A man is dRiving a caR and laughing,
Look! it is Vilnius!
a man is falling thRough the sky like IcaRus, smiling,
a man is dancing on a stage like a balleRina,
a man is walking up sand dunes by the sea,
stRutting like a stoRk,
a man studies law, but music captuRes his soul,
a man asks foR a bullet and shoots himself.
He is gone.
Epitaph No. 2 foR piano and stRings (undated)
A shoRt, aphoRistic woRk, a single utteRance, tRemolandi of angst, a thousand-yaRd staRe, mouRnful sighing stRings, wheRe is the piano? TheRe, at the end, the piano enteRs with a single, baRe, Repeated, dissonant choRd, tolling with emptiness and despaiR, this is the 25th houR.
ConceRto foR 2 pianos (1982)
In two movements, unique foR piano conceRti, this piece opens with banging on the wood of the piano bodies, ostinato unison Rhythms, incessant, minimal, then clusteRs enteR, it’s a paRty, but an anxious one. He etches sounds with a heavy black line like in Max Beckman paintings, then splatteRs them like Joan Mitchell, gRotesqueRies illuminated with violent disoRdeR. ImpRovisatoRy passages tumble and flow, this is not PendeRecki, moRe like Cecil TayloR.
In movement 2, the oRchestRa takes a backseat (peRhaps Reading newspapeRs?). EnteR a dRum kit, walking bassline, it’s Relatively jazz, the two Pianists aRe tRaveRsing cRaggy teRRains of sonic Release. This is a psychogeogRaphy, psychotic even, yet we have smiling, funny aRabesques at the end, a Rachmaninoffian wink. End.
Walks off stage. Applause. CuRtain down. Goodbye.
Ir kūnas kai parakas dega.
Tartum po paklode
Velniai susikūrė sau pragarą.
Iš sienos išlindo žirafas.
FluoRescences foR cello and oRgan (1981)
He loves blocks, block foRms, blank foRms to fill in, wRites with a RuleR and pen, dRawing lines and shapes, filling in the notes and using many symbols foR aRticulating sounds, changing sounds, twisting and tuRning sounds, timbRes, Rubati, and flights of fRee impRovisation. Flinging ink, zooooom, splat! thwack! This woRk sounds like nothing else, it’s not an ugly duckling of Polish ‘60s avant-gaRde sonoRism, it’s moRe like some cRazy cantata sans singing. The cello sings with intense, bending tones and sliding micRotonality, Lithuanian Ragas of doom and gloom—looping stRange, sutaRtinės of distRess. The oRgan wRiting is menacing and gothic, with clusteR choRds and shuddeRing tRemolandi. It is gloopy oil paint, thick impasto like a RičaRdas Vaitiekūnas painting, textuRe and weight, light and daRk, the swipe of the bRush.
Antanas Rekašius (1928–2003)
He was boRn in Pavandenė, in the countRyside, a dance theRe, a pavane, a slow dance, he is tiptoeing on the high wiRe, laughing. The aRtist defies gRavity.
His paRents shelteRed Jews duRing the Holocaust and weRe Recognised foR this by the IsRaeli oRganisation Yad Vashem.
Symphony No. 6 (1982)
Some symphonies aRe long, his symphonies aRe often quite shoRt, but feel long—he packs a lot in, an auRical illusion.
I think of this symphony as a massive pRocessional, theRe is ‘jazz’ again, walking basslines, Lalo SchifRinesque flute, TaRasovian dRum kit, bizaRRe oRgan clusteR inseRts, the music is moving foRwaRd, neveR static, and then the signatuRe sound of the vibRaphone appeaRs, like a talisman, a waRning, as eveR. Oh, and a cRazy maRch, like a paRody of just about eveRy Soviet symphony wRitten in the 20th centuRy. This sound woRld and almost ‘cut-and-paste’ aesthetic aRe close to those of contempoRaRy composeR Helmut OehRing. The ending, oR coda, is essentially puRe atmospheRe, a question maRk, tRemolandi stRings, ebbing away into daRkness.
DaR Negana (Not Enough Yet) foR solo saxophone(s) and oRchestra (1998)
EnteR Rahsaan Roland KiRk (almost). By this stage in his life Rrrrekašius almost dispenses with musical notation in the solo paRt, which uses seveRal diffeRent instRuments thRoughout the woRk, chosen by the soloist. It has a beautiful opening, with signatuRe vibRaphone, sustained stRings, biRdlike flute and claRinet, it sounds almost happy. GRadually the fiRst paRt inhabits a sound woRld akin to MahleRian ‘nachtmusik’ and acceleRates. TheRe aRe oRchestRal outbuRsts inteRspeRsed with soloist passages of fReely impRovised mateRial, sometimes boRdeRing on vaudeville, moving between high and loweR saxophones. The baRitone saxophone sounds like a machine gun at one point. It becomes Rapidly cleaR that the title DaR Negana is an indication of excess in the soloist paRt, with wild, Rapid, extReme playing. GRadually the mysteRious ‘nachtmusik’ elements RetuRn and theRe is a dRamatic, climactic ending, with the soloist playing two saxophones at the same time (Echoes of Rahsaan Roland KiRk). A stRange woRk this is, but with an innate beauty, a bit like a papieR-mâché sculptuRe left out in the Rain. A FoRm becoming foRmless.
JA ZZ : (THE “SAY WHAT?”)
IS IS JA LIVES
the chord you came in on
Symphony No. 5 (Segments) (1981)
He loves the oRchestRa, it’s a supeRsonic noise machine, DRama in excess, in excelsis, with geaR changes of desiRe. Again, thundeRous foRtissimi miRRoRed by jump cuts, collagissimo and cReepy music dominated by vibRaphone and dRums. Cue VladimiR TaRasov on dRums! Rrrrekašius loved his playing. This is a similaR oRchestRal sound woRld to that of BeRnaRd HeRmann, the HeRmann music of the sci-fi movies The Day the EaRth Stood Still and FahRenheit 451.
It is film music with no film, a lost cinema, echoing HiRoshi Sugimoto’s long-exposuRe photos of empty movie houses. Then enteRs ouR old fRiend jazz, walking basslines, gRoovy tRombone, lost mad tRumpet, manic maRches. But then, but THEN, a signatuRe moment of cool, quietude and stillness, like the calm, flat sea found at Nida, a ČiuRlionis sunset, a staRe into an empty hoRizon.
Not waving, but drowning
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you though
And not waving, but drowning.
How does the symphony end? Well, with a bang, not a whimpeR.
Essentially a classical composeR, with symphonies, stRing quaRtets, chambeR music, conceRti, ballets, an opeRa-oRatoRio even (oh to heaR that), his music is undeRpinned by a desiRe to bReak fRee, bReak the mould with exaspeRated, exquisite, expRessionistic, existential excess. He is cleaRly inspiRed by jazz, that subveRsive sound in the Soviet Union (unless it’s ‘official’ jazz of couRse), to be usuRped lateR by Rock and Roll.
Rrrrekašius’ music has similaRities with anotheR Lithuanian aRtist and his contempoRaRy, Vincas KisaRauskas (also a stage designeR). Both men featuRe themselves in theiR woRk, autopoRtRaits via autocollage. Rrrrekašius’ music veRy much stems fRom his own complex peRsonality, the laughing and cRying clown in BRuce Nauman’s video woRk Clown ToRtuRe, ‘laughteaRs’ as James Joyce wRote in Finnegans Wake—anotheR masteRpiece of autocollage.
Some paintings by KisaRauskas featuRe black-and-white photogRaphs of Vilnius stReet scenes, with people walking about. These aRe combined with oil paintings of anonymous nude statues and busts on plinths, executed in a modeRnist style. Anti-monuments obseRving pedestRians in the photos, as if moRe Real than the geneRal peRceived Reality of photogRaphs, looking out fRom the painting. The painting itself is obseRving humanity, much as Rrrrekašius holds a sonic miRRoR to his own existence and to ouR own. KisaRauskas’ paintings and assemblages also featuRe austeRe, sculpted figuRes, often tRapped in modeRnist landscapes and theatRical sceneRy. He depicts lost chaRacteRs fRom GReek myths, tRagedies and the Bible, Antigone and Ismene alone, the pRodigal son wandeRing acRoss the Lithuanian countRyside and IcaRus falling fRom the sky. These figuRes often seem to be constRucted fRom bits of machineRy and have a post-cubist, cyboRg identity. He often painted diRectly onto eveRyday utilitaRian objects like bits of tools, hinges, and metal bRackets, diRecting the paint towaRds the objects of his own assemblage woRks.
Rrrrekašius’ music has sonic chaRacteRistics and aRchetypes of modeRnist composition (aleatoRicism, glissandi, impRovisatoRy mateRial, noise, clusteRs, fRee micRotonality, and jazz elements) combined with innate theatRical dRama. It is almost a foRm of ecstatic and emotional musique concRète. As confident and con bRavuRa as his music often sounds, it’s also undeRpinned by a sense of tRagedy and existential cRisis.
I RefeRRed to Cecil TayloR as a sound colleague in the Concerto for Two Pianos. TayloR’s piano impRovisations exploRe the piano keyboaRd like hallucinogenic jouRneys, pRopelled by a poweRful emotional and subjective seaRch foR music devoid of pRecedence.
AnotheR AfRican AmeRican composeR aesthetically close to Rrrrekašius is Anthony BRaxton. BRaxton is both a composeR and an impRoviseR, his woRks in seRies, such as the Ghost TRance compositions, often utilise an open clef. This allows instRuments to play the same music (claRinet in B-flat, viola, piano, baRitone saxophone, etc.) and Results in diffeRent haRmonic and contRapuntal collisions. BRaxton also encouRages and allows a fluctuating Rubato, asynchRonicity of ensemble playing, micRotonal pitch bending, and inseRtions of fRee impRovisation (also inseRted exceRpts fRom his own compositions), which aRe also found in ChRistian Wolff’s compositions. All of these elements aRe found in Rrrrekašius’ music, in some shape oR vaRiant of foRm, his pen flows elegantly acRoss the page, an inky identikit of expRession.
As a child, fleeing, trying his body
among trees, feeling the wind, even
then knowing treasures that surprised
him, he cried “I am glorious! It is a
secret that must not be kept from them!”
and saw his voice in the sky’s clamors.
ConceRto foR flute and chambeR oRchestRa (1971)
GReek composeR Iannis Xenakis was asked in an inteRview if theRe weRe any instRuments he didn’t like. “The flute”, he said. “It has a silly sound”. The flute sounds lost at fiRst in this woRk, like a biRd tRapped in a RestauRant, madly tRying to flee the confines of aRchitectuRe. GRadually the flute flies fRee with abandon, lyRicism and melodic floRidity, like a twitteRing aiR-machine. The oRchestRal wRiting is spaRe and sinewy, like Paul Klee’s scRatchy dRawings. TowaRds the end the oRchestRa gRadually consumes the flute, with sounds en masse, then spits it out onto the flooR, destRoyed and bRoken.
ConceRto foR violin, Metaphony (1971)
A veRy dRamatic opening, like a winteR’s stoRm flinging open a dooR. Cue the violin, which sounds like David OistRakh losing his mind, intense, lyRical and noisy. The passionate and foRthRight melodic wRiting is undeRlined with escapist noise elements. The violinist is not suppoRted by the oRchestRa, it’s in opposition, moRe of a battle—somewhat akin to Lutosławski’s cello conceRto (the Polish aleatoRic connection). Sometimes the signatuRe vibRaphone sound gives a hint of some hope. GRadually the violin paRt seems to moRph into something like the sound of ORnette Coleman playing the violin and then evapoRates at the end in a cosmic cloud of viRtuosity, (almost) engulfed by the oRchestRa. This woRk is like a paRody of late-Romantic violin conceRti and again Rrrrekašius appeaRs to be smiling, but with some sweat on his bRow.
Symphony No. 4 (1971)
By this point in his compositional life Rrrrekašius had hit his stRide. This symphony is confident and succinct (lasting 12 minutes) with a simple block foRm of contRasting passages. The oRchestRal wRiting is assuRed (RatheR cRass and cRude at times), with blazing bRass and thundeRous peRcussion. Pacifying the passages of heRoic exubeRance and noise aRe quiet, atmospheRic inteRludes with tRemolandi stRings (RatheR like a catatonic wRiteR waiting foR inspiRation).
The oRchestRa is his toy box and of all his symphonies, this one comes closest to a ciRcus-like sound woRld, with a quite funny-section sounding like a bizaRRe faiRgRound oRgan.
Emanation foR electRic cello, e-guitaR, electRic oRgan and synthesizeR (1984)
This woRk is like the weiRd nephew of the slightly eaRlieR woRk FluoRescences (1981). ScoRed foR the electRonic gRoup ARgo, headed by GiedRius KupRevičius, the music is like an inteRioR dReam woRld of impRovisatoRy gestuRes, dominated by slow, pulsing, and enigmatic haRmonic vistas of consideRable beauty. The cello inhabits this landscape with dRamatic, melodic flouRishes and inteRjections. Not as abstRact as AMM oR GRuppo di impRovvisazione nuova consonanza, this woRk has an intRoveRted, expeRimental atmospheRe, closeR to some of the ‘70s music of Italian composeR Egisto Macchi oR even the English composeR Basil KiRchin.
Symphony No. 7 (In MemoRiam) (1987)
Rrrrekašius wRote nine symphonies (shadow of Beethoven). No. 7 shows him at the peak of his compositional métieR, and it’s longeR than some of his eaRlieR ones, at 24 minutes in duRation. The opening sounds almost optimistic and gRadually moRphs into manic maRching paRodies with pRopulsive Rhythms, and the oRchestRal wRiting is veRy assuRed and quite lyRical at times, with aRchetypal dRamatic outbuRsts. The centRal paRt has an acceleRation of mateRial leading to a climax of almost white noise pRopoRtions. The final paRt descends into pompous, swaggeRing music, similaR to otheR woRks by him. He was a fRequent RecycleR of his own mateRial, and music in this symphony is also found in the String Quartet No. 3 and Music for Strings No. 2.
CoRno foR FRench hoRn and oRgan (undated and lost, RecoRding fRagment)
EveRyone should wRite foR fRench hoRn and oRgan, it’s a sublime combination. The timbRal similaRities cReate a beautiful melding of sounds, and this woRk has succulent, melodic wRiting, Redolent of Modest MussoRgsky RefRacted thRough a contempoRaRy pRism.
Autocollage No. 2 (1987)
A veRy succinct woRk, each section tRansitions into the next peRfectly, fRom the filmic and still opening, to the ostinati of destRuction, undeRpinned with fReeR mateRial, each time RetuRning to miltaRistic motifs, with echoes of PRokofiev oR the totalitaRianism of Soviet Rule. TheRe is Real joie de vivRe in this music, but again and again it seems to point to an almost nihilistic intensity, with the music getting moRe and moRe agitated. PaRadoxically, it ends with quiet, Repeated piano choRds and ominous tympani notes fading away into the distance.
Musica dolente e con bRio foR saxophone, cello and peRcussion (1980)
The AmeRican aRtist Jean-Michel Basquiat often used to cReate his paintings using oil stick (and sometimes spRay cans). He woRked fast, pRoducing intRicate stReam of consciousness aRt Related to his life, uRban society, woRds, slogans, gRaffiti, music and his Black identity. The paintings often consist of a calculated incoheRence, like a peRsonal lexicon of idiomatic iconogRaphies.
Rrrrekašius was so fluent with his music in lateR life that you can see in the scoRes the Rapid constRuction and gRaphic delineation of the notation. In Musica dolente e con brio the instRumental paRts collide and inteRpenetRate in fReely flowing lines of sonic funkiness. The music bReathes, skips, jeRks, glitches and gRooves eRRatically with an eccentRic, jazz-infused sensibility. Small motivic units aRe often Repeated, each time slightly diffeRently, looping disjointedly. To some extent this foReshadows the woRk of AustRian composeR BeRnhaRd Lang and his DiffeRenz/WiedeRholung (DiffeRence/Repetition) cycle.
Rrrrekašius’ notational symbols allow foR many diffeRent methods of executing sounds and diving/ducking in and out of time. The peRcussion paRt is notated Rhythmically and aRhythmically, often with fRee pitch content in low, high, oR middle RegisteRs. No peRcussion instRuments aRe specified, leaving Room foR a panoply of sonic Realisations. No two peRfoRmances would be the same, this Really is expeRimental music foR a theatRe we neveR see. A dumb-show in sound.
A. hypnopaedic slight silt-furrowing
furrowing extraterrestrial blivits
some counterclock clucking, sound
of a man-mash, 9th street…Hudson & Manhattan
Tunnels crisscross under the Hudson
To Journal Square, there… …
B. predestined wood of an antique
woodwind way – way in the forefront
C. the tubes, a lonely gangbanger
pissing against all incorruptible destruction
(called) in lieu of
In 2014 I was walking aRound New YoRk City taking photos and obseRved RobeRt FRank (then aged 90) sitting at the window of his townhouse at 7 BleeckeR StReet watching the woRld go by. I took a photo of the scene and when I developed and pRinted it, he could not be seen in the window, which was Reflecting the exteRioR woRld, he was hidden, looking out.
RobeRt FRank once talked of obseRving thRough his window in the ‘50s the painteR Willem De Kooning, pacing his New YoRk City studio, making a maRk on the canvas, sitting, waiting, pacing some more, and then making anotheR maRk. ‘‘I was a veRy silent, unobseRved watcheR of this man at woRk. It meant a lot to me. It encouRaged me to pace up and down and stRuggle’’.
But the composeR sets it all up, mentally pacing the flooR, making maRks on music papeR, scRatching out ideas, ReaffiRming and alteRing the eventual sonic pRocess.
FoR me, Rrrrekašius woRked like a painteR with his mateRials, scRatching suRfaces, splatteRing paint, oveRlaying colouRs and textuRes, moulding melodic gestuRes, etching the cuRvatuRe of sounds and exploding haRmonic sonoRities with glee and joyful abandon. The painteRly analogy is apt peRhaps, paint is wet and visceRal, alive almost and has that instant potential foR maRking the mind’s eye.
Rrrrekašius was successful in his time as a composeR, in fact he managed to live fRom composition alone, no mean feat duRing Soviet times. Today he is somewhat foRgotten, even in Lithuania. Some of his music is veRy much of his time, and it’s stRange how some music falls out of fashion, unlike contempoRaRy aRt, theatRe, dance, and film, which all seem to be constantly Reassessed and Recontextualised. Museum cultuRe. We can see most aRt, music takes time, has to be listened to and is invisible, divisible even. Listening is a divine pRocess, you can walk away fRom visual aRt, but music takes time and exists in Real time. What is possible with Rrrrekašius’ compositions now is a decent level of Reassessment and ReinteRpRetation, often due to the veRy open natuRe of his scoRes. Symphony oRchestRas could play his symphonies and cReate new inteRpRetations and they could be staRtling, Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 7 in paRticulaR. Musicians woRking today aRe much moRe au fait with contempoRaRy music instRumental techniques and inteRpRetations than pRevious geneRations. Rrrrekašius is a unique and strangely oRiginal 20th centuRy composeR.
TheRe aRe many echoes of otheR composeRs in his music: ChaRles Ives, Gustav MahleR, Anthony BRaxton, ChRistian Wolff, Cecil TayloR, SeRgei Prokofiev, and even Mikalojus Konstantinas ČiuRlionis. He is woRthy of ouR attention, ResuRRection even…..
Interviewer: You’re a composer...
Rekašius: (Interrupting) Perhaps...