F
 
PERSONAL MANIFESTO

reflections on language, music, art and culture

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1. Defining Language and Society

 

I have noticed at different times through the years that life seems to reach a point of conjunction in which it becomes necessary to start to piece the fragments together that seem at last to be forming part of a greater pattern. These periods are of particular personal importance and seem to occur at crosspoints in my life; spans of time signifying the end of one period and at the same time the beginning of another, dark periods of uncertainty in which everything that I have done is brought into question. Despite all the difficulty and self doubt that is brought about by such a period, being forced to question the past makes the present clearer and the structure of the future easier to define. Having emerged from such a period l feel that I have been able to form a steady base on which future work can be developed. This was made possible by being able to form my ideas into patterns, making a clear coherence from thoughts that were previously confused and unclear. This article is a collection of these thoughts brought into a coherent form; thoughts involved with my work and my identity, and more particularly the empty space between myself and my society that I bridge through my creative work.

 

The relationship between my work and my identity is something that l have until now been able to ignore; in the past it was relatively easy for me to distance what l was creating from who I was because in any case very little seemed to fit or make a lot of sense: I always felt very estranged from my home environment and my creative work seemed out of place, so connecting it all together was then simply impossible. Now however, being able to form my identity anew in a completely different environment[1] I have discovered that my work is in every way intricately intertwined with my identity, and the realization of this connection has freed me up in making other personal discoveries.

 

Firstly I am actually surprised to find a correlation between the subjects that seem now suddenly to be of extreme importance and those that I have discussed similarly in the past;[2] subjects I thought I had long left behind but return now in a further developed form. In this regard the concept of 'language' is of particular importance, something that has concerned me and influenced my work almost from the very beginning. I have always considered that my work is primarily a reaction against the emphasis that has been placed in our society on spoken and written language as the only basis from which communication can be understood, and l expressed this through reacting against traditionally accepted conceptions of theatre language and an interest in how music is used in other societies to provide cultural unity. In my previous work, both theoretical and practical, I have demonstrated a clear dissatisfaction with 'language' as I have experienced it through my education, where words were strictly related to facts which developed a materialistic outlook on reality; the interpretation of phenomena became restricted to a purely scientific level. I became very quickly disillusioned by spoken/written language as an expressive medium, feeling that words imposed on trains of thought, betraying the inner meaning and only saying half of what was necessary. For me the image was clear: if the imagination was a river, verbal language was an unsteady stone bridge across it, and thus I searched for other ways to tap the original source through my work. For me, the interpretation of any language object is in fact different for every person; the definition for a word as suggested in a dictionary can only act as a guide to an impression of meaning. For example, a 'dog' could be for one a carrier of love and affection and for another one of terror and disgust, depending on the background of the involved party. This would also count of course for certain emotional and abstract concepts such as ‘love' and 'compassion' - defined according to cultural (and not universal) norms. Verbal language remains a transitory medium, sometimes difficult and ambiguous where 'meaning' depends more on environment and circumstance than something sure and predetermined. In my society I was unwillingly bonded to what l interpreted as a stiflingly invariable language system in which it would be impossible to receive true self expression.

 

It is clear then that my initial difficulties with language reflect a larger dissatisfaction with the society in which I was taught to perceive the world in such a materialistic and logocentric way. This dissatisfaction led me from an interpretation of language as word-based communication to an exploration of language in the broader context of a cultural system. Through this I have realised the importance of language in helping to define culture. I view language now as a complex communication system, only a degree of which is made up of written letters or spoken vocal sounds. Theoretically speaking I consider language as an essential characteristic that plays an important structural role in all human 'society'. In the structural sense I define 'society' as a complex interweaving of sign systems,[3] systems in which meaning is communicated and the environment is made understandable and coherent for the inhabitants. The term 'language' in my own definition is therefore extended to include all possible forms of human communication, and in this regard 'society' could also be considered a language. An important factor of language for me is its essential 'artificiality' in that it is not inborn or natural but is learnt as a product of the surrounding society. We are therefore bound very much to our social environment through our language, and it would be difficult to deny that language has a lot to do with cultural identity.

 

Defined firstly through its capacity to unite a given culture, language can of course be also considered as an important means of personal expression. In other words, in addition to finding our identity by considering ourselves as figures in a given human society (restricted only by the boundaries of our ‘languages') we should be able to find the means within this system to express ourselves as individuals. The very basis of my work, however, is based on a personal dissatisfaction with my society and a questioning of the very nature of the ‘languages' with which I was provided. I have thus denied myself the possibility of being united with my culture or of finding self-expression through my own society, leading to a search for a new type of language, one based on illogical or musical concepts.

 

In order to explain the new ways of experiencing language that I have attempted to encompass in my work l can quote a friend, Carsten Wiedemann,[4] who is similarly interested in using the concept of language as the basis for analysing and criticising society (through the medium oi performance). He defines language as follows in a description of his new dance project called Word Perfect:

 

A) Language - the desire to connect my individual being with others
in order to become part of something bigger than myself.

B)   Language - the desire to be different, to speak and to experience
my own voice different to another. To be the one and only.

C)Language - which exists without reason, aim or function.
Language is an event in itself.

 

This can be related to new ways that I have found to perceive my own work by placing myself in relation to my social environment. I am now able to clearly see that my greatest desire was to feel accepted into a social structure in which I could find meaning and identity, one in which 1 could in every way 'fit’.[5] Unfortunately my quest for acceptance included an uncompromising desire for self expression, resulting in a sort of unwitting non-conformity where 1 was rejected by me peers without knowing why. Although longing to find a 'language' in which I would be able to communicate with those around me, I now realize that I could not accept the restrictions imposed by being accepted into any possible social situation offered to me at the time because it would not have allowed sufficient room for self-expression. These two contradictory possibilities can be related to Wiedemann's A and B language definitions respectively. The inability to find a compromise within the restrictions of my own social environment has resulted of course in me stepping outside society and looking inwards, somewhat embittered, and through my work providing on one level a commentary on this negative reaction and on the other creating new music-language 'structures' in which 1 can find my own meaning. This search for alternative language systems, in connection with the estrangement from my own society, has led me to the exploration of other cultures and how they 'communicate' through their performing arts, particularly music.

 

My interest in 'musical' communication reflects my dissatisfaction with society not merely through a rejection of the traditional way in which language is perpetuated, but also my alienation from our own musical culture. From receiving a traditional 'musical' upbringing and studying music later in university I have received the dominant impression that one of the primary meaning-bearing functions of music in our society is to create social divisions. We distinguish between a 'classical' and a 'popular' music, the former which is considered by many to be superior. It is true at least that a special type of 'musical' education is necessary in order to give this music some structural meaning, and there is no doubt that our society recognises an elitist division of people whom we call 'musicians' and who are commonly considered to be the only ones capable of producing music. For many, music of any value is a talent performable only by a chosen few, and in terms of classical music this represents the perpetuation of musical techniques that have little or no meaning-bearing function in contemporary society, just a limp aesthetic aftertaste of what was popular hundreds of years ago in Europe. For this reason I am more attracted to contemporary popular music because it is connected more with my own culture than some sort of lost musical aesthetic, but I have at the same time been alienated from this music because of the cultural values represented in which I can find no personal significance. Not being able to accept either paths, my research has been extended to other cultures with a differing way of experiencing music. Through these alternative paths I have been forced to question the traditional concept of a purely 'aural' musical experience as is inherent in Western musical culture. According to John Blacking, the evidence of ethnomusicological research suggests that "'musical intelligence' [the way the brain understands musical experience - Z.L.] cannot be defined in strictly acoustical terms" and that it "can be used to organize cultural phenomena that are not usually described as 'musical'.”[6] On the same token, Gerhard Kubik observes that in African music the Western distinction between music and dance is irrelevant: “one can define African music in one of its fundamental structural aspects as a system of movement patterns.”[7] My own practical experience has demonstrated an intimate connection between the experience of music and dance in Indian and Indonesian culture, and thus in my own musical 'systems' the concept of musical experience is extended from simply the aural so that elements of other contrasting language discourses can be encompassed, including vocal and movement languages.

 

The concept of a music-language seems my strongest statement against traditional society and at the same time presents the possibility for a solution to my language enigma. We haw already defined 'language' as a complex social communication system, comprised of or intimately connected with an array of other sign systems that provide meaning for us in our societies. Music is undoubtedly one of these systems, and the way it provides personal meaning is worthy of further discussion. My own experience of music can be related to my experience of taking on a foreign language where a whole new series of symbols must be learnt - words, sounds, mannerisms and habits - to make the behaviour of a given community understandable. These elements are 'artificial' in that they must be interpreted as a structure before they can be expressed. For me the joy of the performance of music comes firstly from the feeling that I am expressing a system that is 'artificial', something that becomes willing!} adopted but is not a natural part of my being; a system comprised of movements, sounds and nuances. Although 1 am expressing through my playing a musical system originally envisaged by someone else, using elements that are not 'my own', I feel that I can receive self-expression through the music: 1 find musical experience especially enjoyable if I feel like I am expressing a bit of myself within the expression of a larger cultural whole. Finding simultaneously a personal and a 'cultural' expression through the performance of a musical system Wiedemann's A and B definitions are united. This gives a firm basis for the exploration of music as a language system, one in which the traditional conception of 'meaning' must be totally rethought.

Definition C relates most closely to my work in attempting to discover music as a form of language: 1 have taken language as an artifact, stripping it of all the traditional meaning-based trappings, and created inwardly referring 'meaning' that is only significant in relation to the musical structure inside the composition. This fascination with the exploration of languages that actually have no 'aim' or 'function' reflects not only an interest in musical systems, but expresses directly my dissatisfaction with the traditional conception of language: the expression of something cogent and understandable, the stiflingly logical world in which I sometimes fee! trapped. Through searching for an expression of language that exists on one level without 'rational' explanation I have adopted a stance which sets me in a historical structure, in this case the avant-garde in art. According to Christopher Innes 9 there appears to be a recurring theme that has united various avant-garde art movements through the last hundred years:

 

"There appears a dominant interest in the irrational and primitive, which has two basic and complementary facets: the exploration of dream states or the instinctive and subconscious levels of the psyche, and the quasi-religious focus on myth and magic, the experimentation with ritual and the ritualistic patterning of performance.”[8]

 

Although relating to a series of particularly contrasting artists, these sentences could certainly describe the work that I have being doing over the last few years, although this has been expressed in various different forms: horrifying dream soundscapes, group ritual compositions and the construction of artificial languages to name a few. On another level, my dissatisfaction with Western conceptions of language and music is directly perceivable in my continuing desire to deconstruct traditional methods of notating 'performance texts' (both musical and dramatic) and from the fragments to create my own notation system; a new performance language. Precisely what has led me to this point forms the important structural element for this article, attempting to explain why it is that I have reacted so savagely both against my society and language as it is generally experienced in Western society.


2. Language and National Identity

 

This discussion of language leads us directly to a discussion of cultural identity, and more specifically to my difficulty in relating to the concept of national identity in Australia. According to my personal perspective the borders of the reality which our education allows us to experience binds us to our culture primarily through the language. Since I wanted so rapidly to escape the binds of my society it was very important for me to learn completely and therefore to be able to think in another language. After not longer than a year of living in Flanders I have learnt to speak relatively fluently the native tongue: Flemis[9]h. Learning a new language is not simply learning a new set of words and a grammatical structure, it is learning to take on a set of social structures in a cultural group to which language is intimately bonded: habits, attitudes, customs, etc. What is surprising is the ease in which I have been able to loose myself from the social shell given to me in my home land and slip almost completely into another without losing my own sense of identity. I can honestly say that thoughts often arise in Flemish and that I find some things simpler to express in this language. For me this demonstrates the intermediary nature of spoken language: words become mediums of expression that are used merely as vehicles for the translation of electrical impulses (thoughts); language becomes merely the means in which one expresses an essential identity within.

 

Living in Europe has also helped me to form a clear image of how language is used in different ways to create social divisions, acting in one way to unite cultural groups but at the same time to separate them from one another. In Flanders and The Netherlands the language 'Dutch' is spoken. Dutch exists in a form that is learnt and spoken by almost everyone and is known as A.B.N. ('Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands' - meaning General Civilised Dutch). However in the surprisingly small area in which this language is spoken what could be hundreds of regional dialects are recognised. Some of these dialects are not simply a different way of speaking, but languages containing contrasting vocabularies. People from the Flemish cities Ghent or Bruges, for example, can not understand one another if the regional dialects are spoken - and it is not even an hour between the cities by car! In many social situations regional dialects are not permitted to be spoken and I have sensed in certain social spheres a distinct antagonism against those still speaking their dialects and not the language in its 'civilised' form. In reaction to this language 'snobbery', stating that there is only one proper way for a language to bespoken, I have become more aware of how language is used to manipulate society.

 

Language when observed in this way can be seen as a structuring/stratifying tool used by society to create divisions or unities as is necessary in certain social/political situations. This observation has caused me to investigate in more detail how language is used in by society to create these divisions. It could be said that through the centralisation of education, an emphasis is placed on creating a sense of national identity,[10] and that this education is binding in that it gives a common 'language' and a common way in which the world can be experienced. This is of course a very sensible political move to avoid falling into complete social anarchy, but the European language purism that is still perpetuated in the educatio[11]n'2 is only affective in distancing people from any regional cultural connections they might have had and reminds me also of particularly frightening 'language crimes' 1 have encountered in Russia. Under Soviet rule many people living in central Asia had not only to learn Russian, but were required by law to speak a completely artificial 'national' language invented by Russian officials. These artificial languages were based on an amalgam of dialects spoken in a region where hundreds of contrasting languages may have been spoken. If one believes that a language is truly an expression of cultural identity, then robbing this of a small culture by insisting that a language totally artificial is spoken by everyone, seems to me 'cultural' destruction of the worst kind before genocide. Through this realization I have learnt to be more careful before reacting in a negative way to someone that speaks a regional dialect of English, for example Cockney or Australian, because in supporting a 'pure' English I am supporting this dangerous imperialistic attitude: 1 believe that the conception of a 'pure' language is entirely artificial and exists only in the minds of those who want to use it for conformity and control in society.

 

Since being in Europe I have formed the idea that these European attitudes to language have developed during the imperialist age in which in terms of political control it was extremely important to create a society with a strong sense of national identity so that borders could be safely distinguished and as necessary expanded at will. I have also sensed that these imperialistic attitudes are everpresent in contemporary European society and will not quickly be removed as "nationalism is not a disease, and therefore has no immediate and miraculous cure.”[12] The reality of European nationalism was made very clear after arguing with a Flemish friend[13] about the terrible state of affairs in Rwanda, an African state that was once a colony of Belgium. In discussing the brutal murder of ten Belgian soldiers by Africans during a period of political turmoil, I implied that the Belgians should be aware of the degree to which they themselves can be blamed for the deaths. Belgian annexation of Africa, primarily connected with national prestige and economy, resulted in the infiltration of European political and religious systems. It could be suggested that this has helped to bring about the turmoil that now occurs. Many Belgians consider, however, that the infiltration of the Belgians in Africa, although primarily for political and economic reasons, was not entirely bad for the Rwandese because "everyone (even the Africans) has a right to an education, a right to 'know'.” I am strongly against this imperialistic conception of European superiority, and do not believe that European 'knowing' is necessarily the best. As I was brought up in a colony of England I am aware of how horrific European colonisation has been. This leads me to a discussion of my alienation from Australia and how my presence in Europe can be justified considering that I seem to stand largely against Europe and much of what it represents.

 

My distancing from Australia can on one level be related to a personal distancing from a culture based on a particularly horrific and brutal past. Australia acted as a prison colony to England, and trying to build oneself on a history based on pain , abuse and injustice is sometimes difficult. It has been unfortunately equally difficult for me to relate back to historical achievements of the 'homeland' (England) when I cannot justify what the English did during the imperial age, the sort of mentality that resulted in a spread of European culture without regard to the cultural destruction that was brought about by such an invasion. For example, through the colonisation of Australia by the English, the culture of the 'natural' inhabitants (the Australian Aborigines) has been largely destroyed. Australia itself is still having problems in dealing with the mass destruction of aboriginal culture, resulting in a widespread feeling of guilt and shame. I am now aware of how important this has been in the structuring of my identity.

 

Elements of Australian society that are considered essentially 'Australian' seem also to have played a role in my estrangement. Recreation activities, particularly sport, are considered an essential element of a healthy upbringing in Australian society. In relation to a definition of society, sport, especially team sport, could be interpreted as a social tool designed to unite and bring prestige to a cultural group, be that a football team or a nation. From a very young age 1 refused to be involved in this type of recreation, especially team sports which I considered violent, dangerous and ugly. In my personal rejection of this form of social interaction I was not only rejecting the game itself, but in a broader sense Australian culture in general. Rejecting this I was forced to stand on the fringe at a distance, searching for my own kind of cultural unity. This desire to be distant from my peers started at a very young age, and was to express itself later in many different ways - my sexuality being the most decisive. I never felt that I fitted the sort of image that was accepted as Australian, as broad and open as that may in reality be. This was reflected in a rejection of every single attribute that is considered Australian: a dislike of the beach, a dislike of sports, inability to simply relax and enjoy myself to name a few. I now realize that this distancing was in fact from the beginning a subversive act, although my desire for acceptance and my longing to live in a system in which I would be comfortable did not allow me to realize that this distancing was not simply one of the repercussions of being different (stemming from my sexuality, as I thought) but a deliberate statement against my culture and the beginning of a search for something new.

Now living in Europe, taking on new languages and speaking in English with a European accent, I feel sometimes that I have shed myself of my Australian identity. Although I am not European and never will be, at least here in Europe I am a foreigner and am accepted as someone foreign. In Australia I felt myself a foreigner when I should actually have felt at home, and this made it difficult for me to develop an identity. Australian culture seen from a distance seems now like a diluted version of European culture, comprised of elements that appear to have less significance in such an inconceivably vast wasteland. In such an environment I found it difficult to conceive of myself and my work, whereas in Europe working against the traditions of contemporary society placed me on a common level with others having a similar goal to suggest alternative ways to perceive and experience reality. In Europe I have been successful in finding an identity for myself as an artist, and I feel through this more 'real' than I have ever felt in Australia. In creating this new identity 1 have had to strip the past away, to create a blank slate on which I can reevaluate everything. This is directly expressed through the strict structural nature of my new music-theatre work ZALJM in which a music-language is formed gradually from the simplest of sound and movement elements.

 

 

3. Science & Magic

 

Having already opened this discussion into relating my investigation of language and the role it plays in culture, I would like to move on from my reactions to Australian society and investigate further my experience of Western society in general. As discussed to some extent in the first chapter, I have realized since being in Europe that the very basis of my work questions language and the connected cultural environment, and related to this the very notion of 'reality' that was presented to me as part of my upbringing, one in which a logical outlook forced me to observe my environment in a particularly rational way: there were no second choices, no alternative possibilities. Although my work begins by questioning music and theatre as it is experienced in Western culture, this extends to a questioning of the artificial structures that we are forced to live in; in its own way providing us with a system in which to live and perceive reality but also limiting us to perceiving reality in a certain way, emphasizing the rational explainability of natural phenomena according to scientific theory. This emphasis on rationality and progression is passed on in every level of our education: we are taught to think about reality in this way by our experience of mathematics and science.

 

My dominant impression is the distance that we seem to have placed between ourselves and the natural world, resulting from the incredible rate of scientific and technological change through the last hundred years. In Western culture we seem to rely primarily on a logical system growing from an emphasis on progression and change, creating an aching gap between 'culture and 'nature'. Our perception of reality seems on one level to be fairly limited, as beings existing in limited human environments with no scope for anything apart from what fits into our rational, explainable systems. My own perception of the world has led me to think about this in a different way. I have begun to doubt that everything can simply be explained because we have scientists that tell us that it must have happened in a certain way because it fits certain theories. It seems that I have been naturally led to question this through my work.

 

1 have not reflected my dissatisfaction in an anarchistic rejection of Western culture, but rather an interest in cultural systems where a connection is recognised between the cultural and the natural environment, clearly visible in ritual performances. This has led me to explore how theatre and music are experienced, helping to provide a means in which the natural world can be encompassed, interfacing and connecting the two. It could be said that the function of art is. to help to bridge this gap, although in Western society the gap is so large that a great deal of art must stand against traditional society rather than be fused together with it, and in Western music it is apparent to me that we have lost this connection, searching instead for a sort ot aesthetic principle - the only thing left if the music itself has no particular significance other than an exploration of the sound as a sound. By contrast Balinese music and theatre connects the performers and the audience in a particularly significant ritual function that plays a role in society, uniting the culture in a different way to how we in the West experience art. Not that 1 am saying that I find this better or more significant, but I have always been fascinated by tlu unexplainability of ritual behaviour, one that recurs and has an untranslatable 'significance' that is experiencable only by the performers, one that is closely associated with music (and dance) -a cultural unity that comes from the adoption of predefined musical systems that are recognisable and become connected with a particular ritual event. The possibility that there is also 'magical' significance, something beyond the level of traditional notions of experience ir, Western culture fascinates me. Despite the restrictions of my Western upbringing part of me that wants to accept that there is something that forms a structure for the reality in which I exist but am unable to perceive in its entirety.

 

This leads me to the work of Ivor Cutler, the simplicity of which has always attracted me because it presents a way of observing elements of life in a way in which I feel I am given a more 'real' perception, despite its apparently 'illogical' nature. In his stories and songs he has a delightful tendency to link natural elements with humans in a way that makes one aware of the existence of connections between people and nature, for example - his texts sometimes concern what stones are thinking on the beach, or describe a man as he leans down to drink water from a puddle on the street, or a girl as she urinates into a ditch. I find Ivor's work surprisingly restful and reassuring, placing me in a sort of absurd universe with a refreshing])' simple outlook on life.[14] From a concert of Ivor's work that I saw in February 1994 I will try to recollect a story called 'The Book.' In this short narrative he reflected my own rejection of Western predetermined logic, using the 'book' as a more direct symbol of our reliance on scientifically, logically accurate information to explain our environment[15] He began his story by first explaining that we, as humankind "think we're really smart. . . because we can talk . .":

 

"My friend and I were walking in a field. The field was large and we were surrounded by acres of green emptiness. My friend looked into the sky and asked me why it was that the sky went dark and the sun went away at night. I took a book from my pocket and told him to read it, telling him that all his questions would be answered. We walked further, but he didn't ask me anymore questions because he knew I had the book. . ."[16]

 

It actually seems as if my rejection of this type of logical perspective that seems inherent in Western culture was a predestined element of my character, and not something that developed as a reaction to my environment. I mention for example my continual escaping into wild fantasy worlds as a child, and even later my interest in acting where I felt free to create around me situations in which the reality was governed only by my imagination. Theatrical' reality of this type was evidently from a young age something quite graspable and cogent. This expressed itself also through an almost obsessive interest in the supernatural. On another level, my attraction to absurd comedy,[17] the clashing of events that seemed to have no logical connection is also worthy of mention. Through this clash, I got a sort of satisfaction that only now I am able to explain by seeing this type of behaviour popping up in my own work. This can be explained in one respect as a reaction against traditional culture that demands a certain type of perception of reality, but I actually think now that it is more complicated than that. I think it as an attempt on my part to say that absurd or illogical behaviour is not so absurd or illogical as we might at first think, reflecting a great matrix of patterns that are simultaneously developing around us. In my own way I have tried to express this feeling of fuller awareness in my work, suggesting that there is a larger entirety in which we and our actions play a role, but one that is beyond our capacity to experience.


4. Towards a New Reality

 

I feel now as if the circle has turned once more, and that in a way I am back at a beginning point. Through becoming confused in the complications that have developed in the last couple of years, some of the major things that concerned me became drowned in other affairs. Now, through recent developments, I can relate back to the past and am surprised by the correlations. The difference is that I have since then developed a vocabulary through which these ideas can be clearly and concisely expressed. Years ago I read a book by Doris Lessing called Memoirs of a Survivor.[18] This book attracted me greatly, although I could not then explain why and even which elements of the book fascinated me. I could only say that after finishing the novel I felt a great sense of the joy of knowledge, of being on the brink of something new despite the apparently apocalyptic nature of the book. The subject was the gradual dissolution of society: a world is presented in which people become less and less attached to notions of personal property and move onto the streets. A woman observing this almost impassively, as if it is a naturally occurring development, moves into herself and begins to explore a symbolic world beyond traditional reality. For me this was a truly hopeful view of the future, although it involved elements that many people would consider horrifying: the disintegration of the social systems in which we now feel safe.

 

Now that I have been in Europe for a year I am really beginning to feel as if this is starting to happen. I am closely surrounded by countries in which small sections are breaking away from the larger nations that are gradually becoming redundant. I have a strong feeling of change, one that excites and attracts me. This has also been reflected in developments in other fields, particularly science. I have begun to become interested in new thoughts about physics which are labelled under the title 'quantum mechanics' or 'chaos theory'. Through by chance encountering this in scientific programmes on television I became incredibly excited as if I was really on the threshold of something important, but at the same time it seemed as if what I was seeing was merely confirming what I already knew. It seemed as if the world was changing and I was going to have something important to do with it as it happened.

 

After a little research I have made some conclusions about my own reactions to these developments in science. This relates directly back to my own rejection of the logical upbringing that I have had. Growing from the humanism of the Renaissance man began to view himself as something distinct from the world, a higher being that was destined to rule over everything else. Physical science as we understand it (as it is ingrained in our education) developed from here, receiving perhaps its high point in the eighteenth century with Newton and his theories that explained theoretically certain physical phenomena. In my own education, I could never come to grips with this type of physics, and suspected that I would never be able to come to an understanding of it because of the feeling of command over the physical world and the distance that existed between theory and reality. Now, having a small insight into the historical developments that occurred when these scientific perspectives came into existence, I am able to begin to place these things into a context. These ideas came from a time that mankind believed that every generation would produce more enlightenments and make the world for man a happier place to live. I have now realized that I have been born into a generation in which we know that things are actually not going to improve after every generation, they are in one respect going to get worse and more difficult: overpopulation, [footnote5.disintegration of society, dissolution of ozone layer, nuclear threat etc. It sounds pessimistic, but here we can connect back to the figure of the woman from Doris Lessing's Memoirs of a Survivor who through her own introversion opens the doors for a new future: it is becoming necessary for us to stop looking towards a grand future which is rapidly losing significance but start looking sideways - into walls and through windows - attempting to find new ways to perceive the reality that surrounds us. If we are going to achieve anything it will have to be internally and not externally.

 

It seems to me that developments in science that went against the logical outlook cultivated in the eighteenth century have led contemporary thought into a form of introspection, comparable also to Doris Lessing's work. This has occurred through the observance of new apparently unexplainable phenomena that can not be understood through eighteenth century principles, new conceptions of science have to be made in which larger systems seem to be taking place, systems that are unfolding with an almost predestined flow. These systems do not occur according to patterns that fit traditional logic, but according to repeating patterns that take place in a predetermined way. The random, chaotic creation of matter has now been brought into question and it is beginning to seem not so absurd to say that maybe there is a reason for everything that happens no matter how meaningless it may at first have seemed. This has come through the observance of incredibly small atomic phenomena and also incredibly great events within galaxies and universes.

 

Particularly fascinating for me was hearing scientists using the same words when discussing quantum physics as I used when trying to explain to one of the ZAUM actresses[19] the 'meaning' of the seemingly absurd actions which she had to perform: "one event (particle) can only be understood by relating it to the whole". Quantum physics recognizes an essential relatedness between particles, putting stress on the relation itself rather than an individual particle and what it individually does. The action of a particle therefore can not be explained by its own movements, but through its stochastic movements in a far greater system, just as any sound or movement in ZAUM can only be understood by viewing the composition as an entirety and placing it in the context of the whole development[20]. The connections may be vague, but it is interesting to note that I had a secret suspicion that they existed before 1 had made these discoveries, and the first time I heard about these scientific developments (months after the premiere of the performance) I felt a secret tingling of excitement, as if I had caught a glimpse of a great secret.

 

It is particularly interesting to note that Wolfgang Pauli (involved with the origin of contemporary physics) ended up consulting on a number of occasions Dr. Carl Jung because ol the strange nature of his dreams in which archetypal symbols were presented in combination with his most important scientific theories. He was to suggest, for the first time, an essential relationship between quantum physics and psychology, between "matter" and "spirit", bringing science for the first time since ancient Greece back onto the same plane as religion. It seems to me that this connection reflects a realization that an ultimate (scientific) truth is unattainable to us, seen through the behaviour of incredibly small particles that do not seem to follow the patterns in a 'logical' way, forcing scientists to question science itself and delve into Eastern philosophy for the answers[21]. In being able to accept that what is already known in Western science is only a small part of a most probably unattainable 'truth', I can in my own way find reassurance and comfort in feeling that what I am doing with my work, although 1 will maybe never know for sure, has some sort of significance in the scheme of things.

The circle is now almost complete. It is important to quote a scientist called Carl-Friedrich Von Weiszacke who I heard talking about quantum physics[22].23 In discussing these theories he tried to define art as: "the awareness or perception of forms by making them." He compared this definition to mathematical structures that were also a perception of a structure through its expression, although he elaborated this by mentioning that in mathematics the structures already exist, and in art they have to be created again. I have always seen my work in this way, and to hear it discussed is now a confirmation of what I already knew. I don't accept the structures which force me to perceive reality in a certain way, so I step outside and try to create my own around me, which find true expression in my works for the theatre. This has also helped me to realize that ZAUM is no end point, but a beginning point from which I have been able to define myself and what I want to do.

 

 


Afterthought :

A Personal Perspective

 

An important realization for me has been the discovery of a common link connecting me with others working in the creative world. In the past it has been difficult for me to identify with the term 'artist’ primarily because of the role models I had in Australia. Now, for the first time and totally unexpectedly, I am beginning to look at this in a different way. My problem was with the concept of ‘art’ as a question of aesthetic principles. For me, and in my work, creation was never the exploration of what would sound pleasant or have something aesthetically in common with the audience that would see it, but was in fact a personal expression of my own dissatisfaction with my society and a search for new forms of self expression. The other image of art that alienated me was the 'tortured' artist who showed a personal expression of his difficulties with his culture, something that could not say anything to me as it was so persona], and that stood strongly against my deep longing to be accepted into a society in which I felt at home. I couldn't see the point in expending my energy entirely on trying to break down existing systems but rather in presenting my own perception of new possibilities. Based on these two contrasting perspectives I didn't want to admit that my work could be considered 'art' as I understood it. Now I know that this dissatisfaction with traditional society is something that does bind 'artists' together - those searching in their own way and in their own medium to express their perspectives no matter how different the resulting work may be. Looking at other friends who seem to be in a similar position to me (such as Chris Heeley[23] and Carsten Wiedemann[24]) I can also see more direct points of comparison, which consoles me a lot. These people felt also an aching distance between themselves and the culture from their homeland, to so great a degree that they have also moved to another country.

Being now aware of the deliberate distance that I have set up between myself and the culture in which I was brought up I feel to some degree aware of the repercussions that this has had on my personality. My perception of this great feeling of distance between me and my society has firstly reflected itself in my work, which is involved in creating 'systems' in which it could be said that the traditional notion of perceiving reality is questioned. Seemingly illogical elements are brought together forming patterns and sometimes almost mathematical structures, incredibly strict and precise in the way that they work themselves to a conclusion. This helps me to explain a few personal idiosyncrasies.

 

Firstly, it is important to discuss my deep sensitivity to criticism. When my 'systems' are brought into question I am of course deeply hurt because the personal expression of my own perception of reality is made vulnerable. I can now for the first time see that my compositions are an important personal expression, but not of me myself but of the way I see things or would like things to be seen. When my theatre compositions are brought into question, not only the quality of the composition is being questioned, but the quality of the whole philosophy which is structuring the system in which I exist. I see it now that as I am standing aloof from the standard social structures, not enjoying the traditional systems to enhance the 'meaning' of what I do as traditionally taken on by people (job, family, security; the guaranteed creation of a future), my own structures in which 1 can place myself and find meaning have to be strict in order to supply a steady foundation. As I am young and still developing, these structures are changing and are as such not steady - therefore the problem with criticism. This can also explain why it sometimes seems that I am rather self-centred, explainable through the

fact that my reality, sometimes based on foundations which shudder beneath the weight and responsibility, stand outside traditional social systems and therefore need constant intellectual support and encouragement.

 

1 think that 1 can also get some sort of insight into my apparent inability to become involved deeply in a relationship. This stems most probably from the same deep fear of personal criticism that I can remember from my childhood. That deep and painful feeling of self-questioning is always brought back when I become involved with someone who becomes so close to me that they feel that they have to inform me of characteristics of mine that are difficult to tolerate. 1 can relate this to the sort of feeling I had as a child while being reprimanded deeply and personally not for what I did but who I was. This sort of criticism was not surface level but a deeper, more personal criticism that questioned everything I did and the foundations on which I built myself. I now realize that this criticism was more pertinent to the critic, but the pain and fear was deep and has undoubtedly affected me. I think that 1 air. scared of that returning, and have not allowed myself to become emotionally involved with someone, holding always a similar emotional distance between myself and the involved party, although my secret desire is to give myself totally and emotionally to someone else. Sometimes I have the feeling that inside me there is a dual system at work, the one trying to get involved in a relationship, and the other trying to protecting me from emotional involvement, representing the fear that I will lose everything if I can not stand up to the emotional criticism.

When I was younger my greatest fear was the absence of structure, the empty blackness that expressed itself through screams and cries in From a Gable Window[25] and that I hoped to fill with the driving melodies of other more minimal compositions that sounded pleasant but were ultimately empty. By fear of structurelessness I mean feeling that there are no safe boundaries and no means in which reality can be structured; that feeling of losing everything in the face of disaster. In relation to me this represents the realization that I stood outside of my society and was threatened by the structureless chaos that could be found there. This was a difficult time because I had no idea of the sort of structure in which 1 could really be satisfied. This current awareness can also help me to explain my fear of the future, another unstructured blackness that sometimes seems to loom ahead of me, and probably why I am sometimes unhappy. My future is so hard to grasp and explain, the structures that I am creating seem sometimes to be able to show me no answers or solutions, and I am naturally afraid of the empty blackness that would result in losing complete faith in what I do. A story of particular interest in relation to this concerns a blood test that I had recently. The primary purpose of this test was to check to make sure that 1 was not HIV positive. Although merely a precaution, 1 began to seriously consider that I could have this terrible disease soon after the test, and began to wonder how 1 would rethink everything that 1 was doing if I happened to have been infected. It soon dawned on me that if 1 did, the previously limitless horizons of the future would be suddenly limited, allowing me to see an end and a precise time in which to finish what I was doing. When I discovered that I was HIV negative, I was of course incredibly relieved, but I noticed that there was a tiny part of me that was disappointed, threatened again by that vast unknown emptiness called the future. Being able to understand these elements of my personality that have in the past confused me (on the one side incredibly self confident and sure of what I want to do, and on the other, especially if criticised, confused, unsure and miserable) hopefully 1 will be able to develop beyond this personal insecurity. These discoveries have made another aspect of human behaviour much more understandable for me in relation to religious belief, in particular 'faith'; a concept that was explained to me many times during my life as simply a definite 'knowing' or an unquestionable 'awareness', something I could never really understand. This seems much clearer to me firstly through my interest in the unexplainable nature expressed in contemporary physics, and secondly a personal realization that this 'faith' resembles quite closely the belief that I have in what I do. Even in times of deep personal questioning I seen to be able to find a deep core of personal belief in what I am doing, something that seems almost external. I recognise this is a kind of faith that goes beyond being simply self-assured.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zachr Laskewicz

April 1994

Ghent (Belgium)



[1] Having lived for almost two years in Belgium.

[2] Most clearly expressed in the following article: Zachr Laskewicz, "Music as an open creative resource", New Music Articles (Australian Music Centre 1991) issue 9, pp26-30.

[3] Including education, manners and attitudes, media and politics.

[4] A German performance artist that I met in Ghent.

[5] Here I mean speaking the same languages.

[6] John Blacking, "The Biology of Music-Making" Ethnomusicoloqy (ed.) Helen Myers (MacMillan Press 1992): Chapter XI.

[7] Gerhard Kubik, "Pattern Perception and Recognition in African Music" The Performing Arts (ed ) John Blacking (Mouton 1979).

[8] Christopher Innes, Holy Theatre. (Cambridge University Press 1991): Ch.1 The Politics of Primitivism

[9] A form of Dutch (Nederlands) which recognizes a large number of regional dialects.

[10] For example, through learning the history of our country it could be said that we are being provided with role models on which to base our own identity, meaning that a personal identity is based on an ideal ‘national’ identity..

[11] I have heard for example that in England it is now illegal to teach English in a dialect.

[12] Jonathan Eyal, "Liberating Europe From Nationalism Will Not Be Easy," International Herald Tribune: May 24, 1994.

[13] Patrick Eecloo, a captain in the Belgian army serving in Cologne.

[14] One of Ivor Cutler's texts defines two people as they sit together to drink tea as a 'universe'. I used this text for the Celebration compositions.

[15] This seemed particularly pertinent because of my own experience with Europeans who are unable to accept another possibility if they have read it to the contrary in a book

[16] This was notated from an Ivor Cutler concert in the Beursschouwburg (Brussels), 20th of February 1994.

[17] For example apparently illogical sequences from the British comedy Monty Python, and later to comparable events in absurdist drama.

 

[18] Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor (Octagon Press London 1974).

[19] Trui Vereecke.

[20] The notation in my compositions also reflects this by my disinterest in the notation of individual sound events, but rather the creation of sound systems in which a number of sounds are allowed to be performed at the same time producing a sound environment that is designed to give an effect rather than a distinct rhythmical enunciation.

[21] See Capra's TheTao of Physics or Zukav's The Dancing Wu-Li Masters.

[22] Passions of the Soul: BBC television series concerned with the work of Dr. Carl Jung and its significance today in relation to contemporary scientific development.

[23] Designer from Australia, escaped from there to Scotland.

[24] Performance artist from Germany, escaped from there to Holland.

[25] Gothic Horror Tape Work (composed in 1990)

 

 

 

 

May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)*
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.


*LAST MODIFIED:
September 27 2013.

 

 

Major Writings