Jan Pilgaard (DK), Anna Ganslandt (SWE), Mateusz Pozar (SWE), Mark Melvin (UK), Pär Fridén (SWE)
“All theories of time confront two inevitabilities: first the inevitability of sequentiality and the impossibility of true repetition and second, the inevitability of death and forgetting as symptoms not just of a lost past, but of the decay of the self.”
Skup Palet is an international collective of creative practioners. For the Copenhagen Alternative Artfair 2009 they intend to collaborate on a performance work, a work whose preoccupation is process, and in turn looping, sequence and rhythmic iteration are prominent in its conception. The artists involved often experiment with various cycles and levels of repetition in their own practices, be it a discussion of the habitual and routine, investigations into recollection and memory or appropriation from popular culture. These loops and repetitions are always fractured by a series of interruptions, repetitions, re-edits so that although the pieces are often comprised of existing appropriated material they are reworked to invite alternate meanings and inquiry. This work “Frustration Canon” is metaphorically and literally shot through with a persistent and interrupted beat, which marks out time: producing and performing time for the collaborators themselves, their participants and viewers. With performers hitting their foreheads upon the table in rhythmic iteration the work attempts to comment on a moment of collective frustration, which seems appropriate and resonant in this climate of political and economic crisis. The piece aims to question repetition, a process that is so often deemed negative, a process that implies a lack of change, and a process that does not augment a situation or build on existing knowledge to generate change. Skup Palet intend to explore this familiar process differently presenting repetition as something positive and unifying rather than negative which can be seen in the process of recollection for example, which is one that implies looking back to the past and therefore loss. It is apt that the performance will take place in Denmark, as it is in the Danish language that this sentiment is best articulated. It is only when we recall or discover how the Danish word for repetition is constructed that we can begin to understand the positivity in the process. Gjentagelse, in Danish, is composed of two words that can be roughly translated in English: ‘gjen’ is related to the English ‘again’; and ‘tagelse’ to the word ‘take’. To ‘repeat’, therefore, as in Gjentagelse, is to ‘take again’. The promise of repetition is that through it the subject will be able to recover, to reappropriate what is lost through the passage of time, and ultimately, through finitude. Gjentagelse, is life that takes again, without allowing for the possibility of our taking back, retaking, recovering and reappropriating what has passed. With this in mind, “Frustration Canon” then offers a constancy and reassurance in the face of mortality, collectively repeating a cathartic gesture in unison based in the here and now.
A temporal category, like repetition, is a subject that can be found in much of contemporary theory. Questioning around this subject can be traced back to the earliest philosophy, but is most notable in Nietzsche’s concept of ‘eternal recurrence’, in Freud’s speculations on the repetition compulsion and the death drive, in Derrida’s discussions of ‘iterability’ and in Deleuze’s theories on repetition and difference. What can be seen from these philosophers is that the question of repetition imposes itself once the idealistic system of thought exhausts its resources and becomes blocked. With the awareness of this obstruction, repetition can no longer just be viewed as a mechanical self-evident and subsidiary phenomenon.
Repetition processes have also played a key role in Twentieth century music, in serialism, in process music and in an inverted sort of way, in the apparent opposite tendency, the search for total differentiation, for example John Cage’s all inclusiveness, where infinite difference can end up sounding all the same. Twentieth century music as a body is obsessed with this problematic, doing the same or avoiding it. American Minimalist music can be seen as an important stage in this movement, as well as a continuing evolution of music. What can be seen is a definite move away from the teleological nature of traditional dialectical music to a non – dialectical replacement of the work as object with the work as process and a unity of form and content. In the repetitive music of composers such as Steve Reich, the concept of the work has been replaced by the notion of the process whose function is not to represent anything outside itself, but only to refer to its own creation. This is true of the process involved in of “Frustration Canon”, a collaborative piece that plays on the language of musical performance.
“Musical processes can give one a direct control with the impersonal and also a kind of complete control … by this I mean: by running this material through that process I completely control all that results but I also accept all that results without changes.”
Repetition then forms an important part of American Minimalist music, a repetition characterized by its non-narrative and a-teleological qualities, where the listener is no longer submitted to the constraint of following the musical evolution of a musical work.
“The distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine all the note to note (sound to sound) details and the overall form simultaneously (think of a round or infinite canon)”
What is evident In Reich’s work then is a blurring of the boundaries between consumption and production, with the cyclical repetition in his compositions enabling creation and reception to occur simultaneously. This is true of the process in “Frustration Canon” because as the canon proceeds, the performers do not perform an elaborate harmonic musical structure but produce a repeating rhythmic cacophony of sound on the verge of total collapse, a music
This piece clearly shows the dualism of stasis and movement that characterizes repetitive music. The result of this is the stressing of constantly mutating beats or groups of beats built up cyclically. The performers act as both listener and performer at the same time, involving themselves in the process through their own natural sense of rhythm and co-ordination whilst absorbing themselves in the pulsing monotony of the performance process. Therefore, we get the feeling, in listening to the process, that it is being composed and performed at the same time.
“I believe there are human activities that might be called ‘imitating machines’ which are, in reality, simply controlling your mind and body very carefully as in Yoga breathing exercises. This kind of activity turns out to be very useful physically and psychologically as it focuses the mind to a fine point. So the kind of attention mechanical playing calls for …is related to sitting and holding ones breath.”
It is through this intense rhythmic repetition, where all meaning and finality are deferred indefinitely, that demonstrates just how successfully the repetitive musical process achieves the condition for an experience that exists very much in the moment. It may be that when repetitive processes are applied to the production of work the audience experiences something that exists very much in the present a moment that contrasts the ultimate teleology of our lives. In conclusion, what can be seen is that repeating the identical in another form and constructing a process which involves the changing same, is a structure that is both critical and impersonal enough a strategy to be accessible to us all. Through repetition meaning is deferred and placed outside our reach and with knowledge of this we can come together, breath, forget and think, overcome frustrations and fall into a cycle that transcends the timelines of the world around us.