Wild Heart / Wild Voice

Comments and reflections after a performance by Waltrud Höfinger titled: Not a Song, A personal, poetical, musical performance about voice, performed at Malérargues, Roy Hart Centre, August 2017.
The title of the article is inspired by a book by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, titled Near to the Wild Heart (1943). Linda Wise, companion, theatre director, actress and teacher, who is studying it for a possible performance project, described it as “the most wildly introverted book she had ever come across”.

Wild Heart / Wild Voice

Going to a performance or to an art exhibition, I describe nowadays, given my ‘venerable’ age and philosophical mood, as the equivalent of offering my arm to take in a blood transfusion. It has a huge impact on my thinking biology, sometimes sleepless nights! I love theatre (no cinema for me at the moment), so I have to be selective.

I could take a performance a day once upon a time, or more, so this came as a shock, not long ago, when I went to see the retrospective of Martial Raysse, a painter I came to consider when his success as a Côte d’Azur garish Pop artist crashed (as did most of hedonistic Pop) and he had a very serious and long breakdown. He emerged from this nekyia (descent to the Underworld) with tiny piecemeal sculptures and drawings on mythological themes – as did a lot of late 1970s artists after the conceptual so-called “end of painting”: back to mythology…

Martial Raysse, late very large scale, extract.

Raysse’s retrospective ‘blood’ contained a consummate cocktail of the 60s: in his case, hippie-creepy genius and all possible drugs. Check the word “pain” in painting: I was almost sick.[1]  Now I only go to performances if invited, by the performer or by the performance (write-ups, memories, auras, a gamble…) What made me go this time was a mixture of the elegant post-modern multimedia precedents I had seen from the performer, Waltraud Höfinger, performing solo this time, and the involvement as outside eye of an artist friend: Jonathan Hart-Makwaia. I wish to express first my gratitude for their offering and I hope they accept that it triggered such a long and questioning article.

I admit I was taken aback from the very first gesture of the performance and started resisting the manner, tone and voice of the performer. The opening was a prelude invocation to the spirits of the place (the theatre at the Roy Hart Centre, a ‘charged’ place if there is one in terms of voice performance! In principle I am very keen on invoking the genius loci…) It was sang just off-stage but visible, from the side, next and parallel to the audience, and therefore ‘lining up’ the audience, as it were, into a prayer to the place. I wish to offer reflections, respectfully[2], on my critical resistance, or call it opposition to the event. To sum its essence: I felt the tone of the performance was dogmatic and didactic (it was apparently meant originally as a lecture-demonstration) and religiously reverent, coming across as academically pious. It was not what I would call “superstitious”, in a magical sense[3] – nor “wild”, which I took to be the key word in the overall quest (or was it a demonstration?): what is wild, and how to be artistically wild? And especially: what is a wild voice[4]? In voice performance I bring in the term “lyric”, which has been taken over by Western opera, but which must be retrieved by all voice performers. I felt the voice was being ex-pressed (pressed) through idealistic efforts and dutiful attitudes: it was not “lyrically free” so as to allow itself to go wild, or to crumble and break down sentimentally. Lyricism would be, here, a mixture of wild freedom and musicality – and spontaneity.

What I saw was a ‘critical’ performance – critical in multiple ways. Since I maintain that there is “no performance without krisis”, to say that this was a “critical performance” is a priori a compliment to its psychic foundations and free spirits. I take the word critical from its Greek root, krisis, and use it a lot in, precisely, “critical” thinking and performing, and especially as part of the French trio: crise, critique, cri. Cri is scream, a shout, a cry too – usually wild, and it is of course a cornerstone notion in Roy Hart’s voice vision. But in fact the scream is an intruder into the trio because the word cri (cry) does not come from krisis but from the Roman grido: the shout-call to the Roman citizens to rally to arms when Rome was in danger – in danger not only from outside enemies (everybody rallies in principle), but also from inside enemies, in which case politics are crucial in order to identify the cry-er and take sides, i.e. using judgment: who is doing the screaming and why? Roy Hart proposed, or allowed his theatre to be called Le Théâtre du Cri, before 1969 when he decided to name it Roy Hart Theatre. The times – 1968 – were all for the cri – from ombilical and egocentric primal screaming to anarchistic political screamers: revolutionary criards.

Waltraud Höfinger’s performance is a sermon-like oratorio on her veneration for the voice, for the voice work of Wolfsohn / Roy Hart, reaching by moments the seriousness of worship. I described it as “everything I wanted to get away from in today’s usage of Roy Hart’s legacy, and especially when Alfred Wolfsohn is mentioned”. Let me repeat: “in today’s usage”. I have great, huge, respect for the memory of Roy Hart, as I have, through him, for his precursor and teacher Alfred Wolfsohn who, as far as I know, was not a performer. What I write here may sound – and is – a harsh critique, done from my mostly non-conformist attitude towards some of the ideas and models practiced today as “Roy Hart”. I have travelled far and wide in the last forty years, but, given that I share Malerargues, the “real estate”, and consequently its use, I have intervened strongly in recent redefinition debates; the militancy involved undoubtedly gives anima (feeling tone) and also animus (animosity) to this article.

Waltraud Höfinger’s performance was also critical on a more subjective and psychological level: it reflected a “critical state” – which, again, is a compliment on the premise that “no performance without krisis”[5]. Its declamatory assurance opened for me a critical background, a krisis. The sermons (I stay with that word, rather than speeches or lectures), in their tone and content, reflected a critical state of conviction, carrying (this is my intuitive perception) a tinge of despair, despair to convince, to be convincing and ultimately to be convinced. This came through often as imperious, to do with asserting authority; it often led to a professorial, “exemplary” manner and discourse. Our hearts might sincerely think they are convinced, but how can we actually be convincing, how can we be persuasive without proselytism and, above all, how can we make our soul’s performance real and genuine in its own terms – and not according to some doctrine?

Persuasion is a goddess: Peitho; in Rome: Suada – hence Per-Suada. Peitho’s convincing rhetoric includes the voice, it includes charisma and seduction in the tone and manner of delivery and not only in its logical argumentations.  One may be convinced, and even rightful but still sound unpersuasive[6]. At this point logos and the voice part ways; the artistic question becomes: how to access a deeper (i.e. more convincing) psychological and ideological subject, first, and, then, second, how to perform it, i.e. how to give convincing and convinced voice to the (wild?) complexes of soul?

Some remarks at this point on the one major stage companion of Waltraud Höfinger’s : an impressive rope, weaving normal-sized rope-ends into a magnificent major mooring rope. The metaphors that radiated from this imposing object (even its smell was striking) and from the manner in which Waltraud Höfinger handled it and danced with it – formal and serious: little sensuality, no humor – were for me primarily two: first, boa, predictable from such a rope: boa constrictor. At one point the constriction became an clear metaphorical enactment of the historical strangling caused by Hitler’s legacy – a “constriction” mentioned explicitly and personally in the spoken text. I will return to this. The other metaphor connotation was “the hanging rope”, and consequently: suicide. Both these connotations were ‘deadly’ serious and they emphasized something like the preparations for a descent to the realm of the dead, like the nekyia already mentioned above[7] – with the implied oracular consultation, hoping maybe for exorcism, hoping maybe for a free (and wild) voice.

A word on Germany followed by one on Austria.

Baselitz, The Heroes









In the presentation notes of my own relatively recent performance on Hitler, I say that “I was born one year, four months and three days after Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker” – which is close, and to me, astonishingly close. I have felt great admiration for the way post-war German artists took on Hitler and this “proximity”; I consider it to be one of the greatest cultural achivements of contemporary art, especially in its radical expressionism, which was precisely: “wild, savage, primitive”. I am thinking of painters like Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Jorg Immendorff (b.1945), Bernd Zimmer (b.1948), Rainer Fetting (b.1949), Markus Lupertz (b.1941), A.R.Penck (b.1939). Almost my generation.

Beuys& coyote

Great ‘screaming’. Mind you, all men. I do think women artists like Waltraud Höfinger have had and still have a much more difficult exorcistic-cathartic task to undertake – if only because of the phallic tyranny in Hitler’s evil – think of Eva Braun! One of the strongest impacts on me and my fellow students while at Art School in London (late 1960s), was Joseph Bueys (1921 – 1986), an encounter which took me, albeit indirectly, to theatre[8]. And the strongest impact of all was Anselm Kiefer (b.1945), especially after discussing with Rafael Lopez-Pedraza his book Anselm Kiefer: The Psychology of « After the Catastrophe » which I have described as the most Serious Art History book I have read, especially when addressing Kiefer’s early performance period[9].

Hitler was a recurring theme of Roy Hart’s. I paraphrase his saying: “If you do not sing Hitler, Hitler will sing you” – i.e. “you will delegate your performance to him”, like too many Germans, and not only, did. Admittedly Roy Hart did not say “scream” Hitler; he would not, just like he distanced himself from “primal screaming”. Yet for me the metaphor is fundamental. His work was first and foremost cri, screaming – and the genius of his and Wolfsohn’s proposals has to do with the literal-metaphoric link, with fusional and identified physical enactment. I would add: acting-out artistically, ex-pressing-out, via soma – and what Roy Hart termed “embodiment”. But then again, the screaming doctrine and embodiment practice must not be taken only literally, it needs to be itself metaphorized. I will come back to this, but let me first make things even more complex by going to Austria.

I would posit that Roy Hart died in Austria – I mean, culturally[10]. I will try and articulate what I mean and why I say this. One of the reasons, incidentally, is that Waltraud Höfinger is Austrian and that she speaks in her performance about the terrible dead-weight of Hitler’s legacy on her and on her generation. In 1975 Fate planned the Roy Hart Theatre’s performing tour to Austria (I was a young member of the cast), at a time when the mainly Viennese artistic rebellion against everything that Hitler signified was at its most “wild, savage, primitive” – desperate and aggressive too, following some years of radical performative, revolutionary 1968 Aktionismus, as the movement was called, especially against ‘bourgeois’ society for carrying on as if though nothing had happened in Austrian history. The confrontation with Roy Hart was total and violent. The encounter was totally inadequate, totally at cross-purposes – and dialogue was totally impossible. I hope someone picks this moment for an in-depth political and historical analysis. Suffice it to say here that Roy Hart and his theatre were called “mystical fascists”[11].

To conclude these reflections and to contextualize my comments on Waltraud Höfinger’s performance, I return to what I wrote about the fact that the “whole screaming doctrine and practice… needs to be itself metaphorized.” When the teaching of an exceptionally dynamic guru-like figure like Roy Hart gets institutionalized it will inevitably become dogmatic, and want to establish itself as a method[12], and as a “knowing” (or diploma) group. Casuistics, and even antinomy (breaking the norms) were inherent principles in Roy Hart’s dynamism. Or, to put it within a broader horizon: inherent principles in his approach to soul-making. To reflect critically on Roy Hart’s teaching, on his very exemplarity (or counter-exemplarity as the Viennese critics saw it), the principles and modes of his “therapy” – including the “singing lesson” – must be kept relative and renewed, and not turned into a fixed model, method or technique. The therapy itself needs therapy – especially artistic – which is what I mean by “metaphorized”: yes, for me, therapy is metaphorization – meta-pherein: changing place, changing point of view, changing status, changing ontologies even – to discover other and further means and meanings. Metaphor is krisis[13].

This would be my way of coming round to the foundations of my critical comments on Waltraud Höfinger’s performance: for me the tension of the devotional, armored discourse (sermon) and its non-explosion, its aporia in terms of ‘coming out’ with a critical cri and a manifest self-crisis became untenable, repressive, bad because ‘good’. I am not at all sure that the invocation of a childhood, presumably innocent and supposedly non-screaming voice is helpful or even possible here. The certitude of the singing-self that took over seemed monumentally blindée, krisis-proof, secured, armored like an illuminated Joan of Arc, yet insecure, lost and unpersuasive inside that armour. My krisis response is obvious: “Take off the armor! Scream!”

Is this what I mean by “therapy of therapy”? In an exchange with artist and trainee teacher Carole Paulin, she marks an opposition between therapy and shamanism: “… it seems to me more and more clear that shamanism and therapy are the worst of enemies. One addresses directly the Anima and the other the Persona. So is it Art and Therapy or Art and Shamanism? And what implications can this have in vocal and performative research? » (My translation.)[14] I have great respect for the notion of terapeia: caring, and especially, actually, caring for soul (Anima). I align myself again with James Hillman on this point, and also with his criticism of therapy become an apolitical luxury for « personal development »: he posited that it is less people (Persona) than ideas that need therapy: the sort of socio-political therapy that artists can undertake – especially in performance, I would add, because of the committed embodiment. The ideas and practices of therapy need meta-therapy. Globally speaking, the shaman model is for me the most complex model of therapy (care of anima and care of anima mundi). Of course, we would have to expand and agree on this, especially on the shaman / artist relationship[15]. Today, for me, an artistic move and a shamanistic gesture are the same thing, if they bring about the sort of meta-therapy krisis I am referring to. “It takes shamanistic moves to circumvent Western rationality” (again, James Hillman.)

I am saying that voice therapy itself (supposedly the legacy of Wolfsohn and Roy Hart) needs meta-therapy – and I would add, of the artistic-shamanistic kind, addressing, updating, revisioning radically the very framework of its principles and practices. And I actually think this is what Waltraud Höfinger was invoking, calling for, ultimately, in her performance: a radical ‘shamanistic’ side-move, a meta side-step – maybe even, why not, something like an out-of-body experience – a metaphorical and metaphysical full-out scream, à la Roy Hart.

Enrique Pardo, Aigues Mortes, September 7, 2017.

[1] Not rejection sick, but rather digestion sick. Martial Raysse brought echoes of my own Pop past, of Andy Warhol and of Lou Reed’s Walk on the wild side.

[2] Critical reflections like the ones I am about to embark on can of course be rejected, in principle or on the occasion. The great (and terrible) critic in Alchemy (in the Alchemy I value so much) is called CAPUT CORVI: the crow or raven’s head. Alchemy says it can be, and mostly is, unlistenable. Alchemy advices to cut its head off but not to throw it away: put it in your pocket and bring it out and listen to it when your heart and soul are strong enough to withstand what this ‘head’ has to say. It warns against critical heroics: artists are often at their most vulnerable after the generosity it takes to go public.

[3] See my articles on the rehabilitation of magic (especially by Xavier Papaïs) and on superstition: super-stare (what is above us, what sees more and knows better…) REFERENCES

[4] I used recently a definition of emotion as “wild thinking”, which led me back to Claude Levi-Strauss’ conclusive book “La Pensée Sauvage”, 1962 – well worth re-reading in this mindscape. Three reflections to be developed:
I – The strong parallelism between C.G.Jung’s “conclusive” archetypal thinking and Levi-Strauss’ structuralist mindscape, what I tend to call their symbolic comparative algebras. And the critical follow-up of James Hillman on Jung, and Xavier Papaïs on Levi-Strauss.

II – The constellation of notions like “wild”, “savage”, “primitive” – need to be articulated to the description Roy Hart gave of his work as “unchaining” the voice. Jung would add « autonomous »; Hillman, « spontaneous » (especially in his book Pan and the Nightmare.)

III – The importance (but little mention) of emotion. Note: James Hillman’s doctoral thesis was on Emotion: A Comprehensive Phenomenology of Theories and Their Meanings for Therapy, 1962. “…he intends nothing less than to vitalize a standard topic of academic psychology by making the theory of emotion as crucial as is emotion itself in our lives.”
I should mention here also the title of a CD by Jonathan Hart-Makwaia: The Wild is Rising.

[5] In Catastrophe Theory, a krisis occurs when a system reaches a critical state, for instance a point of saturation. It then breaks, breaks down or up, or off, in catastrophe.

[6] Patricia Berry, in her book Echo’s Subtle Body dedicates an article to Cassandra, and turns the tables on most sympathizers. In essence : Cassandra thinks she knows, and maybe she intuits, but she cannot convince. A bad relationship to Peitho.

[7] Nekyia – Descents to the Underworld, is likely to be the theme of the 2018 Myth and Theatre Festival. Some of the descents: Odysseus, Aeneas, Hercules, Gilgamesh, Christ too – and the ‘fertility’ of depression in contemporary art.

[8] Indirectly because when I started teaching at Goldsmith College, in London, my students (only a few years younger than me) were into performance art, which in many ways I found more interesting than the ‘only’ painting work I was doing at the time. This background led me to work with Roy Hart – again, very indirectly.

Jürgen Stimpfig

[9] More recently I had the pleasure of seeing German ‘expressionist’ painter Jürgen Stimpfig at work in a performance by Laura Fuentes Matus that I directed. “Wild, savage and primitive” dogs, crows and witches jet through his magnificently tempered wild gestures.

[10] The car crash in which Roy Hart died, and which has mostly been referred to as « the accident », happened near Nice on a French motorway while travelling to perform in Spain, only days after the Vienna confrontations.

[11] A similar clash happened at the 1973 and 1974 (?) Avignon Festivals. Dialogue impossible. I would propose that the clash, certainly in Vienna, was between two opposite therapies on the Hitler phenomenon: imagine the reactions when one of the young members of the Roy Hart Theatre said, with clear self-rightfulness : “We are learning to become leaders”! We all know that fuhrer=leader… Two further thoughts. First: it is a fact that in my own choreographic theatre the basic exercise is leaders and followers. The aim is displaced, taken elsewhere, trans-ported, seen-through, deconstructed: meta-pherein. Second thought : Anna Griève, in her book on fairy tales, says clearly that when Hitler appears in these tales (what she calls “radical evil”) she thinks it is hubris (stupid arrogance) to think you can try therapy on such a figure. A healthy, reactive psyche will kill the figure of evil. This murder is also ‘radical’ and often disproportionately cruel (check the end of Cinderella’s stepmother.) Anna Griève ventures that this was C.G. Jung’s big youth mistake (from where the accusations of pro-Nazi and anti-Semitism): he thought he could ‘therapy’ Hitler.

[12] Over the years, especially the early years, the 1970s, the ‘Roy Hart’ work was often referred to as thérapie sauvage – which is “wild” but in the sense of not-tamed, not-certified, not-qualified… Rebels took it as a compliment. Not the psychological medical establishment.

[13] To go all the way: “Death is the ultimate metaphor” – James Hillman.

[14] From a private email exchange with Carole Paulin. “…il m’apparait de plus en plus clair que chamanisme et thérapie sont les pires ennemis. L’un s’adressant directement à l’Anima et l’autre à la Persona. Alors, Art et Thérapie ou Art et Chamanisme ? Et quelles implications ceci peut-il avoir dans la recherche vocale et performative ?”

[15] Peter Kingsley, posits (I simplify) that metaphysics (which here includes metatherapy and not just ‘hands-on’ healing) originated in Mongolian shamanism. I admit to having been knocked over by the way he ‘knocked over’ my own prejudices. I could not stop giggling while reading, especially, his: A Story Ready to Pierce You: Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of the Western World, 2010. See also Gregory Shaw’s review.
Note: Pantheatre is organizing a Symposium Laboratory (April 23 to May 1st, 2018) on these themes.

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