23.05, 25.05, 27.05, 28.05.2023
Nocturnes for a Society
immersive performance — premiere
Using our voices, we weave a nocturnal carpet of sounds, a blanket to crawl under as we sink into an extraordinary sleep, with the sounds of the city playing in the background. Sound artist Myriam Van Imschoot and scenographer Lucas van Haesbroeck build on the legacy of American composer and sound activist Pauline Oliveros, alongside other rich traditions that perceive polyphony as an ancient recipe for connecting people. The audience plays an indispensable role – interacting with one another, with objects and with the space itself, they perform a score, creating almost unconstrained, astonishing textures and atmospheres full of details. The soundtrack we collectively create becomes the soundscape to which we fall asleep together. The nocturne takes on a life of its own, slumbering on through the night, in its various stages of rest and sleep. The environment feeds this event – an oasis of light, shadow, sound, textile, and rêverie, wherein associations readily thrive. An unforgettable experience.
A New Space of Our Own Making
Nocturnes for a Society provides an environment to linger and nest in for the length of a night – a dwelling place between performance, sleep, dream and sonic play. You are invited to communally hold a space, balancing wakefulness and restfulness, of shared intimacy – intimacy of a rare, public kind.
Ancient Greek mythology has Hypnos, the godly personification of sleep, dwell at the entrance to the underworld in an extensive cave, together with his brother Thanatos, the god of death, and their mother Nyx, the goddess of night. Through the cave’s darkness flows Lethe, the river of oblivion. Soporific plants grow at its entrance. No light and no sound would ever enter this grotto.
The experience of Nocturnes for a Society however will be different. Wandering in a translucent and acoustically transparent space – an oasis of light, shadow, sound, and textile – we are surrounded by and entangled in the stimuli of our own making: the ceaseless soundlight of the city, mirroring the strain of our times, and – more importantly – the echoes of our own doing and voicing resonating through the night.
Sleep is subject to socioeconomic forces and is hence political. The cultural history of sleep, in many ways, reflects the shaping of a human and of a society adapting to maximum productivity and accumulation. Hypnos’ cave morphs into a manifold of behaviours and gadgets, witness to the convenience and trouble of keeping the machinery of this civilisation up and running.
Communal sleeping – common for centuries, be it due to a lack of alienation or a lack of space – has since long given way to the individual bedroom: a fancy cave, one is tempted to think, for the self-declared god / goddess Anthropos / human to recline. Trains, waiting rooms and offices turn unlikely shelters for a minute’s power nap stolen from a busy day. Earplugs, sleep masks and white-noise machines try to shield the industrial sleeper. Sleeping pills deliver a synthetic, temporary cave of oblivion. Hotels compete not as mere providers of accommodation but as warrantors of good sleep, Personal Sleep Coach and variable pillows included. A multibillion sleep industry inevitably runs in the background of this operating system.
Meanwhile a new science of sleep is revealing the vital importance of repose. We now know the crucial role sleep plays in living a good life – healing the body, consolidating memory, enabling learning, creativity and emotional regulation. And we know the costs of sleep deprivation: higher stress levels and ensuing inflammatory diseases, anxiety and depression, diminished cognitive capacity, impaired emotional intelligence and self-esteem.
The crisis of shut-eye however is eye-opening and may offer an opportunity. Not of the business kind, but of seeing anew the need to pause and transform.
The ancient Greeks may have regarded sleep as a kind of middle state between life and demise, handing down an equally poetic and persistent topos embraced by Western art and literature – the bond between sleep and death.
But what if sleep would be woven into an altogether different imaginary? Not bound by fraternity to extinction, darkness and oblivion, but connected with the potentiality of life and transformation?
The work of cutting loose from the death cult in the centre of our culture may well include sleeping – and dreaming – itself. With the help of one of his thousand children, Morpheus, the god of dreams, we might be able to free the framed god Hypnos / sleep from the life-denying proximity to Thanatos / death, and let him guard a space of recreation, sensitivity and connectedness. A life-affirming space of (de)growth and (un)learning.
What does it mean to collectively hold this space? To lie down and get up together in a city that never sleeps, lulled by a polyphony of our own making? What does it do to play, sleep and dream together – a new space of our own making.
Nocturnes for a Society steps into resonance with these questions, opening a probe into new kinds of polyphonies. “I’m interested,” writes Myriam Van Imschoot in pre-pandemic times, “in the sonic imaginaries that polyphony can trigger beyond virtuosity, and that includes social imaginaries. References to ‘humanism’, ‘democracy’, ‘the rise of the individual’ are so typical for discourses on historical polyphony, but my resistance to those easy made allusions may be because I feel uncomfortable with the legacy of humanism (‘the terror of humanism’, Merleau-Ponty called it) and the narratives of progress that has taken the renaissance ideals into an abysmal meltdown of our planet. I look for an ecology of polyphony that de-centers the human ego.”newpolyphonies is both the title of Myriam Van Imschoot’s last performance piece, in collaboration with the Belgian vocal ensemble HYOID (2021), and a fundamental artistic-political quest: a poethics of practicing new ways of relating, new modes of listening and new forms of co-existence of diverse voices and beings beyond the familiar matrix of “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (to use the shortcut phrase by African-American author bell hooks denoting the interlocking systems of oppression that shape our reality).
Nocturnes for a Society takes another step on this path, and into the night. A co-creation of Myriam Van Imschoot with artist and scenographer Lucas Van Haesbroeck toge-ther with a team of collaborators, every aspect of this durational piece – from the group practices to the stage design – has been communally woven in numerous public Sessions. Merging the roles of performers and audience, this continuous time-space invites us into a joint process of experimentation with voice and sonic play, guided by scores. Honouring the legacy of American composer and sound activist Pauline Oliveros, alongside other rich traditions that understand polyphony as a practice for connecting people, Nocturnes for a Society is the current manifestation of a continued quest: a seeking for connectedness, playfulness and blooming.
“Seeking merely means putting oneself in a suitable state for finding, thanks to some fluke or a propitious sleep. It means preparing a ‘field’ for the lucky spark.” (Paul Valéry, Analects)
“the universe did not begin with a bang but a bloom.” (Xi Chuan, Bloom)
- Berno Odo Polzer
- Berno Odo Polzer is curator, dramaturge and researcher. He was the Artistic Director of MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues from 2015 to June 2022. His interdisciplinary practice in the fields of contemporary music, sound-related art and performance combines artistic, theory-related, dramaturgical and curatorial approaches.
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KANAL – Centre Pompidou
Concept and creation: Myriam Van Imschoot & Lucas van Haesbroeck | Developed with: Christophe Albertijn, Tomoko Hojo, Bora Kim, Pierre-Benjamin Nantel, Berno Odo Polzer, Irena Radmanovic, Léa Roger, Idania Spruyt, Lieven Stockx, Iwan Van Vlierberghe | Production manager: Stefaan Deldaele | Production assistance: Kaat Balfoort | Financial manager: Wim Viaene/Rossinant
Production: newpolyphonies | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KANAL – Centre Pompidou, Reiefestival - Brugge Plus, C-Takt, kunstencentrum BUDA
Thanks to: Kaaitheater, P.A.R.T.S, KASK - School of Arts Gent, École nationale supérieure d’arts de Paris, KWP Kunstenwerkplaats, GMEA Albi, Perpodium, Tristero@ Gallait 80, Frederik Rombach (Glass), Daan Gysels (Wood), Ftouma Laayoune / Sew for Life with the assistance of Mirra Markhaëva, La Laine Fleuri/Natagora (Wool)
With the support of: the Flemish Community, the Tax Shelter Measure of the Belgian Federal Government and the Flemish Community of Brussels
Nocturnes for a Society came about thanks to SESSIONS, an open and creative space for lovers of sound to explore ideas and share inspiration