On the occasion of the release of her book D'un lyrisme l'autre*, the poet Laure Gauthier will gather at the Maison de la Poésie on November 4 artists who explore contemporary creation, between poetry and music. With composer Pedro Garcia-Velasquez, she will invite the public to an acoustic siesta with the installation Remember the future, which will plunge the public into what they call lost places: a three-dimensional sound immersion, made possible by the presence of computer music director Augustin Muller.
Laure, how did your meeting with Colombian composer Pedro Garcia-Velasquez come about?
In 2018, he came to listen to the monodrama Back into Nothingness that I wrote for the composer Nuria Giménez Comas at the Archipel festival in Geneva. What benevolence, on his part! We entered into a spontaneous dialogue.
He was beginning his Acoustic Theatre Studies with Benjamin Lazar. It's important for me to see what working with someone who doesn't come from the theater moves, neither in voice nor in intention! He had never worked with someone from poetry and Nuria's play gave him ideas for collaboration. We started from her Studies.
The question was: "Are you inviting me in, even if I have to make a mess of things? On my side too, the fact of getting acquainted with something that started before me, accepting that it is a provisional and experimental form, induces flexibility. We took the time to experiment, in confidence.
This is one of the principles of my work: to be able to counter the times, and to have a long time, which does not mean that I am not in the instantaneous (my improvisations with Olivier Mellano). In all my collaborations there is never: poetry, then music. We take the time to build together, it is a great dialogue.
You weave together finally?
Yes, I like to say that we weave together the space and time of the work. In time, we insensitively irrigate each other. We have a mutual listening and reading.
Things began in this way. He kept some passages with Benjamin Lazar's voice, and we had this idea of lost places, because we were looking for an idea on which we could find each other, and the lost place is something that unites us, as well as the idea of poetics of the lost place. We also had this common impression of a drift of the 3D sound; that there could be a form of illusion in this perfection to capture the sound.
I suggested to Pedro that we should revisit the widespread and misguided idea of the poetics of space, at a time when poetry is being shot at, when poets are being expunged from society, from the city.
As if the language wanted to compensate by this abuse the bad conscience that it has! So we worked together in this place, fully aware of our respective displacements: on my side a prism with Germany in my path, on his side, Colombia, his native country. We are both like displaced! We began to hear these spaces together, and I began "in the language of the other", that is to say in German. We went together to the ZKM in Karlsruhe to present them for the first time, and then it got richer. He developed robots, automatons.
The first installation was really the 3D sound, my voice in German - on two texts: kaspar de pierre, and some excerpts from je neige, between the words of Villon - and the aleatoric (thus the text as torn off), and we kept the voice of Benjamin Lazar. We then reworked this material for Césaré (Centre National de Création Musical-Reims), in a version in French, with more of an address to the public, so that people who are not initiated to sound can enter into it.
I proposed a tighter journey in poetry.
At that moment, I remembered that when I wrote the second section of Les corps caverneux, I was hearing cave music, I was trying to compose it. This music is a little bit my own lost place. So I proposed to Pedro to redo the cutting of the Acoustic Theater Studies through a music of the caves. We reviewed the installation, far from the randomness of the first one. We thought about a temporal montage, a form, with connections between my text and its sounds, without it being illustrative. We both heard the same thing, we wanted to start the journey with the water and close it in the Amazonian forest.
That's how it was built.
As the process went on, we realized that the central question of our dialogue was the image without the image. When Pedro goes to capture sounds in places where we don't really have access (train stations, prisons...), it inevitably develops an imagination! On my side, there are these places that I cross (for example my caves), where one does not go necessarily, with all that that releases!
Then we decided to make a website with questions asked to Internet users, because we wondered what people could imagine. In fact, we propose installations without images (except the real image of the automatons), so we don't impose an image. We were curious about the reactions. What will people relate to? What will they do with it? What images will this crossing trigger in them? A lot of people responded on the site - especially people who are bathed in music and sound. We hope that with people who are not so familiar with the experience, such as the audience at the Maison de la poésie, the feelings will be different.
Why this title Remember the future ?
It is again a story of dialogue between Pedro and me, and between our two imaginations. At the heart of these installations, there is time. The poetization of space also has a strong link with time. There is the time of spatialization, the present time of listening brought by the automatons, the time of the voice-over, and the images of the past which are dialectical, as in Walter Benjamin. There is the idea that the seeds of the future can be found if we look at the past.
So it was this idea that memory has a "futurative", transgressive dimension. So there is a political aspect - in the sense of the polis, of the city - because if we free the imaginary, if we free images, these images touch the temporality of each one, the memory. And if we manage not to bury people, but to unburial them, there is still a transgressive dimension, in any case there is a seed of future!
I am intrigued by the rhizomatic functioning of your writings that we find in different collaborations with musicians.
It's very instinctive; I think in the form of a melting pot, or Saturn and the rings of Saturn... I already hear music before the book, music that is like in suspension, that asks me questions, and that brings bits of film. And at some point, it's written. Or it's music that I invent, that I "compose" in quotation marks, that rises up in me, that crosses over, that settles in the form of a book, which is a necessary form, and one that I hold dear.
Does the sound appear before the word?
Yes, often! Something rises in me which is of the order of the sound. Sometimes I even dance my texts, before my texts. I hear something, and the images come together. Then it becomes little pieces of film that are written. Then there is a whole game of reflections in other notebooks, and at a certain point, things meet, and it becomes a book, or a book project, a horizon.
The book is a resolution, a choice, a possibility.
And rather than overproducing, I hold back the writing, and move through the text with others. I question my texts, in dialogue with others, I open my poetry to others. I let myself move in encounters that come quite naturally. I like this idea that there are like clouds above a work, and questions asked, that I cannot solve alone.
So there is always this idea of singularity and collective - like with cave paintings, which were done by several people.
I like to think that I am throwing a stone in the garden of composers.
For example, on the cavernous bodies, I was in dialogue with several composers: Thierry de Mey, Nuria Giménez Comas, François Paris, Pedro Garcia Velasquez, Olivier Mellano. There was also a seven-minute kaspar with Sofia Avramidou. She wanted to work on violence, and she asked me for a miniature kaspar, so I went back to my text, and I took three moments. It is said/sung in English. Each time, they are displacements!
Is this a prism game?
Yes, and I can already hear that in the next book, melusine reloaded.
I can't tell when things start anymore. Each project by itself develops clusters of questions. Collaborators come into my cave with a torch, and other rough edges appear, but it's still a cave room. On some texts, I am alone. On others, the text calls for a musician. I go in without knowing it, on instinct!
You often talk about sound and music in relation to writing, but what is your direct relationship to music? Have you had any musical practice?
Not much, I played the piano, I did a little solfeggio, guitar, but with such a lack of ease! There was also something petrified in me, for example a difficulty to put my voice.
As a child, I never sang. There was also something in my body that danced, but didn't dare. I was like beside myself, and I was like incapable of going into interpretation, but there was the need to tell, to observe my life, and to tell it (in permanent dolly mode). And very quickly, writing arrived: at seven years old, I made my first book!
There was from the beginning the sound, and the movement; a sound which puts me in movement, until the tracing of the writing, as if I were my own librettist. There was something that didn't work, and that was socialized elsewhere, but in a place of refusal, of savagery, of mutism, that I bypassed. So I go to music as a handicapped person, in a great feeling of fragility, and I meet my composer friends as if I came out of a cave or in rags: I go as a savage in fact, and those who accept me, accept me like that.
I don't want to socialize!
When did you discover contemporary music, creative music?
In high school, thanks to the radio, the broadcasts, at the end of the second year. It was all music, everything came in bulk!
I was also always interested in baroque music (my thesis subject).
I started listening to contemporary music thanks to the radio. I pulled a thread, and realized that behind these musics, there were fascinating, strange things, which could correspond to things that I heard. My first concerts of contemporary music were during my studies at the university, and more and more, with questions asked to the contemporary and a rather great dissatisfaction about the voice. I believe that in this place the poets of today can bring a lot, that's why I go to composers.
This surely comes from the fact that the text for me quickly becomes voice. I write from my voice, I vocalize internally, and I hear the voice, voices, even before writing it.
I dare to say that "I give my blood" to try to move something in the relation to the text, towards more pleasure. I sometimes hear the text as if it were stuck in an artificial way. In relation to the voice too, I often find that one could have more pleasure, as one has in pop or rock. Because the public is not stupid!
In what these artists do, there is perhaps something essential, which tells us something of the world where we are. They are in the moment, just as we are in the moment when we listen to Schönberg's Un Survivant de Varsovie! We need music of the moment (improvisation) and written music, elaborated over a long time.
I am looking more and more for musicians who are in this in-between. Often, when a composer chooses a text, he doesn't think about meeting a living author. It is often the same authors of the past who come back, from which the musicians work.
I am convinced that we can do things differently. The proof is that at the beginning of the history of opera, authors and composers met each other, and at the beginning of the New Wave, it was young people who met. I really believe in the meeting, and in the idea of working together! It's listening.
We are contemporary, when all the fields get along and work together.
This is precisely the starting point of the book published by Musica Falsa: D'un lyrisme l'autre. You interviewed both sides: poets and composers.
This book is 1914-2014.
I told myself that around the First World War there was a great number of questions: a very rich cluster of dialogues on language, being, the unconscious, what is music, what is poetry. A century later, there is a real need, it seems to me, to work together again, and in exploring, I realized that in fact there are authors and composers who work together, but that there is also an extreme reaction. There is a totalitarian and reactionary danger today, and I made this book for that.
I think that today we are in a hatred of intellectualism - as strong as we were in the excess of intellectualism in the years 1970-80, perhaps we wanted too much experimentation, too much intellectualization, deconstruction - and the danger is that today we want to go to a place where there would be a nostalgia and a total absence of critical thinking. Sometimes, in the relationship between text and music, we arrive at artificial and simplistic collages, forms that have already been tested.
And I say to myself that with any artistic reaction there is a danger of political reaction: what will we fall into? Not to mention the desire to return to an extreme narration, in all its naivety...
It's complex: we must not forget the 20th century, critical thought and all the contributions of the 20th century, while at the same time wishing to invent a voice that can also be beautiful and pleasant, by inventing a vocality, which pop and rock have been able to do. I think we must not forget that. It is not possible, in my opinion, that a voice is only a belching of phonemes; it was necessary at a time but we cannot make school of that, we must deviate! At times, it's true, you have to kick the anthill, but at some point you have to deviate, and I think that in the past the Dadaists deviated in conscience.
I shared these reflections with poets and composers who have this same conscience, and I wanted us to open a door together, despite our aesthetic differences, and even if we separate later. In this book, I don't propose a lyricism: it's "from one lyricism to the other" (or the others), and my idea is that we need to be together, if we want to open something, without falling back into the reaction, without "serving the dishes". This book opens up new avenues, thanks to the proposals of some and others: 24 poets and composers from a wide range of backgrounds.
We talked about your collaborations with composers who navigate in the waters of what is called contemporary written music, I would like to talk about your tandem with a musician who is also an improviser and poet, the guitarist Olivier Mellano. How did the meeting come about?
It's quite rare that I approach musicians spontaneously, often I wait for them to cross my path. But this time it was me who contacted him. It was during the confinement. I had heard his work with writers, it was different from what we often hear: too often the word and the music are only juxtaposed without interaction or real listening. However, in the collaborations between Olivier and writers like André Markowicz, Laure Limongi or Hélène Frappat, there is a real mutual listening, even a writing together.
I knew that he had a side to written music and also this ability to improvise, and I always found - in his listening to poets and his way of doing things - a mixture of strength and delicacy.
He read very quickly the cavernous bodies. Immediately he said to me: "I see where I can come, and where I can take your voice", with the idea that I should be more myself, to give me back this fluidity, a way to be closer to my writing. It's also the strength that improvised music can bring to a poet.
From then on, I went to his concerts, I listened a lot: to hear Eonhis written vocal pieces, also his collaborations in the field of pop and rock : The Gling (MellaNoisescape), How we tried or with Régis Boulard(Nord ), his music of scene as in the project Rothko with Claire Ingrid Cottenceau.
On his side, he has read all my books - except the very first one that I still don't give! - and he went through the installation with Pedro!
Again, we have engaged in a collaboration over time: a frequentation, an incredible listening, and we realized in our discussions on contemporary music and the voice that we are at a very close place, that it takes time for depth, writing, and energy.
Like me, he is interested in all kinds of music: in modal music, in baroque music. His music is tonal and he does not hide it. He moved me to another place, in a real re-enunciation of the texts, with totally turned upside down durations, much longer and developed with two people than alone.
We improvised, and we were amazed at how much we agreed on the precise moments in the text where we felt the need for music. We both had the animal impression, during the time of the improvisation, of having a lot of paths that opened up, thanks to this incredible mutual listening.
In my collaborations with composers of written music, we move together towards a third work. With Olivier, I feel more like I am writing live. It's a bit like in je neige, between the words of Villon. I heard in Villon's work the place that, for me, is just before it is written: where it is written (with an e). I have the impression that Olivier did with me what I tried to do with Villon, to liberate this transgressive force of language.
Thanks to this dialogue, I return to the place that is not sedimented, a writing of the moment, in which he himself is in a slight movement of withdrawal: he hands me things, and it is very generous. He has an instantaneous reactivity. It's like automatic writing, and in my opinion, Olivier goes very far in this respect! He invents with the poets a vocality between poetry and music. From one collaboration to another, he has crossed many musical regions with his guitar. Moreover, for a text that I have just submitted to the publisher outrechanter, I asked him if he would also bring his voice, because I like his status as a voice, the fragility of what he says. I find it an extremely interesting voice; it is the voice of someone who writes, it is a voice of poetry. He is in the text, without adding any artificiality.
He heard this text, and he proposed to work with me on a collection of outrechanter, the term of lamentations, which will play on lyricism, and then maybe in melusine reloaded, the next book. I don't know if we'll ever work in written music with him, we'll see!
When did you feel the need to read your poetry in public?
I'm not really aware of it, but anyway I write from a voice.
It's not a textual vocality (or "the voice under the text"). I write from a real voice.
At some point, I redo everything by ear. My whole way of sculpting the text - what I retain from the material - is always through the musical, systematically.
It's lyrical, everything is lyrical - I hear voices!
And hearing voices, the only question was to overcome the savagery, and the cultural inhibition, and it was done quickly, because it is so wild that it comes back!
I destroyed my texts for 20 years, between the ages of 17 and 27. So I wasn't wearing them out: it was all covered by a thesis, it was nicely and socially covered, so obviously I didn't say anything! I did a little theater during those years in Germany; I founded a troupe in Hamburg called Les InfemmesI founded a theatre company in Hamburg called "Hamburg", but there I gave my voice in German - again this problem of being too close to oneself! As soon as I agreed to stop destroying my texts, I rewrote marie weiss rot, marie blanc rouge - this was between 2010 and 2012.
As soon as I was there, I was in the voice, which I heard so loudly, so present. It was so essential this extension between the voice before, the voice in the text, and the voice after, that nothing was going to get in the way; there it was obvious!
So I started to read marie weiss rot, marie blanc rouge, in the next language, to feel this fragility, and I started by taking off my shoes, because I needed the floor. If I could, I would carry a bit of earth, a piece of grass under my feet, to feel the elements, but the problem is that I don't want to perform and talk about it! I would like it to be invisible, just for me.
The first time I said this text, it was in the Salle de la Cité in Rennes, where I was invited. I had asked a German actress to read the text in French so that there would be this fragility, and I read it in German, in the language next door. And from then on, it was obvious to read my texts.
The voice after the text is an attempt to address the text, in fragility, in front of the other, in real time, and it is simply offering the energy of the moment when I am going to write. And when it fails, it means that despite everything there will be something that will make me re-socialize the voice, and for me there it sounds false, it's too professional, it's failed, it's ruined!
That's where the other intervenes, and saves me from the pitfall.
I like to read my texts with others, so as not to fall back into the slippers of the language. You need this porosity, this fragility, to escape the danger of habits, of the profession, because little by little you get folds. I do everything to despin the voice.
That's also why, for the next book, I would like to include the voices of John Greaves and Olivier Mellano, to avoid this pitfall. As we are not going to rehearse a lot, we will keep this energy at the edge of the void: the idea ofhaving your back to the wall, or like a tightrope walker, and here I think of these high diving boards and this sensation when you are at the very end and you are about to jump into the void, but it is still a springboard!
It's to live this that I don't rehearse much. Bringing others into my texts prevents the texts from settling; I know that they won't belong to me, that I won't become a pro with my texts.
The cement can't take, and that's good!
I would like us to evoke to close this interview this singular work that form your transpoems, baptized "eclectic cities". How did such an object, sound, graphic and poetic at the same time, spring from your imagination?
At the beginning, there was no formal idea, it was like wood chips that we cut, remains. It came spontaneously.
It's probably the most induced thing in my practice, and I left it in its imperfection, as a small form; something I let live. It came from my way of repeating; they are litanies, incantations, because I incant things. With me, there is singing in everything, I incant my texts - sometimes they come, sometimes they don't. They are fragile because poetry is a part of life. They are fragile because poetry is very fragile today: I suffer a lot from the fact that it is no longer in the city, but in the margins. So I started to say my texts vor mich hin - as we say in German (in French we could say aloud and for me), and in a non-performative way, in different places, at the time when we were working with Pedro on his lost places. I was saying my texts on my cell phone, and Pedro advised me to use a zoom lens.
So I had the idea of switching from one to the other depending on the situation, and I started to cut out bits of texts and say them in many different contexts, from Paris to Porto, without knowing where I was going with it.
There was also the idea of dipping my poems in the world...
I usually avoid repetition, but for once, I took the same texts, and I say them several times, in different situations : in the forest of Fontainebleau, in Porto, in Pompeii, in an exhibition, in a café... I stick to the sounds of the living, without ever thinking about how my voice is, and all this without wanting to make chapters or to build something. I took to the game, I continued. It was a bit random, I was losing my leaves...
I was going all the time with a trembling heart, dropping everything, and hoping in spite of everything that everything would remain engraved.
I accumulated 200, 300 fragments of texts.
In the idea of putting in friction your poetry, your word, your voice with the world?
Yes, in this idea that there are iridescences and always this fragility. I call it "language-pilotis". Poetry is objectively where it is today, it is on stilts, that is to say that it is almost nothing. I take note; we are there.
I soak my texts, and just as I collaborate with musicians, I collaborate with the landscape, so as not to fall back into the slippers of the language. I am completely porous, I am one with the landscape! What will the landscape trigger?
Then, the texts raised questions. I started to group the texts by groups of questions, and I told myself that I was not going to propose this object to a traditional editor, I wanted it to circulate in another way.
At the time of the confinement, I made a work by zoom with a collective of young people of twenty years Acédie58; I wanted to work with them, and they invented a form. They searched, groped, with generosity.
The transpoems dictated six texts, six reflections, around six big questions. One of them revolves around the "bias of the voice", in response to Ponge and objectivism.
I tried to hear the questions of these transpoems. This is new for me.
This object with several entries is both the book and the listening booklet.
The graphic designers went through my text according to what they heard and sometimes hatched it, sometimes stained it. I also thought that one could listen to this in a row, or even be bored, as my voice is not very performative. It's my everyday voice, unedited, from life itself.
I told my friends: "Go to sleep, do the dishes while listening to it.
Interview by Anne Montaron
Meet Laure Gauthier at the Maison de la Poésie, for an evening of poetry and music at 8pm on November 4th with David Christoffel, Pedro Garcia Velasquez, Sereine Berlottier (accompanied by Jean-Yves Bernhard)
*From one lyricism to anotherat Editions MF
Photos @Pedro Garcia Velasquez, ZKM-Karlsruhe 2018