A conversation with Piotr Katz (EN)


P – At the end of our previous interview (ten years ago – hard to believe!) I had asked why misunderstandings are so inspiring and suggested that might be because they deconstruct an illusion of global understanding. You said, in regard to cultural differences, that there are two ways to cope with them. First is all-embracing thinking that such general agreement is possible and second – acceptance of fragmentary cultural horizons and coming to terms with the fact that understanding isn’t possible, at least for now. And you chose the second option – would you subscribe to it still today?

A – Good start. I am definitely more critical of cultural relativism now than ten years ago but I do still believe in misunderstnadings. Even more than I used to i think that misunderstandings are probably the only chance we have to throw a glance at reality. I think that the notion of « language » in a broader sense is way more « colonised » by power, technology and by a surplus of meaning that it used to be ten years ago. And so are the ideas and languages expressing what « culture »  « identity » or « community » are, they are being prefected, became more normative, more attached to a specific market and less floating and navigable. « Voice » and « Misunderstandings » on the contrary seem to resist as a remote Niemansland where real subjects can still take shelter, exists and disappear if they so wish.

P – It’s worth mentioning that it’s a first time in years that you don’t work with actual living people during a project (am I right?) Was it a conscious decision, if yes – why? Did you feel a need to be an omnipotent demiurg who doesn’t have to trouble himself with misunderstandings this time? Also, what does it changes for you in terms of workflow and approach?

A – I have to do with a lot of actual living people in this projet ! And they are definitely alive. I keep recording  « voice particles » for Plane/Talea asking people, from now and then to donate a sort of DNA of their voice. But you are right, this time is different: In fact, these people remain anonymous in the piece and they do not show up when I play. They are like models in figurative painting. Finally the social identity of the model is not that important. Only the « voice identity » – which is possibly the only real identity in this situation – is  presented. I make their « voice portrait » by recording thousands of voice fragments. I ask them to emit many little sound in one way or another, like the painter asks the model to stand or sit in some specific position. During the recording sessions we may have an interaction or s conversation but what is said remains between us. These sounds creature are not « people » in the common sense and the whole point of the story is figuring out what they actually are. In my opinion they become a mysterious sort of subjects.  If they have a language here, then it’s definitely a langue bound to misunderstanding.

P – Some say that a recording has a lot to do with death and even killing. But you stress the fact that you aimed to create living creatures from recorded sounds – could you tell more how you overcomed this contradiction? Also I’d be curious if you know the records of Rashad Becker whose conceptual background for composing seems a bit simillar?

A – I admire Rashad Becker music’s, — — is amazing —  and I definitely think often about  his approach that seems to forster the existence of such « living creatures » in their music. Two years ago I curated a playlist featuring works that in my opinion hosted this kind of creatures. It was originally conceived for the audio festival Helicotrema in Italy and was then repeated  for the – sorely missed –  Soundproof radio art program of ABC/Australia. It included pieces by Sébastien Roux, Hannah Hartmann, Boris Baltschun/Serge Baghdassarians, Markus Schmikler and Nicolas Frieze. In each one of these pieces there was a process in action that generated some enigmatic sound charachters or sound-creatures, not necessarily anthropomorphic but alive in some weird way.  In Sebastien Roux’ pieces i have often the feeling that the process generates musical creatures determining on the spot what could be musical and what not, you have the feeling that music give birth toi itself in the process. I have written on his Vuza canons (here)  where you really have the feeling that everything happens in the non-dimensional point in time where you stop hearing individual sound particles and you start hearing a melody or a whole texture. It’s fascinating and speculative work by a composer i admire a lot. Rashed Becker music seems to function along similar lines with actual charachters brought in the compositional process. It’s funny how it reminds me of Elliott Carter theories. Much earlier I was very impressed by reading about Elliot Carter’s string quartets in which  all instruments are treated as specific « characthers » to which specific intervallic, timbral and rythmical contents is assigned. I can’t say that I like Elliot Carter music as much as I like Rashed Becker to but these readings back then surely made an impression on me as well.

P – I’d be interested in your thoughts about a notion of utopia, for example – is it only possible in art or is art able to propose models that can be translated into real world? And what’s a role of individual in utopian order (in regard to your piece especially but not only)?

A – Art is ALWAYS about utopia since it’s always expanding a  spiritual universe that would collapse otherwise. This utopia is never declared though, is made out of nothing and empty about-ness. I think that your formulation of « proposing models that can be transalted into the real world » doesn’t do justice to what art does. It’s exactly by « not formulating » something that art creates a space of possibility. I try to run away from art that’s prescriptive, programmatic or that tries to propose a « model », i think that’s not necessary, art it’s already making something possible by NOT formulating it.

P – You are creating this impossible choir here and it could be perceived in the context of recent reneissance of this form, ie. complaints choirs, « Screaming Men » and community choirs in general. Were you thinking about any of those while preparing « Plane / Talea »?

A – Surely my interest in voice and polyphony has grown in parallel for a renewed interest for choirs and  voices that runs throughout the past decade. The choir of Plane/Talea is not quite a community choir though, probably is not even a real choir but only an impossible one ! Such choir phantasy foundamentally questions some issues of community. It stages a community of voices where all the « political » or « bodily » aspect is removed, everything that these voices may have in common is not said. It’s closer to Flatland by Edwin Abbot than to any community choir. Voices in Plane/Talea form a community just by the fact of existing out there in a dark and indifferentiated sound space, they are definitely outside. Community is not defined by what is « proper of.. » but by what is outside any circonscription and identity. I am less interested in what people say about their own community, I am more interested in subjects existing outside any physical or political determination. Plane/Talea can be performed as a purely electro-acoustic multichannel piece and iut’s quite unlike the durational modulated conversations performance that I have been running in the past years. « The Pool and the Soup », « Acqua Sofcata ed altre risposte concentriche », « Burning Waters, Burning needs » all stemming from an original idea conceived for Die Maulwerker in Berlin in 2006 all address issues of ephemeral and non-determined communities but are always performed by a very phisically present group of people.

P – You often state that polyphonic vocal music is an inspiration for you. It seems that you are re-interpreting this tradition very freely but maybe you could give a few particular examples how it influences your work?

A – Regretfully I didn’t sing in a choir when i was growing up but there’s  a number of listneing influences that layered in the back of my mind: sacred music I heard in church often sung by the local choir, madrigals and baroque polyphony, recordings of traditional vocal music like the poliphonic Sardinians traditions, Genivese trallalero, Cameroun Pygmy music, you name it. In addition to that, most of the time I think about conversations among more people as polyphonies: I think that the hyper-cahotic conversation at the dinner table in my family as well as certain disordered political discussions in tv could be listened as extremely interesting vocal polyphonies. I often propose to students in my workshops to make listening exercises in that direction, in public spaces or restaurants, overhearing to overlapping conversaton trying to remove the semantic aspects and focusing on what appears musical in the way voices are intertwined with each other. I also have the great luck to collaborate and to listen often with two magnificent vocal groups, Die Maulwerker in Berlin for which i wrote pieces like « The Pool and the soup » and « Trinitaire » and the Neuevocalsolisten in Suttgart for which I wrote « Minigolf ». I learn a lot form them and their amazing repertoire.

© Alessandro Bosetti / 2021