Gyula Csapo CD cover

Krapp's Last Tape -- after Samuel Beckett
1975. For violinist-actor, a tape recorder, a sine-wave generator with potentiometer, a stage with curtain and four spotlights. (26:05)

Gyula Csapó's Krapp's Last Tape -- after Samuel Beckett
Csapó's Krapp's Last Tape is an intriguing work intended just as much to be seen as heard. Taking from Beckett's play only a fascination with time and recording technology, Csapó has constructed a highly formalized work that involves one "violinist-actor," Krapp, playing to himself on a pre-recorded tape. His actions are governed by a precise program of instructions timed down to the tenth of a second, and the presence of a sine-wave generator and four spotlights add theatrical elements that call attention to both time and the very nature of performance.
Needless to say, the full effect of this work is impossible to capture on CD alone, although the recording is careful to retain all the essential noises -- the rise and fall of the curtain, the distinct "cshunk" of the tape recorder's buttons and the whirring of its reels, and the startling noise of spotlights switching on and off. Following along with the timetable provided in the liner notes (and reproduced below) one can get a fairly good idea of the total piece, but Krapp's Last Tape isn't exactly something that can be casually thrown on the CD player. (Though the rest of Csapó's works on the disc are all quite lovely, and rewarding in a more traditional sense.) Armed with my imagination and the table of "scenes and visual events," I will attempt to describe this unusual composition.
Commencing with a faint gong, an F-sharp''' pitch soon emerges from the silence, produced by a sine-wave generator and continuing unabated through the entire piece, a reminder of the eternal, objective presence of time itself. (Though slightly offputting with a good pair of headphones!) After the rattle of curtains being raised, we hear a violinist warming up, eventually turning on the tape recorder. After a blare of distortion cuts the air, it is turned off again, and we hear the clack of spotlights flooding the stage, switching off abruptly after only a few seconds. More violin, tentative, slow, uncovering a melody until the tape player is turned on again and stopped a minute later, again after a harsh distorted sound. Finally the tape recorder is set to record, and Krapp plays a full minute of music, stops the recorder, rewinds and plays the last minute to himself. After about thirty seconds, the piece finally begins in earnest at 7'30", as the "live" Krapp plays to the recorded violin, the omnipresent sine-wave floating over the gentle music like the hum of an overhead light. For the most part, the music is pleasant, spending perhaps too much time at the beginning developing a six-note figure, a simple melody that is traded back and forth. The recorded violin has a harsher tone, jarring satisfactorily with the sweet sound of the live instrument. Soon things begin to liven up, and the piece unfolds as the recorded violin quickens, occasionally speeding up mechanically, as Krapp cushions the shrill recording with a soft, warm pulse. About halfway through things change again, with the recorded and live violin exchanging effects, hanging momentary figures, sustained repetitions, and fragmentary drones in the "silence" of the F-sharp hum like a collection of scratchy ornaments. Eventually the recording gets more aggressive, the recorded violin multiplying and surging ahead in a series of repetitive, jerky motifs that threaten to overwhelm the melody now being played by Krapp. In a sudden babble of "fast forward" noise, the tape ends, and Krapp is allowed to burst free in a dainty little waltz. Alas, thirty seconds later the four floodlights snap on, killing his tune. They then switch off in fifteen second intervals, ending the piece at 25'00". The curtain falls, the sine-wave decays, and the spinning reels are turned off.
Not the easiest piece to listen to without preparation or foreknowledge; but the musical heart of the work is quite attention-grabbing, and represents some of the more dynamic music on the disc. The sounds effects are also a bit spooky -- no human sounds are permitted, reducing the acts of triggering the tape recorder and spotlights to disembodied, mechanized events. This sensation further isolates Krapp's violin, adding an increased level of human fragility that might not be evident in performance, as if he is playing to a hollow machine rather than a human audience. It is a lonely work to hear, and brings to my mind hints of science fiction such as Silent Running and 2001. I would very much like to see it performed.

Liner notes from the BMC CD

Liner notes written by Gyula Csapó:
The piece, composed in Pápa and Budapest between 31 December 1974 and 8 May 1975, has been dedicated to Margit Magyar. Its title (recalling Samuel Beckett's one-act play, Krapp's Last Tape) is a point of reference which indicates the borrowing of a Beckettian scene (including an actor and a tape recorder used to replay/record the voice of his former/present self). Since the composition sought to explore the Beckettian situation in purely musical terms, neither Beckett's scenario nor his text served as its blueprint.
Employing a violinist-actor to perform on stage results from my perception of the concert music scene as dully theatrical. It is not uncommon for a recital to pursue the dim remnants, agonizing in the minds of the musicians, of a well-known piece, while the piece itself does not come alive. The storm of applause is hollow feedback. So is the tape recorder, but ruthlessly accurate at least.
My violinist-actor is the paralysed concert violinist par excellence: s/he has nothing to do with acting, apart from performing his part slavishly and his precise use of the tape recorder placed before him; each of his moves is controlled by the tape recorder and a stop-watch. He has pre-recorded materials on the tape (this needs to be prepared in advance by each violinist intending to perform the work).
In the composition there are three different planes of timbre conveying a three-fold perception of time:
1. The sine-tone (F sharp'''): perfect continuity, objectivity of presence, uniformity of location;
2. The distorted, amplified sound of the violin, recorded with a contact microphone: time -- stored after being taped and removed from its original position -- ends up being involuntarily repeatable (inanimate, that is);
3. The live sound of the violin, always muted (except in Krapp's last "waltz" -- 23'30''-24'): the sound is incapable of competing in loudness with that of the machine or with the fact that the tape recorder can produce a montage of time of any density.
This is all about simulacrum, and about experiencing reality by piercing the balloon of simulacrum, this breaking loose from the imprisoning magic spell of "representation."
Sound recording is not a recent invention. Its implications, however, have seldom been fully grasped. For the first time in human history, exact repetition of the total sonorous material of any given segment of time became possible (to reasonably appreciate this, one only needs to consider Erik Satie's Vexations).
Due to the mechanical reiteration, which requires no human participation, perceived time itself dissolves, the informative content of integral time mingles, until finally the "experienced" and mechanical times become archenemies. Memory is replaced by the "recording."
Repeating something mechanically translates into stolen time. Time is used by people to be portioned out, fragmented and clipped out: they never let it pass on. People subject their inner, suppressed, stifled perception of time to extrinsic structures.
Instead of allowing our activities to denote their own length of time (as space is affected by gravity in Einstein's physics), we force them into frames they have nothing to do with. I believe that my composition at last enables Krapp to possess sufficient time. The act of recording abruptly assumes a positive aspect here by extending the frames of Krapp's worm-like existence. This aspect appears more and more significant to me...as time passes.

The succession of scenes and visual events in Krapp's Last Tape -- after Samuel Beckett:

0'00'' Theatre gong (visible before curtain in twilight) signals start. Aural approach towards stage begins with crescent sine F sharp'''.
52" As sine F sharp''' arrives at its full, curtain rises in continuation taking 8 seconds.
1' Violinist-actor (Krapp) visible, with his tape recorder and microphone on a small table before him. Dim table light for his score.
1'36.5" Krapp starts tape recorder.
2'5" He stops it. Just as the loud, distorted sound ceases, four strong limelights.
2'11" All lights out -- Krapp is too late: by the time he starts playing, all has gone dark.
4' Krapp starts the tape, which spins in silence. Krapp plays the violin until he is interrupted by the recording at 4'41".
4'51" Tape stopped.
5'37.5" Recording started.
5'45" Krapp takes note of the digits on the counter, as he starts playing.
6'35.3" Tape stopped and rewound. After stopping fast-rewind, he adjusts the reel by hand to the start of the recording, keeping an eye on the counter.
7' He replays his recording (from 5'45")
7'30" Split time (the mock simultaneity of the present and the past): Krapp plays a "round" with his own recording (from here on, the tape keeps running till the end of the play).
24' The four limelights simultaneously illuminate Krapp, who is struck numb, and who has "gambled away" his waltz -- he is not interesting to watch any more (he has again acted out of the limelight).
24'15", 24'30", 24'45", 25' Each beam goes out at regular intervals. Twilight.
25' With the last spotlight, the curtain starts to fall to close in eight seconds.
25'08" - 26' Departure from the sounds -- a waning sine F sharp'''; the empty reel spins on.
26' The tape recorder switched off behind a lowered curtain to end.


CD Information

Krapp's last Tape -- after Samuel Beckett is available on BMC, CD # 013, with Kjell Arne Jörgensen on violin. The entire CD -- Handshake After Shot -- is named after the first piece, a beautiful but short work for two muted trumpets, oboe, electric organ and "cardboard box." A deliciously subtle "antifanfare" in haunting, muted tones, it's the perfect opening for a very intriguing collection of music. It is followed by Hark, Edvard...-- hommage to E. Grieg, a piece for two "Hungarian dulcimers," piano and double bass, and occupying a floating zone halfway between John Cage and Erik Satie. The third work, Subtraecitations, is my personal favorite, a setting of Buddhist writings for tenor, two tuned glasses, a piano (mostly used as a resonator -- the voice is amplified by a speaker set against the piano strings, and the pianist modulates the sounds with the pedal), three clarinets and "noise sources." Slightly reminiscent of Cage's various "hymns," the 22-minute composition seems like a wavering dream, where old liturgical music is suspended in an atmosphere of shimmering sounds and sudden, intrusive noises, the clarinets emerging occasionally in a weaving pattern of reeds. The final work is only a minute long. Written for John Cage's 76th birthday, BirdDayCage is scored for a cello and a piano. The piano functions somewhat as a mirror or a prism, reflecting, refracting and completing the line of the cello, the composer's intent that "the independent worlds of the two instruments co-exist in erotic freedom." A remarkable disc, and one that deserves close listening.

Csapó: Handshake after Shot
Gyula Csapó (Composer) / Audio CD / Released 1999


--A. Ruch
17 March 2001
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