Intermission

Mauro Hertig

The Perfect Passivity
Reading time 8 minutes

Concern:
(turning pages)
We need a message Strong as a fist punch Maximum effect

Action:
(turning pages)
At your command, Concern!

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Musicians travel. But what exactly is it that they bring with them? And what remains in the audience after they leave a performance? Could music be like an object, one that only exists when given meaning by those who attend?

––

The landscape opera Die Perfekte Passivität is set on a model airplane field near Basel, Switzerland. The musicians roll their instruments in large suitcases over a corrugated surface, in circles. Over them the model airplanes fly, in circles. The musicians unpack their instruments and start a dialogue with the sound of the airplanes and the buzzing sound of the suitcases. It is the sonic manifestation of movement, remaining in place.

––

The airport is to space what an intermission is to time. It is depersonalized, with the sole function of connecting other spaces. A break needed to connect one reality with another. I am here, I fly, I am there. We exit the narration for a short moment in time and reenter it in another. Time inside the airport is dedicated to activities we do not normally allow ourselves to indulge in. We take advantage of being depersonalized – buy alcohol, read gossip magazines, eat chips. We are taken out of time.

––

In his pseudo-scientific book The Law of Psychic Phenomena (1893), Thomson Jay Hudson “proves” the existence of ghosts and telepathy. In order to achieve a state in which it is possible to communicate with past and future selves and others, one has to become “perfectly passive.” That is the ultimate requirement for finally being cured of one’s sorrows and depressions. And even further:

The essential condition of passivity being acquired by the patient, the healer also becomes passive, and assumes the mental attitude of denying the existence of disease in the patient ...and affirms with constant iteration the condition of perfect healthfulness.

Hypnosis is the go-to technique and is achieved with the help of a pendulum. Circular movements, remaining in place. Entering a state of perfect passivity, hand in hand with the treating entity. We leave specific space to enter universal space. Ghosts start talking to us.

––

Concern:
(drunk)
I know what’s good Let’s never fight again

Action:
(drunk)
Let’s make love

Result:
(drunk)
Here, take my tired body

Body:
I don’t obey, I complete
I move in anticipation of your opposite
I become the end of the chain for it to remain as a whole
I become the perfect passivity in order not to be alone
The Concern has forgotten about me

––

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The Concern has forgotten about me

––

Let’s take a step back. The airport as non- place serves as the starting point of the drama, which includes four musicians and a model airplane pilot. None of the musicians are singers and only one will ever really use their voice – late in the opera, to scream their sole aria at the top of their lungs. The characters of the opera are Concern, Action, Result, and Body. The musicians alternate in representing them, by writing text with loud markers or turning pages with big writing on them. All dialogue is played out through written words only. The sound of the appearing text (spray cans, marker pens) becomes part of the music, along with the sounds of the surrounding landscape – birds, crickets, distant cars.

~

In her book Pamiati pamiati (2017), the Russian author Maria Stepanova writes about the things inherited from the past and how they change when one approaches them. She concludes that when one wishes to look more closely at these artifacts and their features – when one wants to get to know them – they wring themselves out of one’s grip. They turn rebellious.

At first glance, all the photos, letters, books, clothes, furniture, plants, machines, statuettes, candleholders, shoes, and music that used to be part of a specific person’s woven-together world – but that are now left to the consumption of the willing or unwilling heirs – seem emptied out and scattered. The pattern that connected them, it seems, is gone. And so, common sense argues that these artifacts can (and should) be used freely. What Stepanova concludes, however, is that something lingers within these objects. Because when she approaches them – in order to make sense of the disorderly rubble – the items suddenly fire back at her. Their attack and subversion lie in the fact that they refuse to be forced into the arc that she wanted them to belong to. Instead they turn into liquid. Exploding their meaning, they drip into every nook possible and they usurp memory’s landscape.

Stepanova’s words function in some ways as a reflection of or a counterpoint to a phrase from Negative Dialectics, a 1966 book by the German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. In E.B. Ashton’s translation, the phrase reads as follows: “What is, is more than it is.”

Nevertheless, the internal plenitude of objects is not the same in every situation. Adorno’s observation deals with things in general, whereas Stepanova writes specifically about inherited items. Stepanova seems to consider the problem of personhood, memory, and persistence, whereas Adorno critiques the positivistic tendency to isolate, solidify, and coagulate. But there is a similarity between the two writers in that they point toward the irrefutable presence of objects and elevate the question of how to deal with these items. This is a question at the heart of the idea of revolution. We want to move onto something new, yet the (former) thing is still there. It is possible to conceive of this both on an individual and societal level. Thinking about the thing, the practice of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) comes to mind – the form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro that works to carefully reorder the thing (or memory of the thing) that caused the trauma. The semi- hypnotic side-to-side eye movement that EMDR relies on aims to answer this question of how to deal with what is inherited (and what has shaped oneself) by letting the patient reach a point of openness, a perfect passivity where reordering is possible.

Following in the tradition of the opera buffa, the characters in Die Perfekte Passivität experience depression, love, betrayal, breakups, and a final reunion. In between, they go through the transformation set by the drama. In our case, that is the disruption of the circular relationship between Concern, Action, Result, and Body. It is the three former that drunkenly ignore the latter, only to find out that they depend on the body as much as they do on each other. And once they realize, it is already too late. The Body has disappeared and the other three are forced to go on a quest to find it. They get there by means of hypnosis, but alas, they find the Body changed and sick, appearing distant and incapable of bonding. As a sign of their love and affection, Concern, Action, and Result willingly take on the transformation of the sick and become part of a new circle, now acting as Symptom, Treatment, and Diagnosis. Along with the Sick Body, they form a circle of pathology, the new chain of command.

––

The sound of a rolling suitcase is always either a stubborn “tactactactac” or the industrial sound of air sucked through a tube. But sometimes, during those beautiful moments on the moving walkway in the airport, a gentle hum materializes and a clear pitch is dispersed through the halls around the gates. It sounds like the moan of a human, shaky and ever- changing, and violently interrupted when the suitcase leaves the walkway. For Die Perfekte Passivität, the surfaces of our wooden walkway (constructed by Jonas Hertig) were chosen according to their resemblance to the sound of the model airplanes, the trombone and saxophone, and the human voice. As the suitcases are always in dialogue with other elements of the piece, we rehearsed it as if it were being played inside a concert hall. Creating balance between the parts, incorporating airplanes, suitcases, woodwinds, brass, screams and insects to create one long, hypnotic slumber.

––

Symptom, Treatment, Diagnosis, Sick Body (together)
Our former purpose is abolished
Our union was change

Now it is recovery
We lick each other’s wounds We are a circular hospital
It is the mirror treatment
We are a liquid carousel
On a still lake

Die Perfekte Passivität, a composition by Mauro Hertig, premiered at Festival Rümlingen near Basel, Switzerland, in 2018.

neue-musik-ruemlingen.ch

maurohertig.com

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