Line Tjørnhøj continues her exploration of the human voice in her debut concert 'enTmenschT'. The work will be performed by Theatre of Voices.
Line Tjørnhøj opens the conversation about 'enTmenschT' with a statement: "I am filled with a major fear of the future!" She isn't talking about her own immediate future following the debut concert, but the future of humanity in a larger perspective.
"My fear of the future is the content of my work, so to speak. I find it incredibly meaningful to create a retrospective look at our own time, to look at human kind through the filter of history. I have chosen the filter of the time around the two world wars because at that time there was an essential change in the perception of art, psychology - of being human."
The tales of Charlotte, Alfred, Oskar and Alma
In enTmenschT history is represented by two expressive artists and a person they were each romantically involved with. The artist Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) and the singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn (1896 –1962). Painter and poet Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) and composer Alma Mahler (1879 –1964).
"All four of them could be said to exceed our usual notion of normality, and Charlotte and Oskar both ended up doing something that goes beyond what we consider ethical, human behaviour. Charlotte Salomon kills her grandfather to liberate herself from abuse. Oskar Kokoschka was so obsessed with Alma Mahler, that when she left him, he commissioned a life-size doll to simulate her, and pose as his model."
“Charlotte and Oskar have left behind material in writing and in their art that declaim these actions," Line Tjørnhøj tells. Part of the text in enTmenschT is based on Charlotte Salomon's confessional letter, addressed to Alfred Wolfsohn, and on Oskar Kokoschka's written directions to the puppet maker. "When we look at ourselves and at our present time through this filter, we get a sense of the fact that what we do now have a great impact on the future that we shape. And that we are currently seeing a change in the perception of humanity equivalent to that time.”
The full spectre of the human voice
Line Tjørnhøj detects an element of that change in the notion that there is barely anything authentic human left. She finds that we all exist in so many different versions online and offline, and she works with the notion of authenticity through the voice.
“The voice is a metonymy for the authentic human or authentic person. There is such an evident signature in the voice. We recognize each other by the voice, and we can tell if someone is truthful or not by the sound of their voice.”
"I have worked with the full spectre of the human voice ever since I started writing music, and the scream is completely essential to me. It is my leitmotif." Line Tjørnhøj exclaims. "In that sense I relate deeply to Alfred Wolfsohn. He was haunted by the screams from the trenches, and after the war he was obsessed with developing a psychotherapeutic method to heal yourself through your own voice.”
Inspiration and collaboration
Since she wrote 'Vox Reportage' in 2013-2014 Line Tjørnhøj has had a number of conversations with Paul Hillier, the conductor of Theatre of Voices, conversations about our time, music and the human voice. "These conversations have been a great source of inspiration for me, and they have kept opening new doors, feeding my obsession with these subjects."
Working with Theatre of Voices adds yet another layer to Line Tjørnhøj's reflections. "When I work with such a specialized ensemble as Theatre of Voices, you have to question the perception of the authenticity of the voice. Is the authentic voice still there, in such extremely trained singers? The sound of this work contains the exploration of that question."
enTmenschT is hard to capture in a well-known artistic form. It is not an opera, not really music theatre and not an art installation. “It is a musical artwork that also unfolds visually,” Line Tjørnhøj explains. “My reflections about fear of the future, art and the authentic human is integrated as an underlying conversation with the audience throughout the work. To do justice to the tales about Oskar Kokoschka, Alma Mahler, Charlotte Salomon and Alfred Wolfsohn, I have established a collaboration with Signe Klejs. I have taken on the role as the model posing for the artist, and have posed for Signe Klejs as Alma posed for Oskar."
A significant element in the visual expression of the work is the skin, and skin being shed, like a snake moulting. "These four persons left so much stuff behind and we all leave a mess behind for the next generation - be it artistic expressions, environmental problems, digital traces or unresolved psychological issues," says Line Tjørnhøj.
Never the less some remains from the past can be put to good use. Line Tjørnhøj works with the texts left behind from Oskar and Charlotte, and the music also contains references - like shedded skin she picked up.
"Parts of the music may sound like arias and classic duets, you may hear or sense Dadaist features or extremely expressive elements. Parts of the score consists of completely free directions, that the singers must interpret, but I also work with the human voice in an orchestral manner, and parts of the score is extremely complex and precise."
AGONY - an eating opera
A death area about the end of patriarchy
“In love, nothing exists between heart and heart. Speech is born out of longing”
في الحب لا يوجد شيئا بين قلبين. الكلام ولد من التحرق
Rabiʿa al-Basri, Muslim saint and feminist
AGONY – an eating opera was born out of various debates on gender, sexuality, identity, and power structures worldwide. The opera tells a heart-rendering story about family relations, abuse and harmful, cultural norms. Still, it does not present a specific solution for the main character, Angel, who tries to define his own gender identity.
The libretto is a sampling of modern day’s SoMe-updates and hashtags but it also bears reference to past debaters such as Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Rabiʿa al-Basri (717-801).
The musical universe of AGONY is created by the pure sound of human voices, the sound of kitchen tools, and the sound of the meal that both audience and performers consume during the play.
Sitting around the table in the opera hall we are as spectators, yet also partakers, challenged to notice our own inner veils that cause a blur of our visions.
Women's empowerment in Jordan
Tjørnhøj’s personal and professional enrichments from visits in the Middle East played an essential role in the creation of AGONY - an eating opera. The opera integrates among other things Arabic lyrics, Jordanian spices, and Karak tea served in handmade clay cups made by the Jordanian Tal Al-Rumman Women Cooperative.
See also DUST-concept for more background knowledge.
On a warm, dusty mountain in Jordan the idea of a collaboration between Line Tjørnhøj and the Royal Botanical Garden of Jordan was formed. This led to the creation of an opera that tested the possibility of intertwining art and socio-economic development in a sustainable framework.
The opera invited its audience for Jordanian-inspired apple pie and coffee while the musical play took place on scene. The coffee was served in clay cups made by rural, Jordanian women, who had also created embroidered pillows and napkins for the scenery in a collaboration with Danish designers Stine Weigelt and Lærke Balslev.
Empowerment and mutual sharing
Hereby, the concept of DUST was born. In its first edition, DUST empowered a group of Jordanian women through design workshops. The physical results hereof were product-placed in the testing opera evolving around the meal.
Therefore, DUST seeks a new social agenda: to bring people together around the dinner table where we naturally and mutually share with each other. Troels Primdahl, director of the testing opera, reflects upon this concept:
“Dust is like an uncontrollable force. Even our most tenacious attempts to get rid of it are somehow doomed to fail. Isn't there a different way of dealing with the unwanted particles in this world? Rather sooner than later we realize that we're all walking on the same dusty road...”
See also AGONY – an eating opera which is based on the DUST-concept.
Is there such a thing as disability?
The hero figure of SHANGHAI is performed by a man in a wheelchair. The other artists eventually function as his arms and legs moving him around on stage.
Through our hero, and several other disabled from the cast, SHANGHAI speaks up for diversity. It aims at representing people we normally don’t see on stage and challenges our understanding of who can contribute to society.
Who is in control?
The main theme of the narrative in SHANGHAI is control and the negative sides of it. Accordingly, the artists were not chosen in the light of a readymade partiture. On the contrary, Line Tjørnhøj created the arias based on each artist’s individual sounds and abilities. SHANGHAI, hereby, underlines the importance of letting each individual form his/her own life.
SHANGHAI casts both professional singers and fresh artists with no experience in opera at all. The latter group includes disabled, if they should really be called so, who have dreamt of expressing themselves through art but never before got the opportunity. Hereby, an interesting meeting point arises which can lead to new, beautiful, and extraordinary inventions.
SHANGHAI was created in a collaboration between GöteborgsOperan and ShareMusic & Performing Arts with music by Line Tjørnhøj and text by Erik Fägerborn.
TUSK, meaning “barter” or “bartering”, is an opera for soloists and symphony orchestra created to be performed live in the street of Jægergårdsgade in Aarhus, Denmark. Every singer and instrument were placed at different locations in the street, inside shops, or even inside private apartments. The conductor, taking the silent lead at the end of the street, was live streamed while conducting and followed on screens by the soloists and orchestra.
Whatever heading for this “bartering” intentionally or accidently finding oneself in the middle of it, TUSK has something special to offer musically. And each listener will get his/her own version of the play. TUSK is trying to bring a high-culture musical experience down to street level letting a diverse group of people meet and exchange in the midst of a burlesque-like atmosphere.
Reflections on being human
Vox Reportage, composed for Ars Nova Copenhagen, is an abstract flow of human feelings and expressions. Vox Reportage creates a universe of reflection where we as human beings can deal with chaos, pain, and hopelessness.
Of all “instruments”, the human voice is the only one complex enough to reflect on those deep moods. Exactly therefore, Vox Reportage is written for human voices only. Maybe, when dwelling in the beauty from these tones, healing can be found.
Crowds and power
The libretto, written by Tjørnhøj and conductor of Ars Nova Copenhagen Paul Hillier, is sampled from Elias Canetti’s philosophic writing Masse und Macht. Intellectual texts can offer interesting perspectives and fantastic associations but the mere text in Vox Reportage is not meant to bear the music. We instantly understand sounds and are able to create our own intuitions and interpretations hereof.
Vox Reportage experiments with electronic sounds – not per se but by making acoustic human voices imitate it – thereby creating a strong sense of contemporality. Vox Reportage is about our time and generation which moves extremely fast – especially when it comes to social media, digital monitoring, and risks of leaks or power over the crowds.
Crowd Crystals from Vox Reportage by Line Tjørnhøj
Duet from Vox Reportage by Line Tjørnhøj
Between child and adult
PORTRAIT as a concept aims at giving teenagers a voice and an opportunity to reflect on their own position in society. Through art and interviews made by both teenagers, professional artists, and scholars in a co-creative setting, we get a glimpse of what it feels like to be in-between childhood and adulthood.
1st edition of the concept
In 2011, 400 fourteen-year-olds from all over Denmark were invited for artistic workshops by composer Line Tjørnhøj, anthropologist Birgitte Stampe Holst, and media designer Signe Klejs. 30 qualitative interviews were also conducted.
This resulted in a product – an interactive exhibition with live performances – consisting of both audio files, stop motion pictures, poems, blogs, opera, papers, recitals, and installation art. Among the most popular themes featured by the teenagers were sexuality, body, society, and power.
Letting teenagers speak for themselves
You are not able to vote for elections in Denmark before the age of eighteen but at fourteen you can be legally sued. Thus, for four years (at least) society is performing a rite de passage on Danish teenagers without them having a democratic say in the process.
PORTRAIT seeks to validating teenagers’ opinions and thoughts on themselves and society by letting them speak up – despite their cracking voices. Not to forget, they are our most important source for understanding this in-between position in society.
Mourning her dying child
STABAT MATER takes the harsh realities of human interactions as its point of departure. Painfully, it refers to the true narrative of 16-year-old Iranian Atefah Sahaaleh, who was sentenced to death for being raped – a serious “crime against chastity” according to the local, sharia-based court.
But STABAT MATER is well aware of the fact that this case is, unfortunately, not the only of its kind. Worldwide children suffer, are being trialed, raped, and tortured without consciousness of international conventions of human rights. Thereby, STABAT MATER tells the universal and timeless story of parents losing their children to destructive perceptions of how society should be upheld.
Line Tjørnhøj calls STABAT MATER a “crash-production” – a collision of different artistic fields. It is an opera focusing on extended vocal techniques, yet also a choreography, a production of visual effects, and an experiment with sounds created from a contrabass and rough scenography materials.
The form of the work, by itself, underlines the widespread tragedy of heartless systems colliding with innocent children.
Child: It is your duty to punish my tormentors, not me their victim. I am not old enough to marry. I cannot declare war. Still, I am abused, tortured, sentenced to death, executed.
Judge: You will hang for your sharp tongue. I myself will put the noose around your neck. This is my personal crusade. To uphold this verdict. Transfix my heart with the wounds.
From the libretto, “Child versus Judge”
Trailer Stabat Mater
Rose from Stabat Mater
Iron Stabat Mater
It takes you 20 minutes to die
Daughter is the first piece in a series of electro-acoustic compositions in which Line Tjørnhøj experiments with the relationship between documentary and voice in a so-called vox:dox production.
The voice occupies a central position in Tjørnhøj’s compositions in general. She exploits it in an abstract operatic framework, in staged concerts, vox:dox and multimedia performances. Her acoustic universe is free and intuitive and her works are situated in the sounds and stories that surround her.
Daughter is based on a true story from the West Bank: a young woman is raped by her two brothers, and her mother kills her to preserve the family honor! Though the mother afterwards removes all physical evidence that bears witness of her three children, memories are hard to erase, she admits.
The actual words of the libretto are taken from an interview with the young woman’s (Rofayda Qaoud) mother (Amira Abu Hanhan Qaoud), presented in “Mother kills raped daughter to restore `honor ́” by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in The Seattle Times, November 17, 2003.
One should not be afraid of death
Line Tjørnhøj’s award winning Anorexia Sacra is an intense story about a young woman devoting herself to anorexia. In front of her family, who can do nothing to interrupt, she makes a vow to obey the demands of the killing disease.
800 years of self-control
The libretto consists of extracts from letters between Clare of Assisi and Agnes from Prague (Danish Queen Dagmar’s little sister). The two women belong to a group of medieval female ascetics who – according to contemporary psychiatric understanding – practiced behavior commonly associated with eating disorders.
Modern day’s anorectics, although focusing on the perfect body rather than the unification with Christ, also practices strict self-control and willpower. Pro-ana websites function as their medium for exchange on diet tips and “thinspiration”. The libretto of Anorexia Sacra gathered its elegy from here as well, thus poetically bridging past and present.
Almost as if she was searching for her holy icon, the main character of Anorexia Sacra bursts out: ”Where is the loo, I need to kneel”. The anorexia answers her by singing: ”You broke our pact! Kneel! Spit blood and slime”.