Interview by Ken Farmer
OPUS 1 takes over Merriweather Post Pavilion on October 7th and to get you ready for what is sure to be an incredible mixture of art, music and technology, we have an awesome interview between Ken Farmer (creative director of Wild Dogs International / one of the folks behind OPUS 1) and artist Vincent Moon. Moon’s performance piece Híbridos Live will have its US premiere at Merriweather, and the combination of traditional dance and live video music is sure to be one of your favorite things.
As a cataloguer of world musical cultures, you’ve surely seen a lot of different styles. Is there any one thing (or several things) that is constant no matter where you go?
Many, actually. I would say that most of the elements are constant, in a sense. The more I’ve traveled, the more the idea of differences has started to change in my vision of the world. Because in a way, differences are only on the surface. We all come from the same soil, we all evolved from the same origin. And I think what we see nowadays from different customs and different rituals and different habits and different music are actually just a simple remix of the very truth. Life – and reality, in a way – has evolved as a constant remix of itself. Just look at nature – that’s what nature has been doing all along, becoming more complex over millions of years. I think this is interesting in regard to our global society, which is all in turmoil and crisis, claiming borders and identities. We all come from the same soil and have evolved little by little, but those differences are just on the surface. They’re a very minor part of it – most things we all hold in common. The desire for transcendence, the desire for communal experiences, and the desire for sharing knowledge and music and so on– in the end, you go back to the beginning. We are all actually very close to each other. We live in a very interesting moment in time for our society, when mankind can decide where we want to go together. We have this responsibility and we have to be conscious of the fact that we are responsible for that. We can do a lot if we know what we want to put our energy towards.
What is it about Brazil and its mix of cultures that drew you to make it the subject of HÍBRIDOS?
It’s a country that has always been fascinating to Western minds that wonder how such a society could be possible. The evolution of Brazil compared to other Latin American countries is very unique. It received a lot more slaves from Africa than the other countries of the Americas, and it also experienced a unique form of colonization by the Portuguese, who were way more pagan than the Spanish, for instance. The Catholicism that was applied in Brazil very different, and led to a lot of interesting in-between, hybrids. When I decided to move to Brazil to do research a few years ago, a Brazilian friend of mine told me, “The whole world is going through a global identity crisis and everybody is looking at Brazil to understand how we did it, because we’ve been mixing people for such a long time.” And in my research there I was expecting to find some ideas of what identity is and how we can live together.
In Brazil everyone comes from somewhere else, and people know that. There’s a very interesting, deeply ingrained mix of people that allows identity to fluctuate freely. In that sense, the sacred aspects of it – the music and celebrations and rituals – have taken some very interesting, very evolutive forms. It’s the only country in the world where you will find a religion that’s not even 100 years old that mixes Catholicism and ayahuasca. It’s the only place in the world where you’ll find a thing like Umbanda, which is basically a mix of trance induction with a bit of Christianity plus a little bit of mediumship. It’s a place where people experiment and keep experimenting, because that’s the only way to go. There is no hierarchy in the religion, there’s not someone telling the adepts what to do. By themselves, people are creating new forms of relationship with the invisible and that’s what I was trying to understand. Little by little, through our recordings we’ve been applying this to the way we represent our own work. And that’s the way we’re going to try to represent it at OPUS 1.
Can you share any anecdotes of rituals that have preserved their centuries-old traditions despite modernization and globalization?
That gets at the question of what tradition really is. It’s a very interesting topic, but it’s a very complex one. These notions of archiving, of disappearing, of conserving – it’s all part of a very specific narrative of time. And that narrative of time comes from a very specific part of society: it’s the Western world applying its vision of reality everywhere else. But things do not actually evolve like that. I’ve had to go through an interesting spiritual process to shed that notion, especially due to the fact that I make films, which are (especially when you edit them) based on the timeline, with a beginning, middle, and ending. That relationship to time is actually very problematic, because it postulates the idea that things evolve and progress towards something. I do not think that it’s as simple as that – or actually it’s even simpler than that.
I guess people have preserved their ancient traditions. But what sort of timeframe are we talking about? Because things evolve all the time, and nothing can stop that. Especially with oral traditions, things get deformed little by little. Things get told to one person and then another and another, they are not stuck in the world of writing. And I think it’s interesting to attempt to redevelop our ability to understand this reality, which is way closer to the way that indigenous relate to time. Because it’s a relationship that is not so morbid, not so fascinated by the end. Because there is no end. We live so much in a world fascinated by death, when we really don’t understand it – we don’t understand that it’s a passage to another level of consciousness or maybe of evolution, but in a way there is no end. There’s just a constant flux of energy where the yesterday and the tomorrow are mixed in with the now. I think that relationship is very beautiful. So I can’t directly answer your question, except to explain my point of view.
How will festival goers experience HíBRIDOS Live, and how is it different from what you might show in a cinema?
Nothing ever repeats when it comes to our work. There’s always at least a tiny, slight change. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen at OPUS 1. Our process is basically to create a certain type of space where all those images and sounds are free, by themselves. The images and the sounds, I believe, have their own energy. We can call it a spirit. They are engaging with the viewer in a very different way each time, because every viewer is different. The cinema that we like to make is very opposed to a cinema that tries to say something concrete. When people ask me after a live show, “What are you trying to say?” I respond, “I have no idea. I’m not trying to say anything, but you are probably trying to understand something. You are the only one able to tell me what it was all about.” Every viewer is independent in their relationship with the images. There is no clear direction, no clear point. I just want to trigger a few things deeply ingrained in each of us that have to do with fear, with trance, with love, with the other, with projection onto another culture, with the unknown, with the loss of control. We’re very excited about opening those doors. Our work is also available on the internet, where we can put more context around the work, with more information. So every screen, every moment is a different experience we like to create with the viewer. What we’ll do at OPUS 1 is create a sort of ritualistic space that is similar to an expanded cinema experience, where we’ll invite people in and see where we go together. Everything we do is improvised when we play live. That type of relationship is the only one that allows the work to not simply be a work, but something that is unknown even to me. I don’t see myself as the owner of all those images and sounds. We’re just taking them, bringing them somewhere, and letting them go by themselves. Even I am often surprised by the results. It’s an everchanging experience.
As a filmmaker, what does the multichannel format bring to the story you’re telling?
It’s hard to phrase without sounding pretentious, but I have a big problem with the idea of storytelling. It goes back to that relationship to time. It’s a vision of reality with only one angle, when there are actually multiple aspects to reality. Storytelling reduces and simplifies reality to one layer.
The creative process for me is very much improvised. Improvisation is the core of my life, because actually there’s no other way to be. You have to improvise. But storytelling goes completely against that, it says you have to prepare and know what you’re going to do. And I totally disagree with that. I think you should never know what you’re going to do, and let it go. Because I’m not the only one creating the story. In the type of work that we experiment with, there are as many stories as there are viewers. It’s much more rich to let people think for themselves, to dive into it by themselves.
When I was growing up in Paris in my twenties, I had access to so many incredible art forms. And every time, the strongest art forms I encountered were the ones that I stood in front of, wondering, “What the heck is this?! I have no idea.” Every time I had to question myself in front of a painting or a show or a film, I knew that that was the right way to go. Because nobody was holding my hand anymore, and that was exactly the relationship with art that we should pursue as much as possible. Because that’s the only way we can elevate the consciousness of everybody. Consider everybody as equal and let’s see where we go together. So I have no story to tell. Everyone just has to receive and express and integrate all those elements in order to take themselves further. The piece is not the end – the piece is just the beginning of something larger, hopefully.
How does music influence your filmmaking approach and techniques?
In every way possible! I started to make films because of music. It wasn’t clear in my mind, but I started taking photos in my twenties and I realized that it was an incredible tool for improvisation. I would just take my camera into the streets, shoot, and be a photographer. But that’s not the way I was taught about cinema when I went to university. I was taught about this very complex cinema industry. But in the beginning of the year 2000 you suddenly had on the market all these new digital tools that allowed you to do a lot with very little. And I thought it was amazing. So I dove into the digital world and the screen of the internet, which is a stunning way to reach the world, to connect with it directly. It was exactly the type of cinema I was interested in making, diving into this direct relationship that was much closer to the way people play and perform music than the way people make films. Because in music you can improvise, you can just play. So I began to think, how can I make an improvised film? How can I dive into the creative process of making films by improvising from A to Z, as much as possible? Which is now what I do when I film, but the editing process still relies on a timeline with a beginning, middle, and end. But it’s live cinema and installation that really break that down into something more improvised, with the raw, sensorial energy of music. Most of the cinema we see these days is way closer to literature, but I believe the language of cinema should be much closer to the language of music. There are many ways to make cinema, I’m just trying to explore a path that could present a more vibrational relationship with cinema. All this comes from my love for music.