S.E.M. Ensemble

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Frederic Rzewski & Petr Kotik: A Conversation



Petr Kotik: Hi Frederic! All the best into 2015

Frederic Rzewski:  in Europe things aren't so hot

PK: They were never hot anywhere. I never heard "now, we have the good time"

FR: well, now is the only time we've got.

PK: You mean what is going in France. Its marginal. If you think about what is going on for decades in the Middle East, it pales in comparison. Things are just more globalized and people here in Europe (and the US) must get used to the fact that they are not immune or shielded from all the misery they themselves are partly responsible for. One just must hope that it misses you and your family.

FR: Or you could live in a bubble like you do in America. Every time I go to America I feel people are living in some kind of Disney fantasy. I mean the kind of people I known. Of course there are many who know differently.

FR: at least the Europeans know something about war etc and history. Anyway how are you doing?


PK: I am thinking about how to get rid of family to have more time to work. I don't mean the closest family but the rest of it. But then, one needs family.  I am smoking a cigar at the terrace, so I am going back and forth

FR: If you keep smoking cigars you will at least get rid of the head of the family.


PK: This American comedian (forgot his name) smoked cigars and lived to be 100 (minus a few days). That should be enough tor me. Coming to NYC soon? (I am now in Prague)


FR: I think you mean George Burns. No I have no plans to go to the US

PK: Yes George Burns

FR: I think I will be in North Carolina in October. I may go to America to be buried

PK: Not alive, I mean buried. I hope.

FR: What difference does it make?

PK: Will you pass through NYC to North Carolina? We should spend an evening together - anyway before we get buried.

FR: I don't know until I have a contract. Get me a gig in Prague and we can meet there. I really don't like New York. I suspect we are more likely to meet in a place like Berlin

PK: I know what you mean. But Brooklyn in OK.

FR: I will take your word for it. I will be in Weimar end of August. That's not so far from Prague

PK: Lets try to make it happen in Berlin. Who should host it?

FR: I am now a member of the Akademie der Künste

PK: In Early September, I will definitely be in Prague. Akademie der Künste hmm I will talk to Nele Herlting. I have just talked to her recently.

FR: So they should invite us both. Before we are buried. My daugher Noemi lives in Berlin She is doing doctorate at FU Theaterwissenscaht

       We are historical figures. founders of QUAX and MEV. There should be a concert with your music and mine. preceded by discussion. followed by banquet.

        In Weimar will be the first German performance of my "Triumph des Todes" for voices & string quartet based on Peter Weiss Die Ermittlung

        (play about Auchwitzprozess, 1964). So of course, that should be done in Berlin as well. Maybe you have a similar good reason to go to Berlin


PK: Just finished by cigar. Definitely, this should happen.

FR: Can you get Cuban cigars now in USA?


PK: In 1969, Nele Hertling tried to organize sort of a mini festival at the Akademie der Künste for Cornelius' AMM and QUaX and the Czechoslovak authorities banned us to go, which was a major factor for me deciding not to go back to Prague after went to Buffalo (I thought - I am too old for this crap of not being allowed to trave). So now, it could be "Before getting burried" Evening. I'll propose it to her

FR: How come they allowed you to go to Buffalo?

PK: Things are never simple. One thing had nothing to do with the other. But even with coming to Buffalo, it was very close to be cancelled. I sneaked out by the hair.

        When I left for Buffalo, the only question was whether Charlotta with Thomas (8 month old) would be allowed to join me. If not, I would have returned to Prague of course.

FR: Communism was a great idea.  But they didn't listen to Max Weber, who said that inevitably bureaucracy would allow stupidity to take over

       When I went to New York in 1971 the Americans didn't want to let Nicole join me. They said she was a communist. It took 6 months before she could get a visa in spite of fact that she was mother of my 3 sons American citizens. My father had to write a letter to congressman.

PK: But in the end, she came. That is what matters. Having difficulties is normal. It took 2 years for Renata, my present wife, to get permanent permission to live in the US and she is an anti-communist (we often argue about that)

FR: communist, anticommunist, same difference the only real communists are also anticommunists. As for revolutions, I am not sure there have been any. So hard to say if it is doomed

PK: The difference between the (former) communist countries and the West is not lack or great deal of difficulties, it was the hopelessness, the absolute hopelessness that none of you in the West had any idea about

FR: you are right of course. we in the west actually know something about hopelessness. CPUSA was very big, very important 70 years ago

PK: The biggest fallacy of this "revolutionary" euphoria in the last century (my father was part of it – in real – including being actively involved in the communist resistance during the German occupation) is this: – now think about it –

PK: Namely, everybody takes for granted that the oppressed are better people than the oppressors. But one thing has nothing to do with the other and the oppressed can be much bigger assholes than the oppressors (as we have seen)

PK: One has sympathies with the oppressed, but they should have never been given the right to take over.

FR: Right! Nobody is better we are all the same assholes. I was at MIT a month ago for conference on improvisation and had discussions with these math geniuses who are as dumb as everybody else

PK: Improvisation is one thing I was never good at and never practiced it

FR: One of them tried to convince me that Buddhism is better than other religions because they don't believe in God

PK: What is God? Its the higher intelligence in the Universe than that of human beings. One does not need to believe in it. Cage called it chance.

FR: Makes no difference what cage said. If there is such a higher intelligence (and why not?) there is no reason it should be interested in us. Better to hide from it, remain invisible. For the moment we should accept that we are stupid

PK:  God is indeed not interested. But we should be interested.

FR: in what? Tolstoy says "I am not talking about what should be, but what is"

PK: In this higher intelligence. It reveals our stupidity


PK: Anyway, we should try for the dinner & concert. But it should be private, a small circle, perhaps documented for the "public"

FR: Don't agree.  They should invite both of us and organize performances of our music, very public. Recognize that we are survivors

PK: The performance should be as public as possible, but the dinner should be private, otherwise it will turn into a circus

FR: Yes yes I agree. Dinner private in very good restaurant

PK: Or someone's home (I don't know such a person), or catered in the Akademie der Künste.

FR: I cannot imagine eating well at the Akademie der Künste.

PK: There is even one twist to this – you being an American in Europe, myself being an European in America.  Depends who will cook

FR: This is not important

PK: You are right

FR: We are two guys who survived a lot and deserve a good meal, one communist the other anti – a winning combination, both of us intelligent and with sense of humor and also good composers. Stones rejected by the builders who have become cornerstones.

Funny we never though of this before, seems so obvious. Christian Wolff should get into this as well he too is both – Europe & America, even more than us.

PK: Yes, funny, I just thought about Christian. I can't think of anyone else than yourself, Christian and myself. And we should perform together a small part of Treatise as greetings to our friend whom we will soon visit

FR: you can't have these und antithese ohne aufhebung

PK: What do you mean?

FR: OK, it's a deal. All we need is contract

PK: I give my word this is my contract

FR: I know all about that kind of contract. I need the bourgeois kind, on paper

PK: OK, I'll start working on it.

FR: Great! Viva la revoluciòn!

PK: Right now, I have to run. I'll be in touch! Down with revolution! Proceed very slowly, like driving on a highway. If you make a sudden turn, you'll end crashing the car and ending on its roof.

FR: I totally agree. I think this conversation deserves to be preserved.  Do you know how to do that? I don't.


Frederic Rzewski & Petr Kotik, January 11, 2015