By Sander Vloebergs, part of a series of posts on the Christina project
The Inner Voice of Music
To Peter Duboi, music is an extension of one’s own identity, mediated by the instrument. Peter has always felt the need to create and externalize his inner harmony, and above all, to touch people with his creations. To him, learning music is not just mastering a kind of craft, but goes even further. It is about searching for one’s identity and one’s inner voice and learning how to communicate that message towards an audience in an auditory way.
Music and its Context
Peter received a classical training at the Conservatorium of Antwerp where he studied harmony and composition. Academically, he was particularly fascinated by contextuality, by the different contexts of composers throughout history, during different eras of music and how these contexts influenced the expression of the musician. The interconnection between the history of music and the history of ideas interests Peter, and he acknowledges that religion played a big part in the evolution of music and that this history of ideas that should not be overlooked. This evolution in history of music and ideas is intrinsically intertwined with the evolution of technology. The musician creates, using instruments – artifacts – that help him express his inner world and identity.
Sometimes the basic use of just one instrument (and one voice) can express the composer’s identity more accurately than relying on a complete orchestra. The solo performance of a musician or a singer-songwriter can be extremely intimate when he/she tells a story using a limited amount of resources. Peter especially enjoys the work of Tori Amos, Sarah Bareilles and Anne Pierlé. In their works the listener experiences a profound sense of honesty and reality, due to the minimal musical arrangement and the strength and depth of the lyrics. According to Peter, this intimate self-expression invokes musical excitement.
The Language of Music
Peter was raised in a family of scientists. His brother and father are both engineers and Peter too studied mathematics and sciences in high school. He was trained in the rational methods of a scientific perspective. However, Peter discovered that science does not have a monopoly when it comes to studying and exploring the world. When he was 18 he decided to study the language of music and its artistic methods, expecting to find new tools for self-reflection and self-expression. Peter is convinced that the scientific lens often reduces the complexity of reality to a simplistic mathematical worldview, stripped away from its unique chaos and beauty. It cannot hold all the answers because beauty and art are multivalent. Through the language of art and music, Peter has learned that reality cannot be pinned down; it can only be explored, in a quest for ever new connections and curiosities.
To me knowledge is not about the ability to define, but about the ability to explore, like looking at an art piece – the product of artistic inspiration within a historical context. (Peter Deboi)
Through art, one learns to look at the world from a different perspective; one learns to stare and wonder with the eyes of a child. In neglecting the urge to define, one experiences the world as a web of interconnected curiosities. Although this experience of interconnectedness suggests a kind of spiritual relationship to the world, Peter does not define his spirituality as religious – precisely because he does not want to define things. Peter chooses to be inspired by this artistic/spiritual connection to the world.
When she had whirled around for a long time in this manner, it seemed as if she became weakened by the violence of the rolling and all her limbs grew quiet. Then there sounded between her throat and her breast a wondrous harmony that no mortal man could understand, nor could it be imitated by any artificial instrument. That song of hers had only the pliancy and the tones of music. But the words of the melody, so to speak – if they could even be called words – sounded together incomprehensibly. (Christina 35, p. 145-146)
The Musician is the Interpreter
For this project, Peter was inspired by movement itself. To him, using movement as the main source of inspiration was new. His previous work flirted with words, even images, but never movement. Writing music based on a text is not a far stretch. Using images though, is a different story. One needs to interpret the image and decide how to make the image resonate with the music so both art forms become mutually enriching. Peter is interested in this use of imagery when he teaches music. The image could help students understand the atmosphere music creates. During this project, movement (moving images) is a priori. This is an unusual collaboration between dance and music because often dance is the interpretation of music and not the other way around. Here, movement sets the tone; the musician is the interpreter.
Playing Playful Music
Art does not allow for one simple interpretation and this particular choreography does not express one systematically defined idea. Instead it offers a foreign reality captured in inexplicable movement. The only way to work with this movement is to observe it with the eyes of a child and to feel, and explore the way it touches oneself on an inner level. Banning all external influences, the musician watched and listened to the music within. Using the piano as his instrument, Peter externalizes his inner exploration of movement with a playful improvisation, a joyful adaptation from choreographed movement to musical flow. Phrase by phrase, Peter played and recorded his music while he was watching soundless movement, only to search for an overarching theme to give structure and direction to the music as a whole. Peter stresses the importance of avoiding a literal (Mickey Mouse-like) interpretation of the dance, by translating freely, by feeling the movement and answering to it with music, thus allowing the process of artistic inspiration to take place. This can only be done if one transcends the linear and rational approach to reality and allows the childish intuition to talk to us.
From Dance to Music
The choreography starts with a soft flowing movement. The musician interprets this as a light summer breeze that gains in strength and energy. He answers this movement with a swirling motif and adds the soft texture of a sparkling melody. When the tessitura slowly embraces the lower register, the airy openness at the beginning is filled with an excitement that leads to the next phrase in the music.
By repeating the harmonic scheme and by elaborating on the melody and rhythm, tension is created. The intensity increases, following the dynamics of the movements that lead towards a first climax. Next, Peter invokes an experience of trance by the use of repetition and outspoken accent in the cadence. The harmony is rather simple, using only two chords, in order to mimic the trancelike movements in the choreography.
The next phrase in the music introduces a contrast; musical tension softens and fluid movements are reintroduced that recall the beginning of the piece, although more wavy in their essence. At the end, the music thins out and ends with an experience of openness: the tension of a twisted tune dissolves and finds stability in an open chord that lacks the terce and the quint, leaving us with a feeling of openness.
Other blogposts in this series
Music, Floating on Movement
Patrick De Rynck (ed.), Christina en Lutgardis. Het verhaal van twee mystieke vrouwen in Sint-Truiden, Sint-Truiden, Erfgoedcel Sint-Truiden, 2012.