Composer Kirill Shirokov on Orphic Games. Punk-macrame
Kristina Matvienko | 29 June 2018 | интервью

A conversation with Kristina Matvienko

Kristina Matvienko: Kirill, we wanted to talk about Orphic Games from the point of view of how the project is constructed musically, and what you did in the project as composers. Because, as far as we understand, that is a crucial aspect of the production. What was your function and how did it change in the course of the work?

Kirill Shirokov: The work lasted two years in the Studio of Individual Direction (MIR-5). We worked with the participants, we conducted training, delivered lectures, and discussed the musical structure of their work. This dialogue ultimately played a key role in the music that came about as a result. We gave shape to the original material - many of the scores that we came up with were discovered in tandem with the MIR-5 participants. A number of scenes are musical ideas that were suggested by the directors, but which emerged as autonomous pieces within the performance. This is the layer you see on stage. There is another voluminous layer that was created by Dmitri Kourliandski, Vladimir Gorlinsky and me. This is music that fills the space: sound environments and sonic artifacts that we hear through speakers. This elaborate, joint work was done for each transition, for each episode in all 12 performances. We looked for sound designs from different sonic materials that in one way or another complemented each other. I created a network of so-called interiors, which from time to time appear in the performance and are heard in the space.

Matvienko: You mean sound interiors?           

Shirokov: Yes. They are embedded in Gorlinsky's sound environments, they become parts of them, sometimes merging with Kourliandski’s Radio Orpheus. Sometimes they appear separately, giving shading to silence. In this manner, together, we created one big construction out of dissimilar parts.

Matvienko: That’s complex. But what do you mean when you say “sound interiors?” Does that mean a person sits in a cafe so there must be the appropriate sounds around him? Why do you use the word “interior?”

Shirokov: Because it’s a sound that creates the interior of the performance. As a rule, these are abstract sound forms or individual sounds, which, in one way or another, interact with the stage action. Orphic Games is very interesting, in my opinion, in that the deployment of these sounds closely interacts with the logic of chance. Sound interiors are built into the performance on partially random grounds.

It was like this: we arranged everything in the scripts of the 12 performances, and then, in the process of working, we began to get a feel for the living matter, which we connected in different ways, eventually organizing it into a whole. Some parts of this whole are associated with the performance in paradoxical ways, some directly illustrate the episodes.

Matvienko: Did you write precisely what you wanted to implement in these sequences? Or is this a work composed of what the MIR-5 students did, each to their own taste, and then you somehow came to common ground? Or can these two streams not be separated?

Shirokov: The primary stream was the work of the MIR-5 students. This was, of course, the most important of them. In order to arrive at the final sound environment for all the performances, we also included sound from their works. We recorded numerous musical pieces from the episodes of the performance, then I developed them to create interiors, and I composed new music based on their material. In order for the performance to achieve sonic integrity, we had to distance ourselves from each individual work so that the music it contained was not merely an illustration of individual scenes. If I do say so myself, the result was a symphony in 12 performances.

Matvienko: Okay. Now, you say you conducted training with the students. These are young people who, for the most part, have no background in contemporary music or composing. How and what did you teach them? Is it possible to teach such difficult things to an individual in two years’ time?

Shirokov: I wouldn’t exactly call it a learning process; it’s rather a process of dialogue, and one that is quite horizontal at that: we shared our experience, we commented on the proposals, and then, simply leaning on our own experience, our own relationship with music (our backgrounds are all quite different), we intuitively began constructing a certain picture of the music that we suspected would suit an Orphic theater. In that sense, the process did not fit the typical framework for education - it was more a process of exchange, and mutual complementation, than a process of bringing something in from outside. For example, I don’t understand how, in the end, we achieved an overall aural unity drawn from many individual aural elements. I would say this was our task - to achieve understanding.

Matvienko: How interesting. Meanwhile, Orphic Games employs a variety of sound materials: there is, for example, pop music, which is inserted into the performance in its entirely, and there is a rather complex cantata.

Shirokov: Sofronov’s cantata.

Matvienko: Yes. There are also sounds that you recorded in Moscow’s bedroom communities. I.e, we are dealing with different types of material, which is brought to a common denominator, or the unified aural unity that you mention. How is it arranged stylistically?

Shirokov: I think Orphic Games comprises a space in which any style is possible. That is, it is a huge segment of time that is provided to us by the very form of the 12 performances which we had to develop from a composer's point of view. The materials themselves interact with each other, sometimes paradoxically. Let’s say, a popular song or fairly simple melodic structure is inserted into a complex noise texture. There is a lot of music in Games that we did not write, music that was proposed by the directors in their individual scenes. As a rule, we did not remove or replace anything, we looked for ways to use what we had, and ways to create a whole, proceeding from what existed in the parts.

The most important issue here is time - the time of 12 performances as one, single large entity. Since I often deal with large fragments of musical time, and with forms bordering on concert and ritual, ceremonial and musical work, the six days of our performances were a difficult but manageable task. And since this is not a musical work exclusively, the sounds in it were not considered as independent music. There are rare exceptions, individual pieces, which emerged as independent episodes in the performance. But since we never thought of the musical fabric as something separate, but always kept in mind the performance’s atmosphere, the lighting, the blocking, the dramatic acting. Since we sought to pull everything together - or, more precisely, to play this proposed game consisting of a huge, contiguous theatrical instrument - during the rehearsal process we constantly looked for ways to keep things happening without focusing attention on a central thing.

Matvienko: Am I right to say you used John Cage’s ideas as a starting point, or, at least, tried to employ them in a new way? I mean his method of working with randomness and his ideas that within a certain time frame things might happen that aren’t scripted? Is this in some sense an inspiration for you?

Shirokov: I think somewhere in the back of my head I harbor great respect and love for Cage's music, for the Fluxus community, and for the composers who, after Cage, developed themes he discovered. In general, Cage merely opened up our hearing, that is, he made it possible for music to extend beyond the limits of its former territory. In this sense, he is more the pioneer of a new territory of music than of new material. That’s why Cage is of fundamental importance for me. Any material that is measurable by time or measurable by the idea of ​​time is musical. That is important.

I realize fully that ours is a definite attempt to discover a territory of theatrical music outside the usual, and to reveal a theatre that is full of sound. It is very important that this possibility may, in fact, be contained in the material itself. In other words, the directors’ visions of the individual fragments, Boris Yukhananov's directorial visions, the design and lighting solutions - all of these presuppose individual elements that are full of sound. Therefore, we worked to ensure that the music in Orphic Games would not be illustrative, but would deal with the main concept. In that sense it may be, to some extent, Cagean.

Matvienko: What do you mean by “full of sound”? Does that roughly mean a composition, inside of which every element is independent?

Shirokov: Yes.

Matvienko: That is, there is a unified, general visual-design aspect of the play, but within each day it transforms and unfolds in different ways?

Shirokov: Yes. Here’s basically what happens: each performance contains material that migrates from performance to performance, and then there is material that is created for individual scenes. This is a rather complex structure consisting of new and previous material. It should be noted that one of the basic ideas of the project was to study the interaction of a part with a whole. That’s how it was imagined at the time of the project’s generation, and in its final form. We developed each individual element as a whole then juxtaposed the elements in search of a new wholeness. In fact, all the “games" are made up of micro-elements, each of which can exist on its own, but which, in the end, become an inseparable chain of 12 performances. Each of them represents an integral form, and together they constitute another integral form-stream that can be perceived only by watching all 12 performances in a row.

Matvienko: I see, that’s interesting. So this is a unique piece in terms of the plan of the structure and of the compositional arrangement.

Shirokov: Yes.

Matvienko: Do you see much contemporary theatre?

Shirokov: I try to when there’s a possibility. Most often I see the shows of the Electrotheatre because I work here. When I have free time I attend premieres of musical shows involving composers I know.  In general I have the feeling that this, for me, is a time when I need to immerse myself in a new theatre and to explore various media, including new theatrical music.

Matvienko: Based on your experience at the Electrotheatre and elsewhere, how do you appraise the relationship between contemporary composers and dramatic directors? It’s clear we are coming to a time of collaboration - but who will answer for what? I have a feeling that music will answer for intellectual aspects, for concepts and for complex structures. Can you describe the distribution of forces in your experience of working with participants of Orphic Games?

Shirokov: In my experience with Orphic Games and the students of MIR-5 we overcame the notion of distribution and were drawn into the process of creating a single, whole fabric, as well as every element that went into it (naturally, while remaining responsible for the music). In turn, all the performers accepted, among other things, the logic of the distribution and structuring of the music.

Matvienko: You mean we’re talking about dealing with time?

Shirokov: Yes, and it was unique in the process of interaction to observe how the dramatic becomes steeped with the musical, the philosophical, and the conceptual. On the other hand, we also become steeped with the dramatic, gaining through our dialogue with it. It is a complex dialogue - new music long ago left the dramatic zone, so it blends with drama in a paradoxical way. Absolutely different in and of their own, in dialogue they become harmoniously intertwined with one another.

Matvienko: When you say that new music has left the dramatic, do you mean it has abandoned narrative, plot or psychological coloring? 

Shirokov: I think that it ceases to offer up certain types of psychological action and narrative. Naturally, there is no definite general line in the development of new music, but I listen to a lot, and in recent decades there has been an almost universal withdrawal from traditional monumentalism, from a total mentality, and from working towards catharsis, which have been typical for a significant volume of composers’ music. The backlash leads in the direction of very individual types of form, thinking, and sound. It is these individualities that interact with the spectator and the listener. They form the context, and the result is that the structure of the context itself is being updated. This is not common work in a single trend, but rather many different personal processes of self-discovery in new sounds, in a new social context, and in new forms in relation to constantly changing reality.

Matvienko: That’s interesting. Can you say what a listener must do to achieve the most effective, or at least the most comfortable, perception and acceptance of what new music has to offer? Does the spectator need to know the laws of what is being created, or the laws that the composer rejected, or can you just be a tabula rasa?

Shirokov: I thinks it’s always the spectator’s choice. It’s important that music which seeks to be free also speaks about freedom. That goes first of all for me and my own material. It follows that it’s up to spectators to understand, to hear, and to relate to what they encounter. A lot has been written about the new sound, but there hasn’t been much in recent decades that interprets new music philosophically. Of course, the listener can turn to these materials. But, for example, my experience suggests that it's enough just to listen, it's in the process of listening to new music, just being open to it, that you discover things previously unknown. As a result, I have formed inside me my own context from what was offered by others, and from what I have discovered myself. This is a possible way to go, then you reinforce it further by philosophical and theoretical discourse.

Matvienko: How would you describe the significance of your personal dialogue with Orphic Games?

Shirokov: At present Orphic Games is the most important project involving collaboration that I have engaged in, and every collaborative project is more important to me than, for example, sound material, because collaboration primarily means connection with a person. I suspect that art doesn’t so much consist of material, as of this connection of trends. Naturally, Orphic Games is incredible precisely because 100 various trends came together in a single stream and found each other. This was not a case of presentations and disputes, but a big, two-year period of a common search that was initiated by each of the participants in their own way. This big dialogue for 100 people, from which such a large structure has grown, is in fact not only a new model for a form of theatre, or a work of art in principle, but - and this is important - it is a new model of dialogue. It is a new model, because if we recall other major composer-based projects, say, Stockhausen’s Licht (seven operas) or Wagner's tetralogy, we see they all have a centralizing figure in them.

Matvienko: Totalitarian?

Shirokov: I wouldn’t call them totalitarian, it’s just that they have a center, an idea that is provided fully by one person, and then is formalized in accordance with what was originally provided it. Here we have a new process, which is why the project is described by the term new processuality. This process actually offers a new look not only at the product itself, but also at the essential work of the artist. In the end, of course, everyone turned out to be fulfilling a certain function: the dramatic actor, the director, the composer, the musician... But, in fact, the functions here don’t matter, what matters is how the whole is formed.

Matvienko: But isn’t it true that this decentralization, which offers the absence of a main figure, is still collected, arranged and provided for by the figure of Boris Yukhananov?

Shirokov: I think this is due to the inevitability of the function - a dialogue must be initiated by someone if it is to take place. And for the dialogue to become an object that we can look at, someone must put it together. Communication differs from an artistic work, in my opinion, precisely because it has no end. In order to have a final result, things must be set up, and that, of course, is done by someone, because it cannot be done due for 100 individuals with divergent ideas about each individual aspect of the whole. One hundred minds can form a clear structure, but in order for them to do so, you need a large amount time, for example, an entire life. And since we do not exist in a place where we can devote one life to a single project, the figure of the assembler is needed. In my opinion, Boris Yukhananov reveals this function in the work process. It is important that, ultimately, there be one hundred performers (we see this information on the Electrotheatre website), each of whom has their own function or functions, but in the process we all worked together on the same thing.

Matvienko: One wonders how close this manner of creating theatre is connected today to the exodus from a professional ghetto, to the democratization of art, which seems to say: everyone can write plays, everyone can find or discover music in one or another place, and the artist is no longer a unique being, different from all others?

Shirokov: I think this is more about the fact that everyone is unique and can choose personally what kind of activity they want. But, artistic work requires a very extensive search. Never in the past, nor in the present, nor in the future has it been possible to be an artist just because you want to. This search is an organized, complex, continuous process of one's own education, socializing, and learning. It is virtually impossible without a teacher, a constant interlocutor. Of course, anyone can compose, act, write, and so on, but it requires a specific journey. I think that’s what MIR-5 is about as an educational project.

One can see the reflections of certain models everywhere, because, one way or another, the structures of different areas of human activity are similar. But the main thing here is not the political or socio-cultural message. Although, of course, such a message can be found here - as a sustained, well-formed attempt to invert the vertical axis of education into the horizontal axis of collaboration.