Vol. 12 No. 4, Winter 2007/2008 (#48)


Routes, not Roots
Pierre Joris
Ta’wil Productions, ($12)
la garbure transcontinentale/the bi-continental chowder
Nicole Peyrafitte
Ta’wil Productions ($12)
by Christine Hume

Internationalism in art often comes with the double bind of elitism and populism—the desire to be aesthetically impeccable jostles with the drive to be socially justified and culturally inclusive, generating alternating currents of bad art and bad faith. American artists seem particularly ingenuous and cynical about the possibilities of globalism; perhaps this is why it takes two expatriates living in the US to finesse authenticity and passion in the spirit of a nomadic perspective. In their new CDs, Pierre Joris and Nicole Peyrafitte demonstrate how to live in a here-and-now infused with a wide melodic ambit and an acute attention to elsewhere. They accomplish this not only by way of a temporal medium, but also via their capacity for inhabiting heterogeneous languages and methods. Song and story become travel companions, each trading talents with and stealing in on the other, in a world where to travel means to follow with your ears, to transform.
For instance, “Aegean Shortwave” on Routes, not Roots—one of the more stunning pieces on both CDs, and the only collaboration between Joris and Peyrafitte on either—focuses on sound itself as an agent of travel and change. Sound is where language and poetry connect to fundamental vibrations and modalities of the body and universe; radio waves shape and connect cosmic and local realms. The title links “Aegean” as a primary ancient trade route to “radio” as cross-contaminator of cultures, and both terms serve as a correlative of poetic praxis; this oxymoronic coupling also marbles the material past (Aegean) with the immaterial present (shortwave). The piece uses the trope of a scanning radio, pace John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape #4,” but with only one radio and a premeditated script). It sounds like poetry as if it were radio and vise versa. Joris’s voice stops at various stations to report inter-nesting nationalities and cultures with sardonic bytes such as “change Poland into an Arabic pop song” and “Congolese people discuss the five year plan to overcome colonialist static.” Joris also self-referentially comments on the medium itself (“who rules these waves,” “a live voice must be true”), foregrounding the despair in the belatedness of facts and the territorializing of air. These atomized bits of “news” relate the pleasure and problems, the absurdities and aggressions, of globalism.
“Aegean Shortwave” isn’t limited to poetry, however; its luminous juxtapositions of rhizomatic reporting cuts across static and various “world music,” most prominently Peyrafitte’s melancholy song—an incantatory vocal that freestyles a French version of Joris’s poem. Peyrafitte’s phrasing works in relation to Joris’s, producing a dialectical aurality that kinesthetically discovers the everydayness of displacement. Her gradually quickening and volumizing lyric lends a dramatic counterpoint to Joris’s flatly urgent main delivery; Peyrafitte’s incantation also blues the mood of the piece. Though their voices are somewhat gendered, identity and agency are mysterious here, and offer lush mutual feedback of extra- and para-linguistic effects. The two voices intertwine, travel together, and look opposite ways. It’s difficult to imagine that Joris and Peyrafitte did not have Robert Kelly (whose “ta-wil of the first line” is referenced in their production company) in mind: “This chant was my first news of the Great Trade Route along which scarce and isolate merchant-poet-nomads carried goods from tribe to tribe, over the mountains and under the sun, bringing only the news” (The Convections). Indeed, there is a traditionally vatic strain to the entire CD, but one complicated by polyphony, drawing especially from the Middle East and Europe. The visionary nature of the work is highly political without putting in abeyance its personal implications. “Aegean Shortwave” intensifies and amorously entwines what each performer does best solo.
Both CDs bring in a mélange of musical, textual, and historico-political references. Both perforate their surfaces with other voices, languages, and sounds that insinuate ambiance and politics in the spirit of Giorgio Agamben’s idea of “the coming community,” one that has no stakes in the identity of belonging, but exists as a propositional status. The arrangements of both orchestrate whole gestures, rather than collections of disparate numbers, each coming in three parts, each repeating phrases, motifs, and rhythmic signatures. Peyrafitte’s guiding inspiration is her life across a single line of latitude, though the longings and deep longitudes weave in a complex criss-crossing of cultural horizons. She introduces each piece with a short spoken interlude bearing the post-fix “Line” (DesireLine, SteelLine, FlowLine etc); these “lines” play between poetic and transportative, where metaphor is literally moving, and manage both a sense of meander and mindfulness. The traditional transit mode of communication maintains, yet rather than validating immediate emotional truth, Peyrafitte yanks the planks out of ontological grounding. The line here is anything but linear, and acts as a kind of frontier, perpetually pushing beyond itself and carrying us through song, chant, and speech in the traditions of Anne Waldman and Jayne Cortez, but also their own concoction of Greek tragedy stirred up with Cabaret Voltaire shenanigans. While both Peyrafitte’s and Joris’s styles are more jazzy than funky or avant-garde, Peyrafitte tends more toward the operatic. Whereas Joris employs a double fidelity to sound and written text, Peyrafitte’s alliegance is equally to sound and performance. Her zigzag circuit between France and New York with various stops at stations past and present carries us through dazzling and didactic fluxes of perspective firmly planted in autobiography.
The sections “The City,” “In Between,” and “The Desert,” firmly route (not root) Joris’s CD, whereas Peyrafitte’s has another structure superimposed on the geopolitical one: she takes us through a three-act performance that stimulates all the senses with music, video, and actual soup making and tasting. Of course, we must imagine the latter two while listening, but Peyrafitte’s compositions are so nourishing and sensual, so campy and moody, that we hardly miss it. The Yanyuwa aborigines of Australia believe that music literally has curative properties. In one traditional method, the healer sings a medicine song directly into the top of the head of the patient. The song circulates through the body, driving out illness or unease. In recovering such traditional capacities of music and performance, Peyrafitte and Joris’s work ease us out of negativity into a kind of critically-aware rhapsody.


Email Ta'wil Productions
Back to Home Page