Event: Concert, Edition Gravis (in preparation), St. Peter's Church, New York, artist(s)/author(s): DÁNIEL PÉTER BIRÓ
Nulla Res Singularis was commissioned by the Klangforum Heidelberg and written for the Schola Heidelberg and the Ensemble Aisthesis.
The composition is based on a text of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). The initial conceptual framework for this composition cycle began when I was visiting professor in the computing and information sciences department of Netherland’s Utrecht University in 2011. Working with researchers on a Government project about oral cultures in the Netherlands, I traveled the country to record and analyze the multitude of Jewish and Islamic recitation practices. In this time, nationalist elements in the Netherlands started to emerge and to affect both my research and the individual subjects of my research. In order to understand the larger historical context of the current political situation, I started to investigate the complex history of state oppression and free speech in the Netherlands and to consider how this stands in dialogue with the globalized political problems of today.
In The Hague, I lived not far from Spinoza’s burial site and place of residence. While one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century, Spinoza was banned from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam because of his views on God and nature, which proved to be too radical for the time. In his philosophical treatise Ethics, Spinoza attempted to present a new type of theology, one that was autonomous from organized religion, such as that of his own Portuguese Jewish community. As Spinoza could not publish his Ethics in his lifetime, and as he was not able to take part in Jewish life, he was forced to live a life “outside” of the official culture of his time. He went into inner exile.
I find that in the very complicated time in which we live, the most pertinent form of censorship is self-censorship. I find that the world governed by what Adorno termed “bureaucratic consciousness,” one that allows for a new kind of state control and control of consciousness. Simultaneously, we live in a era of “distraction fascism,” one in which thoughtful reflection – about any topic – has become an endangered species. Therefore the very act of “thinking” – in the larger sense has become – once again – subversive as it deals not only with basic cognition but also with the meaning of life and existence.
As a Hungarian citizen living in Canada, I view all what is happening in Hungary from afar. Frequently returning to Hungary, I am able to compare the changes and the increasingly authoritarian ruling of the current Government, as they have ever more control of the state and private media, as they create a nationalist education platform, and bombard the population with nationalist, racist, anti-Semitic propaganda. In Canada, I can currently also just look over the border to the south and observe a more amateurish but equally dangerous dictatorial movement gaining ground in the United States. It goes without saying, that I compare these developments to those of the past and how my family dealt with fascist and communist dictatorships of the past. In this way, the past becomes increasingly present in my observations of the world. So, in this way, nothing is new and, at the end of the day, I am not surprised by the current situation.
In Canada, I have a hard time to explain to Canadians my relationship to these new forms of dictatorship and also how this development has an effect on my creative output and thinking. Writing in a situation of exile, I find that the thought, which I channel into my compositions, is the only answer to the meaninglessness of the distractions outside of the idyllic paradise of Vancouver Island. The thought and expression of my compositions, at least for the larger world of my immediate surroundings, as well as for the Hungarian cultural establishment, are also expressions of meaning in a world of censorship and self- censorship.
In the composition, each singer presents sections of the text in such a manner, as to imply that the text cannot be said openly. In the course of the work the string instruments, present a parallel world to that of the singers, one that eventually starts to speak and take over the phonetic elements of the voices, becoming an “exiled language” of absolute music. Simultaneously, Torah text and recitation is presented as a cantus firmus, its sonority based on Jewish recitation practices from Spinoza’s own Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. This ancient text and chant, recalling a cherished ground of spiritual enlightenment, also presents the world from which the other material and thought both derives and is exiled from. In this way, I pay tribute to Spinoza’s situation of exile and creation. Even if he was not able to publish his work in his lifetime, it still gives us hope in the horrible political world of today.