Bojana Cvejic
The Passion of Proceduralism

Das Das Theater der Wiederholungen. Musiktheater in drei Erzälungen von Bernhard Lang in der Inszenierung von Xavier Le Roy

Klangforum Wien, Johannes Kalitzke (dir), Steirischerherbst, Graz, October 4

One of the first comments I could call out after the performance of The Theatre of Repetitions was: finally! Finally an event where music and theatre engage on an autonomous third plane of philosophy, saved from the obsessive search for a suitable Musik+Theater relationship whereby the capacity for representation in music traditionally is weighed against theatrical staging. Yet it would be inappropriate to claim that the philosophical concepts of Deleuze, according to the reference to Deleuze in the title of the work, take the vantage-point of a masterdiscourse beyond (and in regulation of) Lang’s music and Le Roy’s choreography. The happy confluence of their distinctive mediums or what makes the collaboration between these two artists congenial rests on the fact that they both are investigating and bringing out ways of performing discursivity in music and dance proper. Every compositional or stage procedure in The Theatre of Repetitions could be considered on a second-degree basis of treating dispositifs of music and theatre in Western traditions. Perhaps, easier to be recognised in the staging thanks to the recent conceptualist tendencies in dance, Lang’s intentions have to labour against more stubborn resistances, the romantic phantom habits and expectations of audiences to enjoy original expressions of beautiful souls in opera. Their discursive mutuality is conceived in an intertwining relationship. What could only unfold in the materiality of music — the interiority of the concept of repetition in musical work and its multiple perceptual, historical and political ramifications — is overtly exposed, stated and extenuated in the Inszenierung. Briefly describing the performance we could say we are watching a hyphenated concert of live music performed in theatre, where music is presented with the small gestures of musical execution choreographed. But to trace the path of how the strategies and procedures of music exposed their institutional protocols, let’s restart with the music.


Musical Work Deconstructed

Answering the simple question "what is it? what is it about?" is subverted almost methodologically in Lang’s music, and my answers would rather bear with some implications of its proceedings. It is, namely, the very concept of musical work and its metaphysical and ideological foundations, deconstructed by the procedures of differentiated repetition. Lang unfolds a compositional writing whose textuality efficiently dismantles the binary logic of the sign and the communicational intent of signification — in favor of a texturality, perhaps. By texturality I would suggest the haptic touch-for-sound illusions of sound surfaces or planes of intense musical matter, built by conjunctive and disjunctive sequences of utterances. It is a matter of manipulations of musical syntax which render played or sung/spoken musical units into utterances in the condition of making musical language possible but never becoming language. A phenomenon of bordering, of signifying undecidability or of the force of something close to the infinitive verb of activity without subject/object formations is driven by a machinic (and not rationalistically mechanical) sense of flow and interruption. Utterances appear like gestures whose protention in time is perceived untimely — in the sequences of repetition seeming delayed in departure and interrupted in destination which will become another immediate discontinuous redeparture. To describe the sensation of the complex textures resulting from multiple layerings, also affected by the changing dispositions of solo singers, chorus, orchestra, live performed or played back music, is necessarily to distinguish it from the principles of classicist architectonic/evolutive and minimalist processes of repetition. In view of the dialectical functions of musical unity established through recapitulation in Western classical music tradition Lang’s treatment of repetition shatters any support for receiving the composition in an organic whole, as it frustrates the repetitive sequences to take the direction of development. In difference to the modernist urge of minimalism to produce the objecthood of musical process in itself, repetition in The Theatre of Repetitions deals not with the craft of arbitrarily anatomising and reinventing musical material, but with a disfiguration of gestures. Every gesture is thoroughly asemanticised by way of repetition which stresses an innerly inverted citationality, iterability and reiteration, in the Derridean double sense of "once again" and "other". To the extent in which every utterance suggests to have been animated by intention which will never be completely present in it, we are testing our tendency to reassemble the totality of its context, expression/representation of meaning and singularity of occurrence, although music provides no referential stimulations. It captures us in the mutative effects of repeating a fragment as small and underdetermined as a particle, for instance, a SCH from Schwartze, which will gesticulate from the mouths of the musicians into the onomatopeic sound of bowing, thus, from a possibly tragic connotation associated with the broken syntagm Schwarze Wand (referring to the Nazi executions in the text) to a circular denotation (string-bowing) of the concert. The undoing of our listening habits goes so far that we sometimes even have to revoke our dreary inclination to decipher and try to anchor our perception with what we would like to interpret as the ending and starting signals in a post-Webernian musical narrative. This is to counter the hard core of the dispositif, the regulative of the habit or the impossibility of the listener to dissociate from the economimetic telos: what is the purposeful whole of a piece and how does it stand for the listening subject substituted in representation?

The answer to how The Theatre of Repetitions unroots the logocentric frames of reception is furthered in the operations with verbal texts, especially in disregard to the ideal of the over-arching thematic or dramatic unity in opera or music theatre. The same effect is already managed by doubling the solist voices, untying them from any character-based expression in the presentation of text. Going for extreme registered voices (soprano, countertenor, bass disposition) and at moments replacing them with instruments (one distinguished Oboe solo) reveals a tendency to instrumentalism in thinking music, perhaps, remotely traceable reference to Baroque (Cartesian) visions of machines. In assembling excerpts from texts by Marquis de Sade, J.K.Huysmans, W. Burroughs, as well as Nuremberg trials and concentration camp testimonies is more striking a paragrammatic logic of poetic language or a disjunctive conjunction of "...and...and...and" words as objects in narration than their signified "content" in metaphors. Kristeva’s concept of paragrams which literally displays itself in the poetic potential of meaning in splitted, fissured, stuttered words, also involves the notions of the double writing-reading / composing-listening (bringing together, watching for, uncovering the trace etc.) as a violent participation in the field of possible topics. I wouldn’t venture to interpret it in the grand narrative of the European concepts of political utopia, sovereignty and transgression, although the political intent emerges in the projection of a three-part history vaguely pivoting around the times of French Revolution, WWII and ’68. Instead of looking into the metaphorical reflections of the images of violent excesses of XVIII century aristocracy, explosive mental and carnal phantasms of gunning and sodomy or documents about the Nazi executions..., I would argue for another logic of sense construed not in symbolical images and notions, but in the fragmentary and yet pungent accounts of procedures of (passionate) cruelty. De Sade’s tortures, Burrough’s sexual magick or gangster shootings and the liquidation in concentration camps are talked about or made mention of as ritualized normative practices, where the law is reasserted by its transgression (e.g. homosexuality or suspension of law in the camp). They don’t offer narratives to be staged or represented in music, but metonymically configure the historical, social and political frames of repetition through the reiterative procedures which shed manuals sometimes even with details to how the act of violence was done. This political stance certainly has something to do with the Sloterdijk’s unhappy consciousness of cynical reasoning - L’éloge de la raison cynique, scenes 2 and 6 in Act 1. Perhaps, out of the inherent impossibility of ideological critique today comes the tactic not to represent but to repeat, not to attempt to grope for the Real in ideology but to examine and unfold ideology in its way of functioning, and for The Theatre of Repetitions in the dispositifs of music and theatre specifically.


Exhausting the Theatre Dispositif

The music of The Theatre of Repetitions exteriorises all its far-reaching discursive operations with what would be contained in and proceeded by the concept of musical work in the stage presentation. Departing from Lang’s score where some gestures of musical execution are already composed, that is, are included in the composition, Le Roy conceived of staging the concert performance. Movements "found" or sourced from the working situation of producing music in concert, usually presented and perceived in the aura of expressing the here&now one-time event of performing the musical work, are choreographed. They are shown retrievable, as the score of the musical work is. Appearances on stage, musicians, singers, chorus taking or leaving positions, the moving or breathing gestures of the impulse to begin, turning of score pages and other by-products of music-making function (to quote from the text: happiness is the by-product of function), even some moments in the orchestration or changing course of the music (especially the retrograde operations) are made visible through the exactness of repetition, duplication, manipulations in speeds and space of the movement. By completing the mise-en-scène of concert, Le Roy not only underlines the arbitrary, yet naturalized conventionality of procedures by which the status of musical work is declared, but he helps one of the most radical strategies, proceduralism, to slide the sublime object of musical work into the surface of its protocol. Similarly to the duplication of voices (two sopranos, two countertenors, two basses), dancers are commingling with instrumentalists and singers in costumes and actions, like in coupling the piano-player with the assistance which at some moments creates ambiguity about who is coming/leaving the stage and who is playing/turning pages. The most striking upshot from such a consistently carried out duplication as simulation appears when the conductor — figuring the head in charge of the concert performance — receives a replica in another conductor look-alike diverted from the orchestra to conduct against the audience. The homogeneous set-up, everyone dressed in the same concert attire, supports the image of the machine at work, but as every machine is a machine of a machine, a machine connected to another machine, Deleuze and Guattari write, it produces continuity conditioned by breaks and interruptions. These breaks and interruptions are the result of the musicians’ gestures cut, copied, multiplied by musicians or dancers conjoining musicians’ doings in the sameness that can thus only point out to difference.

In the second act, The Place of Dead Roads, where Burrough’s texts come through with a more explosive language, Le Roy draws a detour line in the game he set. When dancers (probably together with some chorus singers) come from sides around the central body of the orchestra on stage to perform gangster scenes, at first we would suspect that repetition gave way to representation, and our imagination is unleashed for evoking film images like Reservoir Dogs etc. However, at a closer look we drift away from the attraction to any resemblances that would have to do with illustrating the texts. We are caught again by the protocol in repetition and not by the object in representation, we are exposed to the machinic functioning of actions, in stuttering reiterations, ruptures and redepartures of the movements of gunning, fighting, beating, which invert in to their intense material qualities. This decision to fake a regime of representation through repetition, in fact, complements the full range of possibilities Le Roy exhausts out of his conception of staged concert. As if a recursive process is set here - the theatre dispositif repeatedly returns to its own properties so as to generate an infinite sequence of possibilities - in functions of lighting on the stage, onto the audience, on/off fading in/out, in the conductor-look-alike performing together with the orchestra conductor or alone conducting for the audience, performers appearing in the orchestra, next to the orchestra players, around the orchestra body, in the audience, rails with technical equipment lowering down onto the stage and many others I probably didn’t mention here, seeming that all the possibilities of the mise-en-scène of the concert are realized when in the third act descends a frame for the performance within the frame of a proscenium stage-frame. But it is important that this set of variables of the situation of live concert is exhausted with no goal or signification rather than the passion of displaying itself. I am deliberately here speaking of passion in producing choreography of a concert, because it is only by excluding the possibilities of interpreting and representing the content in the text, which would anyhow collide with its paragrammatic organisation, that the possibilities of different meanings and receptions are included and stimulated.




Each art has its interrelated techniques or repetitions, the critical and revolutionary potential of which may attain the highest degree and lead us from the sad repetitions of habit to the profound repetitions of memory... (Deleuze)

As we might exercise the memory of historical past in relation to the political present when we claim "we are political" today, The Theatre of Repetition, in its distinctive yet complementary operations with music and the theatre in music, interpellates us into another discipline within the politicity that Western musical audiences are compelled to face in the first place: listening and observing nowhere else but first into the real of our perceptual habits and receptive values, disclosing them as our dominant fictions. Experiencing the disentaglement from the telos of representation in order to listen to one’s own listening, watch one’s own watching.


Bojana Cvejic

October 17, 2003