Körper und Seele (2014)
for „Airmachine“ (instrument/sculpture developed by composer), video, choir and orchestra,
text : Sjón, Czech popular text, vedic mantra
SWR commission for Donaueschinger Musiktage
Premier 19 October 2014
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Conductor François Xavier Roth
Publisher Billaudot (firstname.lastname@example.org)
4 different texts :
1. Sjón, finnagaldur (wizzadry/schamanenzauberei, Icelandic original, German translation, Czech translation)
2. Duše a tělo (Body and Soul / Körper und Seele, Czech popular text, 19th century, original)
3. Viraja Homa (extract of Vedic ritual mantra, Sanskrit, original)
4. Sjón, uppstigning á fjöllum (ascension in the mountains / himmelfahrt in den bergen, English translation)
I combine 4 different texts touching the relation between the body and the soul.
For the 1st part (Sjón finnagaldur) I use at the first place the German translation (Tina Flecken), then some fragments of the Icelandic original and the Czech translation (my own translation). For the 2nd part (Duše a tělo, Czech popular text) I use the original text in Czech, for the 3rd part (Viraja Homa, Hinduist mantra) I use the original text in Sanskrit, for the 4th part (Sjón uppstigning á fjöllum) I use the English translation by David McDuff.
The genesis of this piece is related to the development of Airmachine.
5 years ago, I started to experiment with air and construct a machine that connects vacuum cleaners with different inflatable objects, overtone flutes and other home made non temperated wind and toy instruments.
At the same time, I got on my table poems by Sjón, who was my neighbour at this time.
I found very interesting schamanenzauberei and surprisingly related to the sound of instrument that I was building one floor above the poet’s working room.
In this time, Armin Köhler commissioned me a piece for choir, orchestra and Airmachine.
I chose 2 poems by Sjón: schamanenzauberei reflecting the heaviness of the human body, ascencioin in the mountains is about weightlessness.
Not only the texts were the source of inspiration but also listening to the poet talking about them. Each time Sjón, who likes to speak about his work surprised me with a new level of meaning of his texts.
Much later came two other texts also reflecting relation between the soul and the body:
a Czech popular text and a Vedic mantra.
The piece starts with Laponic wizzadry (Sjón, finnagaldur/schamanenzauberei). Sjón puts in his text an ancestral ritual and high spiritual level of Laponic shamanism in confrontation with a very low level noises of human body that come simultaneously during those rituals.
The last summer I finished Polednice for choir and orchestra based on a very famous poem by Czech romantic poet Karel Jaromir Erben. I enjoyed very much working on a Czech text. In the same book I found Body and Soul, a Czech popular text that Erben collected. I liked immediately the simplicity and directivity of the text and also its rhythm.
The text is an argument between the suffering soul and the death sinful body (“body, body, what had you been doing, you were proud, dressed in gold, went to dance, forgot the God, I am suffering, suffering because of you!!!!”… “soul, soul, don’t give me the guilt, you were all the time with me!!!”…”I was all the time with you, body, but I couldn’t control even myself”…). I decided to push this conflict between the pleasure and the guilt to its grotesque extreme.
A year ago I spent one month in India in an Ashram of Nithyananda. Every morning, the monks were preparing Viraja Homa (fire ritual for renunciation) and its corresponding mantra. I learned some parts of the mantra with them. The Hindu people say, that the mere phonetic of Sanskrit has a positive healing effect. I was fascinated buy the beauty of this ancient language and its proximity to the sound of the Czech language. At the end of my stay, I only discovered the meaning of this mantra:
“By this oblation, all levels of my breath, all my senses and each part of my body become purified…..”
I immediately wanted to put it as a part of the piece Körper und Seele but this mantra was difficult to melt in my music and finally I had to let it almost at its original authentic state.
The last, short and haiku like poem by Sjón, ascension in the mountains, is a very simple claim that in this place somebody might have ascended, they are foot steps, just one way, and then they stop…
For various reasons I decided to have the public in the middle of orchestra groups, for exemple:
-I associated the Laponic wizzadry with waves of breath and energy crossing rapidly the whole space
-the audience is invited to enter inside the “body noises”
-I underline the argument between the soul and body and their physical distance by “arguing” between the groups of musicians in the opposite corners of the concert hall.
In my last 3 pieces, I have a strong story behind the music. The musical material comes mainly from very simple song like melodic/rhythmical motives very much related to the text.
Comparing to Kameny, the previous piece that I wrote for SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Intercontemporain on the text by Sjón, in this piece I play more with the rhythm and special voice techniques and less with harmonies.
Airmachine is an instrument that consists of 2 vacuum cleaners (one blowing air in, the other sucking air out, both hidden behind the stage) and a system of automated valves opening and closing air outputs (water valves combined with servo-motors). By a Gardena connection system I connect all possible wind instruments, toy instruments and also party blowers, balloons or other inflatable objects to each its air output (for example overtone flutes, balloons of different colours, forms and sizes, siren whistles, harmonic tubes, toy double reed instruments, car horns).
The whole object, controlled through a MIDI keyboard controller by one pianist becomes a surrealist visual and noise theatre.