het die Afrikanerdom, en inderdaad die ganse Suid-Afrika, ’n belangrik stap vorentoe gevoer op die pad van volle, ongekwalifiseerde geestelike selfstandigheid, wat so ’n onmisbare voor-vereiste vir ware ekonomiese en staatkundige selfstandigheid uitmaak. Ek voel oortuig daarvan dat die Geskiedenis nog eendag die enorme betekenis van u leiding in verband met ons volkslied op treffende wyse en in sy volle omvang sal laat sien.
Volle, ongekwalifiseerde geestelike selfstandigheid. Dit is een formulering van wat die betekenis van hierdie lied was in die ore van die Afrikaners van daardie tyd. Maar selfs nadat Die Stem as enigste amptelike Volkslied van die Republiek aanvaar is, het die beheersug daaroor in die geledere van Afrikanerleiers nie verdwyn nie. Geestelike selfstandigheid is, helaas, nie ’n waarborg vir goeie smaak nie. En nie net moes die melodie volksbesit wees en bly nie, maar ook daardie verkankerende korrupsie waarteen doktor Con de Villiers gewaarsku het, afwykende harmonie, moes as volksvreemd uit Die Stem verwyder word. ’n FAK Musiekkommissie-notule van 12 Maart 1960 dokumenteer die volgende bespreking:
Mnr. A. Hartman rapporteer dat die SAUK ’n plaat van Gideon Fagan se verwerking van Die Stem van Suid-Afrika op die mark wou bring met die versoek dat die Regering goedkeuring daaraan gee as die aanvaarde amptelike verwerking. Die Musiekkommissie se beskouing is dat die verwerking nie aanvaarbaar is nie, veral daar dit die harmonie ingrypend verander, en gee voorkeur aan die verwerking van ds. M.L. de Villiers.
Mnr. A. Hartman meld ook dat dr. F.C.L. Bosman, voorsitter van die S.A. Musiekraad, prof. [Friedrich] Hartman (sic) van die Universiteit van die Witwatersrand, se mening oor die saak ingewin het. Laasgenoemde se mening, wat in Engels opgestel is, word aan die Kommissie voorgelees. Daaruit blyk dit dat hy ds. M.L. de Villiers se verwerking op tegniese punte aanval.
Mnr. A. Hartman se mening is dat die stempel geplaas moet word op wat in ons volkstradisie pas en nie juis op die beste tegniese toonsettings nie.
Dr. G.G. Cillíe wys daarop dat prof. Hartman (sic) die verwerking van Gideon Fagan so in die superlatief aanprys en dié van ds. M.L. de Villiers so radikaal verdoem, dat ons beslis kan sê dat dit nie ’n objektiewe en wetenskaplike mening is nie en dat dit daarom geheel-en-al verwerp kan word.
Op 14 Maart 1960 word ’n brief namens die FAK se Musiekkommissie aan prof. H.B. Thom geskryf, vermoedelik deur die FAK se sekretaris. In hierdie brief word ’n ‘dringende saak’ geopper, naamlik die beplande plaatopname van Die Stem deur die SAUK. Die bron van ongelukkigheid is die Fagan ‘vierstemmige verwerking’ wat deur prof. Friedrich Hartmann aangeprys is:
Ons het ook die (Engelse) kommentaar van prof. Hartman (sic) voor ons gehad. Die inhoud daarvan is kortliks dat die M.L. de Villiers-verwerking hopeloos is en die Fagan-verwerking foutloos is. Die Musiekkommissie is van mening dat so ’n absolute verdoeming van die een en absolute ophemeling van die ander nie as ’n wetenskaplik-objektiewe beoordeling aanvaar kan word nie.
En dan volg die doodsteek:
Die Fagan-verwerking se tempo van 60 kwartnote per minuut is onaanvaarbaar stadig en is blykbaar ’n nabootsing van God Save the Queen se tempo.
Die Stem word verengels deurdat dit meer soos ’n himne en minder soos ’n mars gespeel word. Maar die antagonisme teenoor alles wat Engels is, van die karakter van die Engelse nasionale lied tot die voortdurende beklemtoning van die negatiewe kommentaar as ‘in Engels’ maak dit duidelik dat die motiewe hier sterk geanker is in nasionalistiese diskoerse. Dat daar ’n onderliggende wantroue is teenoor ‘die beste tegniese toonsettings’ is duidelik, en dat hierdie wantroue geleë kan wees in die (onbewuste) bevestiging van die Afrikaanse woord as potensieel kwesbaar vir ‘volksvreemde’ harmonie, is ’n ryk gedagte. Die kleinlike Afrikanerpolitiek wat agter hierdie polemiek woed word puntsgewys deur die briefskrywer aan Thom verduidelik. Kortliks is dit ’n “set” deur die “volkvyande van die Afrikaner” om Gideon Fagan as hoofdirigent van die SAUK aangestel te kry, eerder as die voorsitter van die Musiekkommissie van die FAK, Anton Hartman. Of Friedrich Hartmann se opinie musikaal verantwoord is, is nie ter sake nie:
Die opinies wat deur hulle ingewin is, is slegs van mense wat hoegenaamd nie in ons Afrikaanse volkslewe staan nie. As volksliedere en harmoniesering [sic] daarvan, suiwer op musikale perfektheid beoordeel moet word, sou Die Stem in die eerste plek nooit aanvaar gewees het nie.
’n Brief met ’n appèl dat die M.L. de Villiers-toonsetting deur die regering as amptelike toonsetting erken word, is vervolgens ook deur die FAK aan dr. H.F. Verwoerd gestuur.
Wat sou ’n mens kon aflei uit hierdie erbarmlike politiek oor harmonisering, oor geskiktheid van plek en geleentheid, oor waardigheid en gewigtigheid? Beslis dat daar niks neutraal aan hierdie lied is nie, en dat hierdie politieke lading wat aan Die Stem kleef nie slegs van ons tyd is en deur die ‘vyande van die Afrikaner’ terugskouend versin word nie, maar histories deur Afrikaners aangevoor en verstaan is. Ook dat die soort verstikkende beheer wat die Afrikaner se Republiek sou kenmerk ook hierdie lied in selfverheerlikende middelmatigheid sou knel. Laastens dat ook musiek nie die konkelary van die Broeders kon vryspring nie.
Die Stem as Afrikaanse herinneringsplek: Goldblatt se tragiese leegheid, Brink se martelaarsdirge, Van Niekerk se beseëlende kluitklap op die kis van die Republiek, Coetzee se weergawe van die hel, Con de Villiers se ‘poids et majesté’, Anton Hartman se volkstradisie, H.B. Thom se ‘geestelike selfstandigheid’. Verskillende herinneringe in konflik met mekaar, sprekend van verskillende geskiedenisse.
PV 202 1/2/1/4/2/2/1, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
PV 202 1/2/3/4/2/2/1, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
PV 202 1/2/3/4/2/2/3, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Brink, A.P. Kennis van die aand. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau  1983.
Coetzee, J.M. Age of iron. Londen: Penguin 1990.
Die sneeu van anderjare. Kaapstad: Tafelberg 1976.
Goldblatt, D. South Africa: the structure of things then. Kaapstad: Oxford University Press 1998.
Hyer, B. “Tonality”, in: T. Christiensen (red.). The Cambridge history of Western music theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002, 726-752.
Lüdemann, W. “‘Uit die diepte van ons see’: an archetypal interpretation of selected examples of Afrikaans patriotic music”, in: SAMUS 23, 2003, 13-42.
Muller, S. “Exploring the aesthetics of reconciliation: rugby and the South African national anthem”, in: SAMUS 21, 2001, 19-38.
Soete inval: nagelate geskrifte van Con de Villiers. Kaapstad: Tafelberg 1979.
Van Niekerk, M. Agaat. Kaapstad: Tafelberg 2004.
Vergelyk die bespreking van die retoriek van tonaliteit in Brian Hyer se “Tonality”, in: T. Christiensen (red.), The Cambridge history of Western music theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 726-752, veral p. 733.
Hierdie essay handel nie oor die geskiedenis of ideologiese konteks en betekenis van ‘Die Stem’ nie. Meer kan oor hierdie aspekte gelees word in S. Muller, “Exploring the aesthetics of reconciliation: rugby and the South African national anthem”, in: SAMUS 21, 2001, 19-38; Vergelyk ook W. Lüdemann se “Uit die diepte van ons see: an archetypal interpretation of selected examples of Afrikaans patriotic music”, in: SAMUS 23, 2003, 13-42.
D. Goldblatt, South Africa: the structure of things then (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1998), 154 en 243.
A.P. Brink, Kennis van die aand (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau,  1983), 314.
J.M. Coetzee, Age of iron (Londen: Penguin, 1990), 181.
M. van Niekerk. Agaat (Kaapstad: Tafelberg, 2004), 701.
Vergelyk lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Vergelyk lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Vergelyk Soete inval: nagelate geskrifte van Con de Villiers (Kaapstad: Tafelberg, 1979), 26-27 en 50-51. Vergelyk ook Die sneeu van anderjare (Kaapstad: Tafelberg, 1976), 72.
Lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Vergelyk brief van 14 Februarie 1953, PV 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Vergelyk notule van die vergadering van die Musiekkommissie, 25 April 1953, PV 202 1/2/3/4/2/2/1, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein. Vergelyk ook Bylae A by die agenda van die Musiekkommissievergadering van 6 Julie 1954, getiteld “Verslag van die FAK-kommissie insake ‘Die Stem’ soos gewysig deur die Afrikaanse Nasionale Kultuurraad”, PV 202 1/2/1/4/2/2/1, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Sien telegram van 3 Mei 1957, PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Brief van H.B. Thom aan J.G. Strydom, 6 Mei 1957, PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Notule van ’n vergadering van die FAK Musiekkommissie, 12 Maart 1960, PV 202 1/2/3/4/2/2/3, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Brief aan H.B. Thom, 14 Maart 1960; Lêer PV 202 2/4/1/3/1/4, INEG, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, Bloemfontein.
Die brief is gedateer 21 Maart 1960. Ontvangs is deur die eersteminister se kantoor erken op 28 Maart 1960 en ’n volledige antwoord is op 25 Mei 1960 deur die sekretaris van die eersteminister aan die FAK gestuur. Hierin het die regering wyslik besluit om “onsydig” te staan ten opsigte van “alle harmoniserings of verwerkings van die komposisie vir orkes of stemme of wat ook al”, met dien verstande dat sodanige verwerkings “binne die raamwerk van die erkende komposisie bly en met waardigheid en toewyding en by gepaste geleenthede uitgevoer word”.
June 17, 2016
first published here: http://musicinafrica.net/mapping/overview-texts?page=30