JD: In your scores, the pieces are often prefaced by written quotations: words that are not included in the composition itself. For example, before Tür (Door), the following is written: »The longer one hesitates before a door, the more of a stranger one becomes.« (Franz Kafka)
SN: Those texts stay with me with varying intensity during the time I am composing. It should then – though not always – be possible for the audience to reinterpret their influence afterwards. Particular literary figures, such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, have been important to me for a long time. Their biographies as women artists also affect me deeply. When I began the cycle ten years ago, I felt that relating myself to them was also a feminist statement. Since then, a lot has happened; I have learned a great deal and – partly through meeting Heinrich – I’m much more aware of queer perspectives.
HH: Whenever I develop a piece of choreography, I always start with a text that inspires me or by referencing other artists. Those starting points then combine in a direction that leads to improvisation and encounters. And in your work, too, I never feel the quoted texts are strict definitions or instructions. More the opposite: I get the feeling you’re using them to open a lot of space for associations.
JD: This is a work of music theatre with no singers. In HAUS, the theatrical performance concentrates on the instrumentalists.
HH: In my directing work, I’m interested in »unprofessional« bodies, because they speak for themselves, within their own form. Bodies break through the axes of time and space, and that gives them the potential to transform. For me, this phenomenon has a lot to do with gender, because I don’t look for ascriptions but for different expressive possibilities that enable the body to free itself from a particular bearing. In HAUS, I am going to work with a kind of glitch. I ask myself where the friction is in all our bodies, the empty space, and how this can be empowered to develop its own language? I am also exploring this, in a way, with the disabled people that Henriette mentioned who worked on the turbines – people who maybe didn’t have a complete range of functions but who invented new movement structures. I want to reveal that strength. On the other hand, I’m interested in the collective, the ensemble, in becoming united. What do we share? What is a community? What is commonality? How can organisms unite – and how can they reproduce? In the choreography, they will become protagonists of the future.
JD: Henriette, in your article, Alienation and Queer Discontent, you present queer, artistic strategies to unsettle (hetero-)normative constructs of time. Could this be achieved in HAUS?
HG: Disorientation seems to me to be a central element in this project on many levels. For example, it is created through the video work that doubles, shifts and distorts the space. Disorientation not only confuses our supposedly stable structure of looking but also our perception of temporality. Looking at the horizon stabilises our position, looking towards a future. Our accustomed visual axes are often defined by colonial perspectives, as Hito Steyerl writes in her article In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective. In the moment of disorientation, something opens up that forces us to perceive our surroundings differently and to move differently. This also includes a different way of hearing, because disorientation always leads to a more conscious relationship to being in the world. This project makes use of this in several respects – for example, by letting the setting itself – the walls, the equipment and machine parts that are lying around – be heard. Disorientation is also an interesting method when it is related to infrastructure: how can what evades our eye or ear be made visible or audible? Taking what is infra (Latin for »below«”) seriously and tracking it down. Of course, there are limits, but I think this is also exactly what you’re interested in, Sarah: that it’s not always possible to grasp everything, that there’s always something that evades our knowledge. Your situation of dissipated space creates a potential to perceive that space differently and also move around inside it.
JD: Yes, I often recognise the cyborg identity – a hybrid creature between a machine and a human organism – in Sarah’s music too, which welds together the boundaries of human-analogue sound production with the tools of electronic music.
SN: The hybrid is something I’m very interested in. It began back with Zimmer, when I distorted the harp using a Kaoss Pad. This created something that wasn’t entirely a harp anymore but also wasn’t purely electronic music; it was something in between. I like that undefined quality a lot, especially because instruments generally have a cultural history attached to them that’s not always pleasant and you can’t help counting it in. Electronic distortion allows you to redefine that. I also think analogue effect devices like the Kaoss Pad are great, because musicians can use them intuitively. Unlike very complex live electronics for which you need additional training. If the devices can be played in the context of chamber music, then that also has something rebellious to it for me.
The new piece Halle will reference the history of the Turbinenhalle. The pianist/keyboard player/synthesiser player Sebastian Berweck told me about a virtual instrument, the digital synthesiser »Mysteria«, which is equipped with voice samples and choruses that can be distorted or used to create androgynous voices. I’m thinking about a polyphonic ghost chorus of the people who worked in this place.
I’m also interested in the dysfunctional, because it’s so human. In my experience, what society regards as a weakness is often the source of a particular strength.
JD: Turning a shortcoming into a superpower, in order to assert oneself from a marginalised position, requires creative visions of the future. A tool that is used in extreme form in Afro-futurist story-telling strategies and aesthetics, which you, Henriette, are focusing on in your research. Do you see connections here?
HG: I was just thinking that the synthesiser is a very important bearer of the Afro-futurist vision – for example, merging with jazz in the case of Sun Ra or funk in the case of George Clinton and resonating in various different musical directions.
Afro-futurism has a non-linear understanding of time. That distinguishes it from other futurisms, which only want to look forward. Afro-futurism insists that the past is part of the future.
By including the spectral past, in my view, HAUS is also a futurist project, because there is a desire to transform the space and to make it accessible to everyone, without exception. Of course, there is a tension between utopian thinking and political action, but imagining this is the first step. In her notes on the pieces, Sarah also writes about dreaming of spaces. And the poem Dark House by Sylvia Plath that is quoted in the score is also about this. In the artist’s imagination, a process of transformation has already been activated. Tearing down the walls takes place in an imagined future, but its effects can already be felt now. It is an intervention in the present.
JD: You’ve also composed some secret spaces, Sarah. Do you want to reveal them to us?
SN: There are two acoustic hiding places. In Amplified Imagination, the flautist wears headphones that play a distorted Bach collage, so she can’t hear what she is playing herself. She can only imagine what it sounds like, but she has no control over it. On the other hand, the audience can’t hear what she hears. Loneliness and isolation are often themes in my pieces. In HAUS, the percussionist has his own room behind the thunder sheet, where he can see pictures and photos, some of which he can transmit to the outside using a live camera. Everyone has their own secret, inner spaces – thoughts, feelings and memories that are hidden, that they can’t share but might want to communicate. These are safe spaces – places to retreat to, in order to be alone in a positive sense.
Translated from the German by David Tushingham