The music for the artistic dance video LUTGARDIS – Project 3 was created by composer Valéry Demaré in collaboration with choreographer Sander Vloebergs. This blog offers an insight in the process of music making and the creation of a unique composition based on an intertextual study and an intermedia collaboration.
October, 12th 2018: Meeting to discuss the inspiration for the musical composition
During this meeting Val and Sander explored musical and textual references for the composition. Both artists were inspired by 13th century musical traditions; the same time period as the Mulieres Religiosae (the holy women of Liège) and Lutgardis of Tongeren in particular. They selected the music of Italian composer Perotin (Val experimented with his music in the past). The piece is called Beata Viscera Marie Virginis. The text was written by Philip the Chancellor and is a hymn to Mary and the mystery of the Incarnation.
We choose this text to include this intertextual layer that relates Lutgardis to Mary. Late Medieval piety gravitated towards Mary and her son Jesus, venerated as the Human Christ. Female mystics and saints imitated both Mary and Christ in order to find union with the divine. To Lutgardis and other women, Mary was the example to imitate in order to reach this goal. With this intertextual connection we relate Lutgardis and her struggle towards perfection (described by Thomas of Cantimpré in three parts of her saintly biography) with Mary, the ideal Woman.
Beata viscera Marie virginis Cuius ad ubera Rex magni nominis, Dictavit federa Dei et hominis
O mira novitas et novum gaudium, Matris integrita Post puerperium
Blessed flesh of the Virgin Mary, at whose breasts the king of eminent name, concealing, under altered guise, the force of divine nature, has sealed a pact of God and Man O astonishing novelty and unaccustomed joy of a mother still pure after childbirth… Trans: Barbara DeMarco
The musicians and dancers met during the second session in the dance room of the KULeuven to explore the possibilities of an intermedia exchange between dance and music. We reversed the dynamics between dance and music by creating the music according to the choreography (I experimented with this method before for the project CHRISTINA). The choir rehearsed the Beata Viscera prior to this session. The song was transformed according to the rhythm of the choreography. The conductor recreated the song step by step while the dancers repeated the dance phrases multiple times and analyzed the meaning of the movements.
I wanted to highlight some important passages in particular, namely the moment where the singer seems to loose her voice. In this passage the choreography meets the music. The dance represents Lutgardis of the second book (see blog…) at this point, the woman-in-between. She is neither a saint, nor an ordinary woman. In her struggle to reach perfection she looses her voice – or she is silenced by society. In the moment of letting go by releasing her breath, the dancer and the singer regain agency.
November, 25th 2018
Before the day of recording the lyrics were changed as well. The original text of the Maria Viscera was replaced by a passage from the saint life of Lutgardis, written by Thomas of Cantimpré. The text describes Lurtgardis heavenly voice. The theme of this passage refers to the beautiful sound of the choir but it also refers to the tension between heavenly sound and voiceless breath, the tension between saint and ordinary women (introduced in the previous paragraph). The music and the choreography both construct the theme of VOX
At quoniam Lutgardem per omnia Agnum secutam diximus, videas quid Agnus rependerit. Fas enim est sponsum sponsæ suæ vicem rependere. Sed vide quemadmodum reddidit. In monasterio S. Catharinæ, omni sexta feria in vespere sabbathi subsequentis, in venerationem beatissimæ Virginis Mariæ merito deputati, cum Versus super Responsorium f cantabatur (cujus utique versum ob gratiam devotionis Lutgardis sola cantare solebat) videbatur ei interim dum cantaret, quod Christus in specie Agni super pectus suum se tali modo locaret, ut unum pedem super humerum ejus dexterum alium super sinistrum, & os suum ori illius imponeret ; & sic sugendo de pectore illius mirabilis melodiæ suavitatem extraheret. Nec dubitare quisquam poterat in hoc cantu, divinum adesse miraculum, cum in solo Versu illo vox in infinitum solito gratior audiretur. Unde & corda audientium ad devotionem interim mirabiliter movebantur (Boek 1, 19) Acta Sanctorium, June 3th
The Gods, however, took pity on the human race, born to suffer as it was, and gave it relief in the form of religious festivals to serve as periods of rest from its labors. They gave us the Muses, with Apollo their leader, and Dionysus; by having these gods to share their holidays, men were to be made whole again . . . —Plato, Laws 653c
Great music was made under the guidance of Greek Muses and Christian Saints. This blog post explores order and chaos, pleasure and pain, and the role of the divine in the making of contemporary music. The ancient art of music has greatly influenced Western culture. Its roots can be tracked from Plato via Roman Catholic Christianity to contemporary society. Music producer Surfing Dino (Benoit Dequick) was inspired by Christian writer Beatrice of Nazareth to create music that pursues the heavenly joys and the hellish pains that Love afflicts on the lover. While hearing ideal heavenly music in his mind, Surfing Dino struggled with translating it into concrete everyday reality which is limited in time and space. By analyzing Plato’s views on musicial pleasure, I will reflect on the painful nature of art and music to describe Benoit’s artistic process that led up to the creation of his song called Beatrice.
Pleasure in Music (Order and Law)
In her article Music and Pedagogy in the Platonic City, Sophie Bourgault states that Plato believes that music can strengthen the education of children by shaping them be ideal citizens. She argues against an excessive scholarly focus on Plato’s metaphysics (his world of ideas) at the expense of his practical interest in the working of the city and his (cautious) approval of sensuous pleasure. Human beings are musical animals and therefore music is naturally perceived as pleasurable, especially when movement and sounds are given a certain order and harmony. According to Bourgault, music matters to Plato because it could be used in education, combining natural pleasure children experience in music with necessary understanding of conventions/principles and of order/structure which are inherent to music. When learned well and practiced in the orderly manner, children can develop moral qualitiesand habits that will assist their philosophical reflections later in life.
Music is an art based on measure, ratio and order. It has enormous power and therefore enormous potential to be good or bad. One should not make pleasure the standard by which music ought to be judged – it is only a secondary effect, according to Plato. Its virtue lies in expertise, tradition and social coherence.
He says: “no one shall sing a note or perform a dancemovement that is not in the canon of public songs” – Plato Repblic 800a
Public song create harmonic patters in the city. Harmonic patters which could also be found in the heavens: the ideal city made after divine proportions. Good music mimics these proportions, and this gives pleasure. Through music, the eternal could be made present in the space and time continuum, and, through music’s structure, we could mimic the divine proportions.
Plato’s structured city resembles Benoit’s artistic process. Benoit was working on a PhD in engineering, and experimenting with sound technology brought him closer to music. Due to his studies, he was quick to pick up this technology and create his music without any former musical training. He noted that music unlocked the creative parts of his brain, allowing him to tap into the ordered harmonious cosmos that Plato philosophized about. According to Benoit, contemporary pop music follows clear structures. While drawing on these clearly defined structures, Benoit still allowed for his own, less regimented style, challenging the clear structures of pop music He argued that creating music is a natural process, like cooking. Moreover, he stated that “Creativity challenges logics”. Benoit wanted to create new music and propose an improved order that approaches – what Plato referred to as – Beauty, heavenly harmony.
Pain in Music
Nevertheless, the translation from heavenly harmony to earthly music does not happen overnight. Often it is the a process of trial and error; a painful process of numerous frustrations. It is in the dark of night that many artists find their Muse. Benoit often felt inspired when he entered a dreamlike state. In this curious state of unconsciousness, he heard new music yet to be written down and produced. According to him, the brain is a bottomless container of musical ideas and a world of endless possibilities. Benoit, together with many artists, experienced this platonic world of Beauty and Order during translucid consciousness. Art theorist Jacques Maritain described this as:
Thus a place is prepared in the highest parts of the soul, in the primeval translucid night where intelligence stirs the images under the light of the Illuminating Intellect, for the separate Muse of Plato to descend into man, and dwell within him, and become a part of our spiritual organism. – Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry
Plato’s Muse incarnated in the human soul. For Maritain, divine inspiration becomes human illumination. According to him, the artist creates Art without any divine intervention, if he/she is willing to turn inwards and to explore the depths of the human soul. These depths are often experienced, not as a heavenly order, but as a hellish anxiety. Bataille described his encounter with the abys of existence – an artistic night of the soul – as follows:
Trembling. To remain immobile, standing, in a solitary darkness, in an attitude without the gesture of a supplicant: supplication, but without gesture and above all without hope. Lost and pleading, blind, half dead. Like Job on the dung heap, in the darkness of night, but imagining nothing – defenseless, knowing that all is lost. – George Bataille, Inner Experience
Although Benoit does not use these dramatic expressions when describing his inner experience and artistic process, the artist still acknowledged another painful experience that is related to the eternal Beauty he pursued. Pain and frustration appear when he exited the orderly world of ideas and when he tried to shape the eternal music in the here and now. To struggle with the limitations of reality is an intrinsic part of the artistic process. When leaving the world of sounds, he was trapped again in the imperfect world, which left him with a dangerous desire and an erotic craving for Beauty that cannot be grasped. Both artists and mystics call this experience exile. Although music and dance could have healing properties (a relief for the people, Plato argues), for the musician music is also painful – because he/she is not capable of capturing its perfect harmonies.
Poppies and Electrodes
Benoit used the metaphor of the poppy, noting that it resembled the melodies he received in this translucid state. When he woke up and captured the melody with his audio recorder, one petal fell down. When he then searched for musicians and singers who could perform these melodies, other petals got lost because the original music was corrupted due to technical or artistic shortcomings. At the end of the production process one petal remained, only a mere reflection of its original Beauty. He also referred to the metaphor of an electrode, which can only be seen when disturbed. Original Beauty cannot be observed, there is always corruption due to the need for mediation. Most of all, Benoit longed for an artistic process without intermediacy, a direct connection between his mind and the speakers, a well-ordered and harmonious transfer of Beauty.
BEATRICE – Project 2
A prayer to Dionysius
Benoit’s art process was very structured. He enjoyed working on a well-defined project with a limited scope. Within these parameters, he explored his creativity and searched for inspiration. Then he proceeded in a forward manner, creating a piece informed by analysis that was extracted by an inspirational idea. For the Beatrice Project Benoit was given carte blanche. He was asked to read Beatrice of Nazareth’s Seven manieren der heiliger minne and to make his own interpretation of this mystical treatise on the nature of the love relationship between God and the believer. Beatrice told an orderly yet disturbing story of a God who wounds and heals his beloved. Like Love, He is mercilessly cruel and wondrously kind at the same time. It is hard to neglect Beatrice passionate lines and her erotic desire that ran through her complete work.
Left without restrictions Benoit decided to let go of his structured approach and focus on the text’s erotic play. According to Gerardus van der Leeuw, art is both Apollonial and Dionysiac (following Nietzsche’s distinction). The art process we have talked about so far is mainly Apollonial, the structured and harmonious art Plato favored. Beatrice’s text about Love forces us to embrace the ecstatic movement of Dionysiac music. Van der Leeuw says :
Dionysiac rhythm lives ecstatically in raving dance of the dervishes and maenads. In mysticism it becomes the symbol of dissolution, of the complete loss of self in the god.
Benoit decided to deconstruct pop music’s clear structure and tell a story about Love’s fickleness through increasing musical tensions. Benoit first looked for musical textures that suited medieval mysticism: dark but not sad. He wanted to create a sphere that conjured awe. After setting the tone and opening with a mystical atmosphere, Benoit increased the tempo, like a heart beat that runs faster and faster, mimicking the increase in desire expressed in the text. He decided to follow the Dionysiac movement of music, following the heart beat that brought him further along the path of loving union.
Arriving at the end of the song, Benoit experienced a need for a drastic fracture, disrupting the logical structure of the music even further. According to Benoit the text and the music focus too strongly on the painful side of love. He argues that Love is joyful too. That is why he interrupted the music with a playful twist. He created a small intro based on an Italian translation of the lyrics. Like Beatrice’s sixth manner, this part celebrates the joyous presence of love which Benoit associated with travel, adventure and freedom shared by two lovers.
Here you can find the lyrics of Surfing Dino – Beatrice. The lyrics are inspired on the original lyrics written by dancer and writer Sheila Van den Broeck. The music was used to create the dance video called BEARTICE – Project 2. One can find a blog about the choreography and video here.
Sophie Bourgault, Music and Pedagogy in the Platonic City, in The Journal of Aesthetic Education 46 (2012) 59-72.
Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, London, The Harvill Press, 1954.
George Bataille, Inner Experience (trans. Leslie Anne Boldt), New York, State University of New York Press, 1988.
Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty. The Holy in Art (trans. David E. Green), Londen, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963.
To Peter Duboi, music is an extension of one’s own identity, mediated by the instrument. Peter has always felt the need to create and externalize his inner harmony, and above all, to touch people with his creations. To him, learning music is not just mastering a kind of craft, but goes even further. It is about searching for one’s identity and one’s inner voice and learning how to communicate that message towards an audience in an auditory way.
MUSIC AND ITS CONTEXT
Peter received a classical training at the Conservatorium of Antwerp where he studied harmony and composition. Academically, he was particularly fascinated by contextuality, by the different contexts of composers throughout history, during different eras of music and how these contexts influenced the expression of the musician. The interconnection between the history of music and the history of ideas interests Peter, and he acknowledges that religion played a big part in the evolution of music and that this history of ideas that should not be overlooked. This evolution in history of music and ideas is intrinsically intertwined with the evolution of technology. The musician creates, using instruments – artifacts – that help him express his inner world and identity.
Sometimes the basic use of just one instrument (and one voice) can express the composer’s identity more accurately than relying on a complete orchestra. The solo performance of a musician or a singer-songwriter can be extremely intimate when he/she tells a story using a limited amount of resources. Peter especially enjoys the work of Tori Amos, Sarah Bareilles and Anne Pierlé. In their works the listener experiences a profound sense of honesty and reality, due to the minimal musical arrangement and the strength and depth of the lyrics. According to Peter, this intimate self-expression invokes musical excitement.
THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC
Peter was raised in a family of scientists. His brother and father are both engineers and Peter too studied mathematics and sciences in high school. He was trained in the rational methods of a scientific perspective. However, Peter discovered that science does not have a monopoly when it comes to studying and exploring the world. When he was 18 he decided to study the language of music and its artistic methods, expecting to find new tools for self-reflection and self-expression. Peter is convinced that the scientific lens often reduces the complexity of reality to a simplistic mathematical worldview, stripped away from its unique chaos and beauty. It cannot hold all the answers because beauty and art are multivalent. Through the language of art and music, Peter has learned that reality cannot be pinned down; it can only be explored, in a quest for ever new connections and curiosities.
To me knowledge is not about the ability to define, but about the ability to explore, like looking at an art piece – the product of artistic inspiration within a historical context. (Peter Deboi)
Through art, one learns to look at the world from a different perspective; one learns to stare and wonder with the eyes of a child. In neglecting the urge to define, one experiences the world as a web of interconnected curiosities. Although this experience of interconnectedness suggests a kind of spiritual relationship to the world, Peter does not define his spirituality as religious – precisely because he does not want to define things. Peter chooses to be inspired by this artistic/spiritual connection to the world.
When she had whirled around for a long time in this manner, it seemed as if she became weakened by the violence of the rolling and all her limbs grew quiet. Then there sounded between her throat and her breast a wondrous harmony that no mortal man could understand, nor could it be imitated by any artificial instrument. That song of hers had only the pliancy and the tones of music. But the words of the melody, so to speak – if they could even be called words – sounded together incomprehensibly. (Christina 35, p. 145-146)
THE MUSICIAN IS THE INTERPRETER
For this project, Peter was inspired by movement itself. To him, using movement as the main source of inspiration was new. His previous work flirted with words, even images, but never movement. Writing music based on a text is not a far stretch. Using images though, is a different story. One needs to interpret the image and decide how to make the image resonate with the music so both art forms become mutually enriching. Peter is interested in this use of imagery when he teaches music. The image could help students understand the atmosphere music creates. During this project, movement (moving images) is a priori. This is an unusual collaboration between dance and music because often dance is the interpretation of music and not the other way around. Here, movement sets the tone; the musician is the interpreter.
PLAYING PLAYFUL MUSIC
Art does not allow for one simple interpretation and this particular choreography does not express one systematically defined idea. Instead it offers a foreign reality captured in inexplicable movement. The only way to work with this movement is to observe it with the eyes of a child and to feel, and explore the way it touches oneself on an inner level. Banning all external influences, the musician watched and listened to the music within. Using the piano as his instrument, Peter externalizes his inner exploration of movement with a playful improvisation, a joyful adaptation from choreographed movement to musical flow. Phrase by phrase, Peter played and recorded his music while he was watching soundless movement, only to search for an overarching theme to give structure and direction to the music as a whole. Peter stresses the importance of avoiding a literal (Mickey Mouse-like) interpretation of the dance, by translating freely, by feeling the movement and answering to it with music, thus allowing the process of artistic inspiration to take place. This can only be done if one transcends the linear and rational approach to reality and allows the childish intuition to talk to us.
FROM DANCE TO MUSIC
The choreography starts with a soft flowing movement. The musician interprets this as a light summer breeze that gains in strength and energy. He answers this movement with a swirling motif and adds the soft texture of a sparkling melody. When the tessitura slowly embraces the lower register, the airy openness at the beginning is filled with an excitement that leads to the next phrase in the music.
By repeating the harmonic scheme and by elaborating on the melody and rhythm, tension is created. The intensity increases, following the dynamics of the movements that lead towards a first climax. Next, Peter invokes an experience of trance by the use of repetition and outspoken accent in the cadence. The harmony is rather simple, using only two chords, in order to mimic the trancelike movements in the choreography.
The next phrase in the music introduces a contrast; musical tension softens and fluid movements are reintroduced that recall the beginning of the piece, although more wavy in their essence. At the end, the music thins out and ends with an experience of openness: the tension of a twisted tune dissolves and finds stability in an open chord that lacks the terce and the quint, leaving us with a feeling of openness.