Allegorical Gardening

By Barnavas Songdinger

In Allegorical Gardening, two musicians play Karlheinz Stockhausen's Tierkreis, a series of twelve short tunes  based on the zodiac and written for music box, as a third performer plays/dances a “persona,” partly in response to the musical themes from Tierkreis and partly in response to cues given to him by the musicians.

The persona’s movements respond to the Tierkreis section they accompany. The movement style varies, being governed by the actions of the musicians -- the style changes as they move towards or away from a given object, while playing. So, two elements control the persona’s movements: 1) the particulars of the tune, and 2) the movements of the musician, which change the style of the persona’s movements.

Why Allegorical? An allegorical persona has the characteristics of something seemingly greater than it: a god, a season, a natural element, an astrological sign. Here the allegorical element is the persona’s notions of the correct or appropriate response, the correctness of which he holds himself accountable to. This correctness/appropriateness, becomes an idealism, the measure of truth. This is the force greater than the individual, to which he’s beholden, that to some degree directs the course of his life, and that he allegoizes.

The order of the twelve Tierkreis pieces is predetermined. The movements of the musicians and the persona are improvised. The persona itself is an attitude shaped in response to the music. The protagonist’s inability to articulate that response satisfactorily (for himself) causes him to repeat it, forever, because this idealism is what he measures the movement against. Frustration causes him to continue. The portrait created is one of frustration relative to an ideal, and how the response to that frustration creates the persona over time.

Each repetition tries a different angle, a better angle, looking for a solution. What's at stake for him changes as well; sometimes it feels personal, other times existential. He doesn't choose when to shift between those. Something else chooses (the musicians do) and he’s compelled to follow the directions received. 

Why Gardening? Because as he works through it, trying to find new expressions of himself, cultivating a sense of self relative this idealism, the fields of that endeavor are cultivated by the circumstances. He’s being led by the musicians, grown by them. “Allegorical character” in this sense is the persona’s normal response. The phrase is a puzzle he can't solve, so he keeps trying. If the context was narrative, the frustration would lead to changes in circumstance. Here, changes are brought about non-narratively by the musicians.