Eraritjarijaka: musée des phrases
In the beginning there is a quartet playing some slow and beautiful Shostakovich, black on black except for their white shirts, the music totally occupying everyone's minds. Just as we are settled, seduced and immersed in the music, it begins to break down into crackling white noise. The quartet moves to the back of the stage but the music carries on. Our ears hear an electronic continuation of the piece but we can't pinpoint the moment that this took over. As the crackling dies away a white square has grown and appeared magically in front of our eyes.
A solitary man enters from the auditorium and his arrival at the corner of the square presents our first inversion for contemplation - except that we don't yet know that this is important and the whole action will move too fast and in too many directions for contemplation to be possible. This first inversion is light and shadow (or light and dark), especially when the man becomes the shadow and the 'shadow' becomes a beam of light moving as he moves around the stage. It is the first of the Musée des Phrases.
Always and continually there is music, the underpinning and driving impulse of this whole unique, extraordinary, multi-dimensional theatre experience.
We are led gently into the conundrums - and to the deeply philosophical arguments and dilemmas - by listening to the man muse (only an accent mark and one letter separate us from the subtitle) on words: on single words' existence, their meaning, use, interpretation and, above all, their eternal meaning, fixed forever. Then he moves on to consider words' interaction on each other, as each one's eternal fixed, non-volatile state becomes destabilised by their impact on each other.
By chance I had been reading, only the day before, about the Zero Point Field (the vaccuum) and its energy. Gravity causes particles' energy and the Zero Point field's energy to interact or 'jiggle' at different rates.(1) So here was an example of words as concepts acting in exactly this way: separately one thing, together something altogether different. Too quickly for thoughts to develop, we were to consider words and music: the dangers presented to words and their stability by music, where the words "swim along". So now words are being swept away from the interior stablility of the listener, who must think on their changing impact on himself.
But all this is too linear. The central concept of self and others - of each topic's 'selfhood' and changing interaction with 'non self' - is examined in a fascinating stream of consciousness which looks at little and large (where, while hearing the most dramatic 'storm' music, the little model house is transformed as if by magic into the stage set of the scaled up exterior wall of the large house) - conundrum: if we have been hearing storm music, why is the puff of smoke rising up in a windless atmosphere?
The big surprise is the man's exit half way through the piece from the theatre we sit in, followed by a video cameraman who films his journey, entry into his house, his subsequent meal and an at-the-door encounter with an intellectually brilliant nine year old boy, all shown to us on the theatre's screen. Suddenly it's a video film and we have no time to wonder why he's gone- or whether he'll come back - because the stream has flown swiftly along taking us all with it.
In the strangely rational manner of dreams, where everything seems to make some kind of sense and logic, the notes about concepts come into sharp focus then fade away again. Constantly Magritte comes to my mind as what I see and hear plunge me into his cool, surreal world of disparate objects and themes 'jiggling' along with each other. And all the while is the music, sometimes leading the thoughts, sometimes expanding on the stream of consciousness and the philposphy; always, underpinning everything, is the mind's search for order - even in the most strange and outrageous juxtapositions. Inspired lighting also helps to achieve a rational balance.
And, because everything single thing is important in this unique composer/playwright's mind, we must come to think on the strange, unpronounceable title. It's an Aboriginal concept, meaning looking back to a lost, ideal time of peace and happiness, the Dreamtime. The Musée des Phrases has been built up in just-logical, tangential mental leaps, with 'self and non-self' swimming along in music's eternaly-logical flow. We've seen real theatre with real people melt into video film and back again. Our minds - as well as the hero's mind - have been caught up on a slightly-too-fast, disorienting journey and have tried to sort the experiences into an order we can feel, at the very least, comfortable with and at best have under control.
The music has ranged across some three centuries. from the 'dreamtime ' of Bach's Art of fuge to the destablised feeling invoked by George Crumb's Black angel. In the end, we are brought to a stable, harmonious point and we leave a mind-expanding, ultimately optimistic experience with the feeling that the Zero Point Field of human existence is an orderly one, all underscored by the music.
It was a marvellous music theatre experience and a privilege to have been present at it. It's one that this reviewer will return to as many times as possible, knowing that new concepts and aspects of psychology and philposophy will be discovered. Truly this is an master who sees music in a multi dimentional way and can show us new things.
www.edinburghguide.com (GB), 30 August 2004