on monday night i went to the last few hours of a beautiful, simple and powerful performance at veneklasen/werner gallery near checkpoint charlie. directed by olaf nicolai, it was part of an ongoing project series devised between the gallery and soundfair.
within robert schurrman’s opus 20, there is a line of compositional notation between the treble and the bass lines, entitled innere stimme. the pianist, with both hands occupied, cannot play the piece, but it is intended to be an internal, underlying and (silent) aspect of the work itself. nicolai’s work was a 30 hour endurance ongoing performance of this piece in which four performers interpreted the ‘secret track’ across the three large gallery rooms.
the work was the kind of work that makes me cry: it was so engaging, so powerful in its execution – the acoustics in the gallery were fucking divine, and could be enjoyed at a variety of levels: from pure entertainment to deep spiritual connections as the harmony and dischord of the performers often connected to hymns and historical or religious music. there was a period where the male performer resembled something from a guido reni work of st. sebastian – except our performer, sartorially speaking, classic hipster/barley replete with arse hanging out the back of skinny jeans. it was perfect.
perceived personalities – given that i stayed for a while and perhaps it’s the habit of audience (especially in a performative context), i found myself ascribing personalities to each of the singers. based on their dynamics, their interaction with the space, their movements, body language and their dress: The Opera Singer, The Hipster Grandad (his voice at time reminded me of my Grandad, who has a beautiful bass voice and who i remember singing whilst shaving), Billie Holiday and The Playful One.
dynamics – given that there were four performers and only three rooms, there was an inevitable interaction between the peformers. i’m not sure how it had been for the previous 27 hours, but it was fascinating to watch. some just didn’t and couldn’t interact with each other (anymore), either their musical styles were two different, their personalities clashed or both. it was interesting to watch one performer enter a room and see the other either match or reduce their ‘output’. you could read a stack of power-based dynamics into the experience. volume and resonance became tools for domination, as did dischordance, repetition and something i’m calling amusicality. i made that word up, but i’ll explain it in a bit.
acoustics – interaction with the space: each of the performers used the track and their vocals to interact with the space in different ways. each had quite different vocal styles, so their interaction with acoustics was quite different. the more operatic singers (The Opera Singer and The Hipster) played with resonance, a lot. Billie Holiday didn’t really interact with the space itself at all, maintaining a ‘performer’ stance the whole time – constructed poses, chanteuse facial expressions and the kind of style expected on a stage, in front of a mike. If i’m perfectly honest, she gave me the shits. I can’t explain why. The Playful One probably gave everyone else the shits but i enjoyed watching her the most – she used a huge variety of vocal/sound to really investigate both space and the work. There were times where she literally sang the piece into and across a corner to see what the space sounded like. She sang to the floor, sang like a spanish housewife, sang like a child, sang at the top, middle and back of her voice – she whispered and made completely amusical sounds (that’s what i meant earlier). She really played with as many variables as possible. Maybe out of boredom, but i found it fascinating. And enjoyable – she kind of fucked with the rest of the more-serious voices going on, whilst still being able to sing harmoniously if it was called for.
i had intended to go in for an hour and ended up staying for almost three times that, because the work was so rich, especially for me, with my specific focus on sound/public/private/spatial thang, it was a valhalla. in fact, it’s the kind of work that i wish that i made myself and i realised i have a long way to go before then.
I have one criticism of the work, which is actually its ending. in her biography, marina abramovic speaks about controlling the end of the peformance – either clearing the gallery before she brakes the illusion, or making the ending a specific part of the peformance. either way, it being considered. i tried it last week, to the best i could, and i found it worked. the nicolai piece didn’t end. in all the promotion, the work was intended to finish at midnight and we all waited for either the gallery staff to signal the end, or the performers, or the artist – something. but, it just petered out, some of the performers stopping, others going on for ages afterwards. no closure; no opportunity for the audience to give a round of applause or celebrate the work. i think these things are important. and after all that, i left feeling a sense of unfinished. maybe i’m too critical.
this aside, the work was stunning, and has stayed with me for an age. i imagine that it will for a while longer.
thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx