ArtsATL > Film > Cult classics from Mauricio Kagel: A free “Film Music, Music Performance, Performance Film”

Cult classics from Mauricio Kagel: A free “Film Music, Music Performance, Performance Film”

UPDATE, February 24: Bent Frequency percussionist Stuart Gerber has let us know that the snowed-out program is rescheduled for Tuesday, March 2, 2010, at 8 p.m. in the Rialto Theater (still free).

UPDATE, February 12, 10 a.m.: Snow is predicted for metro Atlanta. Georgia State University has closed the campus and canceled tonight’s show. Film Love’s Andy Ditzler says there’s a plan to reschedule the event. The February 18 screening at Eyedrum hasn’t changed. — Pierre

Mauricio Kagel was a self-taught composer, a filmmaker, an aesthetic anarchist and possibly a humorist. He died in 2008, at the age of 76, and his cult following seems to be gaining strength. In two performances, February 12 and 18, Film Love and Bent Frequency — Atlanta’s adventurous film and music outfits, respectively — will offer several facets of Kagel’s mind-blowing art.

Born in Buenos Aires, Kagel spent his formative years as a vocal coach at the Theatro Colon, Argentina’s deluxe opera house. After he moved to Germany, he established himself as one of the big talents of Europe’s postwar avant-garde, a sort of court jester to the Boulez-Stockhausen gang. His film “Ludwig Van” (1969) and mixed-media theatrical works such as “Prince Igor, Stravinsky” (1982) come off as brilliantly weird and wildly intriguing and fun.

Some of it was simply weird. Or maybe incomprehensible. In 2000, I caught a major new work at Carnegie Hall, Kagel’s oratorio-theater piece called “Kidnapping in the Concert Hall.” The conductor arrives on stage to learn that some members of his orchestra are being held hostage in the rehearsal room. From the podium, the panicked conductor negotiates with the terrorists over the telephone while the remaining musicians play lyrically atonal music to save their colleagues’ lives. The music closely tracks their emotional state. A tenor (who has obviously been tortured) escapes and wanders around the stage, singing mysterious phrases that further confuse the drama. It ends with no answers, no resolution. But that’s just surface-level plot. The work was clearly dripping with deep philosophical meaning, none of which I could interpret satisfactorily. Who was the real prisoner in this drama, the musicians “acting” their roles on stage … or the audience, trapped in our repressive, anti-art, bourgeois culture of consumerism? Hard to guess.

Sitting next to me was a friend who was in the thick of New York’s contemporary music scene. At the end, she shook her head in disbelief and said something like, “I don’t think many Americans would get that, but it’s probably really profound and funny to the Germans.”

The Film Love-Bent Frequency event is called “Mauricio Kagel: Film Music, Music Performance, Performance Film.” Friday’s show is free, but seats are limited. Email your request to

This is how Film Love describes the two evenings:

“On Feb. 12, two short films accompany two live performances at Georgia State University’s Kopleff Recital Hall. In ‘Antithese,’ a hapless studio engineer becomes entangled in technology, leading to a comically disastrous climax. ‘Unter Strom’ features traditional — and not-so-traditional — instruments played with industrial and kitchen equipment rather than human hands, resulting in paradoxically delicate and fragile sounds. Bent Frequency performs ‘Match,’ one of Kagel’s most famous works, involving two cellists in what seems to be more of a contest than a duet, complete with a percussionist serving as referee.

“On Feb. 18 at Eyedrum — tickets are $5 — Film Love presents an exceedingly rare screening of Kagel’s film ‘Two-Man Orchestra.’ Two musicians are inserted into Kagel’s specially built one-man-band setups (of over 250 instruments!) which they control with their fingers, feet, legs, heads and any other possible way. Trapped in these enormous, overgrown constructions and dealing with their unpredictable malfunctions [see top photo], the performers evoke everything from Charlie Chaplin to circus music to complete atonality in a virtuoso physical and musical feat.”

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