The ghosts, which we called…

Impressions by Sieglinde Geisel, translated from German by Thomas Nießer.

How can a text become three-dimensional? By transforming letters into objects. The 3-D-printer makes it possible. It is the clandestine main character of the evening. With its artefact, the letter X, he is the soloist, after all the while it has pottered away busily in the background, as the performance is timed in a way so that it ends synchronously with the printing process: a small lamp shines a light on the 3-D printer after the task is accomplished, like a spotlight.

It is the idea behind the event series Con_Text to transfer speech into a different dimension, to show texts in different contexts. The poet Daniel Malpica, originally coming from Mexico but living in Finland, and the Japanese sound-poet Tomomi Adachi succeeded on that evening to expand the field in unexpected ways. It is rare that one lives through a performance, during which things happen, which one has never heard or seen – including the irritation, which goes with the new. For, naturally, there is no model for the new and with that no benchmark, against which one can measure it. One remains thrown back to one’s own experience, an unsettling state – and a liberation.

So, what is it that I experienced during that intensive evening with the title “Time to Deliver X3”? The performance sets off with speech, which builds up, detaches itself from the meaning of words, Spanish and English, the languages blend into one another, later a charmingly altered German with sprinkles of Finnish joins in. Daniel Malpica reads musically, his left hand conducts, movements are part of his expressivity. His partner Tomomi Adachi joins him in speaking so that we witness a Jam-session of words and word like sounds. The two artists tune into one another, in a to and fro between closeness and distance and the encounter of two temperaments. Daniel Malpica talks unswervingly, so as if he wanted to convince us of something – yet without us learning what this something is. It is about the act of performing, not about the message, it is about the expression, not the expressed. Tomomi Adachi, however, charges his words and sounds emotionally, he is playful, expands the space of sound, slips into a singsong, an excited chatter, into something like a sudden joke. Both voices are in contact with one another, but they don’t converse, the presentation does not go to the inside, but to the outside: it is directed towards us.

© Evgeny Revvo

Only slowly do I become aware that something is going on in the audience. I feel it before I recognise something, a particular concentration in the room, some bodies tense up. A woman moves her head jerkily and rigid, as if she was a bird, in addition a spasmodic gasping. On the other side somebody moves his leg in a robotic manner, with empty look. A disruptive action or part of the work of art? These short, unpredictable “appearances” change the room. How many are in it? Is it infectious, shall one join in? I am prepared for anything, but I soon realise that professionals are at work here. Those apparently unmotivated gestures are rehearsed, all of a sudden somebody swings into a handstand, later others follow as if it was nothing. There is singing, warm and beautiful, one does not always notice immediately who is singing, unexpectedly I notice that one of the female singers leans on the wall in a handstand, I did not know that it is possible to sing in this position.

Was it her as well, who previously had her right leg tremble, as if it no longer belonged to her, but was part of a machine? Next to me, someone scratches his beard vehemently and in a mechanical way, he creates with his mouth uncanny sounds, which emanate from the loudspeaker. Each of the performers, dancers and singers, has their own virtuosity. They seem to operate independently from one another – and yet they follow a sophisticated choreography. Chance or art? The whole room appears to be charged. Only once does the tension drop, when Daniel Malpica recites his text for several minutes on his own. It is as if the sound of speech on his own was no longer enough, we have become accustomed to other stimuli, to ongoing variations of the energy level. When somebody just simply speaks, there is nothing threatening any longer, I lean back – and all of a sudden, I perceive the absence of meaning as a deficiency, those nonsense-words reveal their emptiness.

The longer the performance goes on, the more I recognise a theme: it is about the boundary between human and machine. The performers in the audience alternate between robotic gestures and the supple movements of natural beings. The robot movements seem to become more and more fanaticized, as if the machine-humans were about to lose the mind, which they don’t have. The sounds, too, increasingly distance themselves from human nature, from the corporeal. As I know from the programme, Tomomi Adachi produced Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate” in 1996 in Japan as a Japanese premiere performance and reminiscences of the “Ursonate” run through the whole evening in an alienated form. In Schwitters, speech serves already as a musical instrument, Adachi, now, carries this game on, not doggedly, but flexibly, as play.

© Evgeny Revvo

Electronic music is created by machines just as well as the three-dimensional X, whose creation we attend. Yet it is a reversed process: the letter X is converted from the non-corporeal existence into a physical object, whereas the sounds, which we just came to hear as warm blooded voices, are transformed into the abstract. For in the final scene – the whole evening seems to follow a consistent dramaturgy – the songs fall silent: accompanying the stroboscopically created starry sky, which moves incessantly across the walls, we listen to electronically generated music. Never before have I become so clearly aware of the artificiality of these machine sounds: These are the ghosts, which we called. Tomomi Adachi had warned the audience in the beginning that it could become very noisy in the corner with the loudspeakers. Machines don’t recognise a human proportion and the music is not just unpredictable in its loudness but it is also very busy, in an inhumane, unboundaried way. An assault at the nerves, disturbing – and interesting.

This evening was an experiment in aesthetics of overpowering. Here, however, it was not passions, to whom we are to submit ourselves, not feelings and emotions as with Richard Wagner, for example, but energies, which were directed: by the composer at the mixing desk, the poet at the microphone and by the invisible force of dramaturgy. Is the human being master of the machine or is the machine master of the human being? The philosopher of culture Günther Anders asked this question in the 1950s. I experienced it entirely anew on that evening.