Townhouse Gallery Plan with Noise Room
Graphic Score Detail
Graphic Score Detail
Graphic Score Detail
Graphic Score Detail
Graphic Score Detail
They Can’t Take This Away From We (2013)
Part 1: Consensual Autonomies
They Can’t Take This Away From We (2013)
Part 2: In the Mind’s We
Townhouse Gallery, Cairo 2013
Curated by Ania Szremski
During his month-long residency at Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, Warren Neidich made a series of graphic, abstract musical scores, called graphic scores, that used images instead of notes, based upon found newspaper clippings and bits of text. This material formed a fragmented archive of the recent political events occurring in Cairo branded The Egyptian Spring. These materials are then transferred upon musical staffs with scotch tape, producing a paradoxical and hybrid drawing/score.
These musical staffs become a support system upon which disjointed images and colors are activated. Twenty-two Cairo-based musicians (spanning from classical oud and tabla players to electronic sound artists) were invited to the First Floor Gallery to read and react to these images and texts in an improvisational manner, leading to similarly abstracted, experimental live performances.
Participating performers: Hashem Aly, Yvonne Buchheim, Bahaa El-Ansary, Omar El-Deeb, Ahmed Safi El Din, Mahmoud El Saghir, Nadah El Shazly, Shahir Eschander, Mohamed Abdelfattah Ibrahim, Ashiq Khondker, Wael Leheta, Ayman Mabrouk, Adam Miller, Amr Mohamed, Koen Nutters, Mohamed Refaat, Michelle Rounds, Alaa Hussein Saber, Ibrahim Salah, Hassam Shehata, Mahmoud Tarik, Esam Abdelhamid, John Verlenden, Robert Williams, Hassan Zaky, Khaled Kaddal, Ayman Asfour.
They Can't Take It Away From We
They Can't Take It Away From We is a collaboration with the contemporary choreographer Canan Erek (Turkey). As the title insinuates the conditions that inspired the musical performances are now retranslated as bodies in motion. In the second stage of the performance eight international dancers living in Berlin, who were trained in improvisational dance techniques, were invited to Neidich's studio. Each dancer was first asked to listen to one out of the twenty-seven scores recorded during the Egyptian experience. After choosing one of them each dancer then improvised the score with the video projection providing the sound component. Each of the remaining seven dancers followed suit. Then in groups of four the dancers were asked to perform from their memory of the score. Together they danced autonomously on a white sheet of paper in which black paint had been poured in the middle without the sound of the music playing. The dancers were asked to dip their toe(s) in the paint as they danced creating gestures upon the white paper to produce a feral drawing. This white paper is meant to be displayed. Although the performance appeared to onlookers as choreographed it was not.
How do you translate a text that is not a text? How do perform a score that is not a score?
“Music is prophecy. Its styles and economic organization are ahead of the rest of society because it explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible, that will impose itself and regulate the order of things; it is not only the image of things, but the transcending of the everyday, the herald of the future.” (1)
From the mausoleum of lost apparatuses I revivified the graphic score, first initiated by Morton Feldman, John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, as a means to reconstitute a politics of autonomy. During my residency at Townhouse Gallery in Cairo in April of 2013 I collected and sampled images and texts from daily newspapers that concerned the becoming situation of the Egyptian Spring. The Egyptian Spring was not a being event that crystalized after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, but rather a becoming cultural condition, in transition, in which culture, politics, and theory of mind continually reconstituted themselves as other. The question became how could an artwork concretize these relations? Could a graphic score both embody and be metonymic for the idea of political and neurobiological catastrophe? What would it look like and how could it be expressed? As such could an artwork inform beyond what already we know through language? Could the deep structure of political and social objects and things be released?
Graphic scores in their original manifestation as reconstituted musical event structures were an attempt to emancipate scripted notation from the score and in doing so release its autonomous singularity into a kind of becoming. Here autonomy delineates a rational being competent to make an uncoerced decision, but also relates to the Autonomy Movement after 1968 which focused on self –organization as a means of resistance outside traditional organized structures. The use of scores also depends on self-interpretation outside traditional forms of notation to create individual responses, which when collected create heterogeneous populations of agents. In this context of musical performance the normalized crystalized self, which has incorporated certain forms of proscribed self-regulation, is released by another set of non-institutional forms, as found in improvised reading of non-notational musical scores. As such, being (a constituted unchanging subject that is easily controlled) becomes a transitional form that better adapts itself to the changing cultural milieu. The Egyptian Spring is such a transitional cultural, historical, and socially contingent condition. How is this possible? Normalised musical notation crystallized upon sets of parallel staffs, which incidentally appear like prison bars on music paper, creates a synchronized disposition. In turn it produces subjugated passive readers who together form a people integrated through similar interpretation. The history of musical composition is unarguably marked and accentuated by multiple attempts to be released from this servitude. Each avant-garde gesture of the history of music, whether one is talking about Berlioz or Boulez, is such an example. But with graphic scores comes a crisis of interpretation that requires alternative forms of consciousness to appreciate it. Not only in the individual artist but also in the collective culture at large. In its original condition the recital’s notational forms stand in for similar and analogous conditions of political subjugation at the hands of the written law. Today we know from the work of Jacques Rancière that the law refers to symbolic meaning as well as meaning inscribed in designed urban space, which produces a unified people through distributions of sensibility by acting upon our shared sensibilities. For instance the sensible city, utilizing bottom-up processing, eventually operates on our abstract thought as well. Incidentally the process had already been pre-figured in autonomous political projects that worked through bottom-up regimes inherent in self-organization. Emancipated from notation, the graphic score untethered to the staff, requires an active performing subject. Through the process of individual interpretation the subject creates a sound environment that is autonomous to unveil individual singularity, and in the process produces a collective multiplicity of subjectivities that require alternative forms of self-interpretation. Even more so, such a transformation occurs when the images themselves are about the political emancipation from the servitude of demagoguery!
Such was the case in the production of the scores shown in this portfolio as the scores themselves were made of images from the revolution itself as well as its aftermath. This is because the Egyptian Spring as a process is not over and these scores are a testament to that - being performed over and over again each time with a new group of musicians and in front of new audiences. But as scores they require performance techniques of improvisation that in themselves are freed from the regimented, tutored and academic playing techniques, which instead are substituted with an ensemble of striking, plucking, and blowing techniques invented on the spot or rehearsed. Pots and pans, toys, paper bags, animal skins, tampons are the new instruments of the scores elaboration because they more accurately express the nature of the original political sound event and are required to impart their proper enunciation to the scores. These techniques were not invented today but are anachronistic techniques created in another time when the culture of the 1960s and 1970s embraced innovation and difference. Today they are a reminder of that time but as well delink the circuit of technological innovation from its positivistic Darwinian language and elaborate gestures expressed in the dynamics of non-linear fractalisation of becoming other. There is no longer a mean - simply extremes.
The rehearsals and concert consisting of multiple interpretations, which took place at the Townhouse Gallery, were together just the beginning of the project. Not shown in this portfolio are its other results, outcomes and processes of artistic experimentation.
In my studio in Berlin international dancers and performers were asked to create improvisational somatic vocabularies in response to one of the recitals that had been documented in Cairo; but were now projected upon the studio wall. First each performer listened to the archive of documentation, and then later chose one of the twenty-seven recitals to perform to. Upon the second viewing/listening each performer constructed a somatotope, a series of learned moves enacted simultaneously with the projection of the performance of the musician in Cairo. Each performer created a vocabulary of moves that together proved to be a bodily interpretation and translation of the sounds and noise of the original performance into a set of bodily and epistemological assemblages.
The emancipatory conditions of the Cairo recital/experience had been transformed as ‘incorporalised’ epiphenomena, incorporated in the corpus, as an emancipatory translation of bodily moves, an active intentionality. But the emancipatory recital and bodily moves it incited were also inscribed in the neurobiological architecture of the brain.
As we will see shortly this notion has broader implications then we might suspect crossing the border from art into economics, politics, social construction and the neuroscience of memory. This is key to our understanding of the nature of performance and cultural labor in our moment of cognitive capitalism and communicative capitalism in which immaterial labor does not leave a trace. In the ‘Grammar of the Multitude’ Paulo Virno suggests that the information economy, the communicative act itself acts as an attractor repositioning political action, labour and intellectual reflection closer to one another. ‘Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity, which finds its own fulfillment…in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a ‘finished product’, or into an object, which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience.’ (2) Furthermore, ‘I will maintain in particular, that the world of so-called post-Fordist labour has absorbed into itself many of the typical characteristics of political action: and that this fusion between politics and labour constitutes a decisive physiognomic trait of the contemporary multitude.’(3)
As we can see from the above quote labour and performance in the information economy have dissolved into each other because nothing objective has been produced or leaves a trace. I have argued previously through my artwork In the Mind’s I that in fact performance does leave a trace and what has been interpreted as a lack in post-Fordist production and now Cognitive Capitalism is precisely quite the opposite. Immaterial labour does leave a trace in the neurobiological architecture of the brain. In fact one of the defining moments of cognitive capitalism is its materialisation in the becoming-reconstituted, sculpted neural architecture. Like Autonomy, non-linear dynamics are at work in the brain and as such the resulting neurobiological condition is greater the sum of its parts.
It is this concern and critique that led me to create the third and perhaps most important component of this performance. I have already delineated how the dancers and performers interpreted the documented recital from Cairo that had been projected on my studio wall. I have already mentioned that each created a vocabulary of moves that assembled a hieroglyphic of bodily moves, dispositions and enactments. In a final gesture of the work the dancers and performance were asked to reassemble in a demarcated space marked out in my studio. Together with no instruction other then where they would perform, they created a collective rendition from memory. Eight dancers reenacted their previous rehearsals from memory, listening and seeing the musician’s recital in their mind’s eye or ear. No longer aided by the projected video each dancer envisioned the video and sound tract through recalling the internal image from their long-term memory and visualizing, in what is called their ‘working memory’, what they had previously produced in their rehearsals; each artist as an autonomous agent reenacted their previous individualised session. Performing side by side in the constricted space their moves all together became a collective response of the multitude.
1. Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, p. 92
2.Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, p. 52
3.Ibid. Virno. P, p 50.
Visit the website for this work, by Warren Neidich