Departures and Arrivals

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HEAR - an interview with Benjamin Vandewalle
Rita Natalio

 

 

 

Benjamin Vandewalle, DNA’s FOCUS ARTIST, is co-creating his new piece “HEAR” with Yoann Durant. We had a Skype talk with him, just before the premiere at Vooruit past October 14th. Take a look!

 

 

In “Hear”, we build a kind of a “metal cloud”, a white noise where you can find all the frequencies inside. When you close your eyes, you can maybe find a floating sculpture through space which is constantly moving, constantly changing shape, constantly bending before your eyes.

 


RITA NATÁLIO: Tell us about “Hear”. How would you present it briefly to us?

BENJAMIN VANDEWALLE: The main principle of “Hear” is to create a sound choreography. It’s a piece made for listening, where we have around 60 spectators spread around in chairs, blindfolded, and 30 performers and volunteers producing sounds for them.

RITA NATÁLIO: How is the function of sound in the project? Could you describe the sensation of being blindfolded in contact with the sounds you propose?

BENJAMIN VANDEWALLE: Well, I find interesting to think the specificity of sounds we use. We work with a kind of “non-human” soundscapes coming close to electronic manned voices. We are interested in abstract sounds. The whole piece is about erasing the human physical boundaries and its limits, in order to meet a collective sound body. We produce vibrations which merge and become an entity in itself, though performers are producing these sounds individually.

In my perception, I think we can go much further in choreographing sound than choreographing movement with a body. In “Hear”, we build a kind of a “metal cloud”, a white noise where you can find all the frequencies inside. When you close your eyes, you can maybe find a floating sculpture through space which is constantly moving, constantly changing shape, constantly bending before your eyes.

Another aspect of the piece is that we are working with non-performer volunteers and we have the compromise of doing very simple materials that anyone can perform. In each venue we teach performers only for 3 days, which means they are much less attached to the idea of presence than professional performers usually are. Actually, if we would work with the same group of professional performers, the work could deviate into a very “polished” script which would not benefit the work nor the rough quality of the sounds.

RITA NATÁLIO: Is there a political dimension in this choice? Is it a choice for a political “coming-together”?

BENJAMIN VANDEWALLE: Yes, because we have a common goal that we are striving for, and we all need each other to make the choir. Meanwhile, the spectator is almost swallowed by the choir. We have a collective choir’s body where the spectator feels engulfed in an almost visceral mode. It affects the body completely.

RITA NATÁLIO: Do you consider the quality of “non-human” sounds in “Hear” more connected with maquinal environments? Do you tend to associate them with animal-like sounds, vegetal-like sounds? What kind of non-humanity are you looking for?

BENJAMIN VANDEWALLE: First, there is a mystery around who is really producing the sounds. Second, although we definitely want to work with sound landscapes, we try to get away from the natural scope, away from the animal scope, away from mimicking electronic instruments. It is much more about the quality of producing sound to an audience, how it produces space, the density of the space. It’s really about the listening and the perception of space while you listen to it, in order to build an unfamiliar feeling. But off course people do associations with images. They can tell if a sound has a “water quality”, etc. They associate sound with images, even if we definitely try to avoid representation of specific images.

RITA NATÁLIO: For some reason, we are so “miseducated” in hearing, that we always try to match a sound with the first image that comes to our mind. It’s difficult to assume that sound is irrepresentable, and that it can sustain itself without illustrating specific images... But I thought about this question of non-humanity not only because of representation but also because of spirituality. This ideia of being swallowed by sound is present in certain rituals, Indian rituals, African rituals. Sound can evoke a certain transcendence, a realm for a different body where you can experiment through sound experience.

BENJAMIN VANDEWALLE: For sure, we are trying to transcend recognizable things, to pull the audience for an unusual experience, for an uncharted territory. In that sense you can speak of spirituality. And as you have mentioned the political side before, I must say that I am aware we are living nowadays in a very visual society, where everything is normally pre-fabricated before you consume it. In “Hear”, our option was to present an indefinable experience to the audience. In a non-persuasive way, the spectator will be busy with the experience that he or she wants to have with the piece, instead of being bombarded to feel or to think something very clear.

RITA NATÁLIO: In other words, you try to create a certain landscape to imagine, which is very rare in today’s society and this has a real political side...