Well,Well Cornelius, 22 Oct 2008
By Scarecrow "ginz1" (Chicago, Illinois United States)
This review is from: Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished (Paperback)lots of richly diverse reflections,heartfelt anomalies, ancedotal paraphenalia of substance herein;
Tilbury's work suggests E.P.Thompson's powerful lifeworlds of English working people,not only theories of emancipation, but how, and why people live; something the New Left learned quickly. But also Tilbury's work embraces Sartre's opus on the bourgeois Flaubert, with fragments of aesthetic reflections promuligated, the personal homespun particles of places, images, abandoned lovers, notational processes of life; although a "life" can be read as an axiom for all human existence This work also suggests those words of Isaac Deutscher, his potent readings on the sweeps of history of Soviet Russia and the consequences; "The Prophet Outcast" was Cardew;(as blasphemous as that sounds to some), Tilbury's painstaking words here are also substantive, situating his own marxist perspective from the committed timbre of his voice,his disgust with the systems that produce poverty and corruption generation after generation;as now the greed-mongers and their bailouts of the world banking systems; far beyond what Cardew may have thought.
Here as well there are gentle words for a fallen comrade, with wonderful vintage photos as the young Cardew(circa 1943) with his two brothers, and the powerful durable image of their mother standing behind them,his strength emanated from her. But Tilbury had struggled with this comradeship for decades. He once gave up his means of subsistence allowing Cardew to borrow his grand piano for a concert, takened through the front window with a hoist on Arbuthnot Road, London. The piano was returned a few days later; and their aquaintance holds through then. It dates from circa 1960, engaged as duo-pianists for concerts in London, possibly Cage, Feldman and Cardew, perhaps the elegant "Two Books of Studies". Then taking the Berlin night-train to the Warsaw Autumn Festival, as a small cultural cadre managing the British avant-garde as in a sealed vial. The way the Germans allowed Lenin to mount the train to Russia they thought inconsequential.
Cardew's life was enigmatic; he first embraced the new music avant-garde,studying with Stockhausen; but affirming quite early his own unique ways/means,taking conceptual pathways that added richness to innovations in the post-war avant-garde; he thought these experimental strains only went so far, at an expense, of communication; that the avant-garde as time progressed seemed to develop only higher levels of abstractions, as Engels said of free thinkers, those who simply prefer to soar higher in the sky than all previous contemplations to date; for music then its agendas its schemes of engaged alienation(a term of Eddie Prevost) an elitist separation against a public sphere, preferring the comforts of art collectors buying their wares and galleries as Cage; the culprits did in fact become Stockhausen and Cage,and the cadres who supported them;both did 'serve imperialism',as Cardew's seminal book from the Seventies "Stockhausen serves Imperialism" a full chapter given by Tilbury in exposition of its extremist positions;we all do serve some Master and experimentalism in music was only important up to a point, and Cardew soon responded quite early with relevant alternatives as his monumental "Treatise", a graphic piece in impeccable notation with no instructions to make musicians speak again in dialogue,no cold abstractions, of arbitrarily placing plexiglass sheets over grids for density levels and spatial distributions of tone and timbres, (as Cage's "Fontana Mix")Later the 9-Hour "Great Learning" written for any numbers of performers from any musicianship class.
As interesting as the avant-garde seem to be Cardew thought it useless for average working people, and it was, innovation exists and functions only within specific contexts, and at a social cost, something all his critics really never understood about Cardew. The West ran an overabundance of surplus of culture with what Ernst Mandel calls, "late capitalism". Tilbury weaves Cardew's personal history within a larger contect of cultural and social history.
Tilbury also provides fascinating fragments of Cardew's "Lebenswelt"; The flat on Agar Grove Road, I recall a photo of Cardew at his writing desk lining a musical score,this was the coldest place in London,said Fredric Rzewski, a place where the outside schrubbery made its way through the large windows. This work builds on countless interviews and reflections with those who knew Cor even tangentially during his various "lives", unfinished, incomplete, with questions, blindspots, brilliances, innovations, and activist dialogue. As Cardew's coffee cup with a chip in it,made by the Cardew family artisan potters whose work retains a substantive longevity, as Cardew's life itself. His last place of existence on Leyton Park Road,reveals this longevity with its small yet livable rooms where meetings were held numerously with an inspired simple garden,then inside off the two windowed garden doors we find a crowded parlor with marxist newspapers, leftist theoretical books and journals, music manuscript,flowers and a tattered white upright piano.
Cardew lived in Germany (circa 1973) in odd amounts of time, did translations to English of numerous books and always found a means for his activism, as the "Bethanien Song", a mass song in the tradition of Eisler,in response to the closing of a health facility in Berlin (Kreuzberg) replacing it with an art gallery, both were needed said friend Erhard Grosskopf, but both could not be maintained, and again Tilbury provides great details on the elaborate lengths the Berlin government went to "freeze" out the impovershied, through lack of doctors and medical centers for the working poor. In the USA this is "red-lining" to isolate neighborhoods to become blighted allowing venture capitalists to escape with their millions.
The bourgeois period circa 1954-1968 is represented and roughly has interest even today with fascinating resonances for the piano, the "February Pieces", and the dedications to friends in the "Three Winter Potatoes".This music was rejected during the period contemplated in fits of left extremism. This music became "orphaned" castigated set outside the door in the cold. Cardew came to regret his apostasy in some respects, where toward the end of his life was beginning to mend fences; and again Tilbury does not flinch in explicatories of contexts of the extremism Cardew took, first with the importation of a simplified Maoism into London, certainly not as vigorous as Sartre's or Godard's in Paris. Cardew it seemed only read Marx is specific closed-minded ways, never appreciating the contexts of political situations and assessing their potentials.
Cardew's activism began in the Scratch Orchestra,(circa 1970)in the context of the rebellions in Europe against the war in Vietnam, but also for changes within education,employment and the avant-garde. He grew indifferent to the world political situation in which culture had found itself, thereby re-channeling his creativity to writing music for political causes, benefits for striking workers, funds for families whose homes were firebombed by Right-Wing extremists. The avant-garde came to look pretentious, and indulgent by immediate comparison.
1,000 odd pages we have here, Tilbury took no shortcuts in his mural-like durational frames of Cardew full life; including his arrests and imprisonments in Camberwell; Cardew was also homeless for a time living in a train station in the north of London maintaining and keeping it clean for its users; But loved and hated by some nonetheless.
The numerous memorial concerts after his death and yearly recognitions seem to set off a resurgence in his musical work for a time; Concerts and memorials continue throughout the globe performing all his oeuvre was accomplished. Cardew was killed in a suspicious road accident,December 1981 so it was revealed without much reportage, also any clear evidence has refused to emerge and remains shrouded. Here Tilbury for the first time gives an account on the these suspicions surrounding Cardew's fall in the street with a blow to the head, without socks returning home either from a lesson in Chinese,or a trip to Birmingham.