NEW MUSIC-THEATRE COMPOSITION IN THREE MOVEMENTS
based on the work of the Russian futurist poets
for five performers and tape
composed by Zachar Laskewicz
The first complete performance of Zaum took place in November 1993 Ghent,
Belgium as part of The Stekelbees Festival organized by Victoria,
a local theatre group.
Performance details are included below:
direction: Zachar Laskewicz
performers: Anouk De Clercq, Tine Hens, Linde Tilley,
Trui Vereecke & An Vercruysse
choreographic assistance: Kristina Neirynck
production assistance: Herman De Roover & Jan De Pauw
lighting & sound: Piet Depoortere
from the full score)
Is music a language?
How is musical communication significant to performance theory?
ZAUM poetry can provide us some answers to these questions.
The paragraph below discusses ZAUM poetry and its application in
the work of Zachar Laskewicz.
ZAUM is a type of sound-poetry invented by the Russian cubo-futurists around
the turn of the century. This was basically a form of poetic communication that
redefined language itself, but not in terms of 'meaning' in the translatable
sense: poetry was extended to include non-referential sounds that could
nevertheless be e njoyed by themselves, an attitude previously confined to music.
The multimedia composer Zachar Laskewicz uses the theory of the ZAUM poets to
create a new type of performance language based on musical concepts: theatrical
structures are presented in which the performer attempts to communicate with the
audience in any array of different communication systems from sign language to
Ancient Greek. He uses a combination of text, dance, music, slides, lighting
effects and other stage elements to frame the alternative language forms involved
n the performance, to render as artificial the communication systems we
generally accept without question.
"In the theatre, a line is a sound, a movement is music and the gesture
which emerges from a sound is like a key word in a sentence."
- Antonin Artaud
Zaum is the name for a music-theatre composition derived from radical language
based concepts introduced during a little understood period of art history close
by the turn of the century: Russian Futurism. This composition takes the
futurist theory and extends it through various sources of influence that seem in
their own way to find connection with the work of these artists, particularly
through their interest in the East. The intention is to create a theatrical
composition based on an alternative attitude to language where all theatrical
and musical elements have the potential to be meaning-bearing vehicles in a type
of 'music-language' that is formed within the progress of the composition. A
theatrical structure is presented in which five performers move, speak and react
to musical and vocal sounds coming from a prerecorded tape. Here the Russian
futurist texts are used as the structural basis for the creation of this
'language', the ultimate aim being to present various levels of ambiguity that
can provide other possibilities for signification in the theatre.
FOR BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE RUSSIAN FUTURISTS CLICK HERE
The complete Zaum composition is a full scale three-movement work for five
performers and tape. The tape part is for electronic sounds as well as
recordings of the performers themselves, reflecting a connecting series of
parallel structures that unite the three movements. These structures connect in
a system of sounds and movements that are linked together by musical principles.
During the course of the work various ensemble pieces form and unform on stage,
sometimes simultaneously, sometimes solo, in order to present different aspects
of zaum communication where language is rethought as a musical system.
Choreographed movement and interaction between the tape and the live performance
plays an important role. The complete duration of the composition is around one
hour, each of the three movements lasting about twenty minutes. The zaum
texts form the structural basis for the composition, uniting both the gestural,
the vocal and the musical communicative forms.
The most important thematic element underlying Zaum is the use of texts that at
first glance appear to be 'meaningless' in that they can not be translated into
another language system. This gives the composition freedom to explore
alternative ways of looking at 'meaning' and more particularly to explore the
relationship between sound, meaning and music: can music be considered a
language? It also opens the discussion of extending musical discourse by
relating the musical structures to movements and spoken vocal patterns. Although
the texts seem to be to a large extent 'meaningless', there is actually nothing
in this composition without 'meaning' or 'purpose'. The texts are used in
contrasting ways to present different aspects of meaning-bearing performance in
the theatre, beginning with story-telling and pantomime; through the questioning
of language itself expressed by the creation of a new 'meta-language' defined
completely through movement; finishing with a section based on the exploration
of the semiotic possibilities of movement in musical performance. Because the
Russian texts adopted have no translatable 'meaning', the opportunity has been
taken to fragment the words and restructure them musically into a mathematical
whole, sometimes providing or suggesting new meanings where there previously was
none. This is intended to play with notions of theatrical logic by forming this
'language' from elements of performance that would not normally be combined;
words, movements and musical sounds. Formed from elements that would appear at
first glance to be entirely illogical, the composition creates its own 'logical'
environment and becomes entirely coherent in its own context.
The composition involves the use of five characters who grow and develop within
an artificial theatrical reality, only able to perform certain gestures and
react to certain sounds which are 'learnt' as the work develops. Sometimes the
regimented nature of the language systems presented within the composition are
designed to emphasize the artificiality of our own concept of language, where
our signification systems limit us to perceiving ourselves as beings within
defined human environments. At the same time, however, these smaller systems are
revealed to form part of a larger entirety beyond the control of the performers,
one which could form a model for our own predicament: perhaps as perpetually
involved actors we are also unable to perceive the presence of a larger system
of significance. Could the apparently unexplainable, chaotic and intangible
elements of our lives have further relevance than we are equipped to realize?
Are we in fact, in turn, observed by a malevolent and impassive audience?
The composition has no 'set'; place and absence of place are simultaneously
created and destroyed by the performers who move within a central performance
area. The use of lighting and sound also plays a role in creating the space in
which the performers move. Costume design is relatively simple: the performers
are called on to wear a black costume that facilitates movement, each with a
different coloured dress jacket. The performers are also required to wear the
same type of hat, united both by colour and form. The purpose of this costume is
to standardise the performers so that they can be used during the composition as
an 'instrument' for the development. Stage decor is restricted to the use of
five matching chairs, preferably painted black to emphasize their neutrality. At
different times the composition calls for certain of these stage elements to be
used in ways that are not necessarily related to their traditional
meaning-bearing function: for example, the hats become objects of great mystical
significance at the beginning of the composition when they form the boundaries
for a magic pentagon. Another example is the gradual 'dressing' of the
performers in the first part of the work, being symbolic of the learning of a
language system and the acceptance of this system as a means of perceiving
'reality' within the composition. The multi-functionary nature of these stage
objects stretches the economy of means in the theatre, standing against the
tradition of realistic dramatic representation in which the mobility of the sign
relationship is limited: in traditional Western theatre we generally expect the
object being signified to be represented by a vehicle that has the direct
characteristics of that object. This is not the case, however, in the oriental
theatre where far more semantic scope is permitted to each stage item. The
theatre is in fact 'stripped' of unnecessary elements that have no direct
significance. Theatre worlds are created by use of lighting, interaction with
the limited amount of stage props and especially the prerecorded musical
compositions; all elements that in the context of this composition are given
extended meaning-bearing possibilities.
FOR INFORMATION ON THE NOTATION SYSTEM USED CLICK HERE
Section 1: Oproeping
Section 3: Afbreking
Section 1: Ensemble
Section 1: Beginning Time
Section 2: Vertolk Middel
Section 3: End Play
The work has been composed in a three movement form and it is possible for each
of the movements to be performed separately. However, in order to demonstrate
the complete 'sound-language' narrative that binds the composition into a whole
it is necessary to play the three movements successively. The complete narrative
concerns the creation and questioning of a meaning-based language: language is
born from a state of pure meaning, becomes in the process of its
artificialization estranged, resulting in the proposal of a new language system
based on musical structures. Each of the movements are described below.
ZAUM - 1
Zaum-1, the first movement, begins in a state without language, only sounds.
Through a developmental process a connection is made between certain movements
and vocalisations that grow from within the chaotic sound pool. From these
initial movements and sounds, the performers present a number of different
language systems: ritual-based movement languages, story-telling languages,
gesture languages and so forth. By the end of the first movement, words and
sounds, initially steeped in primordial and ritual significance, are stripped of
meaning and are presented as obsessive gestures. The development is from a state
of no language, through various levels of signification, to a state of language
without apparent meaning.
FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION ON ZAUM-2 CLICK HERE
In Zaum-2, the second movement sitting comfortably in the middle of the
composition, an ambiguity between language and music is demonstrated by the
continual adoption of potentially 'meaningful' elements (movements and sounds)
in 'meaningless' musical structures. The movement ends with a parody of Western
theatrical conventions, highlighting the restrictions of this coding system.
Zaum-3, the final movement, attempts to move beyond the binds of traditional
theatre language. After an exploration of the physicality of music making,
presenting thus an essential coherence between sound and movement, a rhythmic
'dance' language is created that in the process of the development becomes
gradually redundant, leaving finally the music and the movement to communicate
alone. This divides the composition into three major divisions concerning the
work of a specific cubo-futurist poet, and each of these movements is described
in detail further on in this document.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ZAUM-3 CLICK HERE
As can be demonstrated in the work of the Russian futurists, the extreme
avant-garde tends to link up with the archaic; as a reaction against the
conventions of contemporary society artists have looked back to ancient forms of
ritual and performance that surpass conventional forms of communication.
Kruchenykh himself wrote poetry consisting entirely of vowels, which can compare
to the Egyptian priests who chose a name composed of vowels for the gods in the
most solemn of religious ceremonies. The classical tradition obliterated from
language the unexplainable, mystical properties of sound as recognizable in much
Eastern religion, and it can be said that it has fallen to the avant-garde to
rediscover and appropriate it: "We have charged the word with forces and
energies which made it possible for us to rediscover the evangelical concept of
the 'word' as a magical complex of images" wrote the dadaist Hugo Ball;
"we must withdraw into the deepest alchemy of words, reserving to poetry
its most sacred ground." This programme would have appealed to Velimir
Khlebnikov who wanted to create a mythical 'pan-slavonic' language "whose
shoots must grow through the thicknesses of modern Russian." Perhaps the
greatest tribute left by the Russian futurists was zaum. Zaum looked
like the outer limit of poetry, where sounds can create meaning but are not
subordinated to it. The two major proponents of zaum, Khlebnikov and
Kruchenykh, certainly shared a vision for new ways of dealing with language,
even if their methods were decidedly different. In both cases, the 'absurdity'
of zaum had a purpose and was never completely anarchic: for Khlebnikov
that purpose was connected with new ways of harnessing language as a means of
communication, whereas Kruchenykh totally abandoned rational interpretation
wanting to connect on a level that went beyond rational processes and deep into
the psyche. Even Kamensky was to develop the concept of zaum through his
interest in the musical nature of nonsense verse. For the Russian futurists this
was "an appeal to a higher sense, one that is implicit only in the form of
the work itself. The spatial temporal universe, one that is stable and
pervasive." This interpretation of Russian futurism as a transcendent
movement is comparable to Zen Buddhism, which treats alogical language as the
key to enlightenment and a complete understanding of the world. This also
connects to the 'ritual' languages used in some Eastern performances, where
untranslatable vocal and gestural sign systems are adopted to communicate
concepts essentially alien to language. The intention in the Zaum composition is
to explore this connection between the ancient and the contemporary by adopting
certain attitudes to performance and linguistic theory in the 'musical'
structure: a context for the interpretation of seemingly absurd actions and
sounds is created during the performance itself, and traditional theatre which
is structured around the interpretation of word based texts is brought into
question. By questioning the sometimes exceedingly rational nature of Western
theatre through the influence of both the Russian futurists and various forms of
Eastern performance, a contrasting vision for signification is presented for use
in the theatre.
"It is not new objects which should be used in art, but a new and
fantastic light should be thrown upon the old ones."
- Alexei Kruchenykh