Alan T., Pierre Jodlowski's hard-hitting work

Concerts 26.06.2022

Balancing between theatre and chamber opera, Pierre Jodlowski's Alan T . is performed on the stage of the Cité de la Musique in Paris as a Parisian premiere during the Manifeste festival.

Anger invaded him when in 2013 the composer read in the newspaper Le Monde that the British Crown had just granted a pardon to Alan Turing (whom it had probably driven to suicide), almost seventy years after the death of the man to whom we owe the computer, a mathematician and cryptographer of genius who rendered precious services to his country during the war by breaking the secret of the coded messages on Enigma. Jodlowski takes up this extraordinary destiny and finds food for thought on homophobia, the place of the machine in our societies and that of Artificial Intelligence, all of which are still topical subjects that run through this audiovisual proposal following the concept of "active music" claimed by the artist, in connection with the social reality of our time.

The stage installation, by Claire Saint Blancat, shows the "Turing machine" (giant keyboard and computer screen) through a device as ingenious as it is finely conceived. In the foreground, the five instrumentalists (bass flute, violin, bass clarinet, electric guitar and trombone), those of the Nadar Ensemble, a Belgian phalanx whose commitment is total. They are seated in front of panels with black vertical lines reminiscent of bar codes, behind which we can see an interior (woodwork and a 1950s library), Alan Turing's home. The latter, superbly played by the German actor Thomas Hauser, will appear on the screen above the stage, filmed live by two well-hidden videographers. He sits in an armchair and speaks into a sort of dictaphone, recounting his childhood, evoking memories with his mother and reflecting on his work as a mathematician. The text (libretto) in German was written by the playwright Frank Witzel (born 1955) at Pierre Jodlowski's request, and the words are also conveyed by the voice of the Polish soprano Joanna Freszel, who speaks, sings and sometimes belches. She borrows from German, English and Polish (Turing collaborated with Polish teams) depending on the subject matter. The singer in the red dress is multi-faceted, crossing the two spaces, linked to the title role (her mother, her sister...) when she appears on the screen, and close to the musicians, during purely sound sequences where the powerful and flexible voice joins the instrumental timbres.

The show has already begun when the audience settles into the room: drone music and a video projecting images of a 1970s computer screen (the one from the film Alien) where telegraphed information about the life and research of the homosexual mathematician is scrolled through, whom the British authorities will force, a few years before his (presumed) suicide, to undergo chemical castration that will destroy him. It is the music and its sustained tempo that brings us into the action.
The instrumental part is amplified, spatialised and processed live, maintaining the discontinuity, the sharp edges, the distortion of the timbres and the rhythmic clashes: the expression of a violence that inhabits the show and that the instruments and the flamboyant voice of Joanna Freszel, augmented by the electronics, bring to heights of intensity. But the instrumentalists do not just play their instruments. They are also responsible for animating the panels around them via a computer keyboard and a 'coded' score. Their avatars (eight for each) appear in medallions and are triggered by a programme developed by the composer with the help of Thomas Goepfer, another computer hero working in the underground world of Ircam: in sync with the sound, these grotesque figures, a flow of soft, grimacing forms (the eyeballs are hardly reassuring), parade above their heads in counterpoint to the mathematician's speech. The theme of morphogenesis that Turing was so passionate about (he experienced it in his own body) is also embodied in the treatments/transformations of the spoken voice.
In the Witzel/Jodlowski version, and not without humour, it is the machine and its almost benevolent robotic voice that questions the man who designed it, worrying about the future of the human brain... a reversed interpretation of the famous Turing test that began the work on Artificial Intelligence. 

For an hour and a half, we are caught up in the flood of information and the complexity of reading sought by a composer (designer and director) who multiplies the visual and auditory layers, playing virtuoso on the ambiguity of the nature of things to better get us into the multiple head of the character.

The game of avatars ceases to give way to Alan Turing's death mask, which is displayed in the centre of the set in a fifth and final act that freezes the character in his position as a victim of society's prejudices. He dies at the age of 41: the autopsy concludes that he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning...

Michèle Tosi

Festival Manifeste-Ircam, Cité de la Musique, Paris, 22-06-2022
Pierre Jodlowski (born 1971) : Alan T., interdisciplinary performance for singer, actor, five musicians and audiovisual device, on a libretto by Frank Witzel; conception, direction, music, Pierre Jodlowski; Claire Saint-Blancat, scenographer; Martina Stütz, dramaturgy; Kamil Keska, sound; Yann Philippe and Matthieu Guillin, live cameras; Thomas Hauser, actor; Joanna Freszel, soprano; Nadar Ensemble: Winnie Huang, violin; Katrien Gaelens, flute; Dries Tack, clarinet; Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, guitar; Thomas Moore, trombone; Thomas Goepfer, Ircam computer music production; Manuel Poletti, Ircam electronics.

Photos © Grzesizk Mart


buy twitter accounts