In the summer of 2012, I spent three weeks doing an intensive
mentorship with composer and Wandelweiser co-founder Antoine Beuger.
While I was there, I had the honour of hearing the premiere of a new
work of his entitled nach der mitte folgt ein schweigen/eine elegie (innehalten am rand) - after the middle a silence follows/an elegy (dwelling quietly at the edge).
This piece is composed for speaking, writing, singing, playing soloist
with cd playback and two support musicians. I had never—despite
being deeply immersed in contemporary and experimental
music—encountered, or even conceived of, a music like this.
It was a life-changing experience.
The score for nach der mitte…
consists entirely of text fragments from a variety of
sources—poets and prophets, theologians and secular
philosophers—including Judith Butler, Ulrike Bail, the Bible
(prophet Micha), Nelly Sachs, Iingeborg Bachmann, Anne Michaels, Primo
Levi, Jacques Derrida, and Edmond Jabès. These text fragments
constitute a kind of abstract treatise on human vulnerability, on our
interconnectedness and relationship to others, on our humanity (both
beautiful and broken). The soloist for nach der mitte…
is invited to navigate this deeply existential landscape by softly
speaking the texts while writing them down, by very softly singing them
one tone/syllable at a time, or by playing them on a decaying
instrument. To perform this piece is an act of trust and
courage—immersing yourself in the experience of being so open and
exposed with an audience….
The French philosopher Badiou speaks of events—moments that
radically alter the situation in which we live and reveal a previously
unknown potential for truth. We always have a choice whether or not to
act in fidelity to that event. To explore the wake of potential that
the event leaves behind. Hearing this piece was, for me, an event. In nach der mitte…
(and Antoine’s other very recent pieces that explore text in this
way) I discovered a way of being musically that I did not even know I
was searching for. I found in this music a way of bringing
storytelling—our deepest human narratives—into an otherwise
thoroughly abstract form of musical expression. A new kind of music
that is both political and sacred. (If we define politics as how it is
that we are human together). A music that allows us to live these two
I had no choice but to explore the profound impact this event had on
me. No choice but to join Antoine in exploring the possibilities that
this way of making music presents.
A tenuous we is the result of my first excursion into this largely
uncharted territory. It owes so much to Antoine’s recent
music… this piece would not be possible without his music. This
is me joining Antoine, sitting with him in this place,
“…quietly at the edge”.
Sitting with Rizapah
There is a story in the old testament, from the book 2nd Samuel, that
tells of a great famine that was the result of blood feud between the
Gibeonites and Israel. A feud dating back to the reign of Saul. In an
attempt to appease the Gibeonites, David has seven boys from the house
of David brutally killed—impaled on the side of a mountain.
Rizpah, mother of four of the boys, brings a blanket to the side of the
mountain and sits with the bodies of the boys for an entire season.
Guarding the bones from vultures and scavengers.
Imagine this for a moment. Rizpah with her blanket. Sitting with the bones.
When David hears what Rizpah has done, he is so deeply moved that he
gathers the bones of the seven boys and gives them burial with the
remains of Saul and Jonathan.
Rizpah does not ask for revenge. For more children to be killed. For more blood to be spilled.
One woman, who chose to not ask for revenge, who chose instead to sit
and bare witness to a deep and terrible wounding, ended a vicious cycle
For me, this music—this experience of sitting with and tending to
these texts and simple melodies—is like Rizpah sitting with the
bones. That is the gift of this music. Allowing for the opportunity to
“Amazing things happen when we makes space for the wounds: our
woundings and woundedness.” ~Rev. Karen Dickey.
Text Fragments for “A tenuous we”
1. nobody else could hope, except for those who grieve
2. possessed by a hope that is wordless and imageless
3. enter the silence again, in the midst of words
4. loss has made a tenuous “We” of us all
5. they could barely whisper
6. in the midst of despair, it is possible to begin to speak
7. make space for the wounds: our woundings and woundedness
8. the stones of the wall will cry out/ and the beams of the wood work will echo it
9. only a poem could bring the grief to notice. the poem, so urgent and so fragile
10.(s)he would live into a future beyond imagining
based on texts by:
the prophet micah
the propher habbakuk
Daniel Brandes July 2013