a conversation

Quotations of Luciano Berio are taken from Luciano Berio Two
, with Rossana Dalmonte and Bálint Anrás Varga, trans.
& ed. by David Osmond-Smith, Marion Boyars, New York, 1985.

Quotations of Jean Dubuffet are taken from Asphyxiating
, Jean Dubuffet, First Four Walls Eight Windows, 1988,
trans. Carol Volk.

Text compiled by John Fowler.
Line drawings by Sara Fowler.

GRIST On-Line, 1996

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People who make themselves a poetics out of
proliferating other people's material with semi-
automatic procedures make me feel slightly sick.
It needs the irony, the speculative and slightly talmudic
brain of Kagel to give a sense to the systematic
exploitation of other people's musical (and not only
musical) work. It needs the genius of Sanguineti to
give an ethical, as well as a poetic sense to the
mass of allusions, the universal work that inhabits his
- Luciano Berio

It may be that writing, due to the concrete form it must take, has a much more dulling effect on thought than oral is possible that it brings about an entanglement of one's thought, and an inclination for them to enter into the traditional modes of expression, which alter them.
- Jean Dubuffett

I'd had it in mind for a long time to explore from the inside a piece of music from the past: a creative exploration that was at the same time an analysis, a commentary and an extension of the original. This follows from my principle that, for a composer, the best way to analyze and comment on a piece is to do something, using materials from that piece. The most profitable commentary on a symphony or an opera has always been another symphony or another opera.
- Luciano Berio
Things have names only for those who see them from without, for those who are foreign to them. Those who are can no longer name them; at this point these things will no longer be able to present themselves as notions to the mind.
- Jean Dubuffet
We're always dealing with models, even those that we
make for ourselves, and our work consists in widening
the field of transformational paths until we manage to
transform one thing into another, as in a fairy tale.
- Luciano Berio
- Jean Dubuffet
You sometimes get the impression that musicians let themselves be chosen by the new technologies, without being able to establish, dialectically, a relationship of real and profound necessity. One can, in fact, move indifferently from one system to another, from one calculator to another (they are always faster, more sophisticated, powerful, and they are always smaller) without having really musically used what one had before.
- Luciano Berio
When the notion of art, and not only that of painting, will have ceased to be conceived of as perceived, when the mind will have ceased to project art as a notion to be gazed upon, and art will be integrated in such a manner that thought, instead of facing it, will be inside it; at which point, it will cease to be among the things apt to be named.
- Jean Dubuffet
In music, as I find myself forever saying, things don't get better or worse: they evolve and transform themselves. It is often we ourselves who are incapable of taking in the nexus of those transformations, and we ourselves, again, who sometimes fail to look in the direction of the highest and best part of ourselves and our surroundings....
- Luciano Berio
We can only rid ourselves of the Western bourgeois caste by unmasking and demystifying its phony culture. It serves everywhere as this caste's weapon and the Trojan horse.
- Jean Dubuffet
First of all, I defined the key points of the text [for Thema]...After selecting the material, I linked the words according to their acoustical properties rather than simply their order of occurrence. After that, I connected them according to their meaning. In other words, I established an acoustical and a semantic frame and then transformed the words alternately according to the requirements of one or the other, with various technical means, most of them perhaps rudimentary: complicated editing, filters, acceleration, slowing down etc.
- Luciano Berio
It is naive to think that the few meager deeds and few meager works that happened to be preserved from the past are necessarily the best and most important of the thoughts of these times. Their preservation results only from the fact that a small coterie chose and applauded them, while eliminating all others.
- Jean Dubuffet
I'm interested in music that mimes and, in a certain, sense, describes that prodigious phenomenon that lies at the heart of language: sound becoming sense. Because of this it's important to also have an acoustic understanding of the verbal material, so as to be able to re-enter and reconquer sense through the acoustic dimension.
- Luciano Berio
Those who celebrate culture do not think enough about the great number of humans and the innumberable character of productions of the mind. They do not think enough about all the forms of thought's expression other than writing, and especially refined writing. Naively convinced that there is no worthwhile thought outside of refined writing, they believe that by counting the works in the library they can grasp the totality of all that has ever been thought. This simplistic aspiration to count everything, in all domains, is typical of cultured people; they see the world as small, simple, able to be divided into sections, able to be cataloged.
- Jean Dubuffet
Thema was of basic significance in my work because through it I experienced the text not as a closed, unchangeable object but as one whose meaning and sound both allow the proliferation of new functions.
- Luciano Berio
The choice of works to be preserved has always been made, at all times, by cultured people, and our cultured people of today are unaware of the misleading nature of this selection, which has been filtered in advance. They should especially keep in mind the very small number of people who write books as compared to those who never write them and for whose thoughts one would search the card catalog in vain. The Westerner's idea that culture is the business of books, painting, and monuments is childish, and it is likely that the most highly intellectual nations left no traces of this sort -- nor any traces at all, perhaps -- and that among them thought was only expressed orally.
- Jean Dubuffet
For me acting musically means making complementary or harmonizing the terms of an opposition or a group of oppositions - making them concrete, that is. The relation between practical and spiritual spheres in music is obvious, if only because it demands ears, fingers, consciousness and intellect. But both spheres are in turn inhabited by innumerable oppositons, not necessarily symmetrical ones, which are not so much the emanation of a methodology (such as Jakobson's phonology) as of a historical and expressive musical reality.
- Luciano Berio
Thus the works that make up the very substance of culture -- books, paintings, monuments -- must first be regarded as resulting from a misleading choice made by the cultured people of the time (people who were certainly very culturally conditioned) and next, as providing us with altered thoughts -- thoughts, moreover, that are only those very particular thoughts of cultured people, belonging to a minuscule caste.
- Jean Dubuffet