Amadinda Percussion Group, Keller Quartet, Mónika Juhász Miczura, Zsuzsa Lukin, László Dés László Dés: The Hanged

BMCCD021 1999

The piece is about life as much as it is about death by violence, about play and suffering, about innocence and murder - for the victims of all times.

László Dés


Amadinda Percussion Group (1-11)
Károly Bojtos
Aurél Holló
Zoltán Rácz
Zoltán Váci

Keller Quartet (1-9)
András Keller - violin
János Pilz - violin
Zoltán Gál - viola
Judit Szabó - violoncello

Mónika Juhász Miczura, Zsuzsa Lukin - voices (9)
László Dés - saxophone (10-11)

About the album

Track 1-9 recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Hungary
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Balance engineer: János Bohus
Digital editing: Veronika Vincze

Track 10-11 recorded and mixed at the Tom-Tom Studio, Budapest
Live recording at the Katona József Theatre
Recording engineer: Péter Dorozsmai

Produced by László Gőz

The recording was sponsored by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.


Szigeti Péter - Gramofon ***** (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

Currently out of stock.

László Dés: The Hanged

01 Introduction 2:11
02 Awakening 1:52
03 Play 0:50
04 Life 2:57
05 Fear 0:53
06 Aggression 3:22
07 Death 4:44
08 Soul-bell 1:25
09 Bereavement 3:41

László Dés:

10 Mbira - Tradtional Music (Zimbabwe) 7:36

László Dés:

11 Otea - Traditional Music (Tahiti) 8:09

László Dés: The Hanged

Multimedia track 23:33
Total time 61:13

The album is available in digital form at our retail partners

“The Music is shaping the sculptures”

The sculpture needs no explanation, it speaks for itself. It made an immediate and tremendous impact on me, and I found it especially exciting that the figures were not “simple” sculptures, but also instruments; not simply works of art to be admired from a distance, but objects that can be touched, sounded.

The music born of this impact was written, intended for the piece of fine art that inspired it. The content element posed the first problem - I could not bring myself to strike a human figure, not even hanged sculptures - and it was the music that brought the solution. When the figures are laid flat, they become a huge marimba, consisting of seventeen tuned strips of wood. Laid out, the figures are an instrument; stand them up and they become wooden sculptures portraying hanged men. I divided up the seventeen sculpture-drums among four percussionists, assigning groups of 4-4-4-5 to each, with overlaps. Being unfamiliar with the pitches of this “marimba”, I took sound samples from the drums, and established a relative sequence of pitch level. Some of the figures produced sounds higher or lower in pitch depending on where they were struck, so, in all, twenty-five different notes are sounded on the seventeen figures in the piece. When writing the percussion parts, I took into consideration not only the pitch level, but also the varying acoustics of the hollowed-out blocks of wood: deep, sonorous, hollow, high-pitched... During rehearsals, shavings kept collecting beneath the statues and I anxiously asked Böröcz: What’s going to happen? “That’s all right”, he replied. “The music is shaping the sculptures.”

I wrote the piece for a ten-member chamber orchestra, four percussionists, a string quartet - two violins, viola, violoncello and two female voices. The two voices differ from each other in the same way that the sound of the huge “marimba”, rough, like a clatter, calling to mind ancient, primeval rites, differs from the most sensitive of European instruments, the strings. Mónika Juhász Miczura’s voice, breaking forth with elementary force, and Zsuzsa Lukin’s sensitive, restrained, clear presentation - the two together impart a sense of bereavement. This is the only improvisative “movement” of the piece, in which only a structural frame, and the notes are given, but their duration and sequence is incidental - the improvisation of two artists.

The piece is about life as much as it is about death by violence, about play and suffering, about innocence and murder - for the victims of all times. 

László Dés

The Hanged

Here the musical instruments turn into people. The absurdity is intensified by the evocation of death. Who are the victims and who the killer or killers? Death, that is total silence, is in this case a seventeen-piece drum ensemble.

According to primitive belief, hollow trees and boxes contain spirits. The spirits dormant in dead people - in the hanged drums - come to life when the drums start talking. The pleasure of the viewer/listener is spoiled by the resemblance of the drums sounding to an insane act of physical violence: this is like beating the dead! The figures, just like the sounds and spirits, hover between heaven and earth; their apparent weightlessness is counterpoised chiefly by the heaviness of the “subject.”

András Böröcz

A monument to our century

András Böröcz’s sculpture, The Hanged, executed in 1989-90, (and, through the composer Daniel Carney’s participation, also functional as musical instrument, for it consists of seventeen figures, made of split, hollowed, and carved wood, that can be sounded as drums) is actually a monument, although every one of its features contradicts the basic requirements by which we recognize this genre. It was not made for a designated site, nor does it commemorate any specific person(s) or event. It does not stand on the ground, has no pedestal, no place for wreaths of flowers. Our inability to link it to a concrete date and event does not, however, obscure its monumental nature. On the contrary. A child of the twentieth century contemplating it. Entire litanies of cities and events could be recited. In this advanced age of mass-produced death, “in this putrid XX. century where we embellish mass-graves” (1), it may even appear absurd, for a moment, to commemorate any one person’s death by singling it out with its own memorial and site. And let us not forget that the mode of death that is the leitmotif in this sculpture and in Böröcz’s series of Gallows drawings, is still distinctively personal.

The Hanged, therefore, is a vision of this century’s daily nightmare. The seventeen bodies, suspended from above on ropes of various lengths, and fashioned from the light and warm-toned wood of the plane tree (on which Böröcz often leaves the bark intact), form the outlines of an articulated, lightly traced, softly undulating virtual sculptural mass in space. The distended shapes of these human forms that are no longer subject to gravity, intensify - within the limits of stylization - the sense of hanging as physical violence, while at the same time it is precisely this that evokes an other-worldly, hovering dimension...

The fact that these carved wood figures function as drums attaches further associations and meanings to this work. The drum is an instrument of magic, belonging to the most ancient communicational layer, the world of rhythm. Africans and American Indians believe to this day that the drum possesses a spirit. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection includes drums in the shape of human figures: the spirit whose voice sounds the drum. The clatter of the colliding bodies of The Hanged, is then the message sent by their spirits: the sounded presence of transcendent human essence. In Memphis, where The Hanged has been exhibited, someone played these drums. Beating them with drumsticks conveyed for the spectator a sense that the drummer was using two sticks to beat humans - the images of humans - who responded with hoarse, rhythmic thumps and echoes: the drum’s awsome reserves of sound brought to life the work’s dormant cruelty and magic.

The inventiveness in Böröcz’s creation (that can be sounded as a musical instrument) is that it actually calls attention to the magical function inherent in every work of art. Humans fashion cultic objects to mark something they cannot otherwise immediately contact. The image, whether painted, photographed or carved, is inherently magical, for it lends presence to something or someone not present; it stands conjoined to the mystery of being and non-being. We learn about the nonexistence of the victims conjured by The Hanged because their carved images do exist. These humans, precisely those whose nonexistence is depicted by the sculpture, return to speak through the sound of drums. Their violent deaths, the actual theme of the work, seems to have, instead of destroying them, propelled them into another kind of existence, the magic of this transfiguration, as it were, dropping them back into the primal medium of rhythm. Böröcz in more than one work has sought contact with the world of ancient cults and magic ritual. He recognizes the aboriginal functions of sculpture, of the activity eventually called art, in African, Oceanic and other tribal carved artifacts, for these are about nothing else but the mysterious conjunction of life and death, the mystery of to be and not to be: the existence of the dead, and the death of the living. The dead, via magic ritual that includes sculpture/idols and drums, may be called back from nonexistence.

And here, by transposing drama into magic, we realize we are confronting a monument that ritualizes, if not a site, then a few forms, and a set of events contained in that form, and by doing so elevates this fictive set of events, from actual event into symbol removing it from the realm of concrete historical time. It transplants them into an eternalized present, where the symbolic victims of an endless succession of violence and murder - that is, their images - will haunt eternally.

From yet another point of view - and Böröcz’s work always opens out in several directions - these figures suspended from ropes seem like marionettes. A group of play figures moved from above, simple, carved characters evoking wooden folk puppets whose voice, if something is being drummed out, carries far. This echo of folk carvings is also an actualization of an ancient cultural layer. Primitive arts attract Böröcz in the same way and for the same reason as they did the Expressionists in the 1910’s: this is where he finds those suggestively authentic expressions that are later buried under other cultural components.

As in all of his works, here too, Böröcz is at play: in this case, with the grotesque overtones of The Hanged, the notion of the world as a puppet theatre controlled from above. In addition, The Hanged preserves something of the performance medium: we witness the aftermath of events; the movement and voice of the figures is contingent yet evocable. From the random gathering of plane tree branches and their initial interpretation via craftsmanlike carving, the unfurling of character, Böröcz traverses the wood/tree - gallows tree - hanged tree/wood - hanged wood puppet - puppet-drum - hanged puppet-drum - drummed out hanged puppet-drum range of associations. This set of associations, partly verbal and partly originating in the material and its gradual shaping, has attracted and enfolded the sculpture with all possible meanings relating to any of its component elements.

Seventeen gently swaying dead, who on top of it all seem to have nothing in common, are sufficient to evoke the association of mass murder; while the interrupted motions, domestically realistic gestures serve to demonstrate unmistakably that we are dealing with civilian victims, holocaust as part of everyday life. What can be more natural these days, Böröcz suggests, than the sudden termination, into the past tense, to escape from gravity and time. Each figure is an individual portrait, but the sculpture taken in its entirety is a bitterly ironic still-life containing a report on the condition humaine, here and now. 

In this piece, as well as in the Gallows drawings, Böröcz surveys the banalization of death, the tendency to reduce and insidiously domesticate death, and its absurd incorporation into the workaday world. And all with his characteristic penchant for absurdity, his sharply focussed playfulness, which, although it exploits and develops every potential of material and form, still does not lose sight of the starting point: in this case motiveless, impersonal, fateless murder becoming an everyday mass occurrence.

(...) Böröcz’s original concept was to hang the figures carved out of plane wood from a live plane tree (2), as a return of sorts to their original environment, “since we are made of dust and to dust we return”. Swinging among the boughs of a plane tree, they would have found their way back to their own substance, and being dead, would at least optically blend into the original matter, in this case, the plane tree. The original cruelty of humankind would have found its way back home to the cruelty of nature.

Suspension takes away the sculpture’s weight and emphasizes its inertia. The swaying forms, with their potential movement, “stir up” a space around themselves. The bodies collide with each other - they are, after all, percussion instruments - the air currents play with them, and their position, in direct contrast to the original function of sculpture, fluctuates within a certain narrow space, it is uncertain. This sculpture has no site: first, in the sense that it may be suspended anyplace, in any configuration; and second, in the sense that at least potentially, it is in constant motion.

The constant fluctuation of these figures, or more precisely their lack of solid immovability, also has the effect of toppling the viewer from his or her customary position. The traditional, static monument remains in a state of rest, and since it commemorates a past and completed event no matter how brutal, it is relegated to the irrevocable past by the time the sculpture is installed. We are accustomed to view it through layers of time, and it elicits reflection, rather than immediate emotion or passion. Böröcz’s figures, however, are unburied dead, and this is disquieting. They swing on their ropes very much in the present, and their realistic, frozen gestures give the viewer the impression of their just having been executed. This makes death immediate and palpable: the tragedy and the brutality are somewhere here in our midst, in the sculpture’s potentially ever present space - that is, anywhere.

(...) Böröcz’s group of figures swings in the twentieth century’s time out of joint, in the bankruptcy of culture, in the disjointed space created by the murderous rampage of the world of instincts that we have imagined to be under control. In this sense, too, it is homeless.

The position occupied by Böröcz’s sculpture in space originates first and foremost in its subject matter. At the same time The Hanged, by surveying its subject from all around, is a work of an ironic distancing. Its immediacy, the present tense of its innate drama, and its potentially shocking effect is overlaid by the stylized figures, their forming musical instruments, that is, their transposition into another communicational dimension - overlaid ultimately by the entire work’s being at one and the same time both magical and intellectual. The circumstance of the sculpture’s being nomadic, to use Krauss’s apt adjective for the entirety of modern sculpture, that is, in its homelessness, it is suspendable anyplace. This broadens and so to say universalizes its meaning. Wherever this work is to be hung, there also live human beings have been hung; in other words, every nameable and unnameable outrage has been and may yet be perpetrated...

The Hanged constitutes a monument to the dead victims, produced in immense, runaway inflationary numbers by this century that believes itself enlightened. Likewise, the work directs attention to the general cheapening of life and death. In our infernal century, when execution and burial, exhumation and reburial, the digging and covering up of mass graves, their re-exposure and reburial has been and is still going on on every continent, the craftsmanly execution and carving of figures that possess individual characters is already a powerful statement in itself. It is a resistance and protest against the devaluation of life and of death, against the acceptance of its anonymity and “wholesale” character. It is a remembrance and a reminder of tribal art, where life is the greatest magic and death the greatest mystery.

In the disjointed space of a time out of joint, the artist dislocated from traditional roles can not do otherwise, so Böröcz tells us, than report, present a picture of this disjointedness, this inferno. The Hanged, the defunct civilians in the world of the Antichrist, may be sounded as drums, although as humans, they have lost their voices.

Éva Forgács

1. György Jovánovics: Eksztatikus katalógus egy tömegsír esztétikájához, /Ecstatic Catalogue for an Aesthetic of the Mass Grave/ Kritika, Budapest, 1992/10, pp. 3-5; quoted from András Rényi’s essay, A dekonstruált kegyelet /Deconstructed Reverence/, Holmi, Budapest, 1995/10, p. 1418
2. András Böröcz, verbal communication, New York, November 1995

(The work came to the Museum of Fine Arts in 1994. Dr. György Budai had first seen The Hanged during its creation in Brooklyn. It was a the request and through the good offices of Judit Geskó, curator of the Museum, that dr. Budai, who had in the meantime acquired it, kindly agreed to place the work in the Museum’s XXth century collection.)

Related albums