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Music Floating on Movement: An Exercise in transdisciplinary Interpretations of Christina

PETER DEBOI

THE INNER VOICE OF MUSIC

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.

INTIMACY

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.

CHRISTINA

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.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos)

Also see the plog posts on the video and the dance of CHRISTINA – Project 1


A Story about Light and Space: Christina from the Perspective of a Video Artist

CRISTIANO FERRI

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (KJV John 1:1-5)

The story begins with light, forcing its way through the darkness, through created matter becoming God-in-Man. When the Eternal Word was said eternally, matter was reshaped creating spheres and shapes, spaces and sounds of ineffability, building a majestic cathedral of light, an architectural art piece.

CITY OF LIGHT

Cristiano Ferri is inspired by the story of light, the way it slides over buildings and spheres, the way it is interwoven with air and space, giving air its different textures, creating atmospheres. The artist explores this landscape of textures and spheres and observes; he touches the surfaces with his eyes, trying to grab the interconnectedness of shapes and composing a melody of heavenly movement. Cristiano finds these spaces in cities, playgrounds of light and shapes. Cristiano is drawn towards this urban reality and how it displays a range of emotions. He finds profound beauty in its simplicity: in the interactions between people, in the mini dramas that take place every day, on every locations, in different shades of light. He likes to discover the untold stories, buried in the urban landscape. Ugly or beautiful, cities always tell a story. It is not about aesthetics; the story is about light, and how it touches us, passengers wandering through these mysterious landscapes.

Light changes things, it is everything. It is obvious, concrete, it is the basis. Light can give ideas, it can give you the need to tell a story. Seeing light and what it touches, this is the start of the story. Light is matter, it is the basic material, like the painter has his canvas. (Cristiano Ferri)

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CONNECTING THE NARRATIVES

The subject, the passenger, is only part of the story. Cristiano gives priority to the atmosphere which dominates the world of feelings, conjured by light and spheres. The cinematic artist is the bridge figure, connecting the narrative of the passenger subject to the story of light and space. He therefore explores his memory, searching for the right decor to support the story of the subject and he wanders through the atmospheres that impressed him in the past. It is the responsibilities of the artist to give the subject its proper location and its proper light.

THE UNPREDICTABLE DANCE OF LIGHT

Nevertheless, the video artist is only a medium, a vessel. In the end, it is up to the subject and the light to tell the story. At the moment of recording, the artist can only register what happens in front of his eyes/lens. He has to give way to reality unfolding on a made up set; he has to surrender to its will. Reality always brings the element of surprise, of unpredictability. Cristiano says that he never receives the image he initially intended. A writer controls his narrative through words, a painter through carefully attaching layers of paint, but a video artist needs to witness the flux of images flashing before his eyes. According to Cristiano, the video artist needs to be courageous, eager to risk it all and to hunt for images that are present but could disappear in a blink of an eye. It feels like hunting for fragments of eternity in a spacio-temporal continuum.

During the postproduction phase, the video artist can take different directions, every choice determining the final product. Some artists like to manipulate the material (the collected shots) with special effects, giving their own interpretation to reality in a drastic way. Cristiano likes to respect reality’s unpredictability and roughness. He stresses this harshness by using dirty images, dirty movements, noise and contrasts. Images do not have to fit because reality does not fit.

CHRISTINA

Then Christina fled the presence of men with wondrous horror into deserted places, to trees, or the tops of castle or church towers, or any lofty structure. Thinking her to be filled with demons, the people finally managed to capture her with great effort and to bind her with iron chains, and although she endured much suffering and privation, yet she suffered even more from the stench of them. (Christina 9, p. 132)

CHRISTINA’S BODY VS THE CITY OF MEN

When Cristiano read the story of Christina, he was immediately drawn to the strong and graphic imagery in the saint’s vita. He noticed a very strong disconnect between Christina and the outer world, between her and the city where she lived as an outcast. She created a physical and mental distance between her and the villagers, always looking for places where humanity could not reach her, where she could only be touched by God. The vita focuses primarily on Christina and in a lesser extent on her interactions with the outer world. Nevertheless, it says very little about the saint’s inner struggles. Cristiano noticed that the vita does not allow the reader to know Christina on a personal and intimate level. This made the task of interpreting her vita firsthand very difficult.

She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. (Christina 35, p. 145)

The artist was inspired to use the shock, the experience of alienation, to enter Christina’s world. He searches for the disruption in the image created by the tension between the choreography with its drama and the body and mind of Christina. By using a close-up, the story of the choreography is interrupted and a vagueness is created that does not allow the viewer to perceive the dancer’s body and predict its movements. To get to know the character Christina, one needs to engage in the constant switch between close-up and wide shot, a choreography orchestrated by the camera, representing Christina’s extravagant bodily presence. This switch introduces its own movement that contradicts the static and perfect view point of the camera. Cristiano opted for a change of camera perspective, and not a change of locations. This was also a possibility, but it did not work on screen. Sometimes reality dictates what one must do.

LIGHT AND DARK

The artist chose to record Christina at sunrise. We would start the recording one hour before the sun reached the surface of the body. The sunrise created the right atmosphere, it embraces the space with joy and warmth. Cristiano decided to show the joyful side of Christina’s live, her strange but weirdly peaceful relation to the world. The sunset would have introduced a dark element in the art piece, a darkness which is already very present in the life of Christina.

The dark element of Christina’s suffering body is introduced by the drama of the dance itself, which takes place on the hard and cold surface of the city’s concrete. Although the dance takes place at the beautiful spacious location of the terrace of the Brussels’ Palace of Justice, its rough circumstances make suffering and bodily pain inevitable The body’s relation to the city is made painfully present in the video. A harsh confrontation between the two is orchestrated on scene during which Christina’s body is invoked. Nevertheless, the openness of the view excludes the feeling of oppression and limitation a city often creates. In this video, the city and its history creates a nostalgic atmosphere, it makes the past present in the here and now. This contextualization of the body in its history smoothens the harsh contrast created between stone and flesh. The last ailment of the wounded dancing body is the light coming in when the movements slow down towards the end. This unexpected ray of light surprised us and lighted up the dance and the video. In a way the simple ray of light that caressing the dancer’s hand even feels mystical. The story ends where it began, with light.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos).

Also see the blog posts on the dance and music of CHRISTINA – Project 1

United in One Body: Dancing Christina

DANCING MEDIEVAL BODIES

But for those who died and were destined to be saved, she danced so joyfully that it was a great marvel to see her so happy. (Christina 26, p. 142)

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This project begins with the body. The body moves; it uses its own language and creates its own laws and dynamics. The role of the body has been reevaluated over the last several decades, and its intrinsic value for the human person has been acknowledged. This celebration of the human body is not new. Reading late medieval mystical sources, I discovered the dancing bodies of female saints, women from the Archdiocese of Liège (modern day Belgium). Those women not only praised the body as part of the human person (on an intellectual level), they also experienced a divine presence rushing through their veins, opening up their bodies as vessels for the divine to incarnate.

It is only natural that a dancer would gravitate towards these extraordinary moments of bodily extravagance, I believe. But why? How does my contemporary male body relate to a medieval female body? Is the language of dance enough to connect us, and to bridge eight centuries of embodied history? In this dance I try to discover the identity of these women and reflect on the bodily experience of dance that we share in common.

CHRISTINA

JOY AND PAIN IN CHRISTINA’S LIFE

For one night when the divine Spirit came upon her, the chains with which she was bound were loosed and, healed from all hurt, she walked around the cellar and danced, praising and blessing him for whom alone she had chosen to live and die. (Cristina 18, p. 138)

The woman who inspired me the most, at least as an anchor point and as a point of departure for this artistic and academic enterprise, was Christina the Astonishing, Christina Mirabilis. Christina was born in 1150 in the city of Sint-Truiden where she lived an extraordinary life, as her name suggests. Her body resembled the resurrected body, although it was not free of pain. On the contrary, the theme of bodily pain dominates the vita (saint’s life) of Christina. Nevertheless we cannot forget – as Amy Hollywood pointed out in her book Acute Melancholia – that there is also a strange sense of joy in Christina’s life, interwoven with all the horrific pain events.

“Often what is unspeakable is not Christina s suffering but her joy. Her ineffable song”. She poses the critical question: “Are we no longer capable of telling stories in which the unspeakable is the site of jubilation rather than lamentation, of beautiful voiceless song rather than inarticulate screams, of a body spinning with delight rather than one twisted in agony? (Amy Hollywood, Acute Melancholia)

I was inspired to experience this joy, felt by Christina and known to dancers who really engage in the transcendent sensation of becoming dance itself. Christina’s ecstatic rapture often translates to her moving in inexplicable ways, as she is taken up into a heavenly choreography.

When she wanted to pray, she shad to flee to treetops or towers or any lofty spot so that, remote from everyone, she might find rest for her spirit. And again when she prayed and the divine grace of contemplation descended upon her, all her limbs were gathered together into a ball as if they were hot wax, and all that could be perceived of her was a round mass. (Cristina 16, p. 137)

Christiana’s divinized dancing body was the source of inspiration for this particular choreography. I imagined her being weightless. I pictured the saint on the rooftop of the Church, defying gravity while being moved by the divine spirit. As a dancer I desire the same weightlessness and envy the saint’s privileged experience of this graceful unification with Dance itself. Through my choreography I tried to at least catch a glimpse of Christina’s experience. I believe this opportunity could not be taken by an academic reading of the text, simply because the body is not involved in this process of academic reading.

BEING MOVED

Now she was very familiar with the nuns of St Catherine’s outside the town of Sint-Truiden. Sometimes while she was sitting with them, she would speak of Christ and suddenly and unexpectedly she would be ravished in the spirit and her body would whirl around like a hoop in a children’s game. She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. 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 quit. (35, p. 145)

On the dance floor, one experiences when the body is moved. When the body opens up its register and starts speaking, one is moved. I used this feeling of being moved and combined it with flowing movements, feeling the air/the spirit moving through my veins, like a soft breeze leading the way. The body awakens and is carried through the first phrase of dance, until the wind leaves the body and the dancer is left on the floor, lifeless until his body resurrects again – although this time more careful, conscience of the pains of the world. Sometimes the cross is evoked in the body of the dancer to refer to Christ, who – to Christina – is the source of life. Phrases of ecstatic joy and vulnerable intimacy coexist, intertwined in their unique pas de deux, until they fade out and the dance finds its disclosure in a position of prayer.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos).

See also the blog posts about the music and the video of CHRISTINA – Project 1.

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