LA PART DU RÊVE – l’opéra entre choralité et poésie

Version complétée de la conférence prononcée le 30 janvier 2023 à l’Institut de France, à deux voix avec la compositrice Kaija Saariaho, dans le cadre du cycle « Composer un opéra au 21e siècle » initié par Laurent Petitgirard, Secrétaire perpétuel de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts.


Kaija Saariaho : Chers collègues et cher public… Si j’ai décidé aujourd’hui de parler du sujet proposé, « composer un opéra au 21e siècle », ensemble avec l’écrivain et metteur en scène Aleksi Barrière, c’est pour plusieurs raisons. En plus des collaborations que nous avons partagées, la raison principale est que l’opéra pose des problèmes compositionnels, mais que ce n’est pas un problème de compositeurs. Dans l’opéra, la musique rencontre des langages et des problématiques qui lui sont étrangers. Des personnes, aussi. Elle compose avec tout cela.

C’est la raison même pour laquelle je me suis longtemps méfiée de l’opéra et que je ne voulais pas en écrire. L’opéra classique tel que je le connaissais avait ses enjeux propres, je ne voyais pas comment y fondre ou y trouver ce que je cherchais dans ma musique. Je voudrais parler de mon chemin par rapport à cela. Du chemin que j’ai trouvé vers l’opéra et ce qu’il a apporté à ma musique. On parle beaucoup des compromis, des difficultés avec les librettistes, les metteurs en scène, les chanteurs. On aime bien, entre collègues, s’en plaindre. Mais ce mouvement vers l’autre transforme la musique tout en lui donnant un autre impact : c’est une collaboration autant qu’une transmission. C’est pourquoi cette intervention a été écrite ensemble avec Aleksi, et nous la prononcerons à deux.

Aleksi Barrière : Je parlerai pour ma part depuis l’autre côté du miroir : à partir des problématiques du texte et de la scène, et dans le mouvement inverse de celui de la compositrice – comment la musique vient ouvrir des potentiels textuels et scéniques.

Kaija Saariaho : Pourquoi est-ce que je n’étais pas intéressée par l’opéra ? L’époque était aux non-opéras de Luigi Nono et aux anti-opérasde Luciano Berio, et j’étais dans la même tendance : des collages, des montages, des dispositifs.

[Illustrations : le dispositif de Renzo Piano pour Prometeo de Nono
et la mise en scène d’Un re in ascolto de Berio par Götz Friedrich,
deux productions datées de 1984.]

L’opéra était une forme poussiéreuse qui était très loin de mes préoccupations. Pas simplement pour des raisons musicales : c’est la narrativité qui me gênait. Des histoires avec des gentils et des méchants. Des individus caricaturaux. Ma vocation était d’écrire de la musique faite de transitions harmoniques subtiles, de bruits qui se transforment en sons, de lentes métamorphoses, parce que le monde est complexe et indécidable. Je n’avais pas l’imagination d’un opéra qui puisse montrer ça, malgré mon amour pour l’expression vocale, qui prenait la forme de mélodies et d’arias. Ma première œuvre de théâtre musical, Study for life en 1981, était une création abstraite pour soprano, bande et lumières sur des extraits du poème The Hollow Men de T.S. Eliot. Aleksi en a proposé récemment une nouvelle mise en scène, qui est comme une miniature onirique de la crise mystique du poète.

[Illustration : Thomas Kellner et Tuuli Lindeberg dans Study for Life, 2022.
Mise en scène Aleksi Barrière.]

Dans les années qui ont suivi je mettais en musique de la poésie ou des fragments. Dans la lignée de Study for Life, mes œuvres vocales polyphoniques des années 80 et 90 comme From the grammar of dreams ou Nuits, Adieux étaient des dramaturgies oniriques, inspirées par Sylvia Plath et Jacques Roubaud respectivement, où les textes comme les voix étaient fragmentés. Il y avait donc bien une dramaturgie mais pas narrative, et qui présentait le trouble et les superpositions que je recherchais. Mais je ne voyais pas comment en faire une grande forme, et je n’imaginais pas comment cela pourrait prendre une forme scénique.

J’ai trouvé un chemin musical vers les grandes formes en commençant à écrire des concertos, qui sont des grands arcs avec des « protagonistes ». Manipuler ces relations plus classiques entre l’individu et la masse orchestrale était un premier pas, mais encore dans l’abstraction. Mais j’ai commencé à prendre l’opéra au sérieux quand j’ai vu le travail d’une nouvelle génération de metteurs en scène : le Wozzeck de Patrice Chéreau (1992), le Don Giovanni (1989) et le Saint-François d’Assise (1992) de Peter Sellars m’ont ouverte à ce qu’on peut faire en racontant une histoire avec la musique. On donne à entendre des voix auxquelles on s’attache, qui déploient ce qu’elles ont à dire, les unes avec les autres et contre les autres. Je me suis rendu compte que ces dramaturgies pouvaient être intéressantes et pas seulement caricaturales, et que par ailleurs elles pouvaient former un matériau musical riche. De plus, chez Peter Sellars la recherche interdisciplinaire étendait la richesse bien au-delà de la musique : elle proposait à la musique de participer à une grande entreprise qui touche tous les sens. Le déclic a été de me dire : « Si l’opéra peut aussi être cela, je peux écrire un opéra. »

Seulement je n’avais pas d’histoire qui m’intéresse. J’en ai trouvé une par hasard, en lisant un livre de Jacques Roubaud, La Fleur inverse (1986), sur les troubadours provençaux.

Aleksi Barrière : e voudrais m’arrêter un instant sur ce premier mouvement vers la narration, et l’origine de ce mouvement dans ce livre de Jacques Roubaud. Ce qui est intéressant c’est qu’une fois de plus le point de départ est poétique – doublement, puisque Kaija s’est arrêtée sur cette canso de Jaufré Rudel, un poème qui vient du passé lointain des langues françaises, tel que traduit et présenté (mis en livre) par un autre poète, contemporain celui-là et familier de Kaija, Jacques Roubaud. La canso de Rudel parle de sentiments, et mieux, elle invente un sentiment (car trobar veut bien dire inventer) : l’amour de loin. Un état du désir qui ne se résout pas, qui ne cesse de tendre vers l’autre, vers l’inconnu. Ce poème ne raconte pas une histoire, mais il nous fait nous en raconter une : dans quelles circonstances un tel amour peut-il se former, et comment peut-il se résoudre…? La puissance suggestive de ce poème, qui met lui-même en posture d’aller vers l’autre en inventant son histoire, l’a de tout temps accompagné : au 13e siècle, donc un siècle après la mort de Jaufré Rudel, un admirateur a écrit cette fameuse vida, une sorte de biographie rêvée de Jaufré Rudel à partir du poème – affirmant qu’il serait tombé amoureux de la comtesse de Tripoli après avoir entendu les descriptions qu’en faisaient les pèlerins, qu’il aurait rejoint la Deuxième croisade pour la rencontrer, et qu’il serait mort à ses pieds. C’est ce qu’on appellerait aujourd’hui une fan fiction : un témoignage ancien de notre besoin de nous raconter des histoires. C’est cette même pulsion qu’a suivie Kaija en voulant raconter cette histoire sous la forme d’un opéra. Une histoire qui épouse la forme lyrique, puisque cela parle justement de ce rêve contagieux d’aller vers l’autre, dont les histoires et les chansons sont les vecteurs.

Bien sûr pour donner vie à ce geste et à cette geste il fallait des partenaires qui sachent comment les histoires se racontent, et capables d’imaginer de nouvelles manières de le faire. Ce fut justement Peter Sellars qui servit de guide en se proposant de mettre en scène ce projet d’opéra, et qui avant ça en a suggéré le librettiste, Amin Maalouf. Ensemble, ce trio a créé l’opéra qui s’appelle L’Amour de loin en l’an 2000.

Nous allons en écouter un extrait : Jaufré Rudel s’est lancé dans sa traversée, il est en mer avec le Pèlerin, et il a rêvé que la femme qu’il aime de loin est venue à lui, en chantant les chansons qu’il a composées pour elle, ces poèmes qui sont la seule chose qui les relie.

[Extrait vidéo : le rêve de Jaufré dans L’Amour de loin,
interprété par Gerald Finley, Dawn Upshaw et Monica Groop.
Direction musicale Esa-Pekka Salonen. Mise en scène Peter Sellars]

Kaija Saariaho : À partir de L’Amour de loin j’ai donc commencé à raconter des histoires. À ma manière, sans doute, puisqu’on dit souvent de mes opéras qu’ils sont peu denses dramatiquement. Nous avons vu cette séquence du rêve de L’Amour de loin – je n’ai pas cessé de rechercher à l’opéra cette qualité du rêve qui structurait mon travail jusque-là. Ce qui est intéressant dans le rêve, ce n’est pas de vouloir vivre dans le rêve, loin du réel. C’est que le rêve nous montre d’autres logiques qui sont toujours là dans le monde apparemment bien organisé de l’éveil. Ce qui m’ennuie dans beaucoup de dramaturgies c’est qu’elles ignorent ce monde refoulé, elles ne parlent que de Mois qui s’affrontent, comme si la vie était si claire, comme si nous n’étions chacun qu’une seule chose qui sait ce qu’elle est. C’est pourquoi j’ai souvent littéralement inclus des scènes de rêve dans mes opéras, et que par ailleurs j’ai aussi continué à écrire de la musique pour chœur, qui permet vraiment de montrer cette fragmentation : par exemple Tag des Jahrs (2001), qui met en musique les poèmes tardifs de Friedrich Hölderlin. Hölderlin souffrait de ce qu’on considère aujourd’hui comme une forme de schizophrénie, et écrivait ces petites poèmes sur les saisons qu’il signait de dates fantaisistes d’autres siècles. À l’époque son écriture me rappelait les paroles de ma mère qui avait souffert d’un AVC et qui n’était plus présente à nous.

[Illustrations : différentes mises en scène des opéras de Kaija
– certaines intègrent le chœur à une grammaire scénique,
d’autres l’éloignent du plateau comme un second orchestre en fosse.]

Le chœur a continué à faire partie de tous mes opéras, sous différentes formes, comme une instance de fragmentation des voix et du moi. Ce chœur est parfois présent au plateau (ce qui est souvent un choix du metteur en scène), parfois il est augmenté électroniquement (comme dans Adriana Mater, 2006) voire ne relève que de l’électronique en temps réel (les transformations de voix dans Émilie, 2010) – ce n’est pas ici le lieu de détailler tous les exemples. Pour n’en prendre qu’un, mon oratorio La Passion de Simone (2006), qui parle de la philosophe Simone Weil, emprunte la structure des passions de Bach, et c’était aussi ma première collaboration avec Aleksi comme metteur en scène. En 2013, à son invitation et à celle du chef d’orchestre Clément Mao-Takacs, avec qui il a fondé le collectif de théâtre musical La Chambre aux échos, j’ai réalisé une version de chambre de cette œuvre qui était d’abord conçue pour grand chœur et grand orchestre. C’est eux qui ont eu l’idée de réduire ce chœur à un quatuor vocal, ce qui a permis de trouver une forme scénique à cette fragmentation qui m’intéressait. J’ai réutilisé cette solution dans mon opéra Only the sound remains, qui lui s’inspire du théâtre nô du Japon, où le chœur a aussi un rôle multiple et complexe. Aleksi l’a également mis en scène et a continué, en collaboration avec une équipe japonaise, ce travail sur la mise en scène de la choralité.

Aleksi Barrière : Quelques mots sur ce quatuor vocal de La Passion de Simone qui est un exemple saisissant, et le premier exemple chez Kaija d’expansion de la choralité comme forme à la dimension scénique. Il y a dans La Passion de Simone, comme dans les passions de Bach, une « évangéliste », quelqu’un qui raconte, en l’occurrence la vie de Simone Weil, dans un jeu d’identification et de distanciation. Et puis il y a ce chœur, qui prolonge, diffracte, s’oppose, parfois joue un rôle diégétique mais surtout multiplie les points de vue et les voix, encore une fois comme dans les passions. Dans notre mise en scène, cette diffraction est tout le temps présente sur scène et fait proliférer la narration en résonances et en associations nouvelles. Elle insère sans relâche l’individu dans le tissu du collectif.

Photo : Markku Pihjala

[Illustration : La Passion de Simone dans la production de La Chambre aux échos, 2013-2022.
Sayuri Araida dans le rôle principal.
Direction musicale Clément Mao-Takacs. Mise en scène Aleksi Barrière.]

La force de la proposition musicale, pour les gens de théâtre, c’est de nous emmener loin de ce que nous croyons que le théâtre doit être. Justement cet affrontement des Mois. En prenant appui sur les processus formels propres de la musique, qui cristallisent plusieurs siècles de dialogues interdisciplinaires, ainsi que sur des traditions alternatives qui permettent l’invention de nouvelles formes, comme ici l’oratorio ou le théâtre nô, les compositeurs proposent au metteur en scène d’inventer d’autres manières de faire du théâtre, que l’on parle de dramaturgies, de corps ou d’espaces – des méthodes rythmiques, harmoniques et contrapuntiques. Nous avons souvent appelé La Passion de Simone un théâtre de l’esprit. Contre le naturalisme qui n’imite que l’apparence des choses selon des codes convenus, l’opéra peut être cela : un théâtre à la hauteur du monde mental, dans lequel se rencontrent les émotions et les idées, l’individuel et le collectif.

Dans ce projet, la choralité joue un rôle central. Nous pourrions définir cette choralité comme une fragmentation qui s’articule dans un tout : une fragmentation harmonisée. Cette choralité est la clef de cet opéra du rêve que Kaija propose de rêver.

Kaija Saariaho : Cette choralité, nous l’avons explorée avec Aleksi dans plusieurs pièces pour chœur dont il a écrit les textes, notamment Écho ! (2007) qui est, dans sa manière de revisiter la tradition du madrigal, une sorte de dramatisation de cette « fragmentation harmonisée », troublée par les jeux de reflets et d’échos qu’appelle le mythe de Narcisse.

La choralité fut aussi le point de départ de l’opéra que nous avons écrit ensemble, Innocence. J’avais d’abord une idée abstraite : faire une grande fresque, me débarrasser entièrement des personnages principaux que j’avais dans mes précédents opéras, mais faire une forme entièrement chorale où il n’y aurait pourtant que des personnages principaux. J’ai demandé à la romancière Sofi Oksanen (une autre grande conteuse de notre temps, comme Amin Maalouf) d’imaginer pour le livret une histoire de traumatisme collectif qui se prêterait à cette fresque, et à Aleksi, qui connaissait les possibilités, de faire la dramaturgie et la forme finale du livret, que j’imaginais fragmenté non seulement en plusieurs voix et techniques vocales, mais aussi en plusieurs langues (la dramaturgie plurilingue étant une des spécialités d’Aleksi).

Photo : Jean-Louis Fernandez

Aleksi Barrière : Pour résumer Innocence : l’opéra présente une scène de mariage, semble-t-il très heureuse, mais bientôt le souvenir réprimé d’une tragédie collective qui a eu lieu dix ans plus tôt émerge. Ce retour du souvenir collectif refoulé se fait de manière réaliste au sein des scènes du mariage, dans les interactions entre les protagonistes, au fur et à mesure que les tensions éclatent et que la vérité se révèle. Mais par ailleurs, la scène est hantée par un groupe de personnes incarnées par des comédiens et chanteurs, sans hiérarchie entre parole et chant, chacun avec son timbre et son rythme – des survivants de la tragédie collective, qui comme des fantômes envahissent le plateau avec leurs témoignages, parfois contradictoires. C’est la part du rêve, en l’occurrence du cauchemar : des voix et des corps enfermés dans une boucle infinie dans laquelle ils revivent leur traumatisme. Par ce procédé l’opéra dans son intégralité devient un grand cauchemar, qui avance très vite, une fresque chorale plurilingue de l’expérience collective dans laquelle chaque voix individuelle se fait entendre, mais en tant qu’elle s’inscrit justement dans cette expérience collective.

Nous allons en regarder un extrait, dans lequel ce glissement d’un niveau à l’autre se fait sentir, dans le texte, la musique et la mise en scène.

[Extrait vidéo : Innocence à sa création au Festival d’Aix-en-Provence en 2021.
Direction musicale Susanna Mälkki. Mise en scène Simon Stone.]

Kaija Saariaho : Cet opéra a été souvent comparé à un thriller, et peut-être parce que la mise en scène de Simon Stone utilise des codes visuels familiers, qui ressemblent au cinéma naturaliste, beaucoup de gens ont apprécié que j’écrive enfin un opéra nerveux, dramatique. Je crois que c’est une erreur d’appréciation. Aleksi a écrit dans sa note de programme : « Innocenceest la démonstration que la logique du rêve peut être plus prenante qu’un thriller. » En effet, si je cherche une vitesse, c’est celle de ces rêves qui nous emportent dans leur course. De la même manière que ce qui m’intéresse dans les rythmes de danse, qui jouent aussi un rôle important dans mon opéra Only the sound remains, ce n’est pas leur familiarité, leur omniprésence dans la musique que nous entendons partout, jusque dans les supermarchés : c’est quand ils emportent le corps, livrent le corps à une pulsation inconsciente qui lui était inconnue. C’est pour préserver ce danger, cette brisure, qu’il ne faut pas séparer la choralité de la poésie – un autre élément que nous avons exploré avec Aleksi notamment dans le cycle vocal True Fire (2014), qui est un montage de poèmes de sa main où plusieurs voix se retrouvent, non dans la superposition chorale mais dans l’écart.

Aleksi Barrière : Nous avons sommairement défini la choralité. Pour ce qui est de définir la poésie, nous pourrions y passer la soirée, mais nous pouvons travailler à partir de la belle phrase de Mallarmé : « La poésie est l’expression par le langage humain ramené à son rythme essentiel du sens mystérieux des aspects de l’existence. » (Lettre à Léo d’Orfer, 27 juin 1884)

Tout est dans cette formule compacte et élégante : le dévoilement musical du rythme dans le langage, autant que dans les langues dans leur multiplicité, et par ce dévoilement celui des associations cachées par lesquelles nous nous racontons des histoires, dans la narration mentale permanente à laquelle nous nous livrons et qui est plus forte que les histoires convenues. Dévoiler des rythmes, insérer des cellules rythmiques dans des structures rythmiques plus larges, juxtaposer, superposer, construire des formes par césure, rejet, syncope, faire jaillir les images et les associations : nous pouvons résumer la poésie à un montage. Ce qui m’intéresse dans le texte, c’est de construire de tels montages, de tels dispositifs.

Et ce qui nous a intéressé dans différents projets avec Kaija, c’est de réunir ces deux procédures formelles, qui sont en fait deux méthodes qui peuvent être appliquées de façon pluridisciplinaire : la polyphonie articulée par la choralité et le montage opéré par la poésie. C’est ainsi que nous pouvons imaginer une expression artistique qui rende compte de la richesse du monde mental, et qui s’ouvre au dialogue interdisciplinaire autant qu’interculturel. La scène d’un théâtre est l’endroit privilégié de la rencontre entre la choralité et la poésie, l’endroit où elles peuvent au mieux se déployer dans plusieurs directions et dimensions.

Kaija Saariaho : Plutôt que de refermer cette intervention sur une définition que nous aurions trouvée de ce qu’est l’opéra au 21e siècle, nous voulons l’ouvrir sur tout ce qu’il n’est pas encore, mais qu’il peut devenir dans la rencontre des arts et des artistes. Nous allons finir avec deux exemples d’œuvres communes qui ne sont pas des opéras au sens traditionnel, mais des rêves que l’opéra doit explorer pour élargir son langage au-delà du lyrisme égotique. La voix chantée s’y diffracte en plusieurs voix, ou se divise entre la parole et l’instrument.

Reconnaissance est une œuvre pour chœur, percussion et contrebasse écrite sur un texte d’Aleksi, créée en 2021 à Venise.

Aleksi Barrière : L’idée était de revenir à l’origine de l’art choral, au madrigal de la Renaissance, qui est aussi l’origine de l’opéra, une chrysalide d’opéra aux potentiels ouverts. Mais en assignant à cette expression collective première un objet qui nous est contemporain : notre destin collectif tel que nous pouvons l’envisager aujourd’hui sur notre planète, un nous qui est capable de se penser aux dimensions de l’espèce humaine. Reconnaissance se veut un « madrigal de science-fiction ». La fable est que, comme sujet collectif, nous partons à l’assaut de la planète Mars, en nous demandant ce que nous voulons faire de notre Terre : et Mars, cette planète autrefois couverte d’eau et aujourd’hui désertique, se dresse devant nous comme ces squelettes de la Renaissance qui nous disent : Je fus ce que tu es, tu seras ce que je suis. Dans le second mouvement, celui que nous allons entendre, c’est l’humanité qui parle, fragmentée et tout ensemble.

[Extrait vidéo : Reconnaissance (II. Count Down),
interprété par le Chœur de chambre de Helsinki dirigé par Nils Schweckendiek,
pour un disque à paraître à l’été 2023.]

Kaija Saariaho : Maintenant un dernier exemple. Graal Théâtre est mon concerto pour violon, mon premier concerto, écrit en 1994. Le concerto étant comme le madrigal un théâtre embryonnaire, Aleksi en a proposé une version théâtralisée, avec un dispositif de lumières et de vidéo, et l’ajout d’un comédien qui dit un texte écrit pour dialoguer avec la musique, et chanter ensemble. L’idée était de retrouver le théâtre dans la musique, mais selon les conditions de la musique, et en écoutant quelles histoires elle peut raconter. La poésie, qui est ici comme l’enluminure dans la marge d’un manuscrit, sert à suggérer et à ouvrir de nouvelles associations et de nouvelles logiques oniriques.

Photo : Sakari Röyskö

Aleksi Barrière : Nous assistons donc ici à la quête initiatique du violoniste, chevalier-musicien, flanqué du comédien-bouffon qui l’accompagne, au sens strict, met des mots sur ses aventures, et à l’occasion se permet de le réprimander quand il échoue à écouter, à poser la question mythique du Graal qui est aussi celle de la musique : Quelle est ta souffrance ? Dans cet extrait, il est question d’apprendre à tomber, et d’accéder au temps du rêve.

[Extrait vidéo : Graal Théâtre dans le spectacle de La Chambre aux échos Between,
à sa création à l’Opéra national de Finlande en août 2022.
L’acteur Thomas Kellner et le violoniste Peter Herresthal avec le Secession Orchestra.
Direction musicale Clément Mao-Takacs. Mise en scène et vidéo Aleksi Barrière.]

Là où nous voulions en venir, en montrant ces extraits d’œuvres qui ne sont pas, en apparence, des opéras, c’est au fait que la discussion entre les arts – dont l’opéra est un des lieux, depuis quelques siècles, plus ou moins actif selon les lieux et les personnes… – n’est intéressante qu’à la condition d’être vraiment vivante, c’est-à-dire prête à remettre en cause tous les statuquos : la discussion des arts est, quand on la contemple à hauteur d’histoire, un constant mouvement par lequel un médium propose ou impose ses formes, mais aussi s’ouvre lui-même à de nouvelles dérives. C’est ce mouvement vers l’altérité par lequel nous avons commencé, qui est le mouvement même de la vie des formes et de leur écologie.

Je reviens à cette phrase de Kaija, qui a accompagné toutes les grandes créations : « L’opéra peut aussi être cela ». Tant qu’il y a là-dedans quelque chose qui chante. La polyphonie sophistiquée de la choralité et le montage sauvage de la poésie nous ouvrent des portes que nous n’avons pas fini d’explorer sur les scènes d’opéra, ceci non simplement pour le plaisir de la recherche formelle, mais pour mieux affronter notre monde et ses cauchemars – en trouver des manières de faire entendre les histoires qu’il nous fait nous raconter.

COMPOSING ON THIN ICE – about the music of Juha T. Koskinen

Juha T. Koskinen (*1972), a Finnish man and a European composer, has created a deeply singular body of work over the past three decades. As he is celebrating an important anniversary year, a comprehensive approach to his music is oddly lacking: this will be an attempt at an overview, resulting from the ten years of exchanges and collaboration I have shared with him. Not a testimony and not a study, which are left for better commentators of music to write, this text is rather a portrait and an investigation – a tentative approach of an object that remains fascinatingly mysterious, partly because it is still an open creative process that will keep on surprising its listeners and its creator too.

Koskinen’s catalogue is fully rooted in historical moments to which it has also been a contribution: not just the international rise of Finnish contemporary music, but on a larger scale the multiplication of musical idioms in the 1990s in the wake of the perceived dead-end of post-Serialism, the boom of new music theatre at the turn of the 21st century, and the current growing intercultural dialogue between East Asia and the global West, to name a few. Koskinen’s involvement with the zeitgeist is noteworthy because it resulted in profoundly personal musical responses, all while stemming from a cosmopolitan attitude that comes not from a syncretic mishmash of exotic influences, but lengthy impregnation with foreign cultures and languages. Often perceived as something of a 20th-century European intellectual, he is amongst his colleagues particularly deserving of the title.

It is easy, in trying to describe and eventually pigeon-hole a composer, to rely on contextual evidence and on the elements emerging from a superficial listening. In trying to reach what is at the core of Koskinen’s music, I will start from what is most obvious to me as a writer-director, namely this music’s deep relation to text and the stage, and from there hopefully not reduce the music to the most obvious, but instead gradually unveil its many dimensions.

1. The attraction of text

A textless piece for viola and ensemble called Hamlet-Machine (1999) after a theatre play by Heiner Müller; an instrumental work for septet titled Sogni di Dante inspired by a segment of the Purgatorio (2004); a cycle for solo organ, Ormhuvud, inspired by the bead-structure of a poetry cycle by Gunnar Ekelöf and its titular recurring “snake head” (2006); a trio for guitar, kantele and harpsichord constructed around the friction of a Noh play and a notation by Leonardo da Vinci both reflecting on the depths of the ocean (Unabara, 2020)… These are a few typical examples over the years of works by Koskinen that engage with a literary source or inspiration without being text-centered. Even outside his works of music theatre and song cycles that are actual settings of text, Koskinen’s output is suffused with literary inspiration – of broad variety, as can be noticed from this short sampling alone. The contrasted colors of different languages also matter greatly to him.

The first component of these textual connections is the composer’s thirst for extra-musical references, impulses and inspirations, even in the making of so-called absolute music. These inspirations are not necessarily textual, either: some are visual or spatial in nature, although they are not conceived for a visualized setting. For instance, to quote only landmark works, the Soleil noir miniatures for string quartet (1999, rev. 2006) found a model to their scintillating color shifts in Odilon Redon’s colorful pastel paintings; the five movements of Nequaquam for ensemble (2000) are imaginations of five spaces dominated by different lightings and colors; Omaggio a Smilla (2002) is something like an anti-concerto for violin and trumpet, where the solo instruments, instead of being main protagonists, create a negative space for the orchestra to unfold – the guiding principle is a sentence from Giordano Bruno’s De Umbris idearum (1582): “Nothing is the opposite of a shadow” (“Umbrae enim nihil est contrarium”). That impossible opposite is in this piece performed by the trumpet, which is also placed behind the orchestra and playing with sordino – a taste for spatialization and, later on, rituals, follows the same train of thought.

In all these instances, whether or not elements of text and space are ultimately integrated into the piece, Koskinen’s formal solutions are first and foremost musical in nature, and in a certain way inherently referential, as they draw from a broad historical toolbox that ranges from Renaissance antiphonies to Klangfarbenmelodie, and an extremely versatile harmonic palette flirting with Spectralism, expanded or rather colored by a curious form of harmonic sampling from works that serve as an inspiration, so brittle it barely can ever be considered quotational. In this context the extra-musical references and impulses act, according to the composer’s repeated narrative, as a means to unblock the material’s potential, a way to articulate through analogy the possibilities of its development.

This search for extra-musical prompts is something that has been noted already by Koskinen’s teachers as a consistent peculiarity of his. Composer Philippe Schoeller was, alongside Philippe Manoury and Gilbert Amy, one of those teachers in the years 1996-1997, which Koskinen spent at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Lyon, as an Erasmus student – the first of many extended contacts with French culture that left a lasting imprint on him.

In a recent conversation, Schoeller recalled his first impressions of his favorite student: “He came to me with an orchestra work, Fatalité, that already showed an incredibly mature synthesis of musical influences at the age of 23, and a minimalistic piano piece that displayed how much he was able to do with little material. But also he had a Baudelaire poem he was working on, Correspondances, which is about synesthesia. Deleuze says that good music comes outside of music, that one must depart from music to find music anew. You cannot solve everything through musical technicity, you need something else, be it literature, nature, madness, violence… Juha understood that on a deep level.”

Baudelaire’s Correspondances eventually inspired Koskinen’s piece Ambra for ensemble (1997), a study in colors and textures premiered in Lyon in the course of his studies. It also contains elements developed in his first opera, which was composed in the same period.

Another mentor figure was composer Kaija Saariaho, whose masterclass Koskinen attended at the Suvisoitto summer festival in Porvoo in 1996, before studying with her during her visiting professorship at the Sibelius Academy in 97-98, and then further following her footsteps in studying computer music within courses at the IRCAM in Paris in the late 90s (where Koskinen was also reunited with Philippe Schoeller). In those years Saariaho hadn’t herself ventured into writing operas yet, or conceived of a way of doing so.

“At the time such strong attraction to literature and to theatre was a peculiarity in new music circles”, she recalls when asked about it. “Juha really stood out as a theatre person, in addition to his musical gifts. I admired him for it since he seemed much more at ease with working for the stage than I did.”

Amongst the new generation of the Korvat Auki association of Finnish composers, co-founded by Saariaho and of which Koskinen had assumed the rotating chairmanship in 1994-1995, the interest for opera was a trait that would come to define him.

2. Opera as a calling

This duality between a rich taste for extra-musical prompts and the clarity of self-sufficient musical discourse is something that I find very characteristic of Koskinen’s artistic sensitivity. Koskinen understands his medium as a purely aural one and maintains a strong divide between his music intended for the stage (or other forms of multimedia interaction) and the rest of his output, which could seem surprising given the defining centrality of music theatre, or dialogue between the arts in general, in his work. As was already in 2002 assessed in a study on New Music of the Nordic Countries: “the opera (…) may be [Koskinen’s] most characteristic genre”[1], a label that has sticked with him since, for good reason.

As is shown by his works that refer to text without necessarily setting it to music, the inclusion of text is not only for a composer a way to convey meaning and take stands in a way that is not directly available through music alone; in Koskinen’s case, it also expresses the need to confront impulses that provoke the compositional process into new paths. This characteristic trait is a symptom of a broader need of constantly renewing material. An invariable stand of Koskinen’s over the years has been the refusal of repetition and imitation of oneself or others, whether in the form of traditionalism or fashionable systems and formulas that come and go in the musical avant-garde – or anything that comes to be formatted by market forces / inspires some to format themselves for them, as he would write himself in an article about the imitators of Einojuhani Rautavaara who aspired to the Finnish master’s commercial success[2]. Koskinen’s own path has been a constant navigation of this principle and a struggle against global cultural uniformization and homogenization driven by market forces and hegemonies, of which music and languages are a symptom and a vehicle as their diversity is threatened. Such a path could find its originality through external influences, in particular extra-musical ones, and thus opera has been a natural part of that process.

It is no surprise that someone as versed in literature, theatre and the visual arts would be one of the leading composers of music theatre of his generation: smaller experiments and installations/exhibitions put aside, he is the creator of six works of music theatre, and engaged in multiple upcoming projects. This journey could be said to have started already in 1994, with the completion of a 10-minute cycle on poetry by Sappho, scored for mezzosoprano, violin, cello and piano, that was crafted as a form of small monodrama.

Koskinen was literally born into what has been called the Finnish Opera Boom of the 1970s, and got to witness it from up close at the same time as he got acquainted with the classical repertoire: his father, a violinist in the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, performed every summer in the pit at the Savonlinna Opera Festival. “There I could see the landmark works by Aulis Sallinen and Joonas Kokkonen. I also had a chance to encounter in my youth the modernist works of Paavo Heininen, such as The Damask Drum and The Knife.”[3] Koskinen later studied in Heininen’s composition class at the Sibelius Academy (like Kaija Saariaho and many other Finnish composers), and acknowledged in particular the importance to him of his opera Veitsi (The Knife, premiered in Savonlinna in 1989). In Finland as elsewhere, the interest of modernist composers in opera did a lot to break with the previous norm of the avant-garde that deemed opera a dead form: maybe it could be redeemed, provided it could secede from post-romantic heaviness and the stiffness of old-fashioned stage productions that had mostly grown oblivious of anything happening in the field of theatre. This has resulted, in the early 21st century, in a global renewed interest for opera, a form that young composers nowadays tend to tackle early in their careers, instead of viewing it as a crowning achievement.

One could then say that, regarding his background and his own taste for extra-musical influences, Koskinen was in good dispositions to participate in what musicologist Liisamaija Hautsalo termed ‘the New Finnish Opera Boom’ in a 2000 article[4], describing the heavy slate of fourteen new Finnish productions of music theatre that were premiered within that year alone, including Koskinen’s first full-evening opera Eukko.

Since the mid 1990s, Koskinen had been collaborating closely with one of the major fringe opera instances of that era, the independent company Ooppera Skaala. The company’s first project in 1996 was also Koskinen’s first foray into opera: the 30-minute long Velhosiskot (The Witch Company) for six singers and ensemble, a somewhat Jungian fantasy of a young girl’s transition from childhood into the realm of adulthood, for which Koskinen crafted his own libretto.

By the early 2000s, both Ooppera Skaala and Koskinen had grown into experienced professionals, and presented broader productions together: in 2000 at the Finnish National Opera, Eukko – pidättekö vainajista? (The Old Woman – Are You Fond Of Dead People?) based on a story by Daniil Harms, and in 2002 at the Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki, Brunelda – Amerikan sydän (Brunelda – The Heart of America), after Franz Kafka’s Amerika. Koskinen’s operatic adaptation of Yukio Mishima’s play Madame de Sade, of which he created a fragment in the framework of the Festival of Aix-en-Provence’s Académie européenne de Musique in 1998, was also premiered by Ooppera Skaala in its full version, in 2010 at the Korjaamo theatre in Helsinki. This series of works, mostly created with director/co-librettist Janne Lehmusvuo (*1967), brought together the opera makers of a new generation, and catalyzed a peculiar atmosphere of creativity in Finland.

Miika Hyytiäinen, a Finnish composer ten years younger than Koskinen who has made music theatre the pivot of his own work, recalls the tremendous influence of the New Opera Boom and of Koskinen’s work in particular. “This movement made the Finnish opera scene more diverse on a structural level, but it also inspired individuals. In a deep way my own understanding of the possibilities of music theatre was influenced by the way Koskinen’s operas clarified their position as part of a European tradition.”

Hyytiäinen, who is now based in Berlin, one of the current European capitals of new music theatre, elaborates: “The worst judgement you can receive amongst German Musiktheater composers and dramaturges is ‘Mozart with the wrong notes’, meaning doing opera in the classical form with only the surface of music changing over the centuries. This is never the case in Koskinen’s operas, the dramaturgy and the way of thinking of music theatre are always thoroughly rethought. That specific relation to the text, to performance, to the human voice and to humor could simply not have existed a century ago. Those works were like a breath of fresh air to me, and a sign that slowly other winds were blowing even into Finland.”[5]

Koskinen has, too, moved to Berlin in the 2010s, and in addition to a lasting attraction to German-language literature from Kleist to Kafka and Heiner Müller, he has indeed kept a constant relationship to the German new music and new music theatre scenes ever since his discovery of the oeuvre of Helmut Lachenmann in the 90s. Not just a ‘Finnish composer’, Koskinen came to belong to that cultural landscape and tradition too. It is only natural to find him in the midst of the German new music theatre renewal movement of the 2000s as well: already in 2005 he contributed with a segment to Commander Kobayashi, an operatic science-fiction series created by the Berlin-based music theatre company Novoflot, in which each episode was authored by a different composer.

Being basically constantly involved in stage productions in the past twenty-five years undoubtedly had a transformative effect on Koskinen’s development as a composer. In Eukko, under the influence of the broken, diffracted reality portrayed in Daniil Harms’s text, one can already hear the broad dynamic range and sparse pointillism in orchestration of his later compositions, combined with the search for a clarity of lines that he developed through his interest for the operas of Francesco Cavalli and the Baroque era more generally, in quest of countermodels to the heavier Wagnerian paradigm that has long dominated operatic imagination, but without forsaking Wagner’s lessons in orchestration. Eukko unfolds like a lush miniature Wozzeck from a young composer on his way towards a concentration of means akin to those of Webern and Stravinsky in their rediscovery of Baroque forms.

A lasting interest for Baroque opera is one of the many threads that span throughout Koskinen’s output in more or less obvious forms, fueled by a general interest in classical Italian culture and long stays in Italy. Recently it has manifested itself most explicitly in the opera Lusia Rusintytär (Oulunsalo Soi Festival and on tour in Finland, 2015), the re-telling of a real 17th-century witch trial with partly Baroque instrumentation, and Superborea (Cirko – Center for New Circus, Helsinki, 2017), a dance project in which Koskinen’s music for Baroque ensemble was intertwined with music by Jean-Philippe Rameau. An opera project based on the writings of Johannes Kepler, scheduled for 2024, will be an opportunity to keep exploring these associations by collaging 17th-century music with original new music, written for a mix of period and contemporary instruments, and folk techniques.

While sharing the stage with material from another composer might be the most extreme form it takes, Koskinen’s stage work is in general striking – and increasingly so over time – in its openness to collaborative effort instead of imposing a through-composed gesamtkunstwerk. By the time of Brunelda in 2002, Koskinen had fully developed a methodology for working on the stage that relies on collaboration – in this instance, by preparing ‘blocks of music’[6] to be manipulated in rehearsals until the piece finds its form in live reality.

3. Ophelia and the Abyss

I was myself surprised, when creating the libretto and the staging for Ophelia/Tiefsee (first version premiered at the Maison de la Radio in Paris in 2017; final version premiered at the Finnish National Opera in 2019), by how much Juha relied on the work we were doing on stage before he put the finishing touch to his score.

The history of the piece is itself one of constant recombinations. Intrigued by Koskinen’s piece for viola and ensemble Hamlet-Machine (1999), conductor Clément Mao-Takacs and myself requested in 2015 his permission to perform it within a series we were curating of new music with original video work. He accepted on the condition of revising the work, and soon delivered a 2-minute version of the 16-minute original, focusing on the viola cadenza that he associated with the character of Ophelia. From there was born the idea of rebuilding a new piece of music theatre starting from this rescued building block, and to reintegrate elements of the Heiner Müller play that had served as Koskinen’s original inspiration almost twenty years earlier, but had never been combined with his music.

The idea of a recentering of the narrative on Ophelia inspired us to create a piece entirely about different versions of the character, Heiner Müller’s being only one of them, although his technique of building a dramaturgical machine out of separate fragments would be the key to our own method. Such a machine functions effectively because, like Müller’s, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is constructed around the performative quality of its main protagonist, his theatre-within-theatre being the ‘mousetrap’ he sets up to advance the play’s main plot – and Ophelia being, in that regard, treated as mere collateral damage. She is constantly denied the right to perform, or even to speak, until she eventually erupts in the ‘mad scene’ that is the theatrical and operatic archetype of male-written female hysteria. We emphasized this by borrowing text material not only from Shakespeare and Müller, but also from Jules Laforgue’s decadent and satirical Hamlet, ou les suites de la piété filiale and from an anonymous theatre review from a 1827 performance of Hamlet, that puts to note the differences between male and female depictions of madness. In the resulting kaleidoscope, rather than pretending we might speak in the place of Ophelia, we reflect on the narratives imposed on her, both by male characters and by male writers who try to redeem her, through either sacrifice or revolt. To make this variety of points of view transparent, we decided to have the role of Ophelia and those revolving around her played by one male actor – following Shakespeare’s practice, but also underlining the male gaze – who would perform each text in its original language (contrasted language colors are also as ever crucial to Koskinen’s palette). The combination of actor and orchestra was a nod to the ancient form of the ‘melologue’, one example of which is Berlioz’s Lélio (a work incidentally inspired by the composer’s relationship with actress Harriet Smithson, whose performance of Ophelia was reviewed in the text we used, and revered by Berlioz).

The kaleidoscopic form combined with the ‘melologic’ separation of speech and music (meaning text is free in its movement and not constricted by any form of sprechgesang or other rhythmical notation) left a lot of room for Koskinen to build his own musical machine in a unifying and articulating manner. It soon became clear that the seed – the 2-minute fragment created in 2015 – would be the final musical number and that everything would grow towards that point. Koskinen created material that matched the needs of the overall form, in reaction to the text, but it is in the rehearsal room only that finer adjustment happened: fermatas that suspended time and overall placements of text in the score (in cases of overlaps of text and music) were decided on the stage after trying things out with actor Thomas Kellner, who performed the part, and sections involving the orchestra as a chorus were notated only after rehearsals with Clément Mao-Takacs and his Secession Orchestra. Even the solo viola part, which in this theatrical iteration of the earlier material became an on-stage musical shadow of the actor, was developed and expanded according to the feedback of the soloist Vladimir Percevic, and Ophelia’s mad song was built on a lullaby tune from the actor’s childhood. Earlier I described my reaction to this as ‘surprise’, but that is only because as a theatre-maker I have seldom met a composer working on his material to that point as a theatre-maker, calibrating things on the stage, letting them breathe and fall into place in live situations, all while having very precise musical ideas they were pursuing independently from the needs of the stage, within a thoroughly notated score.

This was embodied in particular by the versatility of Koskinen’s use of the orchestra, a band of 16 players (later expanded with more strings) which was in our production set center-stage, with all the elements of the set built around it, as the central piece of a machine. The orchestral prelude paints a broad landscape, with minimal resources stretched to grandiose scales: two notes hammered on the piano with the support of loud string harmonics, alternating with pointillistic gestures from the winds, the harp and the percussion, are enough to weave what turns out to be shimmering textures, effortlessly and organically opening and closing gaps that are filled by the solo viola and, eventually, the speaking voice, which unfolds at natural volume over atmospheric held string notes. Within a couple of minutes, the nature of this music is made crystal clear: it will without a build-up unleash its power and dominate the space, and then in the blink of an eye bend and serve the text, only to suddenly assume control over time again. Ophelia’s heart, says Müller’s text spoken by the orchestra, “is a clock”, and the character moves physically and aurally in an environment that will grind her alive if given the occasion, even and especially as it forces her to dance. In the scenes of dialogue, the repetition of short rhythmical noises and melodic motives gives the impression of a nightmarish clockwork – not manmade but of elemental proportions – inside which the solo viola oddly enough manages to breathe at its own pace. The orchestra seems to break apart when it is comically used as individual instruments characterizing different characters or as a ‘stage band’, but acting as the relentless chorus or rebuilding into a larger mass it always returns to its role of the hostile crowd. Only the viola cadenza seems to tame and harness it towards the end of the piece, like the dream of a successful revolution, achieved in cantabile softness, leading to Ophelia (turned Elektra by Müller) finally taking control over the machine for her last monologue, merging with it harmonically, and turning the threat against us, her oppressors. In this last movement – the ‘Abyss’ (Tiefsee) that gives its name to the work – the whole clockwork, with its unpredictable, shrill outbursts of violence, seems to have sunk underwater and to bubble and sigh, together with the invisible life of its new oceanic environment.

This talent for portraying a texture of potencies and potentials, flexing and bursting into violent explosions without ever reaching a resolution that would result in peaceful stasis, is something that characterizes the mood of most of Koskinen’s works. Thinking in particular of Ophelia/Tiefsee which he premiered, conductor Clément Mao-Takacs calls Koskinen’s “a music of secrets”. He unfolds this association thus:

“What I mean is that it is full of secrets – hints, [self-]quotations, memories… – but they are so well hidden that even a trained ear cannot easily recognize them. And yet something within us perceives them and it feels like this music secretes something both strangely familiar and absolutely new. (…) Juha’s science is that of a crafty and mischievous inventor in search of the right dosage. (…) He knows when to stop, frustrate, hold back, avoid, contain, refuse – always with reason. He can assume any tone, but never overdoes it; in the contrary, he always displaces things (especially in his stage music), offering to performers and spectators both an additional space, dimension, opening. Which doesn’t mean that his music is without depth or coldly intellectual: I’d rather say it is an exploration of the depths, steady and obstinate (…) Patient observation is required to understand that what we thought was vegetative is in actuality alive, that what we thought was blind is a source of light, that the smallest plankton, alga or coral is as necessary as the rest of sea-life – at the same time resulting from its environment and participating in its conservation and its evolution. Depth, depths are not for Juha synonymous of heaviness, but rather pressure and impressions, unsuspected and shattering revelations. Whether we are dealing with high sea or a goldfish bowl – and it is not the least of Juha’s talents to suggest the oceanic when dealing with an aquarium – what he offers to our seeing and hearing is life itself and the observation of life, access to the unspoken, the unspeakable, the invisible, that which is ordinarily silent or concealed from our senses.”[7]

The sea and its secret life, it turns out, is a recurring metaphor in Koskinen’s music – deep down a composer of big cities and of restless overlapping sonic layers, who rejoices in the immersive urban multilingual soundscape of his home neighborhood in Berlin’s Kreuzberg. The sea is present in the Hamlet-Machine material and its variations, of course, and in works such at the Piano Trio No. 2 (2017) introduced as three variations on water, but also recently in all the variations on water myths of Japanese Buddhism that pervades his later output: at the mercy of (the waves) for daegum, koto and double bass (2017), Unabara (lit. ‘deep sea’) for guitar, kantele and cembalo (2020), Fundamenta – de profundis (2020), the central fragment of the piano cycle Hoshi Mandara, or the myth of the underwater Dragon God Ryūjin, that plays a preeminent role in an upcoming opera based on the life of the Buddhist monk Myōe Shonin. In this context the sea is suggestive, as Mao-Takacs points out, of the invisible life beneath the surface, but also of ever-shifting shadow plays, moving layers and slow harmonic transitions that are otherwise characteristic of Koskinen’s music. Focused and minimalistic in his chamber music, these textures are expanded and diffracted to their most impressive proportions in orchestra pieces such as the double-anti-concerto Omaggio a Smilla (2002), a fascinating hall of mirrors and shadows, and Seishin (lit. ‘the heart’s voice’) for wind orchestra and percussion (2010, rev. 2022). The latter is inspired by a poem from Japanese Buddhist monk Kūkai describing the listening of sounds in the forest, which is much like the oceanic abyss treated with pointillism and occasional organ-like lush as a mysterious swarming ‘urban’ environment full of invisible forces – another similarity being that Ophelia’s emerging viola ostinato motive is replaced by a piccolo ostinato suggestive of a bird. It is no coincidence that both Omaggio a Smilla and Seishin (or the later Bushukan, a ritual listening session of its own kind) all contain elements of immersive instrument spatialization, putting the spectator in the position of a landscape’s observer gone a-hunting after mysteries.

One additional dimension that is specifically characteristic of Koskinen’s works for the stage is the confrontation with otherness. It is perhaps no coincidence that all his operas to date are centered not just on female characters, but on ostracized, ‘othered’ versions of them, whether through only superficially harmless male gaze or proactive witch trials. The stage, for composers who usually work in solitary confinement and rule alone over their musical world, and for anyone else involved in it, is a place of encounter, or departure from comfort zones, where separate entities, individualities, art forms and languages engage in dialogue and friction. This movement towards the other is one of tremendous importance in the way Koskinen engages with the world through his music, but also as a matrix that carries that music forward creatively. For instance his flamboyant tone poem Hehkuva graniitti (The Glowing Granite, 2001), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and combining orchestra, choir and soloist in the setting of a poem by Elmer Diktonius on the sacred and solitary task of the artist, stands apart from Koskinen’s creations for the stage precisely because it doesn’t present a figure of alterity, that type of crack and opening to the outside that theatre commands, although it is also not devoid of wackiness. I would argue that having learned from this, Koskinen has eventually not only pursued this outside-of-comfort-zone quality through stage works, where it is more naturally achieved, but has been trying to reach it even without the prompt of the stage, in all of his music.

“In composing you need to think from the outside, take some distance, alternate between the magnifying glass and the bird’s-eye-view”[8], he states, about the musical process in general.

4. Building bridges in music

Concerning the dialectics of otherness, it is impossible to not delve into Koskinen’s growingly intense relationship to Japan and the Japanese music scene. Japanese culture being often subjected to superficial Orientalism, it is of note that Koskinen found a different, more personal and engaging path: “over [multiple stays] Japan has become an actual, real place to me, with its light and darker sides, instead of an exotic story-land on which to project one’s own fantasies”[9].

In 2004 Koskinen’s work for septet Sogni di Dante was premiered by Ensemble Recherche at the Takefu International Festival in Japan and was awarded the festival’s First Prize, which came with a stipend and a commission for the following years festival – resulting in the premiere of Koskinen’s String Quartet No. 1 at Takefu in 2005, at the hands of Quatuor Diotima. This was the starting point of regular visits to Japan, including in the form of a residency at Tokyo Wonder Site in the summer of 2010 and an engagement as a teacher of composition at the Aichi University of the Arts starting from 2016. Gradually Koskinen developed a distinctive knowledge of Japanese culture, and multiple collaborations with Japanese musicians and institutions.

Koskinen’s interest in Japanese culture has been manifold, and of course channeled first by the widening of aesthetic horizons through musical experiences: discovering classical Japanese instruments, witnessing the melodic recitation and instrumental playing in performances of Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku, and the chanting and percussions of religious rituals, such as the Goma feast which Koskinen attended in a Shingon temple during his stay in 2010. As always the specific spectrum of a new language (phonologically, and in its ideogrammatic manifestations) was also bound to open new musical horizons, as did French, Italian and German earlier. These experiences have resulted in multiple musical collaborations with Japanese musicians which are also a learning curve: Koskinen has become very knowledgeable in the techniques of koto through his work with several koto players, and has studied for many years classical liturgical shōmyō singing with the master Suehiro Shoei[10]. But one could say that what ties these endeavors together and makes them more than disparate exotic barrowings is the interest for Japanese Buddhism that connects them on a cultural and intellectual level.

At the core of classical Japanese poetry, Noh theatre, art of calligraphy, but also omnipresent shrines and statues of deities in the cities and even names of certain plants, lies Buddhism, its corpus of sutras, its internal controversies and its ambivalent relationship with the pagan Shinto religion, all of which express themselves in ritual music but also visual elements such as choreography and mandalas. It is a rich world of concepts and images. It also transcends the interest in Japan and defeats any kind of chauvinism, since it stems from continuous and fruitful cultural exchanges with China, Korea and India at least.  

A distinct limitation of the Western interest for Japanese Buddhism is its almost exclusive focus on Zen. This focus, informed by a seemingly compact and relatable set of conceptual tools (vacuity, centering on the here and now) and preference for paradoxes and meditation over doctrinal discussion, has a history, mostly channeled by the teachings of D.T. Suzuki and their influence on the like of the Beat Generation, John Cage, Morton Feldman or Giacinto Scelsi, aligning a variation of Zen with a critique of Western value systems, which was also the case of Martin Heidegger in the field of philosophy; not to speak of artists who had some form of contact with Japan and were seduced by an aesthetics of emptiness (from the Western discovery of minimalistic ink wash painting to Yves Klein) or later by such imported concepts as Zen gardens or wabi sabi. Most of the Western knowledge of Japanese Buddhism amounts to Orientalist clichés based on third-hand notions of Zen. Whether or not one embraces the contended idea that Zen and its derivatives constitute a form of boiled down ‘essence’ of Buddhism, the reality of Buddhism in Japan, in its history as much as in its practices and its pervasive influence on Japanese culture, is much more complex and colorful. This is one reason Koskinen has been most interested in Shingon Buddhism as opposed to Zen, and on the musical side in Shingon and Tendai shōmyō singing and their repertoire, their koshiki (narrative songs) and mudra (ritual hand positions). Noh theatre, in which Koskinen has taken interest both by working with Noh singers and as a dramaturgical inspiration, is also carrying strong philosophical and religious influences from Pure Land Buddhism, and cannot be understood through the lens of Zen alone.

Koskinen’s attempt has been to create a more profound intercultural dialogue than is customary in Western works that are adaptations of Japanese material or elements, even revered operatic examples from mentor figures such as Paavo Heininen’s Silkkirumpu (The Damask Drum, 1983) and Kaija Saariaho’s Only the Sound Remains (2016), or indeed Koskinen’s own Madame de Sade (a French story told through a Japanese filter). This renewed profundity comes both from rigorous engagement with actual Japanese material and Japanese artists and with the underlying Buddhist material as a matrix and inspiration.

One early example of what that could mean is the Bashō Fragments (2010), where the acoustic music, scored for bass clarinet and cello, runs parallel to a recording of a Japanese person speaking three poems by Bashō in the original Japanese, in which case the friction of cultures is obvious. Similarly the work Bushukan, to be premiered in October 2022, is scored for shōmyō singer (Koskinen’s teacher Suehiro Shoei) and string trio, and built entirely around a performance of a shōmyō hymn and mantra performed in their original forms. The traditional chant’s complex colors are mirrored and diffracted in the string writing to create new music wreathed around it, while syllables of the Japanese text also reassemble into Finnish words from Reetta Pekkanen’s poem Katoaminen (Disappearing).

As Koskinen himself explains: “I see no reason to actually start copying a distant culture’s exoticized musical expression in my music. What matters is the process of the encounter, the gradual reach and growth towards each other. One shouldn’t aspire to abolish differences nor try to force them to integrate into a familiar identity.”[11]

One key concept used on a compositional level by Koskinen is that of intertwining, which is a way of favoring complexity and dialectics over ‘fusion’ and syncretism, in the same way he always prefers the friction of languages to watered-down Globish and other forces of capitalistic uniformization. This is a method to acknowledge the difficulty of intercultural dialogue all while offering new bridges that advance it, and creating new musical colors born from the overlaps and gaps created by this intertwining. And within such a paradigm the Buddhist search for the cracks within the fabric of reality meets Koskinen’s musical research on harmonic shadow plays, superpositions and transitions, in the same way his ostinati and erupting force fields find new motivation in mantras that carry intent and devotion. In Koskinen’s works inspired by Buddhism, traditional mantras are often quoted, as are poetic texts by Buddhist religious figures (Kūkai, Dōgen, Myōe), never in an uprooted fashion that would disconnect them from their original culture, but also providing them with a new context, as comments on the existential and manmade chaos of existence, not abstractly, but in our day. Although earlier cultural references in Koskinen’s work could betray a taste for the tragic and a leaning towards an absurdist worldview calling for an aesthetics of cruelty, especially in his operas, this corpus lays open the underlying ethics that his music expresses since its beginnings on its own terms: a dire yearning for the luminous power of compassion in the face of destruction and self-destruction, and more specifically an urge to side with the deject and repair the broken, within individuals, societies and environments. Analyzing the status of repairing and mending in this music would in itself be a lengthy and rewarding task for those willing and able.

Among the major works of this thread, the seven-part piano cycle Hoshi Mandara (2017-2020) articulates in aphoristic concision fragments from both European and Japanese musical traditions into Koskinen’s own musical matrix, and memories from some of his other works serve as a mesh-thin connective tissue; pianist Kyoko Fukushi describes performing it as a form of meditation leading to silence. The music Koskinen wrote for koto, including two solo pieces written for Nobutaka Yoshizawa, connects with his writing for guitar, kantele, piano and cembalo in a thoughtful dialogue between various plucked string techniques that truly creates concrete bridges between traditions – two notable examples being the aforementioned at the mercy of (the waves) for daegum, koto and double bass (2017), commissioned by the AsianArt Ensemble in Berlin, and Unabara for guitar, kantele and harpsichord (2020), written for Trio Superpluck in Helsinki. One another important constellation of works, exploring connection between woodwind writing traditions and ritualistic aspects of performance, has been created with the clarinetist Lauri Sallinen since 2019, in different settings (Dream Transmission with electronics, Seirei with string quartet, Heart of Light with violin and piano) and will find its climax in 2023 with the creation of an ambulatory piece of music theatre, Jaman-pahta, inspired by the Noh play Yamanba, in which the actual Finnish landscape of the premiere into which the audience will follow the performers will mirror the original story’s mountains where the witch Yama-uba has her lair. Again, transposition, translation and rewriting are preferred over mimicry.

Another major culmination of Koskinen’s work on Japan and Japanese Buddhism will be the upcoming opera *Waterfire, a variation on the monk Myōe Shonin’s dream diary in the form of an intercultural dialogue and examination of our society’s suppressed nightmares, as well as a new exploration, through the guise of the hinin, the outcast that the Buddhist monk named as his paradigm, of the pariah figure that has been central to all of Koskinen’s stage works. I will myself be involved in this cross-cultural effort as a librettist and stage director.

5. Periods / Quartets

We have surveyed many of Koskinen’s thematic threads and inspirations, in the order in which they have chronologically appeared and shaped his music. I would however prefer, in order to be truthful to the very nature of said music, to avoid the common-place artificial subdivision of the composer’s career into periods. It appears to me that if the concept of period should be used here, as with most artists it should rather be utilized in its chemical sense: a periodic table of elements that combine differently over time, with prospective room always left to discover new elements too. These Koskinen himself calls ‘seeds’, or bīja in the Sanskrit Buddhist vocabulary, in relation to the way a mantra for instance grows. Figures, whether understood as character archetypes or musical motives, seem to have their own life in the whole of Koskinen’s music, and like his secret quotations and the epigraphs he inscribes in his scores they reappear in unexpected and at first sight unrelated places over the course of three decades, as discrete signs of the continuity of his obsessions. ‘Dream’ is one of these elements of which there are too many to list here, and also the method by which these elements are always recombined. This is expressed in a quote from Madame de Sade that Koskinen included in the opera he made out of Mishima’s play, and has mentioned to me as a personal motto: “… his purpose was not to win affection but to transfer from his imagination to a particular time and place on earth the dreams that obsessed him.”  (Koskinen actually first discovered the play in Paris, in the French translation of André Pieyre de Mandiargues, and, in accordance with his taste for each language’s color and sensitivity, prefers quoting it in that version: “… son but n’était pas une séduction, mais le transfert, dans un temps et dans un lieu particulier de la terre, du rêve qui l’avait obsédé.”)

In a body of work so occupied with hidden influences, in which ideas continue their manifold underground growth over years, both chronological segmentation and the idea of linear progress seem just as vain. If we think of this body as a rhizomatic root system, constantly rewiring some of its growths on others and creating new bypasses and intertwinings, where exploratory shoots that seem disconnected actually all feed each other even if they do turn out to be dead ends, we might have a better glimpse at what an oeuvre is. In that metaphor, some roots ‘tuberize’ to form ‘reserve organs’ that feed the others, and I suggest describing one class of works as such ‘tubers’ that concentrate elements of Koskinen’s music: rather than defining periods, they define subsystems in his work; these have chronological significance but are more interesting to understand in ramifications that defy periodization.

The string quartet, the most canonical of genres in Western chamber music, is a perfect context to observe a composer’s work in purely music terms, and avoid the reduction of his output to limited hashtags such as ‘music theatre’, ‘Baroque’ and ‘Japanese’. Apart from works that use string combinations or the string quartet in combination with other instruments (or within broader orchestrations that use the quartet as their centerpiece), Koskinen has written four string quartets that will serve as our tubers in this reading, where we shall attempt to see in them more than just markers from four distinct decades.

Soleil noir (premiered by the Zagros Quartet at the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki in 1999) is something of a Quartet Number Zero, as unlike its followers it doesn’t bear a number and is instead subtitled “Five miniatures”. As such it doesn’t have claims at being inscribed in the string quartet tradition, although it obviously makes full use of that specific instrumentation’s range. Albeit very characteristic of Koskinen’s pointillism, it strongly bears the mark of his studies under the guidance of Kaija Saariaho, her play with the transition between pitch and noise and her understanding of timbre as a tool for building harmonies, all while making a distinctive use of melodic material and a more condensed and dramatic use of time. Like Saariaho’s first string quartet Nymphéa, named after Claude Monet’s water-lilies, its color-plays are rooted in a visual inspiration, namely Odilon Redon’s works, as well as a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva (“… Night, like a black sun.”). One of Koskinen’s fellow computer music students at the IRCAM, François Sarhan, calls Soleil noir “one of my favorite works of his”[12], and recalls the discussions they had at the time about the possible nature of the missing fifth movement/miniature (which Koskinen composed only later in 2006), showing the process was spread over time. As it is in many ways a sister work to the contemporaneous Hamlet-Machine for viola and ensemble, displaying similar material and a comparable structure of individual voice(s) diffracted by other instruments throughout ephemeral solos, one could say that its elements have kept proliferating in Koskinen’s music even in the later music theatre work Ophelia/Tiefsee (2017).

The String Quartet No. 1 (premiered by Quatuor Diotima at the Takefu International Music Festival in Japan in 2005) is ostentatious in embracing for the first time in all of Koskinen’s output a traditional name and numbering, and this can only stand as a statement. Rather than as a ‘phase’ or even a ‘fit’ of Neoclassicism in the composer’s career, this should be understood as crystallizing his constant need to mold his research in a dialogue with tradition(s), a dialogue that is spoken in the language of forms. Tellingly, the opus was followed by other numbered works for classical instrumentations, including most importantly a Symphony No. 1 (2006) that explored the possibilities of the symphonic form as a kind of ‘urban polyphonic novel’, and like the many organ works also written by Koskinen in the same period, the first quartet and symphony toy with the idea of subverting a traditional linear sense of time with cyclical structures. But although playing with harmonies more euphonic than previously and a more linear arc, and coming from an obvious student of Haydn (on whose Quartet opus 103 he would later write a variation), the String Quartet No. 1 is rather reminiscent of another student’s, Anton Webern’s, string quartet opus 28, in its moody and atmospheric alternation of chord expositions and harmonic landslides. The fact that the first movement quotes Koskinen’s own Madame de Sade (in its first 1998 version) is both a reminder of the work’s connection to earlier material and an explanation to the cantabile and dramatic quality of a quartet that never lingers in scholarly variations, but as in the composer’s ulterior orchestration always darts towards a seemingly unattainable climax located in the high register, and ends instead in the mellifluous but interrupted exposition of a melody.

The String Quartet No. 2 (premiered by the Borea Quartet at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland in 2016, composed 2014 and workshopped in Japan in 2016) combines from the onset characteristics from the two previous, since besides its catalogue number it also holds a more elaborate subtitle: Under a Ginkgo Tree in Tiergarten. In a most literal interpretation, the double title would suggest a mature synthesis between youthful post-Spectral color-painting and later interest for classical form, and the subtitle would reflect both the composer’s move to Berlin and his new Japanese connection. Although this is biographically correct – Koskinen speaks of the resilience of the ginkgo tree historically adapting to European climate as a model for himself settling in a new country[13] – this No. 2 is leaning much more than its predecessor towards a classical melodic sound world and linear development. The work’s three movements, unfolding each in a continuous flow that barely ever pauses for a beat of silence, first seem far away from Koskinen’s usual broken, somewhat voluntarily breathless quality – that is, until realizing each movement ends on a pianissimo interruption, reframing the entire work as the offering, from the same aphoristic compositional mind, of a virtuoso study in elasticity, which upon a closer listen relishes in angular twists and turns and pizzicati. Definitely a curiosity in Koskinen’s output, this quartet is again more interestingly understood as a mood in a palette than as a phase: a presentation of the dance-composer Koskinen, whose taste for a clearly yet nervously drawn musical idea, as in a calligrapher’s brushstroke, takes its most solar and generous form. It is to be noted that there is again an explicit connection to other work: a lot of the material is shared with the opera Lusia Rusintytär, which was composed at the same time.

The String Quartet No. 3 is a novelty that was completed in July 2022 and hasn’t been premiered yet. Its title marks a return to dry numbering, but it contains an epigraph from Georg Trakl’s poem Frühling der Seele that ends with an exclamation that seems to tie a lot of previous threads together: Strahlender Sonnenabgrund – “Radiant abyss of the sun”. The music does shine in a manner more misty than sunny, and as a whole hovers calmly out of silence and back into silence with sparse shimmers of melody and color. Much more typical both of Koskinen’s harmonic transition work and of his pointillistic and at times explosive string orchestration than the previous quartet, this opus reaches back to Soleil noir all while owning the full-blown condensed energy of his mature pieces. Koskinen’s dialogue with Japanese culture is also elusively – secretly, as Clément Mao-Takacs would say – present through the ghostly transposition of shō harmonies and of the Shingon Mantra of Light. Although some other components connect with Koskinen’s Japanese works, the latter alone is sufficient to tie this quartet to an operatic project like its predecessors: the mantra was popularized in Japan by the monk Myōe Shonin, whose dream diary is the basis of a broader work-in-progress. Although all of the shoots of this specific tuber in Koskinen’s rhizome haven’t yet sprung – and it might be bold to assume that any of the previous quartets are any different in this respect, since their material and themes continue their growth somewhere – we can already see it connect with multiple existing developments, and probably many that have not been identified yet. It does confirm once again the manifold inner connections within a composer’s body of work that need to be assessed in their interconnectedness, and as a centerless field of possibilities, like Koskinen’s music itself, ready as it is to explode in unexpected eruptions.

6. Turning points & Continuities

Having now a more general view on Koskinen’s body of work, it seems that the characteristics of his treatment of the rich material at hand appear more clearly.

In a 2015 interview for the Finnish broadcasting company YLE, recorded between the premiere of his fifth opera and his first teaching semester in Aichi, Koskinen reflected on his art and gave a list of what he thought important to pass on in the field of music: “Motion, metamorphosis, erosion, weathering, flow.”[14] The list was provocatively laconic, even more so because it was made in the context of the Jean Sibelius jubilee and originally responded to a prompt to talk about Finnish music – Koskinen’s answer instead insisted on the importance of other cultures in his own background and the development of music in general, and spoke of “Finnish-European-global” music. The statement, apart from its value in dismantling chauvinistic thinking about music (which in Finland has political importance regarding the way the figure of Sibelius is instrumentalized by the far-right), can go both ways: Koskinen’s interest in musical processes of transformation/erosion was nurtured by the way they are realized in different traditions and with different tools, and the same interest also allowed him to connect these tools and traditions within his music in an organic way, as another (meta-)erosion of pre-existing boundaries.

A manifesto of sorts is the six-minute piece TEN, scored for five instruments (including Japanese percussions) and soprano, which was premiered by the Japanese Ensemble [H]akka in Hiroshima in 2019. The piece is written in full awareness of the shadows haunting the location of its premiere, and as it slowly unfolds an esoteric mantra in a fragile interstate between European and Japanese vocal techniques, the text seems to be surrounded by destruction that could – to the listener’s unease – be either past or impending, or both. Not only an example of weathered intersecting layers and of musical bīja/seeds, TEN exemplifies another key feature of Koskinen’s music, contained in the Japanese meaning of its title: ‘turning point’.

Turning points could be said to be central to Koskinen’s macrostructures in general. His works are typically not built towards a final climax – the climax, when it occurs, comes towards the middle of the piece, and the final section is devoted to unwinding it, to processing a high-intensity event closer to a surge of violence than an orgasmic resolution. In TEN, the titular turning point comes in the middle too, on a silent fermata that follows an intense recitative reminiscent of Noh theatre (and indeed announced by a traditional taiko drum). The fermata bears the unusual instruction: “During this long fermata all the performers make a silent prayer.” Unabara for plucked-string instrument trio (2020) contains a similar moment in a structurally similar middle-spot, offering the performers a one-minute-long Katve-kadenssi (Cadence of shade, or of in-between) in which they are free to retune, pray, meditate, read a favorite text or “wave at their support-person in the audience”.

This turning point is not always manifested in such a stretched-out silence, but it can always be understood as a process of ‘loading’ the silence that follows the end of the performance, in another trait that is broadly cross-cultural and of particular weight in Japan.[15] The replacement of the climax with a turning point also means embracing the ambiguity of a conclusion that cannot be said to be victorious and that doesn’t make Manichean choices about the state of mind in which one should return to one’s everyday life. It resembles grieving: an unresolved state that can turn to extremes, and that contains both anxiety and hope. Many musical gestures that Koskinen typically uses in the final sections of his pieces, such as the high-pitched airy flute calls repeated in Sogni di Dante (2004), Sogni di Myoe (2015) and in Ophelia/Tiefsee (2017), that could be either a tired victory call or an emergency post, but are simply marked in the score as luminoso.

The epigraph of the koto-piece Usugōri (2018) is a quotation from the Noh play Tatsuta that is originally a quotation from the Chinese Buddhist monk Zhiyi – it describes the light of Buddha as always appearing ‘tempered’ and ‘merged with dust’, and hence difficult to recognize but ready to be uncovered even in lowliest places. This is also why light never appears at full intensity in Koskinen’s music: instead it always shines through textures and cracks, and commands focused attention to be perceived. That state of attention into which the composer tries to invite us has its counterpart in his own attitude made present in the careful, always clearly delineated gestures in which he takes each step together with his listeners. The title Usugōri, that means ‘thin ice’, is a good emblem of such a compositional attitude, and to a Finnish listener is reminiscent both of cautious footsteps and stops on the frozen sea, and of the finest cracking sounds that resound in a damp snowy silence. Composing on thin ice is an attitude and a method for times of distress and announced collapse such as ours.

These cautious steps cannot come with big breaks and leaps, and it is no surprise that Koskinen’s music, both in each separate piece and in his career as a whole, is structured like a search of continuity within interruption. Whether we are talking about harmony or a relationship to historical traditions, it always looks for inflexion points instead of either repetition or clean breaks and slates. As we have established, some lines or shoots have been spanning decades worth of his music.

Lines are continued in the form of collaborations, as well. We have already mentioned the fact that for instance Koskinen’s opera work, his music for Baroque instruments or his music for Japanese instruments has developed over the course of multiple collaborations with the same artists, and the same can be said of the cycle of works for clarinet created with Lauri Sallinen, or earlier his organ music written for Jan Lehtola. Another fascinating ten-year collaboration is Koskinen’s association with Finnish guitarist Patrik Kleemola.

Koskinen’s music for guitar is a musical trail in itself, connected to all of his music for plucked strings throughout Baroque and Japanese instrumentation too. One of its starting points or seeds is the short guitar piece Der Bau (premiered in 2009 by Rody van Gemert) and its derivatives erBa (2009, for two guitars) and Cinq fontaines de la fortune (2014, for guitar and cembalo), all concerned with both ancient musical inspiration[16] and Franz Kafka’s short story Der Bau (The Burrow), in which the first-person narrator is a creature digging himself a safe space underground, only to be threatened by the approach of a potentially hostile sound source. The sensorial associations are obvious, from the gestures of kratzen (scraping) and scharren (scratching) that are transposed on the instrument to a thoroughly intimate blind world of sonic impressions and threats. This line is continued in the work with Patrik Kleemola first in the solo piece Foco interno (2011), an 11-minute-long somewhat immersive sensorial experience that reminds of Kafka’s animal’s anxious digging, augmented with extended techniques and humming. As the collaboration continued Kleemola could see the material transform: “Maybe it is thanks to his Japanese influences that the expressive power of silence in Juha’s music for guitar has grown”, he ponders. “This suits very well an instrument whose dynamics must be built by hand precisely from the silence.”[17] In Taizōkai (2015), whose title refers to the mandala of the ‘Womb Realm’ used in Shingon Buddhism, the blind underground burrow-tomb merges into the more promising image of the pre-natal matrix, and ends in the memory of a Bach chorale celebrating the mystery of nativity. This idea was continued in das zur Ruhe kommen der Mondscheibe im Herzen for guitar, violin and cello (2019) that incorporates elements of a shōmyō hymn connected to the same mandala. In this piece a ‘Tuning cadenza’ similar to that of Unabara also incorporates an element of humor that is equally present in Ramento for solo guitar (2020), a prayer for compassion that seems comically stuck between Finnish Lutheranism and Buddhism. Although the way these works connect with contemporaneous pieces for other instrumentations is pretty easy to trace, the influence of the performer’s personality should not be overlooked, as Koskinen has endowed the works he wrote for Kleemola with a particular tone. These latest miniatures that experiment freely with the intertwining of his own various influences open the door to new music that is yet to be imagined.

Open endings

The clearest last impression and aftertaste left by many of Koskinen’s works’ lack of classical resolution is the sense of an open ending – the acknowledgement of the fact that we are not done making music, even as we collectively walk on thin ice indeed. The continued life on the same material over decades, including after years of invisible growth, also is an indication that the process is never completed for good. And collaborations, old and new, also create a chain of transmission for music to continue.

Not only constantly going ‘back to school’ to study new sources of inspirations, Koskinen has also become a figure inspirational for younger Finnish composers for his broad perspectives, his music theatre work, his inventiveness within craftsmanship, patient attitude in building towards new horizons, and the advice he always offers to those who ask.

Miika Hyytiäinen underlines: “Insightful use of vocal registers, skillful orchestration, internalized compositional technique are not self-evident things in the field of experimental music theatre. It’s only now that I can appreciate how Koskinen has early on found a balance in truly looking for something new and interdisciplinary all while carrying technical sovereignty. This is the position from which he still seems to create art that as gesamtkunstwerk levels solitary and collective work, and condenses both humor and a certain discreet wisdom.”

Outi Tarkiainen, a successful younger colleague who is also making a breakthrough as an opera composer, reminisces along the same lines: “Koskinen is a major Finnish composer of his generation, idiosyncratic, invariably surprising and truly cosmopolitan. Juha’s music takes hold of the heart just as it challenges the mind – the infinite richness of details, the inventive orchestration and the infallible sense of drama are to me the main characteristics of his musical language. I am thankful for all of his advice.”[18]

Some of Koskinen’s works keep growing in the repertoire of ensembles and soloists, and a lot remains to be unearthed as it has disappeared after the premiere, according to the senseless custom of the new music economy, of which in particular orchestra music suffers immensely – as is demonstrated by Koskinen’s many gems for orchestra and ensemble, of which I mentioned a few, that are awaiting a revival. Much is also left to be written. Hopefully this essay can contribute to the acknowledgement of the wide existing range of his works, and help spark curiosity for a music that is itself curious in all the meanings of that word.

Aleksi Barrière, October 2022

Aleksi Barrière & Juha T. Koskinen © Julia Schroeder

Additional ressources:
Juha T. Koskinen’s website jtkoskinen.net
Music Finland score cataloguecore.musicfinland.fi/composers/juha-t-koskinen
Soundcloudsoundcloud.com/jtkoskinen


[1] Kimmo Korhonen, “New music of Finland”, New Music of the Nordic Countries, John D. White (ed.), Hillsdale (NY, USA), Pendragon Press, 2002, pp. 121–286.

[2] Sibis 1/2002, quoted by Vesa Sirén, “Nuoret paheksuvat Rautavaara-ilmiötä”, Helsingin Sanomat, 08/05/2002.

[3] From Liisamaija Hautsalo’s interview article “Juha T. Koskinen: Säveltäminen on uudistamista – tradition rajoissa”, FIMIC, 2005.

[4] Liisamaija Hautsalo, “The New Finnish Opera Boom”, Finnish Music Quarterly, March 2000.

[5] Quotations from Miika Hyytiäinen are from his tribute text (see Appendix).

[6] Vesa Sirén, “Voiko ooppera olla nopeaa ja terävää?”, Helsingin Sanomat, 06/11/2002.

[7] Quotations from Clément Mao-Takacs are from his tribute text (see Appendix).

[8] Auli Särkiö, “Säveltäminen on purjehdusta halki kaaoksen”, Verkko-Särö, 09/09/2019. https://verkkosaro.sarolehti.net/saveltaminen-on-purjehdusta-halki-kaaoksen/

[9] Juha T. Koskinen, “Metropolista Keski-Suomeen”, Amfion, 15/07/2009. http://www.amfion.fi/metropolista-keski-suomeen/

[10] See both of his articles on the subject in the musicological review Musiikin suunta: “Säveltäjä shōmyōn johdattelemana” (2018) and “Näkökulmia Tendai-shōmyōn perusteisiin” (2019).

[11] Juha T. Koskinen, “Toista kohti kurkottaen”, Rondo Classic, 30/11/2019. (Also archived on the composer’s website.)

[12] Quotations from François Sarhan are from his tribute text (see Appendix).

[13] Kimmo Korhonen, “Monien merkitysten jousikvartetto”, Rondo Classic, 01/07/2016.

[14] “Säveltäjänä Suomessa – Juha T. Koskisen puheenvuoro”, YLE, 30/09/2015. https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2015/09/30/saveltajana-suomessa-juha-t-koskisen-puheenvuoro

[15] On the Japanese perception of this silence, one can read Lasse Lehtonen’s article “TEN (転)—between two worlds” published on the composer’s website, containing also interviews of the Japanese performers of the piece. https://jtkoskinen.net/ten-between-two-worlds/

[16] Auli Särkiö, op. cit.

[17] Quotations from Patrik Kleemola are from his tribute text (see Appendix).

[18] Quotations from Outi Tarkiainen are from her tribute text (see Appendix).


APPENDIX: Tribute texts

As I was researching this essay, I suggested a few of Juha T. Koskinen’s colleagues and collaborators to write a short testimony that would also serve as a tribute on his 50th birthday. There are to be found below in their entirety and original languages.

Miika Hyytiäinen:

Jo useamman vuoden ajan on maantieteellisesti ja esteettisesti lähelläni majaillut eräs Juha, jolta olen saanut tarkkoja älykkäitä huomioita aiheesta kuin aiheesta. Tämän herrasmiesmäisen ja hieman pidättyväisenkin taiteilijan kanssa en kuitenkaan puhu eräästä Juha T. Koskisesta, vuosituhannen taitteen oopperasäveltäjästä, joka sai melkeinpä myyttisen sädekehän.

Syynä tämän hahmon tarunhohtoisuuteen olivat erityisesti Ooppera Skaalan kanssa tuotetut musiikkiteatteriteokset Velhosiskot (1996), Eukko – pidättekö vainajista (2000), Brunelda – Amerikan sydän (2002) sekä Madame de Sade (eri versioina, viimeinen 2010). Ne kuuluvat siihen suomalaisen oopperan buumiin, joka huipentui vuonna 2000 peräti 14 suomalaisen oopperan kantaesitykseen, joista Eukko siis oli yksi. Tämä liike teki varmasti suomalaisesta oopperakentästä moniäänisemmän, mutta rakenteiden lisäksi se vaikutti myös yksilöihin. Syvällisellä tavalla omaan käsitykseeni musiikkiteatterin mahdollisuuksista vaikutti Koskisen oopperoiden sijoittuminen itsestäänselvästi osaksi eurooppalaista oopperatraditiota.

Erityisesti Saksalaisten musiikkiteatterisäveltäjien ja dramaturgien synkin tuomio on “Mozartia väärillä nuoteilla”, siis oopperaa, jossa vain musiikin pintakerros on vuosisatojen saatussa muuttunut. Koskisen oopperoissa näin ei koskaan ole, vaan dramaturgia ja tapa ajatella musiikkiteatteria ovat aina syvällisellä tavalla uusia. Tällaista suhdetta tekstiin, esittäjyyteen, ihmisääneen ja huumoriin ei yksinkertaisesti olisi voinut olla olemassa vielä sata vuotta aiemmin. Näistä teoksista tuli itselleni jonkinlainen henkireikä ja osoitus siitä, että hitaasti muualla puhaltavat tuulet vaikuttavat myös Suomen ilmanalaan.

Oikeastaan vasta siirryttyäni itse keski-Eurooppaan, havaitsin Koskisen musiikin toisen puolen. Se on yksinkertaisesti taitavasti ja huolella tehtyä. Sibelius-Akatemian taikapiirissä tämä saattaa tuntua triviaalilta, mutta tarkkanäköinen laulurekisterien käyttö, sujuva orkestraatio ja satsiopin sisäistynyt käsityötaito eivät olekaan kokeellisen musiikkiteatterin kontekstissa itsestäänselvyyksiä. Siksi osaan vasta jälkeenpäin arvostaa sitä, että Koskinen on löytänyt jo varhain tasapainon, jossa voidaan etsiä aidosti uutta ja poikkitaiteellista, mutta silti kannatella mukana teknistä suvereeniutta. Tästä positiosta hän tuntuu luovan nykyäänkin taidettaan, joka tasapainoilee kokonaistaideteoksena itsenäisen ja yhteistyön välillä, kiteyttää huumorin ja hillittyn viisauden.

Patrik Kleemola:

Yhteistyöni Juhan kanssa alkoi sooloteoksen Foco interno (2011) myötä. Teoksen ensimmäinen osa Foco on todellakin nimensä mukaisesti tuskallisesti polttavaa musiikkkia. Teoksen piinallisen repetiiviset motiivit herättivät huomiota ihan kotipiirissäkin teosta harjoitellessa. Toisessa osassa Interno on jäljellä enää tyhjyys säveltäjän lainatessa otsikossa Paul Celania:

“In der Mandel – was steht in der Mandel? Das Nichts.”

Juhan toinen minulle kirjoittama soolokitarakappale Taizõkai (2015) tietyllä tavalla muistuttaa Foco internon muotoa pienoiskoossa, mutta merkittävin eroin. Foco internon lopun“ei-mikyys” saa Taizõkaissa huomattavasti toiveikkaamman lopun Bach koraalimukaelman muodossa. Pohjalla oleva koraali on Bachin kantaatista BWV 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein, jonka voi myös ajatella heijastelevan laajemminkin syntymän ihmettä. Taizõkai-nimi viittaa japanilaisen shingon- buddhalaisuuden mandala-kuvioon ja siihen liittyvän “kohtumaailmaan”.

Japanilaiset vaikutelmat Juhan teoksissa ovat korostuneet tuoreimmissa teoksissa Das zur Ruhe kommen der Mondscheibe im Herzen (2019) viululle, kitaralle ja sellolle sekä Ramento (2019- 2021) soolokitaralle. Ehkäpä juuri japanilaisvaikutteista johtuen Juhan kitaramusiikissa hiljaisuuden ilmaisuvoima on kasvanut. Ja tämä sopii erinomaisesti soittimelle, jonka dynamiikka täytyy rakentaa nimenomaan hiljaisuudesta käsin. Pitkä matka on tultu yli kymmenen vuoden takaisesta intensiivisen piinavasta Foco internon musiikista viimeisimpiin teoksiin, joihin on tullut tilan tuntua ja hengittävyyttä teos teokselta. Vuosien varrella olen tutustunut Juhaan paremmin ja hän on monesti käynyt luonani Turussa ja olemme nähneet myös Helsingissä kuin Milanossakin. En kutsuisi Juhaa ehkä romantikoksi, mutta oman elämän tapahtumat kuuluvat hänen musiikissaan, valitsemissaan aiheissa kuin itse sävelkielessä, sanattomana ilmaisuna.

Turussa 27.9.2022

Clément Mao-Takacs:

La musique de Juha est secrète. Je veux dire par là qu’elle renferme des secrets – allusions, [auto]citations, souvenirs… – mais si bien cachés que même une oreille avertie ne peut les reconnaître aisément. Pourtant, quelque chose en nous les perçoit, et il semble bien que cette musique sécrète quelque chose qui nous est étrangement familier et cependant absolument neuf. La musique de Juha est une armoire à poisons, où chaque fiole semble un inoffensif sirop aux couleurs attrayantes qu’on désire boire ; et c’est seulement lorsqu’il est trop tard que l’on comprend que l’on a goûté un liquide fatal, qui laissera traces et séquelles en nous. Une lente sécrétion des poisons dans le secret de notre corps entendant : voilà le mal délicieux que maîtrise à merveille Juha T. Koskinen. Si l’on ne se méfie pas, on prend cette musique à la légère (car elle sait se faire légère comme plume, translucide comme un disque de glace ou de sucre filé) : on aurait grand tort. Car le compositeur et sa musique poursuivent un but que seuls ils pressentent et parfois connaissent, un art des mystérieux dosages subtils. D’un geste malencontreux, nous pourrions mourir d’un coup ou bien ne rien ressentir ; or toute la science de Juha est celle d’un inventeur malin et malicieux, qui veille à trouver la juste proportion. Juha est un disciple de l’Apollon delphique – « Mêden agan » pourrait être son credo – ; il sait s’arrêter, frustrer, retenir, éviter, contenir, refuser – et il a toujours raison. Il sait adopter tous les tons, mais ne force jamais le trait ; au contraire, il a soin de toujours légèrement décaler les choses (notamment dans sa musique dramatique), offrant ainsi aux interprètes comme aux spectateurs un espace, une dimension, une ouverture supplémentaires. N’en déduisez pas que sa musique est sans profondeur ou froidement intellectuelle : je dirais bien plutôt qu’elle visite les profondeurs, avec constance et obstination, mais comme le ferait un sous-marin si perfectionné qu’il ne dérangerait pas la vie sous-marine qu’il nous donnerait à voir. Chaque œuvre du compositeur ressemble à une plongée explorant un recoin inconnu où l’on croit reconnaître des formes familières ; et il faut une patiente observation pour comprendre que ce qu’on croyait végétatif est en réalité vivant, que ce qu’on croyait aveugle est source de lumière, que le moindre plancton, la moindre algue, le moindre corail sont aussi nécessaires que l’immensité marine qui les entourent – à la fois résultant de cet environnement et participant à sa conservation comme à son évolution. La profondeur, les profondeurs ne sont pas chez Juha synonymes de pesanteur, mais plutôt de pression et d’impressions, de révélations insoupçonnées et bouleversantes. Qu’il s’agisse de haute mer ou d’un bocal – car ce n’est pas le moindre des talents de Juha que de nous faire croire à l’océanique alors qu’il ne s’agit que d’un aquarium –, ce qu’il nous donne à voir et à entendre, c’est le vivant et l’observation du vivant, l’accès à tout ce qui est tu, indicible, invisible, d’ordinaire silencieux ou caché à nos sens. Écrites dans le plus grand secret – avant de rencontrer interprètes et spectateurs –, les créations de Juha me semblent revenir sans cesse sur le secret de ce qui se crée, et de ce qui d’elles est sécrété : la présence de la vie jusque dans [ce qui a l’apparence de] la mort – une forme d’éternité retrouvée.

François Sarhan:

J’ai rencontré Juha en 1997 ou 1998, j’étais encore étudiant au conservatoire de Paris. On s’est revu de nombreuses fois dans ces années, et on partageait nos problèmes de compositeurs. J’ai un souvenir très marqué de ses œuvres de ces années là, notamment Hamlet-Machine, pour alto et ensemble, qu’il m’avait longuement commenté, à mon émerveillement. Soleil noir était aussi une de mes pièces favorites, la 5ème manquante (écrite beaucoup plus tard si je ne me trompe) étant sujet de spéculations entre nous.

Juha représentait pour moi à l’époque l’archétype d’une attitude romantique véhiculée par une musique nerveuse, agile, intransigeante. L’honnêteté intellectuelle et l’intégrité artistique irriguée de Dostoievski et Mishima en lutte avec une époque rationaliste et analytique. Il m’avait semblé à l’époque qu’il disait sans cesse « patience, patience », que je ne pouvais pas m’empêcher de lire comme une métonymie d’une crise existentielle permanente. J’avais à l’époque commencé une pièce pour baryton et ensemble où le chanteur répétait 300 fois « Patience », en son hommage. Il a regardé la partition et l’a regardée avec étonnement : « Mais j’ai jamais dit ça ! » Je n’ai jamais fini la pièce qui est sans doute perdue.

Outi Tarkiainen:

Juha T. Koskinen on omaperäinen, alati yllättävä ja aidosti kansainvälinen sukupolvensa eturivin suomalainen säveltäjä. Juhan musiikki pureutuu yhtä lailla sydämeen kuin haastaa mielen – loputon detaljien runsaus, kekseliäs orkestrointi ja erehtymätön draaman taju ovat minulle hänen sävelkielensä keskeisiä tunnusmerkkejä. Olen Juhalle henkilökohtaisesti kiitollinen monesta: kuinka hän avasi minulle Berliinissä asuessani oopperan maailmaa vanhemman kollegan viisaudella ja varoitti monesta sudenkuopasta. Juhan rohkaisemanaan uskaltauduin jopa heittämään esikoisoopperani ensimmäisen libreton roskakoriin, joka osoittautui merkittäväksi askeleeksi eteenpäin teoksen lavalle saamisessa! Lämpimät onnittelut Juhalle!

LE SPECTACLE « LA LEÇON D’ANATOMIE » DES VISSEURS DE CLOUS

Faire de l’histoire par les objets, faire de la politique par les images, penser par le plateau. On a parfois de tels rêves. Que le théâtre ne soit pas la « mise » en scène d’idées – ou, comme on dit laidement, leur vulgarisation – mais le lieu de leur production et mise à l’épreuve. C’est à cela que s’emploie le spectacle La Leçon d’anatomie de la compagnie Les Visseurs de clous, qui certes parle du tableau du même nom de Rembrandt, mais mérite aussi pour lui-même le titre de leçon d’anatomie, dans son effort de déplier pour nous le corps humain et ses représentations.

Dans ce spectacle, deux narrations s’entrelacent : une représentation de marionnettes à gaine, donnée dans un castelet évoquant ceux du 17e siècle, qui propose une variation grotesque sur le motif du médecin (le fameux Docteur Tulp peint par Rembrandt) qui, dans son obsession macabre de pratiquer la dissection, trimballe à travers mille vicissitudes le cadavre qu’il est allé déterrer au cimetière, et dans une joyeuse cohue anachronique qui mélange références historiques, picturales et marionnettiques, rencontre le capitaine Cocq de La Ronde de nuit dans le rôle du gendarme benêt à la guignol, et bien sûr la Mort elle-même, un peu dépassée par l’évolution des mentalités à l’orée de l’âge scientifique. Entre les scènes de cette intrigue superlative, un personnage d’historien de l’art aux airs de bibliothécaire anarchiste vient livrer au public une leçon sur Rembrandt, qui rapidement s’avère plutôt une enquête sur le cadavre qui s’étale, comme en gloire et ce au détriment du médecin censément célébré, en travers du tableau – celui d’Aris Kindt, criminel condamné et exécuté pour meurtre, et à ce titre objet anonyme de la dissection publique réalisée par le Docteur Tulp en 1632. En tirant le fil de l’histoire, mais surtout en regardant mieux les images, y compris telles qu’elles se recréent matériellement à travers les imaginaires vivants de la tradition de la marionnette à gaine, s’ouvre une archive culturelle impressionnante de nos représentations des corps marginaux et de notre rapport au diptyque sciences/pouvoir, ainsi que bien sûr à la mort elle-même.

C’est le meneur de la bande et du jeu, Pascal Laurent, qui tient ensemble les deux plans du spectacle en alternant manipulation de marionnettes et performance du rôle du conférencier, et qui opère leur rencontre quand, inévitablement, le dispositif est lui-même mis à nu et écorché : dans un climax sanguinolent le castelet dévoile ses entrailles en même temps que voix et gestes se dissocient, et les déconstructeurs de récits – c’est de bonne guerre – sont eux-mêmes déconstruits. Nous est par ailleurs constamment rappelé que pour faire penser par le plateau il faut davantage qu’un meneur brillant : en l’espèce, la finesse du regard extérieur de la metteuse en scène et co-autrice du texte Sarah Clauzet, la partition marionnettique virtuose du partenaire de jeu Pierre Puech, et la scénographie à la fois précise et de breloques de Julie Bernard. C’est bien par la matière, et son histoire, que Les Visseurs de clous travaillent la charge des images, comme ils l’ont fait dans d’autres spectacles dont les dramaturgies sont toujours aussi joyeusement bricolées (et machinées) que les dispositifs scéniques, et la réalisation imprégnée d’un humour qui est la marque d’un savoir-faire qui est aussi un savoir-vivre.Le modèle, qui fait paradigme pour un autre usage de l’histoire de l’art et une autre pratique du théâtre, est ici la « biographie » de Rembrandt par le peintre Kees Van Dongen (1927), mieux nommée par lui-même « histoire décousue ». À travers une façon associative et subjective d’interroger les événements et les personnages du passé, qui ne se refuse pourtant pas le plaisir de l’érudition et de la technicité, se propose une pragmatique de la pensée par les images. Une histoire qui s’écrirait par la récup’, à la Walter Benjamin et à la Peter Weiss, et qui penserait par montage de pièces à conviction, prises non comme matière morte mais comme machines à démonter-remonter. La marionnette s’offre alors comme outil idéal et emblématique – dans la continuité duquel se placent, ou se couplent, tous les autres moyens du théâtre, abordés sans hiérarchies indues – pour travailler au corps nos représentations enfouies et malignes, et les voix autres qu’elles étouffent. La main, par laquelle nous apprenons à penser en faisant, prend alors un sens que le Docteur Tulp n’avait pas su y trouver en la disséquant.

En savoir plus : le site de la compagnie Les Visseurs de clous

MONTER UN FEU (To Build a Fire)

C’est le début d’une aventure : celle des éditions L’extrême contemporain, menées par Alphonse Clarou, François Ballaud et Julien Vitaud. En reprenant le nom de la collection dirigée par Michel Deguy, qui vient de nous quitter, ils ont souhaité suivre une piste tout en proposant des bifurcations. Leur salve inaugurale de ce printemps comprendra de nombreux beaux ouvrages, et commence en mars 2022 par leurs deux premiers livres, qui reprennent sans répéter : la réédition augmentée d’un recueil de Michel Deguy (son premier ouvrage posthume donc), et ma traduction de la nouvelle de Jack London, To Build a Fire. C’est l’aventure d’une langue qui se réinvente en bordure du monde autant que dans l’acte de traduire, que j’espère partager avec vous. Et de même qu’il s’agit ici de monter un feu – et non, comme dans l’usuelle traduction maniérée, de le construire – ce petit livre blanc est lui-même un montage, qui présente ensemble les deux versions que London a écrites de cette nouvelle, les textes anglais originaux, et quelques outils donnés au lecteur pour ne pas partir sans équipement dans les étendues glacées du Klondike. Mais le fond de l’affaire, c’est plutôt l’équipe que l’équipement, et le texte, commencé comme une geste héroïque du baroudeur, vire à l’attaque cinglante contre ce pseudo-héroïsme solitaire-là, contre toutes les postures que nous avons héritées de la Ruée vers l’or qu’a vécue et que raconte London, et que notre société mobilise aujourd’hui dans le discours de la réussite individuelle. La contre-proposition de London est limpide et lumineuse : ne voyagez jamais seuls, ne partez pas dans le froid sans compagnons, et sans une langue qui est lieu d’accord et de débat. C’est là un feu qui brûle mais surtout qui nous tient chaud. Et soudain ce petit manuel de survie ne parle plus seulement du grand froid (qu’il décrit pourtant superbement) mais aussi de l’hiver plus métaphorique que nous habitons, que l’expérience des extrêmes nous apprend à affronter en même temps qu’elle nous y oblige.


Présentation pour la chaîne YouTube de la Librairie Mollat :

COMPOSTMODERNISM

For Aliisa Neige Barrière, to be performed during her Conducting diploma concert at Musiikkitalo, Helsinki. Premiered by actor Thomas Kellner, à la David Attenborough.


The way life circulates is by breaking life down into smaller pieces
and making new life out of them.
Some call this death. Some call it digestion. It’s a matter of perspective.
Of whether you are the one eating, or the one being eaten.

My father and my mother, they only donated two cells to me,
but more importantly they taught me (I mean passed on to me) the art of digesting.
The very first thing I learned when I was just a-little-cell-mass-in-the-womb
was how to secrete enzymes to break things down into nutrients I could absorb
and use as building blocks to grow into this person here.

As I walk in this forest, the forest is inside me.

Just like the enzymes in our digestive system
break down food into components that our body can use,
inside any ecosystem, chemicals dismantle life into pieces that other life feeds on.

In the soft ground crackling with dry leaves and branches under my feet,
bacteria, fungi, worms, and other invertebrates
make the forest digest and bloom, fueling the towering architecture of the trees.
They are called the decomposers.

You see, there are no composers on this floor.
These people who play and all of you listening,
together we are the de-composers.
This box in which we sit is an active compost.
Oh the heavy, fertile stench, you smell it too.
How warm it is, the effort, the sheer work,
hungry, loving, passionate,
of unmaking things so they may become part of us.
Creating chemical bonds through which we break the surface
of dead works to make them into life again.
And in us, as us, as the stuff that is us, they really are alive.

How green it is with shadows,
how full of scents of coal and rain,
the forest within us
that is the forest around us,
that we share, we the crowd of a thousand tongues,
the fruit of a thousand rounds of seasons,
rich with everything we have absorbed
each in the distinctive way that defines who we are.
We have roots and they are thirsty.
We the pirates, we the parasites.
We who study together how to decompose.

EN FINIR AVEC LA RÉPUBLIQUE MONOLINGUE [billet d’humeur]

Au moment où le débat politique s’articule pauvrement à partir des thématiques identitaires, la question de la langue devient un objet argumentatif récurrent. Comme tous les thèmes invoqués le plus souvent sans autres références qu’un illusoire bon sens, elle est livrée à des impensés qu’il est nécessaire d’interroger. La droite conservatrice est prompte à s’affoler des évolutions de la langue française et de la multiplication des langues entendues dans l’espace public, considérées symboliques des thématiques de l’immigration, de l’assimilation et du communautarisme. Mais elle n’en a pas l’exclusivité, et la question linguistique est tout aussi importante dans un certain discours de gauche qui se revendique « républicain » et qui n’interroge pas son propre jacobinisme fondamental et les présupposés de celui-ci. Les classes urbaines privilégiées retrouvent ainsi leurs liens historiques avec la bourgeoisie révolutionnaire, au moment de converger dans le combat de la défense du récit monolingue.

Une langue, un peuple, une nation : dans la revendication politique d’une histoire longue fantasmée s’oublie aisément l’élaboration de cette équation au simplisme délétère au cours du 19e siècle, dans le creuset d’un projet politique et du roman national qui lui servira de propagande. Non que le tribalisme n’ait pas toujours fait fond sur la question linguistique transformée en étendard identitaire – mais son application forcée à grande échelle, au-delà de la fonction véhiculaire reliant des communautés linguistiques distinctes, est le propre de l’État-nation moderne. Même le modèle de l’empire, principale superstructure d’asservissement sur tous les continents depuis l’âge d’or mésopotamien, s’accommode volontiers du plurilinguisme tant qu’il ne contredit pas la centralisation administrative. Car c’est bien celle-ci qui est l’enjeu de ce qu’on appelle une langue officielle, et l’ordonnance de Villiers-Cotterêts de 1539 n’impose le français parisien que pour les actes officiels – si tant est que l’expression « en langage maternel francoys » ne désigne pas les différents français régionaux, car nul ne pouvait alors prétendre nier le plurilinguisme de la France ni même le statut minoritaire du français spécifique de la dynastie régnante. Même si à partir de 1789 le projet révolutionnaire fut de littéralement « constituer » en un peuple, selon la formule célèbre de Mirabeau, « une agrégation inconstituée de peuples désunis », ce fut d’abord par les moyens institutionnels de l’Assemblée Nationale, dont les déclarations furent dans un premier temps systématiquement traduites dans les différentes langues françaises. Ce n’est que le décret du 2 Thermidor de Robespierre qui, en 1794, acte la politique linguistique jacobine qui devait pour certains devenir quintessentielle à la République française, au fur et à mesure de sa théorisation au moment des réveils nationaux post-révolutionnaires – processus qui culmine dans la révision constitutionnelle de 1992 qui, symptomatiquement pour traiter l’embarras de l’héritage des territoires d’outre-mer, en un colonialisme qui se retourne sur la métropole, introduira tardivement dans l’article II de la Constitution de la Ve République la phrase : « La langue de la République est le français ».

L’idée selon laquelle il serait possible d’unifier un espace linguistique, et de le figer par les prescriptions, est une monstruosité contraire au mouvement même de la langue, qui est non seulement d’évolution, mais surtout plus spécifiquement de divergence et de différenciation. Les quelques repentances, péniblement obtenues, qui ont conduit à revaloriser les langues régionales pour leur valeur « patrimoniale » ou à accorder à certaines minorités un enseignement scolaire marginal de leurs langues, ignorent largement ce fait, et n’inversent en rien des siècles d’uniformisation forcée de la population par la langue. Elles ne le peuvent pas, car elles sont inféodées au dogme de la « République indivisible » jacobine dont rien ne doit perturber l’homogénéité vécue comme légitimation sociale du régime, sa légitimation théorique venant de son caractère supposément universaliste. Car comment serait-elle universalisable, en pensée et en droit d’abord et dans le fait colonial ensuite, si elle n’était pas une mais multiple ? Qu’importe alors si cette vocation universelle est contredite par la réalité que la langue des élites parisiennes n’est pas la langue de tous, et que sans cesse de nouveaux arrivants sont venus remettre en cause l’homogénéisation linguistique qui tentait de s’imposer ? Car il ne faut pas ignorer que ce qui s’est joué dans la politicisation de la langue était bien de l’ordre de la domination, du centre contre les périphéries, de la ville contre la campagne, de la bourgeoisie contre la paysannerie puis contre les nouvelles classes laborieuses produites par chaque époque, chacune sommée de parler la langue patronale, jusqu’à aujourd’hui l’éboueur et le livreur UberEats dont celui qui reçoit les services s’indignera à grand bruit qu’il ne parle pas son français, tout en prétendant pudiquement nier le recoupement des réalités sociales et ethniques dans les professions les plus précaires. Une des grandes défaites de la gauche institutionnelle sur le plan des idées est de ne pas avoir su se défaire du vocabulaire jacobin et d’en être venue aujourd’hui à parler « du peuple » au singulier plutôt que de classes plurielles, et à abdiquer la complexité des enjeux au bénéfice de la rhétorique populiste et, à l’occasion, souverainiste et identitaire. Ce mauvais rousseauisme de l’unité fantasmée est le cœur même du récit monolingue et de sa République, vouée à n’être plus obsédée que par sa propre perpétuation au détriment de tout projet politique ultérieur, et dont les objectifs d’intégration inconditionnelle ne peuvent qu’exacerber les altérités et offrir un terrain de chasse aux idéologues qui se nourrissent des vulnérabilités.

Que l’on s’entende, on ne niera pas l’utilité d’une langue commune où articuler les différences, d’une langue qui ne permette pas simplement de communier dans l’homogénéité mais aussi de débattre et de faire exister la démocratie dans la rencontre des paroles discordantes. Mais il y a un bond énorme entre l’affirmation d’une langue véhiculaire, comme il s’en instaure forcément dans toutes les aires plurilingues, et l’imposition hégémonique d’une seule langue au détriment des autres. La République à la française semble tout ignorer des nombreuses variantes existantes du plurilinguisme : de la séparation possible entre l’idiome standard et les langues locales ; de la manière dont se forment les pidgins dans lesquels les langues voisines se mélangent jusqu’à devenir mutuellement intelligibles ; des occurrences, aussi, qui prennent le plurilinguisme à bras le corps dans la vie politique. À cet égard le continent africain – même en dehors du legs des colonisations européenne et arabe, mais a fortiori en prenant en compte leurs répercussions directes – présente des exemples multiples de toutes ces configurations, tout en bruissant par ailleurs d’une diversité linguistique incroyablement supérieure à celle de l’Europe. La diversité des langues peut, là comme ailleurs, traduire la réalité de divisions sociales et ethniques importantes, voire critiques ; mais elle ne fait que les manifester, pas les produire. La République, par pensée magique, inverse la cause et l’effet, et croit en effaçant les différences linguistiques faire disparaître les divisions sociales qu’elles manifestent, avec la même sérénité qu’elle met à décréter l’égalité entre les sexes, les ethnies et les classes sociales, en croyant l’instituer par son simple refus de regarder les inégalités réelles et les indigénats de fait. Les marginaux seront ceux qui ne parlent pas la même langue, au sens étroit comme au sens large – le français dont et que nous parlons étant un résidu rigide et nivelé de cette riche constellation d’idiomes qui, au moment de l’ordonnance de Villiers-Cotterêts encore, possédait par contraste des ressources de plasticité, d’invention et de variantes que nous ignorons au 21e siècle, mais que nous pouvons effleurer quand nous donnons droit de cité aux accents, aux dialectes, aux mélanges et à la création littéraire.

C’est contre le vide de pensée monolingue, dont la pauvreté de la parole de la monoforme politique et médiatique est l’expression la plus désolante, que doit être défendue la richesse du plurilinguisme. Pas par l’argument utilitariste libéral qui incite à apprendre certaines langues pour les bénéfices d’une carrière future ou parce qu’il faut voyager et voir le monde avant de s’établir et de faire fructifier le capital de son éducation et de son « expérience ». Mais parce qu’à l’échelle d’un territoire autant qu’à celle d’un individu, le récit monolingue est abrutissant autant qu’il est irréaliste. La navigation entre différents niveaux de langage, différents dialectes dans le paysage géographique, différents sociolectes dans le paysage social, différents jargons professionnels, différents argots, différentes langues privées, etc. est une réalité inévitable. Même dans le développement d’un enfant, l’expérience des façons différentes de communiquer des parents et de leur dialectique (que la différence soit proprement linguistique ou non) est fondamentale. À cet égard, il est absolument nécessaire d’encourager l’apprentissage précoce des facultés linguistiques, donc la capacité à employer les ressources propres de différents codes linguistiques, à les alterner et à les faire entrer en friction. Les langues dans lesquelles l’histoire des groupes sociaux et culturels se manifeste en est l’arène privilégiée, et le lieu inéluctable de la rencontre fertile avec l’autre – inéluctable parce que tout territoire que l’on voudrait résumer à un terroir est toujours, d’une manière ou d’une autre, aussi une frontière linguistique.

Outre un enthousiasme modéré pour les langues régionales, la République monolingue dispose d’autres outils pour négocier son jacobinisme. La « créolisation » – un concept récemment réinvité dans le débat public par un Républicain dont le slogan fut naguère « La force du peuple », au singulier – n’est qu’un des aspects de la vie en territoire plurilingue, et de fait elle est un phénomène qui peut ne pas être prohibé, mais qui ne peut pas non plus être provoqué ou érigé en principe politique sinon par une métaphore abusive. Le mot créolisation constitue certes un épouvantail efficace pour la pensée conservatrice, rétive à tout concept plus fin que celui d’identité, et qui ne manque donc pas de diaboliser tout mélange, toute mixité, nécessairement comprise comme « remplacement » de ce qui est présupposé homogène. À la décharge de telles théories, l’incapacité à penser le mélange est un vice caché de la pensée occidentale tout entière : l’intériorisation de la fascination pour le pur et l’essentiel, et la compréhension de son altération comme relevant de la souillure et de l’abâtardissement, a de profondes ramifications dont la plus tragique est certainement son application au corps social. De fait, cette orientation culturelle fondamentale a laissé même ceux qui pouvaient désirer penser le mélange dans l’incapacité conceptuelle de le faire. La métaphore du « melting pot », ou creuset, n’est ainsi pas une pensée du multiple, mais au contraire une mythologie de sa dissolution, par assimilation, dans une Unité retrouvée. Dans le même registre, l’image du brassage n’offre pour horizon que l’homogénéité réconfortante, quoique mousseuse, d’une boisson monochrome. Une certaine acception de la créolisation relève de la même logique, et célèbre la naissance d’une « communauté commune » opposée aux communautarismes, pour citer l’explication de ce même Républicain souverainiste qui aujourd’hui revendique ce terme, faisant une lecture fort nivelée des écrits d’Édouard Glissant : lecteur de Deleuze et Guattari, le philosophe martiniquais pensait la créolisation comme un choc des altérités à éprouver et négocier, comme une foisonnante « poétique de la relation » entre êtres et cultures qui se découvrent et qui constituent au contact les unes des autres leur identité et leur altérité, et produisent ainsi du nouveau. Les paroles sus-citées ont été prononcées dans un débat opposant le Républicain populiste à un populiste pétainiste qui, lui aussi, rêve l’unité perdue de la France – dans un tel duel s’affiche la pauvreté du récit monolingue, qui ne semble capable de concevoir la différence que comme s’imposant en identité tenace ou se résolvant dans une identité nouvelle. Jamais ne s’y affirme la fécondité de la négation dialectique et la complexité du multiple.

Nous devons entendre l’avertissement de Georges Bataille qui, dans La Structure psychologique du fascisme (1933), nous prévenait du danger des sociétés qui ne savent répondre à leur propre hétérogénéité que par l’obsession de l’homogénéité. L’avenir ne saurait se rêver monolingue et sans accents, dans une rédemption mythique apportée à Babel par l’artifice d’une langue universelle, qu’elle soit imposée par l’hégémonie de quelques uns au nom de la Nature ou de l’Histoire, fabriquée sur commande, ou née des brassages. Nous avons à notre disposition d’autres écoles : l’expérience des frontières qui nous traversent individuellement et collectivement, la valorisation des hybridations dont nous relevons tous dans nos origines et nos parcours, et surtout l’école la plus dure, celle de la traduction, qui constamment oblige à mesurer et rendre visibles les écarts qu’un monde de flux efficaces réclame d’effacer. Ces écarts ne sont solubles dans aucun universel, et c’est en les explorant que nous pouvons négocier terme à terme notre existence collective, construire une égalité qui ne soit pas que de droit, autour de réels communs, et de réels consensus qui naissent de l’affrontement des dissensus et non d’un statu quo mythique. En assumant notre condition plurilingue d’êtres nés dans un monde dont les structures mouvantes constamment nous séparent et nous relient.

NOTES ON MULTILINGUAL DRAMATURGY

The following notes have been developed in the aftermath of a session of Kirill Gerstein’s online seminar with the Kronberg Academy, for which I had suggested as a starting point the topic ‘Music & Dramaturgy in a Multilingual World’.


It has become increasingly simple, and indeed common, to create performances and films that use multiple languages, as the use of subtitles and surtitles is normalized and social change (along with more nefarious forces of market expansion) also allows for increased participation and representation of foreign cultures and languages.

There is something complex to navigate about the fact that a lot of my work as a writer/director involves the use of multiple languages, when ‘multilingual dramaturgy’ is a formal device rather than a unified genre or category into which those works might be lumped. I will try to unfold the history and implications of multilingualism as a formal trait in a work of art and explicate some of on my own experiences, in order to map out the ways in which it can be used and convey meaning. In this process, a broader goal comes to light: the challenging of an alienating Monolingual reality.

The Humanistic Legacy of a Dramaturgy of Quotation

In the following I shall focus on the inclusion of languages perceived as foreign relatively to the work’s main linguistic framework(s), meaning I will not address multilingual texts created within a multilingual context, such as multilingual lyrics (so-called ‘macaronic verse’) in areas and times where multiple languages are in close contact: for instance, the mixing of Latin and vernacular languages in the Middle Ages, Rumi’s combination of Arabic and Persian, Dante’s trilingual canzone, Yiddish-Slavic and English-Gaelic songs, or ‘Frenglish’ Canadian rap. Such cases are beautiful examples of the ways in which the written and sung word can crystallize multilingual realities. Not that they are devoid of questions about the relationship to the Other that will be examined here: all multilingual environments are structured by a relative social and symbolic hierarchy of the languages involved, and works representing them necessarily deal with those specific internal tensions and with foreignness, which is not a binary but a spectrum. But the inclusion of material that is not only internally foreignized but actually foreign begs different questions, starting with intelligibility, which is why I will here concentrate my efforts on that form of inclusion.

The very idea of including ‘foreign’ languages in an otherwise monolingual text comes from the literary practice of quotation. From the Bible to Montaigne’s Essays, quoting an original in its own language, within the limits of the reader’s assumed literacy, has been a common part of a writer’s palette. The range of these quotations’ functions would be a discussion of its own, from attaching conceptual importance to the linguistic specifics of the original, to local color, to erudition-signaling. This range is bound to inform any further use of multilingualism. What the following examples help pointing out, however, is a value system historically shared by most quotational dramaturgies, that can broadly be termed as humanistic.

Quotation was the matrix of the more profusely multilingual texts that became a staple of a certain avant-garde in the 20th century. The way Ezra Pound included foreign languages into his Cantos (or T.S. Eliot under his influence in The Waste Land) was chiefly under the form of quotation, liberated from the constraints of scholarly practice but not different in intent: creating text that weaves in multicultural content to suggest a broader narrative of continued literary and philosophical process, enacting the continuum of what Pound reclaimed through Goethe’s idea of a World-Literature. This happened to take the form of a mainly quotational use of multilingualism (rather than authoring original text in multiple languages), therefore unifying the practice of collage –a key technique in 20th-century avant-gardes– with the older tradition of scholarly intertextuality. In this we witness the first fully coherent and integrated dramaturgy of multilingualism, relying on an intuitively obvious equivalence between ‘foreign language’ and ‘foreign material’. It has, of course, been much derided as the crowning symptom of an art that relishes in pedantic obscurity. What was taken issue with was perhaps first and foremost Pound’s reliance on quotation, doing so in multiple languages being merely a maximization of the obstacle to broad reception. Pound himself was playful about this notion, however, and his texts present a quest rather than an exposé: “I shall have to learn a little greek to keep up with this / but so will you, drratt you.” (Canto 105) Multilingualism does not only make the many colors of a multicultural world visible, it forces upon the reader its challenges and the difficulty of embracing it, an endeavor in which we are together. As we face the existence of concepts and thoughts from other languages that are not easily translatable, our monolingual world is challenged and we also face Ludwig Wittgenstein’s anxious assessment that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (the first Cantos and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus happen to be contemporaneous byproducts of the civilizational collapse that was World War One and the end of Eurocentric empires). Pound’s threefold understanding of poetry as possessing visual, musical as well as intellectual dimensions, implies that an ideal experience of poetry would combine the specific ways in which each language explores these three dimensions, leading to a widened experience of reality. It may not be useless to remember how truly controversial the use of foreign languages (both linguistic and artistic) was in a time of heightened patriotic propaganda –leading for instance to the demise of the Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold who was accused of making ‘foreign theatre’ because he integrated East Asian influences– and indeed remains revolutionary for the same reason in our age.

The Avant-Garde from Quotation to Collage

Pound’s example had a lasting influence on the use of multilingualism in poetry, and in post-War Europe was emulated in particular in the field of music, re-uniting in a new formal crucible multilingual quotational poetry and the aesthetics of collage.

Musical technique is perhaps best suited to sophisticated manipulation of multilingualism, because it allows both expanded expressive possibilities on the individual level and the weaving of multiple levels into a unified whole in the form of polyphony, which is why musical examples will be central to the present analysis. The relationship to the intelligibility of text is also widely different in a musical context, especially in the Renaissance madrigal tradition which was at the core of historical humanism and, when rediscovered by Italian composers in the 20th century, served as a valuable model of formal freedom and complexity. In a musical setting, the text is traditionally divided into two simultaneous forms of reception: the printed out (possibly translated) version and the composed one which, not being under pressure of being immediately understood, might as well be in any language, or in multiple languages –a cue that was eagerly taken in particular in Italy, where rediscovered Renaissance tradition and the avant-garde formed a peculiar creative combination.

The convergence of practices of quotation and collage is best embodied by Luciano Berio’s collaborations with Edoardo Sanguineti, himself a neo-modernist heir of Pound and Eliot, whom he incidentally included in his multilingual collage libretto for Berio’s Laborintus II (1965). In this piece, as in Passaggio (1963) and A-Ronne (1974) that were crafted by the same pair, a dense texture of quotations is woven to highly colorful effect due to the use of original languages, based on the formal model of Sanguineti’s inaugural poem/collection Laborintus (1956): a monolingual backbone into which other languages are inserted, typically seamlessly mid-sentence, and usually in the form of quotations or at least references and nods. In the course of the Sanguineti/Berio collaboration, the libretti have tended to become less narrational as they also became more multilingual and quotational, and more choral in form: Passaggio is still centered on a protagonist, a woman going through a form of via crucis under the scathing attacks of a multilingual audience-choir, whereas Laborintus II derives from the linear narration of Dante’s first-person writings into a more proliferating and complex critique of consumer capitalism, and finally A-Ronne is thoroughly madrigalistic (musically) and even more (textually) structured by free associations, organizing modern mythologies according to the alphabetical order typical of the humanistic totem object, the encyclopedia (‘from A to Ronne’ being the ancient form of ‘from A to Z’).

Apart from the dramaturgical possibilities offered by intertextuality and his fascination for another Pound-influenced collagist, James Joyce, Berio himself had also come to mixing materials and juxtaposing languages separately, from a musical standpoint, and he explored the potential of quotational multilingualism also in pieces created without Saguineti such as his Folk Songs (1964) and Coro (1976), that juxtapose larger blocks of text in different languages (Coro also includes texts from non-European sources, but in translation rather than in original form). Berio’s taste for new sounds found in (linguistically or musically) foreign sources allowed him to offer some of the most cohesive solutions in creating a new whole from heterogeneous parts through compositional process –and he took the material seriously too, calling works such as Laborintus II and A-Ronne or his quotational Sinfonia (1968) ‘documentaries’, and concretely contributing to the discovery of cultures and authors, coalesced into a new World-Music. Other enactments of a similar humanistic ethos of quotational multilingualism include Bruno Maderna’s opera Satyricon (1974) which is one big quotation-machine, and Luigi Nono’s collage works of music theatre such as Intolleranza 1960 (1961), Al gran sole carico d’amore (1975) and Prometeo (1984, on a libretto by Massimo Cacciari). In Nono’s pieces in particular, the author’s internationalist communist stance finds a direct translation in the choice of source material that deals with the historical and intellectual legacy of the Left, and musical embracing of a multicultural world. They illustrate not only a functional advantage of multilingualism, namely the fact that quoting a text in its original foreign language also serves an immediate purpose which cannot be satisfyingly met within a monolingual text: immediately signaling that one is hearing a quotation –they also offer multilingualism, and its polyphonic potential, as a broader political paradigm, rooted in the humanistic tradition.

Toppling the Tower of Babel

The specific cultural context that allowed for such an Italian blossom of multilingual dramaturgies in music didn’t last –with notable exceptions, for instance Clay McMillan’s multilingual chamber cantata Siste Viator (2011) which deals directly with Pound’s legacy, with nods to the Sanguineti/Berio collaboration. Quotational multilingualism has been widely dismissed for a variety reasons, including again being elitist or being dated artistically and ideologically, in the wake of the purported death of ideologies that supposedly calls for a more postmodern use of quotation, where emphasis leans more heavily towards the aesthetics of collage than in the implications of multilingualism (on the coattails of Bernard Parmegiani). This doesn’t mean, however, that other paradigms of multilingualism didn’t develop next to and after this peak of the 1960s, paradigms that in contrast were not defined by their quotational origin.

The most common trope concerning multilingualism is that it is a state of division and separation between men, a curse and a punishment, because very much like we were chased out of the idle abundant paradise of Eden, when we became city-builders in Babel “the Lord confounded the [formerly single] language of all the earth, and from thence scattered [us] abroad upon the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:9). Although linguistics do describe the history of languages as one of continuous and inescapable drifting apart leading to mutual unintelligibility, the tragic mythological narrative of Babel entails a broader golden age fantasy that has its own history and implications: the loss of the unique original language has been equated to humankind’s separation from nature, and been understood as concomitant with the separation of speech from music. This fantasy leaves us with a more-or-less well-founded nostalgia for something we don’t remember, an aspiration to making what is divided one again, to rediscovering the Orphic key to a form of melodious communication not only within humankind, but also between humankind and nature itself –and the city-walls will crumble and the world will be our garden again. All forms of this fantasy don’t of course relish in such kitsch, but from the reinvention of opera under the guidance of Orpheus to talks of music as a universal language (including in the all but universal form of the tonal system) to every mystical attempt at returning to being part of a Whole, or simply like Rilke to listening to the ‘melody of things’, the Golden Age myth of language has pervaded even our modern mythology, and inevitably, our dramaturgies of music and multilingualism. In this second form of dramaturgy, sentimental nostalgia trumps erudite humanism.

The dysphoric version of this is the use of multilingualism to create an impression of chaos, of confusing multitude, a sensorial embodiment of our existential state of separation. One particularly articulate example is Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Hymnen, a version of which was first premiered in 1967. The piece is centered on a tape constructed from sampled national anthems from various countries and other multilingual material (for instance the word red in different languages), languages being in this instance explicitly assigned to national entities. As the languages/anthems are set against each other, they map a world of borders riddled with the antagonisms of Cold War –but in a narrative of redemption, the work gradually weaves them together into a recomposed whole, and leads to a utopian imaginary unified anthem of ‘Harmondie’ (Stockhausen had his own syncretic mythology based on the Bible-influenced Urantia Book and embraced its teleological consequences).

Deconstructed Babelism

Very different is the variation of the Golden Age fantasy to be found in the work of John Cage; neither tragic nor utopian, it is informed by his interest in Zen Buddhism as he came to study it through the teachings of Daisetz Suzuki. Because Cage fought out of principle the separation between the acts of music-making and of listening to the sounds of the world, in his view the Golden Age of belonging to the Greater Music was neither lost nor to be reconquered, but available anytime to anyone who’d care to listen, much like Rilke’s Orphic ‘melody of things’. Hence his piece for a cappella voice Aria (1958), composed from text in five languages, embraces a Babelesque condition of humankind but without antagonisms.

I happened to stage Aria within a one-woman vocal performance by singer Marianne Seleskovitch titled Give Me A Few Words (Paris, 2017) in which Cage’s piece was placed between other works that question the fragmentation of spoken languages into a more physical, pre-linguistic form of expression: Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III, which breaks a poem into sounds that reconstruct the content of the poem in the very effort of uttering it, next to Clément Mao-Takacs’s new work Ophelia: Songs & Sequences, which does pretty much the same thing in monodrama proportions with Shakespeare’s Ophelia’s ‘mad scenes’; the Lettrist poem Larmes de jeune fille by Isidore Isou, a rhymed piece in regular verse, however built only from non-semantic sounds; and Giacinto Scelsi’s , a series of textless vocalizations reminiscent of Hindu mantras. In this context that emphasized the quest of a personal voice through foreign material, Aria exemplified the purest form of a certain fragmented multilingualism: the singer is meant to perform fragments of texts in several languages, in different vocal styles left to the performer’s choice but marked in different colors (that don’t match the languages) with only rough indications of relative pitch and duration. The outcome sparks a Babelesque impression in the listener, and the fact that the fragments don’t coalesce into a unified text even if you understand or translate them indicates that this impression is its own purpose, that the work is not about conveying meaning but about the fragmentation of our means to convey it. My solution in staging this piece was to have the singer Marianne Seleskovitch interact with a radio (in the spirit of other works by Cage that utilize the radio as a sound-emitting object) and the first part of Aria presented a recording of Marianne’s own voice as a session of channel-hopping between radio stations, inspiring her character to perform the rest of the score as an imitation of that versatility –ending up in a competition of the human and the technological, and a display of expressive range that is beyond language, since in its incomprehensible multiplicity language has become indifferent. This interpretation of Cage’s work’s substance stemmed from an understanding of his use of multilingualism as a means to not communicate something through languages but stage language itself and move beyond it, the radio helping to create dialectics between the multiple voices of the outside and the way they inhabit and haunt the individual. As such, Aria is perhaps the most elegantly executed attempt at a Zen multilingual dramaturgy.

One other deconstructed variation on the Babel paradigm that I would like to mention is embedded in Diana Syrse’s monodrama Connected Identities (2017), on which I consulted as a dramaturge/librettist and which I staged in Paris in 2021. Diana conceived the piece as an autobiographical manifesto of her own experience of multiculturality (both as a Mexican mestiza and as an immigrant in the United States and in Europe) and wrote it for her own soprano voice, with the intent of putting her own body on stage as an exhibit. The piece is structured in concentric, widening circles of identity: the first movement, focused on Diana’s Mayan heritage, introduces the mythological hybrid creature nahual as a model, through a collage of ancient and modern poetry in Mayan languages that actually already are mutually unintelligible in their diversity (Lacandón, Tzotzil and Yucatec); the second movement, aptly titled ‘The Tower of Babel’, presents the confrontation with the world’s many cultures first in the form of a sampled multilingual tape (exhibiting the classic Babel trope), then of an English-language testimony by Diana herself that turns upside-down the expected estrangement and separation, replacing it with multiple identification: “in each world, my heart had learned to beat at a different tempo and my tongue dances a different rhythm / while I start to see these broken parts of myself in every one of you” –before breaking herself into multilingual expression. In this original reading of the Babel myth, the fragmentation of humankind into different languages is not understood as an alienating curse, but on the contrary as something that allows to account for the intrinsic fragmentation of the self, blending the individual and collective human experiences into one same proliferating multiplicity that becomes an experience of unity or rather interconnectedness. The work’s last movement –a song to which I wrote the text– offers a culmination that is not the expected redemption from the multiplicity of Babel, but instead finds its model in Jorge Luis Borges’s short story El Aleph, a contemplation on the possibility of watching the entirety of humankind in the same glimpse. The stake is then not the return to some primal undifferentiated whole, but a permanent dance with limitless alterity within which the self is negotiating its identity. The ending of this work led naturally to a sequel piece Diana created on texts I wrote under the title The Invention of Sex, that explored that negotiation in the form of the evolutionary development of sexual reproduction and its emotional stakes.

Furthermore, the latest piece composed by Diana Syrse on a text I wrote, Circe (premiered in 2021 in Erfurt) revolves more explicitly around the subject of language, again in the form of a multilingual monodrama (dubbed a ‘minidrama’ because of its miniature-like concision). The titular (purported) witch is presented as struggling with her ideal of being the solitary queen of her own metaphorical island, while being stuck between “the language of the Empire that rules over the seas” (English) and the language of her alienating relationship with a warrior, intimacy and violence being entangled in one dialect (German). In the course of the piece, the character explores the whole spectrum of language from primal, instinctual animal sounds to switching between monolingual spaces, to combining her languages into a mixed sabir. The open ending, that leaves her to her solitude without clarifying whether it is entirely emancipatory or a new form of alienation, is set in an improvised personal language. In this case the reference to code-switching and to the many layers of power through which we navigate when we navigate languages, struggles that perhaps do not have any redeeming resolution, simply bypasses the Babel paradigm.

Expanding Quotational Dramaturgy

In general I have come to find the Babel trope extremely unhelpful, because of its Biblical understanding of anything that is manifold, mixed or hybrid as cursed, and of course because of the implied nostalgia of a Golden Age and its mirror-fantasy of a utopian reunification, all of which are not without political consequence –this is the reason I have only ever approached it through works that undermine it fundamentally, such as Aria and Connected Identities. This has also led me to frustration with the commonplace limiting of multilingualism to this trope and to its consequences, commonplace to the point of ‘Babel’ often being an automatic phrase to describe anything multilingual. I have therefore found the quotational tradition to be a much more valuable point of reference and a potent counter-paradigm to conceive multilingual dramaturgies, although it does need to be expanded beyond cautious sprinkling of languages and references in order to really decenter us from the Monolingual reality. The legacy of European humanism needs to be reassessed critically, too.

The first experiences I had myself with mildly multilingual dramaturgies were instances that emerged organically from collage dramaturgies. Within the music theatre ensemble La Chambre aux échos, born from my collaboration with conductor Clément Mao-Takacs starting from 2010, we have consistently worked on dramaturgies (including some elaborate ones that were never actually taken to the stage) created from the combination of pre-existing heterogeneous musical and textual works, set to contextualize and illuminate each other. One example was the performance La Guerre, très loin (Paris, 2015) that wove together the French fragmentary play Enfonçures by Didier-Georges Gabily, written during the onset of the Persian Gulf War and dealing in particular with the French foreignizing of Muslim citizens (and also with the helpless silence of Friedrich Hölderlin’s later life in the wake of his perceived failure at changing the world), and a series of cantatas composed by Hanns Eisler (a Communist in exile from Nazi Germany) on German translations of Italian texts by Ignazio Silone (a Communist in exile from Fascist Italy). These interpenetrated works deal separately with the way moments in history echo each other, and switching from one to another in performance allowed for the uncanny repetitions of history to play out with full effect. The evening was unified by musical material created by Clément based on Eisler’s cantatas (performed by a tenor, Johan Viau) for the spoken scenes (performed by an actress, Laurence Cordier). The difference between speech and song of course were sufficient to identify the intertwined material, but an even more striking effect was created by the dialogue between French text (addressing among others a German poet and his work) and German text (addressing the Italian situation), in terms of mere clarification of vantage points but also of the extension of their content. This was furthered by surtitled translation of German into French, and already contained in the translation from Italian into German. For instance, Silone writes about the followers of Fascism: “Essi credono, o fingono di credere, nell’Uomo della Provvidenza. This had been translated and condensed in Eisler’s version as: “Sie glauben an ihn und nennen ihn Führer.” The transformation of the ‘providential man’ into a ‘Führer’ is both linguistically valid and a chilling comment on the transcultural potency of charismatic leaders appearing under different names in different contexts, and we were prompted to surtitle this sentence not monolingually but by including the many other possible translations: Duce / Führer / Caudillo / Líder Máximo / Leader / Great Helmsman / etc.

Such experiences with the expansion of quotational multilingual dramaturgy to larger fragments made me think this could be used to more extensive effect. Apart from the intrinsic value of examining the same subject under different angles culturally and linguistically, keeping source material in its original language was a means –as in previous examples of quotational dramaturgy mentioned above– to identify sources immediately in performance. I have tended to be frustrated by monolingual collage dramaturgies that do not allow for this and usually deal with it (at best) only by including a list of sources in the program notes, leaving the spectator with a stream of words without providing tools to set them against each other as heterogenous and potentially conflicting.

This proved crucial to the creation of the music theatre piece Ophelia/Tiefsee with composer Juha T. Koskinen and La Chambre aux échos (Paris, 2017). The work, of which I was librettist and stage director, was a cross-cultural examination of multiple (male) rewritings of the character of Ophelia, constructed with the idea that all roles (quantitative emphasis being put on the titular one) would be performed by a single male actor, inside a dramaturgical machinery unified by the music –the actor/orchestra combination being an experimental revival of the 19th-century ‘melologue’ form. The talents of trilingual actor Thomas Kellner allowed for us to include each source material in its original language: scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in English and from Heiner Müller’s Die Hamletmaschine in German, and in French excerpts from Jules Laforgue’s Hamlet ou les suites de la piété filiale and from a French 19th-century review of a performance of Hamlet, very similar in tone to the latter, although embracing unironically the cultural and sexist clichés derided by Laforgue. As stylistically different as these texts are, it undoubtedly added a level of immediate clarity to the shifts of perspective to make them unequivocally identifiable through language, in addition to the immense artistic value of hearing them in their full original literary force and benefitting from the contrasts of the many colors and rhythms offered by three different languages. Each tableau had its language that was given space to unfold, within an overall kaleidoscopic form, and languages were only mixed up –as one might expect– in the ‘mad scene’, an amalgamation of Shakespeare and Müller performed with very quick and confusing linguistic shifts reminiscent of xenoglossy, a symptom as good as any other for a context of identity loss. This, very much like Ophelia’s purported madness itself, also allowed for unexpected connections and hidden truths to emerge, elaborating from the French and English words already contained in Müller’s text, or playing with interlinguistic ambiguities: when “there is pansies, that’s for thoughts” becomes “there is pansies, en guise de pensées”, the double meaning of the French word “pensée” (which means both pansy and thought) becomes more interesting than in a monolingual context. When the monologue ends in a recovered monolingual declaration of being finally “einig / mit meinem ungeteilten Selbst” (at one / with my undivided self), this newfound undividedness is given a concrete expression that would not be achievable, were it not in contrast with the previous multilingual confusion.

In contrast with this example, I have found it increasingly difficult to deal with collage dramaturgy without the help of multilingualism. For instance a show I devised and directed for Chicago’s Trap Door Theatre in 2018, called Letter of Love (The Fundamentals of Judo), intertwined two sources, namely an autobiographical play by Fernando Arrabal and the autobiographical writings of Yves Klein, both performed by an ensemble of four actors into which first-person selves were dissolved. Although the entire performance was structured around creating contrast in the parallel between sources and authors, including different body languages that involved choreographed fights, I do wonder how different it might have been if the source materials had been presented in the original Spanish and French instead of being leveled into shared English through translation. The English language felt like a necessary part of bringing the material to the actors and to the audience –all the more so because I was involved in the translation process, which hence became part of my overall process with the piece–, but in theory one could think the performance would have gained in clarity and in strength with linguistic shifts emphasizing the other shifts between the interwoven threads. This would be an example of how multilingualism in quotational dramaturgy needs to be a constant negotiation between the respective advantages of monolingualism and multilingualism: in this case, the content that attempted to both give concrete bearing to art theory and also play out highly emotional and sensual situations most certainly would have had much less direct impact on a mostly monolingual English-speaking audience, had the text been comprehended through text projections only.

An Aside: Liturgical Multilingualism as a Matrix

A particular subset of multilingual quotational dramaturgy that I think is worth mentioning, because it pre-dates its artistic utilization and has been imitated by a number of contemporary composers, is liturgical multilingualism. In various religious contexts, it is common to deal with the juxtaposition of a quoted text presented in its original language or languages (because it is sacralized) and elaboration and commentary in the language of the audience (because it needs to be understood, and sometimes discussed in terms otherwise not available). This dramaturgy was cleverly imitated by Igor Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau in their Oedipus Rex (1927), an opera-oratorio that features sung dialogue in Latin (a ‘fake original’ constructed for combined effects of antiquity and sacredness) and a spoken narration in the language of the audience.

Composer Djuro Zivkovic developed a more layered solution in his own oratorio Bogoluchie (which I staged for its premiere in 2018, conducted by Christian Karlsen): the source material was the Hymns of Divine Love by the 11th-century Byzantine monk Symeon the New Theologian, an immense collection of poems that form a first person account of his own spiritual journey, written in exile. Djuro carefully edited excerpts of it into a libretto that follows the steps of this journey, and gave the bulk of the text to the solo contralto (Carina Vinke) who became a protagonist of sorts. His interesting choice was to compose most of the text in the original Greek, and gradually shift to ever larger parts in English, giving the process of elucidation a linguistic form, and acknowledging that the ‘accessibility’ role as a vehicular language that once was Koine Greek’s is now bestowed upon English. Importantly, this transformation was paralleled by the gradual introduction of an actual Serbian Orthodox choir singing pieces of their repertoire in Greek and in Church Slavonic, two languages that are only partly foreign since they are a living part of liturgy and hold the imprint of Orthodox liturgy’s history, in its uninterrupted transmission from the age of Symeon to ours. The intricate solutions developed by Djuro regarding his oratorio’s trilingualism, its subtle shades of foreignizing and domesticating, are owed to the particularism of liturgical multilingualism, transformed by him into an original means of artistic expression.

Liturgical multilingualism is an interesting and potent case that can be explored in many enlightening ways. For instance Juha T. Koskinen, already mentioned above, interweaves in his choir piece Earth Treasury (2018) a Sanskrit mantra into a Japanese waka poem by the Buddhist monk Myoe Shonin, with full awareness that one of the interesting aspects of Japanese Buddhism precisely is its multicultural and multilingual dimension, nourished by inspiration from and intellectual exchange with India, China and Korea. This also happens to be a dimension Juha and myself are currently exploring on a larger scale, in a work-in-progress of which I am librettist, combining various forms of multilingual dramaturgy that are explored in the present text.

Its many versions and particular beauties set aside, the main limitation of quotational multilingual dramaturgy is intrinsic to its definition: it manipulates pre-existing material, even if creatively –and the closer to the liturgical model, the more restricted the corpus of quotations. For this reason, I shall now examine a third multilingual paradigm which, as obvious as it may now seem to us, became commonplace only very recently.

Naturalistic Multilingualism and the Polyphony of a Multilingual World

Multilingualism has become increasingly common and widely accepted in mainstream media, even though it retains a certain flavor of edginess; it is usually introduced in the name of naturalism, for instance in historical films aiming at accuracy or in movies depicting multiple locations or culturally mixed environments, such as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel and Biutiful (to quote well executed, if somewhat ostentatious, examples, the ostentatiousness being best illustrated by the very reference to Babel). However, under the guise of objective truth, the attitude to language is then in tension between purported realism and the seduction of foreignization, which is also to be found in the separate but not unrelated case of works that are monolingual in rare languages, eluding general naturalism but implementing a form of ‘linguistic naturalism’, be it Mel Gibson’s films The Passion of the Christ (Aramaic and others) and Apocalypto (Yucatec Maya), or Philip Glass’s operas Satyagraha (Sanskrit) and Akhnaten (Ancient Egyptian and others). Such ventures obviously fall into a different category than monolingual (or multilingual) works in ‘rare languages’ created within cultures in which the language in question is spoken, for reasons either practical or also indebted to naturalistic aesthetics. In the case of purported naturalistic multilingualism or reconstructed monolingualism, what can potentially be taken issue with is a use of languages that leans towards exoticism, and that incidentally raises all sorts of other cultural and linguistic questions (including actual accuracy, to start with). There is a strong line –albeit it has been easily crossed in the past– between including a language for its sheer effect of foreignness or local color, and actually striving to add to the perception and representation of a culture, material or character through the use of languages. Anything that becomes mainstream is at risk of being used with questionable intents (including decoratively) and of being poorly executed. And the quality of execution often depends directly on the intent.

More interestingly for our purposes, mainstream naturalistic multilingualism has an origin that allows for many solutions that are more convincing than the cosmetic inclusion of foreign languages. This origin is the increased amount of cultural exchanges allowed by movements of population and international collaboration, challenging the status of English as the universal communication language of a globalized world, and making multilingual forms a way of accounting for the actual situations in which cultural objects are being made, not because of (dominant) naturalistic aesthetics, but because it is more truthful to the process and the life experience of its participants, as an alternative to globalized Monolingualism.

One out of many such experiences that constantly take place in the 21st century is the one I had with the project Das Floß at the Hamburgische Staatsoper in 2018. I was, alongside Franziska Kronfoth, the co-stage director of this experimental opera, and co-author of the texts with the rest of the team, which included among others three composers (Alexander Chernyshkov, Andreas Eduardo Frank and Anastasija Kadiša), two dramaturgs (Isabelle Kranabetter and Elise Schobeß) and performers from various backgrounds including Iceland, Russia, Portugal and Korea. These international backgrounds of the team and the unusual size of the group prompted us to pick as a subject two mirror-narratives that could be understood on a meta-level: the survival of the (equally international) crew of the frigate Méduse on the infamous raft in 1816, and the (equally international) pirate utopian colony Libertalia founded in 17th-century Madagascar. Although German was the natural vehicular working language, and unifying language of the piece, it was just as natural to include all the languages spoken in the group into the libretto, not because they were the languages that the stories called for (they were not, apart from French) but because they were our actual languages, and allowed for a concrete problematization of intercultural and interlinguistic cooperation, which was not only talked about but enacted. The composers, especially Alexander and Andreas, extensively used the musical and phonetic possibilities of the contrasting and combining of languages, and a great amount of playfulness and problematization was allowed by the fact of borrowing each others’ languages (hence playing with the spectrum of foreignization) and dreaming up the enactment both of a multilingual society and of a fantasized universal language. One would of course need to think of a more unified form in order for such efforts to coalesce into a more integrated whole, but the experiment bore many surprising fruits.

Multilingualism in Opera and the Example of Innocence

A more integrated example is the opera Innocence (2021), composed by Kaija Saariaho on a libretto by Sofi Oksanen, in which I was involved as a dramaturge in the writing process and as the curator of the (composed) multilingual libretto, translated from Sofi’s Finnish original. Before I go into the specifics of this project, an aside about the history of multilingualism in opera might provide important context.

Much like film, opera, as a former mainstream mass media, has a strong history of monolingualism, due to Italian hegemony over the genre. And much like theatre, it always also had its odd isolated sentences in foreign languages, inserted for the sake of coloration, thanks to a foreign character, a crowd cacophony, a prayer, or a mass. (Incidentally, it is interesting that one of the consistently multilingual operas of the era of ‘linguistic naturalism’, Peter Eötvös’s Love and Other Demons (2008), elaborates both on that tradition and on the formal possibilities of the kind of liturgical multilingualism discussed earlier, using English and Spanish to render a bilingual colonial context, and Latin and Yoruba to account for intracommunity activities.) But this largely monolingual history has been constantly challenged and as such has been one of the battlegrounds of the many questions of life in a multilingual world: for one, in the Baroque era, the problems in accessibility caused by Italian operas have led to bilingual solutions akin to the aforementioned Oedipus Rex, meaning arias were sung in Italian, and recitatives, that were closer to natural speech, were performed in the language of the audience, which is an interesting way to negotiate the tension between text and music in a multilingual context, and that incidentally is close to quotational practices. Second, as we established, the aesthetics of music and of opera in particular have been widely influenced by the Babel paradigm, leading to repeated debates about how to transcend the limitations of verbal language through music –Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a fervent proponent of the musical origin of languages corrupted by linguistic evolution and more generally of the Golden Age narrative, argued during the ‘Querelle des Bouffons’ controversy in 1753 that the French language was simply not suited for the opera or singing in general, compared to the melodic qualities of Italian, deemed closer to the fantasized primal musical tongue. There has hence been a dominant aesthetic standard that, for a couple of centuries, declared it impossible to write operas in any other language than Italian (a problem Mozart, among others, had to face in his project of creating music theatre that utilized the resources of his native tongue), in the name of the Babel narrative. That debate was speedily erased when, during the national awakenings of the 19th century, the concept of the Nation-State was forged on the premise of the coextensivity of territory, people and language, leading simultaneously to emancipatory reclamation of ‘national’ languages both in practice and in works of culture, and destructive suppression of minority and vehicular languages. Fortunately, this allowed for operas to be written in new languages (sometimes having languages influence musical content in revolutionary ways as in the case of Leoš Janáček, and sometimes with primitively folkish nationalistic approaches), and unfortunately, performing opera in the local languages became common practice, in constrained translations that separated the music from its linguistic matrix –a practice since then made obsolete in most places by surtitling.

This entire history informs the creation of a new, multilingual opera such as Innocence. Even when the problem of understandability subsides, dramaturgical and musical questions of how to convincingly write for multiple languages and integrate the speech/music dichotomy remain. In 2012, Kaija Saariaho set out to create, in her own words, an operatic ‘fresco’ in which a broad range of roles, characterized by separate languages, would deal with a shared situation. Kaija already had experience with quotational dramaturgies, having crafted versions of it in small-scale works, and used fragments in foreign languages in some of her operas created with librettist Amin Maalouf: in L’Amour de loin (2000), elements of Occitan (a song by Jaufré Rudel) and Arabic (a few words) offer a suggestive linguistic reconstruction of the world around the 12th-century Mediterranean, while in Émilie (2010) a few quotations in foreign languages give flesh to Émilie du Châtelet’s humanistic upbringing. But such a dramaturgical device is complex and tedious to extend to an entire libretto that has narrational ambitions (which is not exactly the case of the quotational operas of the 20th-century Italian school) –unless the subject matter really lends itself to a proliferation of quotations, such as Louis Andriessen’s Theatre of the World (2016, on a septalingual libretto by Helmut Krausser), which is centered on the 17th-century scholar Athanasius Kircher. On the other hand, ‘linguistic naturalism’ is difficult to apply fully to an opera, which is a non-naturalistic medium that seldom integrates successfully naturalistic speech forms, these being bound to become comical when set to music. As for the Babel paradigm, it is by nature averse to developing the possibilities of multilingualism since it aspires to transcend it: it is incapable of conceptualizing a multilingual situation as anything else than a transitory state of chaos that needs to be brought to unifying, typically monolingual or purely musical, resolution (even though playful pleasure can be derived from this chaos, as much as of any dissonance) –as in the ‘World Parliament’ section of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht (1995). So what would a dramaturgy be that could embrace multilingualism, without being quotational, naturalistic or constricted to limiting it to a transitory phase?

In order to solve this problem, Kaija introduced it to two collaborators: Sofi Oksanen, to create a story that could make the best use of the idea of continued multilingualism, and explore through plot and dialogized character development its implicit potential (multiple points of view in a collective arena, language as something that simultaneously separates and binds); and myself, to help develop the form with the knowledge of the dramaturgical possibilities of music theatre (Sofi being a novelist writing her first libretto) and execute the multilingual aspect when it would be defined (Sofi’s writing language being Finnish; the final libretto would be only 4% Finnish). Sofi’s talent for storytelling inspired her to create a storyline that would integrate Kaija’s abstract idea of a multilingual fresco by problematizing questions of cultural bias through two settings of present-day Finland that allowed for a certain amount of linguistic naturalism: an international wedding and an international school. But our trick was to stylize this apparent naturalism by fragmenting the dramaturgical structure: the wedding plot, although built like a dramatic thriller with a series of revelations and characters having a naturalistic relationship to language (using English as a vehicular language and switching to shared languages depending on situations), is riddled with non-naturalistic monologues of the aria-type, and interrupted by scenes located in an abstract psychological space in which another set of characters –whose connection to the wedding plot is only gradually revealed– deliver internal monologues / confessions to the audience, each in their own language, connected to each other by collage rather than by situational dramatic interaction (apart from a couple climactic scenes where separate levels bleed into each other). This interwoven structure allows for the piece to be simultaneously kaleidoscopic and narrational, giving language alternate roles of isolating and of connecting characters –all thirteen of which could also be characterized with extreme contrast thanks to their specific languages and the specific musical material these inspired.

The second part of my task, the translating, took place in the summer of 2016, and consisted not only in transforming the Finnish text (which was not yet final, as it kept evolving as it was coming to life with the linguistic input) into text in eight other languages (always in collaboration with native speakers, the level of collaboration depending on my own fluency in each language) but also in recording readings of the result, that Kaija notated and analyzed electronically in order to directly derive compositional material from the languages. Multilingualism was hence truly embraced as a musical matrix, each language possessing specific expressive and musical qualities that could be exalted, rather than being considered degraded versions of a lost ideal speech as in the Babel narrative. It also had a concrete effect on the ways in which to realize the musical project, since it was deemed preferable to cast performers who were themselves native speakers of their characters’ languages, in a movement symmetrical to the process of Das Floß: not a work built on a team’s languages, but a work that incentivizes the building of a multicultural team each time it is brought to life. On a side note, the premiere’s cast proved crucial in amending and perfecting the libretto’s multilingual aspect during rehearsals, through their own translational abilities that turned out to be a defining creative input.

One interesting way in which Innocence advances an anti-Babel stand is also one aspect in which it simultaneously proved non-naturalistic. I have been asked why we, as the creating trio of this dramaturgy, didn’t use the opportunity to stage linguistic miscommunication between characters who speak different languages, and often rely on English to talk to each other. On the contrary, I found it an interesting stand to make it so that in a situation so utterly riddled with miscommunications, none of these could be blamed on language. It was all the more striking that the forces of denial, self-delusion and, more often than not, selfishness were to blame. The challenges of inhabiting a multilingual and multicultural world don’t maybe lie in the most dramatically emphasized differences, but in non-linguistic dimensions of communication and of collective processing of the kind of trauma, guilt and grief that are the true thematic core of Innocence, as its title indicates. However, the embracing of multilingualism gives us both concrete and metaphorical tools to approach this, in art as in life.

Multilingual Form and Translational Ethos

Kaija Saariaho and myself continued exploring this aspect of multilingualism in our following collaboration, the ‘science-fiction madrigal’ Reconnaissance (premiered in Venice in 2021 by the Accentus choir). The piece’s backbone is as rather dystopian narrative of the colonization of Mars as a form of capitalist evasion in the wake of civilizational collapse, told in English. But this monolingual narrative is embroidered with three numbers that resort to the quotational type of multilingual dramaturgy –with a twist, as I will clarify below.

The piece’s second movement, ‘Count Down’, is a chorus of humankind’s acceleration, structured as a rocket launch countdown in which choral polyphonic writing allows for a complex play of layers that stylize the tribal and oppositional dynamics of group psychology. While the rhythmical arc is provided by the numbers of the countdown (sung in the languages of economic powers that currently have a space program: English, French, Russian, Standard Arabic and Mandarin Chinese), the listeners are overwhelmed by a continuous stream of quotational fragments in various other languages that constitute humanity’s rumble, in the form of advertisement (“All You Can Eat”, “Buy It Because It’s A Better Car”), opposing protests (“El Pueblo Unido”, “Refugees Welcome”, “Charity Begins At Home”) and glimpses into national or racial narratives, all of which create together an aural tableau of a species divided into various types of factions but globally swept away in a state of (mass) consumption and on the brink of collapse. Only one solo emerges from this mad race, as an alto voice sings what could be called a double quote: Nelson Mandela’s mantra “It always seems impossible until it is done”, but in Swedish, as Greta Thunberg displayed it on a cardboard sign during her inaugural climate protest. Beyond the referential power of quotation, another force emerges: translation.

The other two multilingual numbers in Reconnaissance are both quotational, but revolve around translation. The ‘Interlude’ at the center of the piece presents, in the original Russian, a monologue from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, critiquing the blindness of the space race to existential contemplation of our craving for conquest. Communicated by what could be understood as Tarkovsky’s character, played by a deep bass, the statement is also translated sentence for sentence by a soprano performing the role of the interpreter. Later in the piece, in the fourth part titled ‘Desert People’, fragments of Hopi legends transcribed by Ekkehart Malotki are uttered by the choir both in the original Hopi language and in English, oscillating between the original nature of what Malotki calls ‘verbal art’ within the community, and the gravity of the alarming testimonies that same community has repeatedly made in front of the United Nations to warn us, as a civilization, against the chaotic state of koyaanisqatsi into which we are collectively being engulfed.

In this context, quotational dramaturgy was given a specific function: introducing foreign voices, presenting alternate perspective on the English-speaking Monolingual reality that poetry and fiction also try to bend in the rest of the libretto, corrupted as it is by its very monolingualism and the limitations of its vocabulary and conceptual world. In both cases translation is embedded in the quotational dramaturgy as transmission, the parliaments of choir and audience becoming, like Mars and Earth, two ‘mirrors face to face’. Including the English translation of these sources of course had a function of making the quotational aesthetics functional on the basic level of monolingual intelligibility, in the sense that even without separate notes an English-speaking listener or reader finds all the relevant information in the sung text itself. But more importantly to dramaturgical stakes, the material is virtually ‘staged’ as being quoted, as coming from the outside, the point being to introduce foreign, alternate perspectives within the monolingual narrative –and to disrupt the linguistic homogeneity of the English text with the very phonetic reality of other languages that are bound to weave in a different kind of music. There is no make-believe of being Russian or Hopi, but a transmission, and indeed a translation.

Translation is not a form of multilingual dramaturgy distinct from the aforementioned three types, rather it is an ethos through which these are to be manipulated. From the point of view of the audience, quotational practice without translational ethos is, in truth, only a subset of the Babel paradigm, an embrace of obscurity and of the curse of incommunicability. Not that translation is meant to remove any hint of an obstacle or, to put it in Walter Benjamin’s words, to “cover the original” (verdecken), to pretend that original and translation are exactly the same thing, thus leveling the unknown into the known, the other into myself, and negating alterity and the difficulties of dialogue. Translational ethos is a constant negotiation and calibration, a tension that allows for creative dialogue and dialectics. But the perpetuation of such an ethos requires for us to persist in making the process of translation visible, in de-automating it, as opposed to common practice that makes it an invisible activity that can easily be carried out by algorithms or by underpaid anonymized workers. Staging it, making it a part of the narrative, is part of such a process.

This emphasis of translation is also key to Ezra Pound’s understanding of the possibilities of a World-Literature. Pound was for a while a promoter of Charles Kay Ogden’s ‘Basic English’, a simplified version of the language that if generalized would serve as a lingua franca and allow efficient universal communication and eventually world peace, through mutually profitable commercial and cultural exchanges. Ogden, and Pound after him, called this debabelization. But Pound, like many others, soon realized there is nothing universal about English, and that debabelizing the world would really be an enormous loss in sheer terms of the range of what can be communicated, and the world that would be built on those bases. This doesn’t mean, however, that vehicular languages are not necessary (or indeed inevitable as they shadow geopolitical evolutions), that languages shouldn’t mix into creoles and pidgins as they naturally do, or that constructed languages that follow similar utopian ideals, such as Esperanto, have nothing to contribute to the challenges of a multilingual world. But the only conscious act in which cultures nourish each other without taking anything from each other, and on the contrary create new substance in the process, is the act of translation. Its key role needs to be championed proportionally to its immense material and paradigmatic value.

The Translator and the Hybrid, and the Many Delights to Come

I will conclude this already extensive survey of multilingual dramaturgies with the example of a text of mine that was indirectly derived from the process of creating Innocence. The Minotaurus trilogy of poems (2020-2021) is a series of miniatures that deal directly with the substance of the multilinguistic opera which, though fundamental, is never explicitly addressed in it, unlike for instance what happens in Diana Syrse’s Circe which I discussed earlier. In both Minotaurus and Circe (which happen to be based on related mythological figures) multilingualism is taken as both medium and subject to explore the fragmentation of the self, and the mythology of the hybrid monster is used as an alternative paradigm to counter the Babel trope, in the same way Diana had resorted to the Mayan figure of the nahual. The first text, Minotaurus-Lamento, uses all nine languages from Innocence, but manipulates entirely unrelated material. Ironically the similarity of the multilingual form constructed as a labyrinth to Sanguineti/Berio’s Laborintus II had to be brought to my attention, as I had entirely suppressed the association –but the comparison is enlightening as to the main difference, which is that Minotaurus-Lamento is in no way quotational (unless a few common phrases should be understood as such). It is, on the contrary, an attempt to truly write an original multilingual text that falls into none of the above-mentioned types of multilingual dramaturgy. The pitfall of such an endeavor is of course that the text can be deemed basically undecipherable to anyone but an imaginary erudite reader who would happen to understand all nine languages. This is however not the spirit in which it was conceived; rather, the poem acknowledges the many combinations of fluencies that exist in a multilingual world, and will unfold differently to each reader depending on the languages they know. The syntactic overlaps in language switches are such that, in what is basically one long sentence, key points can be understood very differently depending on the languages that are being read. Accepting this fact allows for both the creation of very different layers and the shameless relishing in each language’s specific grammatical and musical possibilities –all while unveiling interlinguistic connections and associations through juxtaposition and wordplay. These themes are explored throughout the series, although the second and third poems have a more traditionally monolingual English trunk, and the second text even introduces multilingualism only through (musical) quotation. It was indeed necessary to contextualize the meaning of multilingualism beyond the mere linguistic level (and the very concrete experience of a polyglot’s code-switching), to address the fragmentation of the self in other dimensions.

In these last examples, the Hybrid and the Translator emerge as fundamental figures in the challenging of Monolingual reality and of borders. Bilingual forms of code-switching, creoles, pidgins and translations are the places where the conditions of existence in a multilingual world are negotiated, both at their most concrete and at their most existential. They also offer us metaphors and paradigms to understand everything that is exchanged, combined and transformed: in the arts on the interdisciplinary level, and in society on the intercultural level. It is the lack of conceptual tools provided by the multilingual experience, and a broader understanding of the ecology of forms between media (which I have discussed elsewhere) that limit our experiences to an art and a society that are monolingual both in the literal and in the metaphorical sense, and all too exposed to the sirens of chauvinistic Golden Age myths.

I hope to have demonstrated how three distinct forms of multilingual dramaturgy (the humanistic quotational paradigm, the nostalgic Babel paradigm, and the naturalistic paradigm) have developed and interacted in a history that mirrors a broader relationship to language and hence to the Other, and how we can learn from this history in order to create new works in the 21st century without perpetuating inadequate models, but instead be guided by translational ethos and the dialectics of creolization. Undoubtedly mixed media, and in particular music theatre, as an art of hybridization, translation and articulation, has the most convincing tools to integrate multiple languages in a way that challenges Monolingualism and its implications, through its ability to create complex, interdisciplinary objects. Most of it still remains to be explored.

CIRCE bird of prey

A musical minidrama for purported witch, five animal-instruments and an absent man.

Music by Diana Syrse
Text by Aleksi Barrière

World premiere on November 19th, 2021, at the Kunsthalle Erfurt, performed by Diana Syrse (voice) and Ensemble Via Nova.

Note

“By transforming these men into animals, I have revealed their proper forms. In the future I will be blamed for this, and reckless men will call good Circe evil.”

– Giordano Bruno, Cantus Circaeus, 1582

There was a witch on a lonely island covered with a wild forest. Her name was Bird-of-Prey – Κίρκη in the language of the culture that ruled the waves at the time. Maybe that is because men found it incomprehensible that this woman would rather live alone in a kingdom of her making than be subjected to their laws; and because it was easier for these men to think she transformed her suitors into beasts through witchcraft than to take the blame for really being beasts under their human skins. Is the name self-given or acquired by reputation? In any case it was reclaimed by her. And like Sylvia Plath, she ‘ate men like air’.

The archetypes of the femme fatale and of the sorceress have a history, and it is ambivalent. Circe is related to a lineage of dark femininity, placed as she is by the canon in the close family of Medea the witch and Pasiphae the mother of the Minotaur – sometimes of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft herself. Many have sought to expand on this lineage to reclaim (under the names of these enchantresses and crones and of the ancient goddesses of which they are iterations) an empowering secret tradition of female knowledge and craft, and this now belongs to the subtext of Circe’s legend. This tradition, however, has little to do with burning sage and healing crystals, with the essentialist, sexist trope of feminine intuition versus male rationality: rather, it acknowledges that no one social or cultural group has a monopoly on science and power. Although The Odyssey is told from the perspective of the male civilized ‘hero’, it does recognize the potency of Circe’s knowledge, and her epithet πολυφάρμακος (of many poisons/medicines) makes her a match to Odysseus πολύτροπος (of many ways/turns).

Nevertheless, inside The Odyssey itself, the story of Circe is a most welcome rebuttal of the monolingual male epic, meaning both of the idea of a master language or culture or gender, and of every conception we have about how to tell a story. Circe doesn’t only offer an alternative to the paradigm of the conquering hero’s return by being a queen of herself only: she suggests a form of theatre based not on epic recitation, on the journey to Hell and back, but on νέκυια, the invitation for the dead to visit us, the making of ourselves into receptacles for suppressed voices and images. Circe the necromancer inaugurates a theatre of the oppressed. She is not a role-model or a cautionary tale, but as in the writings of Giordano Bruno, the teacher of a method to make the invisible visible there where we can see it: within ourselves, in the theatres of our minds and bodies.

In this highly condensed version of the story – a possession rather than an epic –, Circe is surrounded by the presence of the human animals she has tamed, and by the absence of her warrior-lover Nobody. She dissociates between her identities, created within different linguistic realms, until she invents her own language beyond them, closer to her own body and voice. Her controversial choice of embracing a solitary life on her own island and according to her own rules is open-ended: whether terminating her toxic power-play of a romance will result in life-long loneliness or in new, more empowered relationships is left for the audience to explore in their own lives – since that is the place where ancient mythologies continue to play out.

© Ensemble Via Nova

Libretto

Ga-Ga-Ga       Tööt     Pa-Pa-Pa         Coin-Coin-Cua?        
OINK  Hoo-Hoo        Guau-Guau Hee-Haw            Knor-Knor      Béééééh          Νιάου             Coc’orico        Moooo            Ii-Ha-Ha                     -Ha      Boo-Boo

ANIMALS all these men
barging in from their wars
they blame my sp-ells for their transformation

i was born from the moon and the sun / my s-cries
only shed light on what was already there
there is nothing they hate more these men who never take off their ar-mours
then when i see them naked
there is nothing you hate more

*

ich sehe dich nackt und ich lache und du schlägst mich ins gesicht und ich lache lauter und du schlägst mich fester ins gesicht und ich schaue dir in die augen mit lächelnden augen und du schreist schau mich nicht so an und du hasst mich wie einen feind und du drückst meinen kopf ins kissen und ich verhöhne dich was für ein mann und du drückst und drückst um meine lachen und gesicht zum schweigen zu bringen und so weiter und weiter und später als wir im bett liegen streichelst du meine blaue flecke und küsst meine brüste wie ein kind und flüsterst ich kann mir mein leben ohne dich nicht vorstellen

*

…arañas arañas en todos lados en mi cuerpo… ¿Por qué debería hablar tu idioma?
Seulement parce que je n’ai plus de langue personnelle ?
I make potions only to cleanse my mouth from your filthy language the language
of the Empire that rules over the seas.
Aqui en mi isla verkünde ich Gesetze que personne ne reconnaît.
Et ma peau est mon unique journal intime, wide open for everyone to write in.

*

>dance of Circe with the lustful animals>
>>female testosterone and male estrogen>>

*

[in an imaginary improvised language, translated as the following:]

You asked me to open the gates of hell for you
To show you the futures that laid ahead
Me the daughter of the sun and the moon
Me whose sister mated with a bull and gave birth to a labyrinth

I painted my eyes black and my lips red and I said things
You had never heard before larger than your traveler’s imagination
(Like painfully climbing a mountain you only knew as a distant landscape)
Your nails into my skin into your skin to the blood
You heard your dead mother’s voice and your wife’s and your daughter’s in mine
You cried and begged me to stop but I kept talking
Your fever gave me fever and I was a queen again
And you said leave me here in hell where I belong
And I said this hell belongs to me fare you well soldier
And before you left we looked at the black sky together
And the sky and the sea went silent and I felt alive

TAIDE ON DEMOKRATIAN PERUSTARVE [mielipidejuttu]

Kirjoitin tämän tekstin jo alkukeväällä 2020, ja jätin sen julkaisematta koronakriisin alkaessa, koska kulttuurin esteettömyys ja rahoittaminen tuntuivat toissijaisilta suhteessa tapahtumiin. Pandemia ja tapa, jolla julkiset tahot ovat sitä käsitelleet, ovat kuitenkin katkerasti muistuttaneet, kuinka taiteen ja kulttuurin arvoa ja roolia ollaan jatkuvasti väärinarvioitu. Suomen valtioneuvosto on yhtä kyvytön kuin ennenkin ymmärtämään elävän kulttuurin moninaisuuden tärkeyttä kriisitilanteessa ja pelastamaan toimintansa järkevillä tuilla ja säännöillä, ja taidelaitoksille on yhtä vaikeata todistaa, että kuuluvat jokaisen arkeen ja yhteiskunnan tapoihin käsitellä traumaa kollektiivisesti ja luomaan tärkeitä yhteiskunnallisia kokemuksia.

Massiivinen graniittilohkare: Eduskuntatalo, Suomen tasavallan temppeli, valloittamaton ja siksi myös hermeettinen. Sata vuotta yhden ajan edistyneimmän demokratian perustamisen jälkeen sitä vastapäätä seisoo neljä tärkeää rakennusta: Sanomatalo, Nykytaiteen Museo Kiasma, Musiikkitalo ja Keskustakirjasto Oodi. Se, että rakennuksia yhdistää lasiin pohjautuva arkkitehtuuri, niiden lävitse voi nähdä ja kävellä, ja niiden väliin on asetettu kutsuva aukio, osoittaa muuta kuin ajalle ominaisia muoteja.

Kaupunkisuunnittelun kannalta avoimuus ja läpinäkyvyys toimivat symboleina: terveen demokratian vakaata ja pysyvää voimaa peilaavat kansan esteetön oikeus lehdistöön, taiteeseen, tieteeseen, koulutukseen, luovuuteen, keskusteluun. Siis kulttuuriin, joka on orgaaninen osa kaupunkia, yhteiskunnallista elämää. Henkinen Kansalaistori. Demokratian “sykkivä sydän”, johon on puukotettu kylmä asfalttihaava: urbaani nelikaistainen väylä, jonka kautta autot ja bussit kuljettavat väkeä keskustasta esikaupunkialueille, pääkaupungista maakuntiin. Tähän meluisaan todellisuuteen upea symboliikka haaksirikkoutuu, ja ohikulkijoille hienot temppelit ovat yhtä abstrakteja nähtävyyksiä kuin pronssinen K. J. Ståhlbergin patsas Eduskuntatalon edessä. Rakennusten läpi kävellään, ja niihin pysähdytään useimmiten vaan kahville.

Niin sanottu “korkeakulttuuri” koetaan kaukaiseksi monesta syystä. Ainakin yksi syistä on oikeutettu: kulttuuri on keskitetty kaupunkien keskustaan, ja tämä on vain oire koodeista, jotka osoittavat, että se kuuluu eliitille. Siitä syntyy perinteinen polemiikki: miksi vähemmistön harrastuksia pitäisi rahoittaa valtion rahoilla?

Keskusteluun ovat puuttuneet aikamme molemmat suuret populismit: nationalistinen populismi, tyyliin “kansa haluaa omaa ja tuttua” ja liberaalinen populismi, jonka mukaan kuuluisi antaa markkinoiden paljastaa lipunmyyntien kautta, mistä ihmiset oikeasti tykkäävät, jolloin “hyödyttömät” tuotteet katoavat luonnollisesti. Populismi tarkoittaa aina tietyn yhteiskuntaluokan edustamista, ja kulttuuritukien väheksyminen kuuluu perinteeseen. On helppoa ehdottaa julkisen terveydenhoidon lakkauttamista henkilölle, joka on terve, tai jolla on varaa yksityiseen klinikkaan.

Mutta näitä päätöksiä tehdessä täytyy palata poliittisiin peruskysymyksiin: keitä valtio ja markkinat palvelevat, ja miten ne suhtautuvat toisiinsa. Valtion velvollisuuksien siirtäminen yksityisille tahoille on yhä siedettävämpää ja normaalimpaa ja siksi yhä huolestuttavampaa, koska se osoittaa populistisen strategian normalisoitumista.

Kulttuurikysymys on kansanterveyden kysymys. Tämä on unohdettu, vaikka Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön nimi muistuttaakin hämärästi, että asialla on jotakin yhteistä esimerkiksi urheilun ja opetuksen kanssa. Taideteokset kertovat toisista ihmisistä, ajoista, kulttuureista, ne käsittelevät kokemuksia ja faktoja, kyseenalaistavat ennakkoluuloja, herättävät monipuolisesti uteliaisuutta. Taide yllättää, ilahduttaa, ärsyttää. Taidekokemuksilla on suora vaikutus stressin vähenemiseen ja aivojen välittäjäaineiden säätelyyn; harjoitellaan kuuntelemista, keskittymistä, muistia ja empatiaa. Taide luo turvallisen tilan omille tunteille ja ajatuksille. Tilan, joka kuuluu kokonaan minulle, joka samanaikaisesti on omistettu toisille: opin siinä ymmärtämään toista näkökulmaa samalla kun avaan omaa assosiaatiomaailmaani.

Kun arjesta syrjäytyy väliaikaisesti, kaikkea, jolle ei arjen rutiinin kaaoksessa oikeasti ole tilaa, voi syöksyä vastaan: lapsuudenmuisto, uni, puolison hyvinvointi, läheisen sairaus. Ja vielä pelottavampia kysymyksiä: Miksi tämä on minusta niin liikuttavaa? Eikö tuskaa voi välttää? Miksi kaikki eivät saa ansaitsemaansa? Miksi ihmisten välinen kommunikaatio on niin hankalaa? Osaanko itse huomioida toisten kärsimystä? Mitä muutoksia uskallan tehdä omassa elämässäni? Miksi en kysy näitä kysymyksiä itseltäni enemmän?

Kysymykset ovat vaarallisia, sekä henkilökohtaisella että poliittisella tasolla. Ne tarkoittavat, että maailma voisi olla erilainen ja että minullakin voi olla vaikutus siihen. Ne herättävät keskustelua.

Kulttuuri on osa sekä tervettä ihmistä että tervettä demokratiaa. Ja niin kuin demokratia itse tai mikä tahansa terve dieetti, se vaatii säännöllisyyttä ja monipuolisuutta, mahdollisuutta kokeilla kaikkea, kokea monenlaisia ääniä, näkökulmia ja muotoja. Kirjasta elokuvaan, konsertista näyttelyyn, nykysirkuksesta oopperaan – kaikki provosoivat aisteja ja älyä eri tavoin.

Kulttuurissa ei ole kyse siitä, että kokisimme kaikki samat asiat samalla tavalla (identiteetti, jota nationalistit hellivät, tai viihde, joka on markkinatalouden esteettinen ideaali), vaan siitä, että osaamme ja saamme kokea samat asiat eri tavoin, ja kokemuksesta voi keskustella ja oppia. Yhteiskuntamme ei kärsi faktojen ja puheiden puutteesta, vaan kyvyttömyydestämme käydä rakentavaa keskustelua. Sukupuoleen perustuva väkivalta, ilmastonmuutos, maahanmuutto, riippuvuudet… monista aiheista puhumme vain vihaisesti ja säädämme pelkästään kriisinhallintastrategioita.

Terveyden ja tasa-arvon vaaliminen kuuluvat valtion velvollisuuksiin. Niiden siirtäminen yksityisille tahoille, esimerkiksi säätiöille, tarkoittaa demokraattisen vallan siirtymistä julkiselta taholta yhden yhteiskuntaluokan käsiin. Monipuolinen taide vaatii rahoitusta, joka ei tule pelkästään yhdeltä yhteiskuntaluokalta; se vaatii myös taiteilijoita, jotka tulevat kaikenlaisista taustoista.

Se, että saa koulutuksen taiteen nauttimiseen ja harrastamiseen, ja että myöhemmin elämässä taiteen tekemisen kustannukset eivät muutu ylittämättömän kalliiksi yleisölle, ei voi riippua siitä, onko syntynyt varakkaaseen perheeseen tai saanut varakkaalta säätiöltä tukea. Taiteilijoiden apurahat takaavat osittain sekä monipuolisuuden että esteettömyyden. Mutta se ei nykyisellään, sellaisenaan riitä kumpaankaan.

Taidekoulutus, kulttuurin tuominen suurkaupunkien ja -laitosten ulkopuolelle, kulttuuripalvelujen alennettu arvonlisävero (ala, jossa Suomi on joskus osannut olla esimerkillinen!) ja valtion myöntämät kulttuurisetelit ovat konkreettisia keinoja kynnysten alentamiseksi. Rahoituksella on sekä taloudellinen että symbolinen merkitys. Suomalainen erikoisuus, veikkausvoittorahojen käyttäminen taiteen avustamisessa, tulee kuihtumaan samalla kun huomaamme, että kulttuuritukimallimme perustuu osin tuhoisaan rahapeliriippuvuuteen. Tämä riippuvuus koskee kasvavaa osaa väestöstä, erityisesti sellaista, jolla ei ole varaa korkeakulttuuriin.

Vero, variksenpelätin, jota populistit niin innokkaasti liputtavat, on oikeudenmukaisin tapa rahoittaa yhteiskunnallisia palveluja, kahdella ehdolla:

1. Oikeudenmukainen verotus: koskien tuloveroa, mutta etenkin varallisuusveroa, yhteisöveroa, pääomatulojen verotusta. Jos varakkaammat oikeasti haluavat tukea kulttuuria, se tulee tehdä demokraattisin keinoin.

2. Demokraattinen prosessi, jonka kautta jokainen omaksuu kulttuurin olennaiseksi osaksi elämäänsä. Osallistuva budjetointi, jota tehdään osittain jo monessa Suomen kaupungissa. Asiantuntijoiden lisäksi itse yleisön osallistuminen apurahojen johtokuntiin (tekemällä yleisön jäsenistä paitsi osallistuvia, myös osaavia) ovat konkreettisia keinoja, joilla on paljon enemmän merkitystä kuin lipunmyynneillä.

Toteutuessaan nämä keinot avaisivat suuremman tilan riskinotolle, joka on monipuolisuuden ehdoton edellytys. Vertaamalla länsimaisia demokratioita opimme myös, että mitä enemmän vaaleja järjestetään, kaikilla tasoilla, sitä enemmän ihmiset äänestävät ja omaksuvat julkisen keskustelun. Vuonna 2019 kolmasosa äänioikeutetuista ei äänestänyt edes Suomen eduskuntavaaleissa.

Taiteilijoilla on paljon pohdittavaa koskien taiteen roolia yhteiskunnassa: kenelle he tekevät taidetta, ja millaista taidetta maailma tarvitsee – eikä näin suuri kysymys tarkoita, etteikö vastaukseen voisi myös kuulua keveyttä, johon kaikki taidelajit kykenevät, suurten ja hienovaraisten eleiden rinnalla. Kysymys on ennen kaikkea poliittinen: olemmeko moderni demokratia muutenkin kuin pinnallisesti, ja uskallammeko vahvistaa kulttuuria yhteiskuntamme peruspalveluna, monikulttuurisessa maassa, jossa yhteiskunta- ja ikäluokat erottuvat yhä vahvemmin toisistaan. Näin poliittinen ongelma vaatii poliittista ratkaisua: syvällistä reformia taiteen rahoituksen struktuureissa, lähteistä kohteisiin.

Tällä hetkellä systeemi suosii yksittäisiä taiteilijoita ja isoja taidelaitoksia. Se ei ruoki monipuolista vapaata kenttää, pienempiä ryhmiä, festivaaleja, orkestereita ja gallerioita, jotka nyt taistelevat jokaisen projektinsa puolesta. Projekteja, joiden tärkeyttä ei mitata lipunmyynneillä, yhdenmuotoisuudella tuttuihin ja menestyneisiin kulttuurituotteisiin, vaikuttavan teknologian käytöllä tai kuuluisuuksien osallistumisella.

Vapaan kentän tukeminen on tehokas keino luoda taloudellisesti ja maantieteellisesti tasa-arvoisempaa tarjontaa ja myös tukea pysyvämmin niitä taiteilijoita, jotka elävät tilauksista ja tekijänoikeuksista.Tarvitsemme kulttuuripolitiikkaa, joka ottaa kantaa ja antaa monipuoliselle yhteiskunnallemme moniäänisyytensä. Julkista tilaa, joka ei kuulu markkinavoimille. Kansalaistoria, joka ei ole pelkästään kauppatori sijoittajille ja turisteille. Jossa saa olla muutakin kuin työläinen ja kuluttaja: tasavallan kansalainen.

Tämän tekstin alkuperäinen versio on julkaistu Rondo Classic -lehteen lokakuussa 2021.