Fairy Tales from the Grilling Fields
Interview by Anla Courtis and Roberto Conlazo
Bananafish: In what sense do you mean you were born in the wrong world?
Nelson Gastaldi: Sibelius said he lived in a world he wasn’t interested in, and fifty or a hundred later I feel exactly the same. This is a world with many technical developments, but I see a big flatness, too much superficiality, and too little interest in the exchange of ideas. I should have been born in another world. That is, the world of the fairies, the world of the hobgoblins, the world of the undines, the world of the gnomes, the world of the sylphs, the world of the spirits of the fourth element, the world of the nymphs. It’s a magic world that exists parallel in another dimension.
Do you think your music helps enter that world?
Yes, my music in a mysterious way transports me to that world. And it can do the same with the listener if he is sufficiently prepared.
How should the listener be prepared?
Preparation can take years, maybe many years, but it is not taught in any music school, unfortunately. Autogenous Training consists of developing an inner control that induces drowsiness until one feels one is floating. All images and thoughts must be removed from the mind until it remains completely blank. When you can achieve the blank mind then it is possible to truly float.
Can you tell us about your first musical experience?
Kicking a wooden fruit box when I was a kid. How I kicked it affected the different sounds it produced.
You have a tradition playing non-instruments.
I have used many objects to make music, for instance: aspirator tubes, wooden furniture, spinning-tops with high whistles, rubber strings, doors, voices from spiritist sessions, diverse metallic elements, matracas, and veneer. I used toy motors for a piece I wrote for a toy train, which concluded when the train finally stopped. I once played the wheels of an upside-down bicycle and rang the bell on the floor.
Why did you decide to do that?
The main aim was to explore the timbre. I tried different techniques like playing the spokes of the wheels with different objects — papers of different lengths between the spokes produce different sounds.
I played a harp with the pneumatic hammer. The attack of the pneumatic hammer gives it a unique timbre. I’d say this was violent music. Guindowsky and I composed a piece with this technique, but the recording and score are lost.
Who is Guindowsky?
He was a composer born in Santa Fe. We did some sound experiments together after I returned to Argentina in 1964. He studied guitar with the Gateño system, which is based on different colors. Guindowsky also composed an important piece called Que Lindo es el Canto! He was poor, lived a hand-to-mouth existence. I saw him 1960s and ’70s but I don’t know if he is still alive. I haven’t seen him in years.
I’ve also experimented with the pure sound — the crepitations of a fried egg, for example. Beside timbral explorations of specific objects, I have employed techniques like composing aleatory music based on feeding doves, listening to music inside dreams, and using numerology and rabdomancy as compositional tools.
Would you say you subscribed to one particular school of music?
I’m a musical nihilist with noble and mystic origins.
When you were born?
I was born on a ship around Gibraltar in 1932. My father was from Genoa and my mother was Argentinean. Soon after my birth we came to Buenos Aires.
How does it feel being a seventy-two-year-old composer with no performed or recorded works?
There are composers who are discovered fifty or a hundred years after their death. For as long as I can remember I have been especially interested in visual art and music. I went to Europe after World War II (with permission from my parents, because I was still a minor), where I started my career as a visual artist. I studied with some important masters like Hans Hoffmann, Nihils Badura Skoda from Poland, the painter Delgado Rousta from Entre Rios, Batle Planas, Krasnopolski, Vicente Forte, and Berta Zuik. I also studied ceramics with Patchela Pacchimota. My career as a visual artist contains many periods. I can mention some of my main paintings: the tetralogy La Hija de Poyola; Krvopiya; the cosmos lithography Iconos de la Pacha Mama; which was inspired by my friend Smite Ischuppehuere; the Saturnal series; and Salgamos a tomar Aire Fresco que es Gratis, among others. Then I came back to Argentina and I started my music experiments.
You said you returned to Argentina in 1964.
Yes. I started with the music experiments in Buenos Aires. At the time very few people were doing this kind of thing. I worked indoors mainly, at my home and other places, but once we did a live performance at the Plaza Misericordia, which was a public square.
How was the reaction?
People were very surprised, I’d say. Sound experiments were largely unknown at the time, so it was inevitable that a part of the audience was simply astonished, but I also received some positive feedback. For instance, I received a letter of congratulations from Monsieur Boudry from the BenNeLux Chamber of Commerce.
It was not possible to make a living through music (especially this kind of music), so I had to find another activity to survive. I worked almost forty years at an electric company. That was my main job in life but I also used to sell paintings and tapestry to galleries like Galería El Aterrizaje, and to collectors like Rolando Goldstein and a marchand from Lebanon whose name I can’t remember, but he owned a shop called Las Alfombras Voladoras. I did a radio audition in Radio Nacional in 1988, attended conferences in different places such as Palacio de Correos and the Canadian Embassy, collaborated on a film about Magyar painting and wrote theater pieces and essays. But my primary source of income always came from the electric company. Now I’m retired with a pension and I live in Buenos Aires.
And what about your studies?
Music, musicology, linguistics, philosophy, medicine, law, and assorted languages like Czech and Swedish. To write my music, I studied Chinese and German philosophy and I read all the great writers and thinkers for source material.
How did you apply it to your music?
I’ve tried to synthesize all this knowledge, but the particular application is different for each piece. For example, I needed to study the life of Buddha deeply in order to compose Symphony No. 3. Understanding exactly what he did was necessary for me to get involved with the Oriental philosophy. I was also interested in Chinese philosophy, especially the concept of each musical note representing a single point in the whole universe. German philosophers like Heiddegger and Nietzche were a big influence for some pieces. I have been inspired by writers like Franz Kafka, especially The Castle, and Krishnamurti in my piece A los pies del Maestro. I’ve felt influences from many Nordic composers and German directors.
I’ve employed my medicine studies in pieces like The Homeopathic Suite, for which I worked with the centesimal dilutions of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms in order to obtain different tonalities of organic and inorganic music. I have used Pavlov’s theory of the conditioned reflex to compose music, which is how I came to recognize visceral music, muscular music, cerebral music and humor music. Finally, about languages, sometimes I employ Czech, Finnish or Swedish for titles like Utasacz o Kopowyam Kurvi, Lahatlaton Vonatok, or Frigis Katinty. When I was young, a man once told me, “From now on all your life will be a symphony.” And in a sense he was right.
Who told you this?
He was a marginal man. I cannot remember his name but everyone in the neighborhood called him The Lunatic of the Stones. He was German and used to say he studied with Carl Jung. I’m not sure if that was true but he was interned in the RecklingHausse, a well known German madhouse. Then he came to Argentina. He spoke those words to me in 1968 at the Peña Manatiales of the Marconi Hotel, which used to be located in Once, a traditional neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
You don’t live very far from there now.
My apartment in Buenos Aires is in Caballito, near the Primera Junta metro station, just a few stops after Once. I live there with my music, my paintings, and around twenty cats.
Twenty cats in an apartment? That’s a quite a crew.
I’m a felinophile. Cats are my family. I have a unique relationship with them. I tell them tales at night before going to bed — always the story of the exorcist Saint Benito from Palermo, who carries his white bishop’s crosier, lives on a lonely hill with a Cossack, a pig, a Chinese flagman, a hexapod spider, a Tele-Tubby, an ancient puppet-show man and a female karate performer, among others. The exorcist goes by night to discover a treasure but doesn’t want to be discovered himself. This is a story that continues forever. It has no end. And the cats really love the story. They fall asleep soon.
You also lived with the Guaranies Indians.
Yes, I lived for some time in their tribe near the Brazilian border because I was interested mainly in their very rich language. Learning to speak it satisfied my linguistic curiosity, and living there was interesting, but the weather was terrible. It was so hot there, sometimes I found it intolerable. The Guaranies have a very special music that can be located in the field of ritual music; in fact, the relationship between the sacred, magic and music has been historically present at all times and in all civilizations. The Guaranies mainly use a nose flute, and they sing in groups gathered around the fire. Sometimes I accompanied them with a harmonica or a melodica, and they were pretty interested in the results of this musical experience. Zima, the shaman from the tribe, once said I was always with the Indians and with the dead people.
Do you think your music is open to all audiences?
It’s not easy for me to explain it. Maybe a person like an Indian who lives surrounded by nature and who has an emotive-natural intelligence can understand it well without any studies, but someone with with a rational, flat intelligence would probably not be able to understand it or enjoy it. I’d say it works well in the two extremes — for people like Zima the shaman, for example, or for people with a high intellect who have completed advanced studies. But at the intermediate level, it would be more difficult for the average person to get it. The world is dominated by the civilization of ignorance.
How would you describe your music?
There are mainly two kinds of music: patrimonial and initiatic. Mine is initiatic and also, I’d say, psycho-spatial. It’s music that tends to the pure levels; it tends to be pure music, in other words. Through a psi-mind state it’s a kind of a translation of a place beyond time where all actions can happen, where the infinite is inside nothingness and nothingness is inside the absolute everything. We can say that all this consists of searching for a point between billions of points.
Do you think music can affect mental states?
Well, mine is related to the alpha state, which always requires an inner calm. As far as the technical aspects, I work with sound layers of multiple polyphonic information that responds to a vibrational metapsychic of sound. Music has been always been related to the vibration. In fact, I’d say that bad music is connected to inferior entities, and as one ascends with the vibration, music connects with superior entities until it reaches the imponderable, the absolute.
Have you ever have any paranormal or parapsychic experiences?
Yes, in a house that I had in Floresta. It was a pretty gloomy house with a fig tree that I used to visit for inspiration. In that house strange knocks came from the floor, and once I heard an enigmatic singing voice. Such phenomena pointed to the presence of something supernatural. My wife also had strange visions — a tiger coming up to the bed and a person in a coffin. She felt strange amphorae and squares and heard different metallic voices, including a Paraguayan preacher who lived in the house thirty years prior.
And you’ve also have had paranormal experiences in the field of music.
When I play or compose music, I feel the presence of spirits guiding my hand, which suggests a kind of mantramic trance, but it doesn’t feel like a problem or a disorder. On the contrary, it’s a help for me. It’s like “they” assist in resolving a problem I’m working on. It usually happens to me suddenly. I’ll have an impulse to listen the music of one particular composer, for instance, at first not even realizing why, but then understanding later that it’s the anniversary of the birth or death of that composer. My subconscious guides me. This is pure parapsychology.
You’re a real music-medium.
Entities or spirits currently play through me. I can mention, for instance, the Czech director Dylio Czoris Koomorny, the Spanish pianist Alber Patz Moloddoff, and the Lithuanian / Dutch violinist Rosa Latvio Eental. They all play “through my hands.” I sometimes feel a whole ensemble playing — the Bristol Ensemble. This phenomenon is a kind of musical bilocation that happens through a vibrational metapsychic of sound.
Have you had physical contact with any of these people?
I met them all in person many years ago through the concerts than Bruno Bandini organized in Buenos Aires at the end of the Peron years. They were all musicians touring around the world. Dylio Czoris Koomorny was born in 1938 in Czech Republic. He went blind in one eye because of a gunshot when he was a child. He came to Argentina when he was young. Dylio studied conducting with Rudolph Serkin and became a great conductor himself. He used to work in a record store that specialized in Russian and Czech records. In the music circles his nickname was The Music’s Cyclops.
I don’t remember exactly when Alber Patz Moloddoff was born, but he is a few years older than Dylio. Actually, his real name is Alberto Paiz or Pais. I refer to him by his artistic pseudonym which he picked up because he studied piano in Russia with Mossolov, who created a symphony for machines. He also played for Radio Bucharest before arriving in Argentina on tour.
Rosa Latvio Eental was an excellent violinist. She had black hair and nice green eyes. She was first married to Alberto Mortola, who was a pallbearer for my father when he died, and her second husband was a Dutch guy. Rosa was a prolific mother. She had a lot of sons, some of whose names I can still remember: Alberto, Julio, Osvaldo… but there were many. Rosa is now dead, died some years ago. Dylio and Alber might be still alive, but I don’t know exactly where. We never talk about that in our psychic communications.
So your contact with Dylio and Albert might be not strictly mediumistic.
If they are still alive, then it has to be telepathy or bilocation.
How you recognize their presence? How do you recognize each other?
I hear their voices very clearly. They have very different voices so it’s easy to recognize them. Rosa pronounces the letter V very strongly. It’s not difficult to understand her in Spanish but it’s nearly impossible when she speaks in other languages, especially Hungarian. Koomorny has a very radiophonic voice, like a radio announcer, a sweet voice. He currently speaks in German or English. And Alber has a normal voice. However, with Rosa I had more intimacy. Sometimes she gives me advice and takes care of my family.
How does the contact with them take place? Do you contact them telepathically?
No, they always contact me when they want to. I see an intense light and I know the communication is happening. But I don’t see them often. Only on occasion in dreams am I able to see them. I can hear them constantly. In my opinion, psychic communication has much more precision than the face-to-face communication.
With such unique working methods, it must be difficult to find peers. Are you always happy with the results of your work?
It is sometimes difficult, but with music there is always the possibility that you will fly. For instance, dissonance is a like theorem that always carries a conflict, and at some point you need to resolve the conflict. Dissonance is not easy. There have been times when I was not completely happy with my work at first. In my Symphony No. 9, I tried to combine rock tempi with music of the Hungarian shepherds, and this fusion didn’t work well at all, so I had to re-compose the whole symphony.
Your definition of a symphony is definitely beyond the standard concept.
A symphony could be anything or everything audible. It does not require the classic division, conception or instrumentation, but it has to have a development, leit-motiv and a proper finale. To be a symphony it needs to have symphonic density and symphonic intention. In this sense, many symphonies played by symphonic orchestras are not symphonies at all.
Do you look outside the conventional wisdom in all fields? Most historians consider human culture to have begun around 4000 BC, but different discoveries suggest the possibility of earlier cultures.
Some underground theories discuss earlier cultures that came from other planets — more precisely from the destruction of planetoids between Jupiter and Mars, and maybe from the Sirius constellation as well. These are planets that spin very fast. It’s not so difficult to imagine the possibility of a crash that forced civilizations to search for other homes. They could possibly be advanced civilizations. There are signs that point to the existence of Atlantis and Lemur. Continents and glacial icebergs have been moving constantly. These continents used to have their own music, and as far as I know it was homophonic music.
What do you think extraterrestrial music would be like?
It would work with sounds from another dimension and consist mainly of elements that we could not listen to. The formation of their ears is probably very different from ours. But you don’t need to think about something from other planets to find different dimensions. Dead people still exist but they inhabit another dimension and that’s why we cannot normally contact them. It would be like putting an LP into a CD player.
You made a videotape of yourself conducting an orchestra with a metronome and an emergency traffic flasher. The sound of the orchestra comes from a record, so you and the whole orchestra are not in the same dimension as each other. At the very least, you’re in different temporal dimensions.
That was filmed in the house of an evangelic clergyman named Grosius in 1992. I’m directing a symphony by Hans Roth. The flasher is automatic and I control it with a pedal. It’s a light system with similarities to the system of conduct orchestras call-bells. It’s a whole performance. And yes, there is some metaphysic here, too.
What’s your opinion about contemporary music?
There is too much parasite music nowadays. It comes out of great crisis within human beings who have big voids inside, and it produces frivolities that are close to stupidity. I hate big spectacles that are conceived for an amorphous audience. The main parasite music is commercial music. On the other hand, there is a kind of artistic apartheid. I think we should bring the underground artist to the mainstream. The love and passion of undergrounds artists is what would save us from insanity and apathy. I have doubts about any artist who appears in the newspapers. Generally, there is no quality, only marketing, but even in the avant garde you can find people doing things like mathematical experiments, just numeric series that never prosper. They are not oriented toward the human soul, so these schools or currents are without real contents. They don’t have the heart turned on.
You seem to be against many things.
I’m against supporting more of the same, I’m against Biennials. I’m against the advance of snobbery in art. And I’m also against the Nobel Prize, which nowadays is just decorative.
What are you interested in?
In the initiatic side of music. Discovering things that are not normal or average. What nobody is interested in listening to. Over the years, I have sought, found and listened to the strangest pieces and have been inspired by them. The human being runs at the side of a river. When he is young, he runs faster than the river; in mid-life he runs at the same speed of the river; and at last he falls down and the river keeps going.