Monday, 17 September 2012

"Voice without colour" english

Before I am going to dive into my "Dao Series No2", here an article that I will give to the visitors of my Performance as a kind of programme, in german, english and chinese (mandarin).

Ralf Peters
Voice without colour. Voice without name[1].
Most people in the so-called West would probably agree that a work of art or a performance should never be one thing: boring and bland. The same applies perhaps even more for a meal, a drink, actually for any form of sensory perception, which has a (pleasant, beneficial) effect on people.
 In China, more precisely in ancient Chinese thought, one holds a different view. Here the bland curiously has absolutely positive connotations. A Taoist basic setting would include the blandness at different levels in life. 
Thus we read in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu:

When music and dainty dishes are offered,

The passers-by stop.

Tao, when it is uttered by the mouth,

Is so bland it has no flavor.

When looked at, it is not enough to be seen.

When listened to, it is not enough to be heard,

When used, it is inexhaustible[2].

Why the idea of blandness should interest or even attract me as a voice artist? Is the Extended Voice art not just the opposite of bland art, as it tries to open the voice in the artistic expression to as many facets as possible, to increase the diversity pointing to the immeasurable and doing so trying to make the experience of the audience exciting, unusual and impressive? The bland, however, has no facets, no prominent features. A bland food tastes like nothing, is not seasoned and has no characteristic taste. So what might be desirable or attractive in a bland voice? My guess, that  I would try to ascertain here, is to find that in the bland absence of character lies a form of (vocal) freedom. We will see, what that might mean.
 European philosophy, especially Hegel, attest Confucius, who has shaped Chinese culture most sustainable, a thinking that does not seem to go beyond the quality of better calendar sayings. Since there is no original theory, no new way of reflection and certainly no bold metaphysical speculation. The short sayings that Confucius usually utters remain often bland. The expectations of a major thinker like Hegel are undermined systematically. But the size of a sage like Confucius can not be simply denied. Just with calendar spells you wouldn’t be able to  influence fundamentally one of the great cultures of mankind for thousands of years. What is it that Hegel did not understand there? What did the European philosopher fail to notice here?
 A satisfactory answer to this question would also be a comprehensive comparative study of European and Chinese thought.[3] In our context (of the vocal arts), one aspect of this difference in thinking is particularly relevant. European philosophers are (were?)  thinkers of the general and universal, that should be formulated in clear and distinct statements and theories. Task of the philosophical reader or listener is to follow the train of thought as closely as possible in their own intellect (to identify the truth). In contrast to this the Chinese sage is a thinker of the situation, giving his evidence in often inconspicuous allusions that leave much open. And it is precisely this openness, that the reader is invited to use, to relate the evidences to his own situation and draw a lesson from it. Reading a work of chinese thinking is therefore quite different from a Western philosophical lecture. This is perhaps even more significant concerning another culturally influential thinker of China, with Lao Tzu, (probable) author of the Tao Te Ching, a taoistic work which, however, seems at least to Western readers anything but bland, but rather exerts a peculiar charm. Trying to read the Tao Te Ching as a philosophical wisdom book of general truths misses completely the point.
Since there are no universal truths, but phrases and sayings that only in the current situational application develop their tremendous power and impact.[4]

What has all this to do with blandness? In taoist thinking blandness is the foundation of reality, or rather, in the words of Jullien, the “fonds” or the potential from which the world may appear with all its inherent features. The “fonds” is bland, because it is before all determining. Each flavor is set up, it can only be what it is and at the same time point to its opposite. The bland as the tasteless but keeps the space of possible tastes open. Because there is no definition yet, anything is possible. Therefore "the sage tastes what is without taste", as he "acts what is without action and does what is without a business"[5].

The basic polarity of the world, today on global level signified by the cipher of yin/yang, this polarity leads "by itself" from the tastelessness to tasty. There is nothing to do, because the blandness has in itself the tendency to turn to its other pole. These processes running “by itself”, are one of the major themes of Chinese wisdom teaching. It is the traditional Chinese concept of “ziran”.
The more I "taste" the blandness that has not (yet) developed individual characteristics, the better I am able to see in which direction the blandness will develop in this situation. This propensity of the blandness is what  I can follow and harness for me, without the need to act or block the natural course of things.

If I, as a vocal artist, try to transfer this process-orientated logic to my voice, it would be a matter of draining the voice of any characteristic, interesting or even original sounds and tones and then to listen from this place of “no name” where the voice by itself wants to go from there. The search for the blandness in the voice would be the search for a high degree of openness of the voice for all its potentials. It also includes a training of the ear towards an openness that is able to notice when the voice wants to move out of the “no name” situation. On the bland path, voice and hearing are to be freed of individual needs, preferences and habits. The personality is invited to have a rest and let the open vocal field (Stimmfeld) decide.

My Dao-Series are an attempt to approach this process-orientated vocal logic of the bland.

In Chinese, the word dan means both blandness and inner detachment, for as Jullien points out, "the perceived blandness in things corresponds the ability to inner detachment", the "taste binds us, the insipidity resolves us"[6]. Detachment from one's own preferences, habits, and perhaps fears via the detour of blandness - with this Daoist promise there is a way open to the vocal artist to allow the voice to move, to give her the freedom to follow her own (in taoist words: the natural) propensities and act them out. The blandness is the internal situation that offers all the vocal possibilities and maintains a connection, which presents the basis on which the extremes might communicate with each other.  In my terminology: The blandness is the primary colour of the open voice field. Here the voice is with herself. If I manage to move my voice into blandness, "everything" is possible from there.

Slow rhythm, relaxed playing:

In the dead of night a simple melody.

It penetrates into the ear, bland, and tasteless;

The heart is calm, the emotions quiet in themselves.[7]

Yet in another respect the blandness is relevant for the artistic voice. So far we spoke of the blandness as a condition that will allow the voice its free movement throughout the whole voice field[8]. (But the musical tradition in China, has attributed a positive value to the bland sound itself. Not the loudest sound is the most effective, they say, but the one that generates the strongest (inner) Echo. Echo needs silence, and the closer the musically produced sounds and silence are interwoven, the stronger the effect of my music will be. Not exploitation of the sound to the utmost[9], but leaving space for an echo in the mind of the listener is the goal of the music.

The idea of this kind of echo is of unique charm to the vocal art. In listening to another voice I will always hear my own voice. The voice is the "instrument" all humans carry within them. With all individual differences in vocal tone, there is a common fund, there is the knowledge and sometimes just the idea that the sounds that I'm listening to, could emerge from myself,  could be part of my voice that could be alive in me. The space of the inner echo will enable me to dive into this memory and inspiration. The blandness seems like a friendly invitation to enter this common space. In the effortless voice, in the not yet artistically formed vocal sound we find “ourselves”. And there is another aspect that is central for the voice approach of Roy Hart. The human voice is never just a mere acoustic phenomena, neither for the singer nor for the listener. The voice is always connected to an inner situation, to an atmosphere (the german word is Stimmung that includes the word Stimme for voice). The voice is part of this atmosphere, the part that is able to communicate with the outer situation. As an audible voice she meets the listening of another person, who is able to include this voice into his own atmosphere (Stimmung) and let it influence the inner situation. The arising atmosphere in the listener is not necessarily the same that is effective in the singer but the space for the touch of the inner situation will be opened by the voice – and made perfect by the silence – one could add from a chinese perspective. To bring this inner feeling alive and keep it alive is the very aim of the chinese musical tradion. To fulfill this aim it is sometimes not even necessary to make a sound at all.

“Dian let pass the sound of his lyre,
Zhao abstained from playing the strings:
In all this is a tune, you can sing
and dance to. "

says a poem of Su Dongpo[10].
There are different approaches to bring the blandness or the voice with “no name” into the extended voice art. My “Dao Series No.2” will devote itself to this subject.

[1] These thoughts about the blandness/tastelessness in the Extended Voice, are closely aligned to Francois Jullien's book "Über das Fade – eine Eloge" Berlin 1999, original: Eloge de la Fadeur, Arles, 1990.
[2] Quoted by Jullien, english translation by Ellen Chen.
[3] Francois Jullien has done this work and I can only recommend to read his books.
[4] Therefore, there are, as James Edwards says no “wrong” translations of the book of the Way and the Power. Each translation represents for itself a situationally embossed effect of the Tao Te Ching. Edwards therefore encourages everybody to make their own translation, instead of relying on others! See: James Edwards: The Immortal Idiot. An eternal notebook. Hsinchu 2012!
[5] Jullien, p 33
[6] Jullien p.35 f.
[7] Bo Juyi, a Chinese poet of the 8./9. century, cit. by Jullien, p.91
[8] By the way: These are of course all conjectures on my part, which serve as working hypotheses for my Dao-Series. Whether they will be confirmed in the artistic process has to be proved every time. I'm not looking for the "truth" of the bland, but for a vocal liberation.
[9] see Jullien p. 67
[10] cit. by Jullien p.81

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