The Sienese Shredder - Art Design Literature Poetry Music Culture News
Sienese Shredder 4 Now Available

Limited Edition Slipcased Set The Sienese Shredder 1–4
Available now

Mauricio Kagel and
Walter Klüppelholz

Inverted America


In 1976 Argentine-German composer Mauricio Kagel wrote and recorded Die Umkehrung Amerikas (Inverted America), an “epic radio play” for broadcast on WDR, a West German radio network. The following translation comprises excerpts from an interview with Kagel and a critical look at the work, both by Werner Klüppelholz, Professor of Music Pedagogy at the University of Siegen, and long-time friend of Kagel.


Mauricio Kagel: I first read Antonin Artaud’s essay “The Theatre of Cruelty” in 1948, in his essay collection with the lovely title, Le Théâtre et son double. What amazed me and filled me with enthusiasm was his total sympathy for and solidarity with the South American Indians. He announced as the theme of the first production of his “Theatre of Cruelty” the murderous conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortes and the Spanish army. While Artaud only sketched out the basics of his intentions, it seemed to me then to be the perfect match of artistic principles with an act of true barbarity. I have often thought that artists make the best historians. Given that absolute objectivity is not possible, I very much prefer the resolute lack of objectivity of literary or theatrical interpretations. Facts of every provenance are in the end always so seriously (or unseriously) manipulated that one feels justified in doubting the very concept of facts.

Still, it pleased me at the time that a non-South American intellectual was seriously interested in the Indians’ culture. He naturally combined his thirst for knowledge with his search for extreme states of all kinds. He wrote in detail about the rituals and false paradises of the Tarahumaras, today a nearly extinct Mexican Indian tribe. Chauvanism, religious drug use and the poetry of heathen beliefs occupied him in a measure equal to that to which the colonization of the world occupied the European powers. It is revolting, and not just from a modern perspective, that every great nastiness of history has not only been blessed by, but in fact done in the name of, pastoral requirements or decrees. A horror without end, a mania that still lives and is incessantly repeated. Not for nothing have I sought to portray the frightening repertoire of methods of intimidation and torture used by the Spanish—or for that matter, the Germans, or the French, or the Americans, etc.—in my 1976 composition for radio, Inverted America.

The present rebellion of the Chiapas points out how deep remains the misery and humiliation of these tribes within Mexican society. It is the same across all of South America. The attempt to capture in words the suffering of the Indians under the whites’ schemes to destroy them is probably hopeless—even if I did give my work the subtitle An Epic Radio Play.
Here is an excerpt:

Spanish Soldier III:

Possessed by fiendish pride
Men murder the same.
In holy fire no one reserves
Rights or can make demands.
Callous, merciless barbarians:
Your disgraceful deeds and devastations
Will be punished.

Spanish Soldier II:

Let us hold public slaughterings
Where human flesh is offered for sale.
For the Indians a human amusement,
For us an administrative convenience.
What delicacies!
Hands, feet, earlobes and bellies,
Bloated and roasted.
Let us sow mortal agony,
Drag away women and girls,
Call up obscenities, adultery and hungers,
Make a heap of souls miserable.

Werner Klüppelholz: Did you ever meet Artaud?

MK: No. In the 1960s I met his sister in Paris, when she attended a Domaine Musical concert.2 Artaud was a huge figure, one possessed of vision and with great dramatic abilities. There is an impressive film—I’ve forgotten the title—where Artaud hypnotizes the audience with his piercing eyes, and acts with the aura of a constantly excited consumptive. I would say he was a good-natured Klaus Kinsky, but the comparison would be somewhat misleading. Artaud was an Expressionist by nature. What he wanted from the theatre was exactly the opposite of what was en vogue in Paris: pleasing music, literary boulevard-theatre, the theatre of good taste—and by this I don’t necessarily mean anything pejorative. I wish to say nothing of his afflictions. Our society makes a peculiar distinction between sickness and health; one often doesn’t know who belongs where. With artists this is true to a great degree. But Artaud had the courage to make his spiritual malaise, his sense of being foreign to this world and his particular set of values the basis of what he did on stage. Aesthetically, this was a heroic act, one that rendered a good part of the mainstream theatre of his time completely absurd and unnecessary. This at the price that his pieces are rarely performed today.

WK: Artaud not only fought against conventional theatre, he was also in large part a critic of our civilization.

MK: Of course. When, in the 70s, I first read Michel Foucault’s wonderful Historie de la folie I immediately thought of Artaud. A good many of his later drawings from the 1940s are still high points of the Heidelberg Prinzhorn collection. There are few question marks in Artaud’s imagination. There are no utopias there, only the precise instructions for use of a cerebral madman.

1. From Mauricio Kagel/Werner Klüppelholz, Dialoge, Monologe (Köln: DuMont Buchverlag, 2001), 212-219. The interviews in this book were conducted between September 1998 and December 2000.
2. The Domaine Musical was a concert society established in Paris by Pierre Boulez. From 1954 to 1973 the society presented concerts of music by Kagel, Boulez, Kagel, Stockhausen and others. [trans]

MAURICIO KAGEL (1931–2008) was an Argentine-born composer and filmmaker who migrated to Europe at the suggestion of Pierre Boulez, and, based in Cologne, became a key figure in postwar New Music. In his youth he studied literature with Jorge Luis Borges, and incorporated text manipulations into many of his works. He also incorporated dramatic, comic and theatrical elements into his compositions. His many available recordings include Quirinus’ Liebeskuss and Schwarze’s Madrigal, both on Winter & Winter.

WALTER KLÜPPELHOLZ is Professor of Music Pedagogy at the University of Siegen. He is the author of a number of books on New Music, several of them centered on the work of Mauricio Kagel, including Mauricio Kagel 1970–1980 and Lese-Welten: Mauricio Kagel und die Literatur. He has also published interviews with Gyorgy Ligeti, Christoph Richter and others in the European avant-garde.

For the complete article purchase The Sienese Shredder #3

Back to The Sienese Shredder #3

Sienese Shredder IssuesIssue 4The Sienese Shredder, Volume 4Issue 3The Sienese Shredder, Volume 3Issue 2The Sienese Shredder, Volume 2Issue 1The Sienese Shredder, Volume 1