„Music and poetry inhabit the same neighborhood“ – Paul Brody on his project LOVE&DEMOCRACY

Foto: Dirk Hasskarl

Paul Brody launches a four-part sound installation at Lettrétage with the title „Love&Democracy“. We asked the artist about the background of the project and talked to Brody about neighbourhoods, music, poetry and the meaning of love.

You are doing a sound installation by recording writers reading their own work and composing music to the voices. What is the goal of this project?
The idea is to compose what I’m calling musical translations. By that I mean a translation not simply of the words written, but a translation of the poets‘ voices. Poets such as Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey have developed the concept of homophonic translations—translating texts based on their sonic qualities. So think of musical translation as a cousin of that. The human voice is a musical instrument, and every one has its own rules. That is, every voice has a specific tonality, rhythm, and timbre. It can even have a specific rhythm and key! And when you listen to a reading of a poetic text, the tone of the voice is often heightened. With this project, I’m seeking to explore this elevated, intensified tone through music.

Your four-part sound installation series is entitled Love&Democracy. Why are you combining love with democracy?
Both love and democracy are vital for our everyday lives, but they can both be hugely complicated. Each is a constant process that reflects our humanness. Dr. Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit, whom I interviewed for a WDR radio feature about Germany’s Grundgesetz, told me „democracy is the most difficult form of government.“ It demands something of us; We must be active in its upkeep. We have to cultivate it like a relationship. We need to show it that we care. For me, this is love. Part of the inspiration comes from an earlier project, when I was commissioned to write a symphonic work based on the voice patterns of politicians debating in the Bundestag. In that project, I like to think I tapped into one element of the melody of democratic discussion. With Love&Democracy, I’m hoping to discover the more chaotic, but genuine and elemental, melodies of democratic discussion and debate among regular people, with a particular focus on the themes of the neighborhood, simple communication, the fragility of freedom, and democracy across borders.

You have lived in Seattle, Boston, California and Berlin, to name just a few. As a sound artist, composer and trumpeter, you work regularly at the Théâtre de Vidy in Lausanne, the Münchner Kammerspiele, the Berliner Schaubühne, the MC93 Paris, the New York Harlem Opera and the Wiener Burgtheater, among others. And you’re even a member of The Gincident, Berlin’s best twangwave and grungegrass band!! Where would you say your „neighborhood“ is and what constitutes it? And how do poetry and music actually relate to „neighborhood“?
My neighborhood is Schoeneberg. I’m at home here. And in a more metaphoric sense, music and poetry inhabit the same neighborhood: There’s as much musical information in most everyday speech as in an opera aria. But to focus on the meaning of the words, our brains filter out much of the melodic content. Try listening to your family or coworkers, but ignore the words and focus on the melodic content. You’ll discover a ton of music! From this perspective, conversations on the street, kids at the playground, neighbors greeting each other—thay all create the soundtrack of our place! And once we start listening differently, well, that’s when we discover the embedded poetry!

How did you come to choose the authors from whose texts you build your installation? Which „neighborhoods“ are represented?
For the first of the four installations, Love&Democracy: Neighborhood, I focus on writers‘ perspectives of where they live—not necessarily a specific place, but the idea of home and belonging. The installation runs about 45 minutes, starting with a beautiful passage from Gregor Dotzauer’s book, „Schläft ein Lied in allen Dingen“, where he takes walk and listens to his street. Then I’ve got short pieces from Angélica Freitas and Tom Drury, where they explore different aspects of their neighborhoods. In a selection from Gregor Hens’s „Die Stadt und der Erdkreis“, we follow him and his daughter along Berlin’s waterways before fully retreating into nature with Michael Krüger. The final section examines the alienation we can experience, even in a place we feel we should belong: a passage from Donna Stonecipher’s „Model City“, where she describes a neighborhood’s destruction, followed by the brilliantly dark imagery in poems by Tom Bresemann and Ivana Sajko. We conclude with a wingless pigeon in the urban blight of Christian Hawkey’s poem, „Homeless Clone“.