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DIGITORECITALS

  Interview with Ester Xargay. By Eugenio Tisselli.

 

 

Introduction

I met Ester Xargay in Barcelona in 1999, and we began working together immediately. For almost five years, we presented live visual poetry made in a collaborative way: she would come up with videos and texts, and I would arrange the images and the words into digital, performable pieces.

These pieces were presented in many different contexts: big poetry festivals, small poetry sessions in bars, clubs and theaters, and even conferences and lectures. But there were always some constants: Ester's voice on the microphone, and me on the computer keyboard, manipulating and projecting her images and words using the MIDIPoet software.

Ester has a wide experience in the fields of videoart and poetry, and she is a recognized artist and writer in Catalonia. This short interview is a reflection on what we did: maybe now we can look back and try to talk about all the fun, excitement and discovery that we shared while performing live visuals and poetry. We knew we were experimenting with something new for both of us but, above all, we did it because we enjoyed it tremendously.

Eugenio Tisselli: First of all, I would like to know whether you believe that the word "poet" is the one that describes you best, or if you prefer to use other terms. Do you think that "poetry" is a term that is broad enough to cover everything you do?

Ester Xargay: I usually say that I am a writer and videomaker. I think that such terms can give more clues to understand what I do, because they put me inside the fields of literature and audio-visual creation. These are the two areas in which I work and that I try to combine.

What I do is some kind of visual poetry, a hybrid between literature and videoart, that comes from sources which I would place closer to cinema -such as the inventions and discoveries made in experimental cinema, or the visual music films made in the 20s and 30s- rather than to the more orthodox visual poetry.

I'm interested in writing, in the most experimental and artistic sides of poetry, when it's grafted by other languages such as image and sound, when it's involved with the research areas that are opened up by computer programs such as MIDIPoet.

ET: Within your work as a poet, what are the roles played by static and moving images?

EX: When I write, I work with language, in my case Catalan. Language is a semantic construction in which there is a confluence of grammatical, orthographic and logical rules, and a whole deployment of structure-related questions.

When I work with images and sounds, I somehow enter into another field, and I deal with other languages and different construction and constriction elements. Even so, in order to do something in any of these fields, (audio-visual and writing), we use certain techinques and tools.

I'm interested in mastering the techinque, the construction, because this is what lets me carry out the transference between these two practices. I think that the more you can control a technique, the more you can play with the intervention of randomness, the results will become more accomplished.

I like to solve problems within languages, to force myself through these kind of "schizophrenic" practices (or let's call them symptoms of hybridation)

ET: Please talk about your experience with MIDIPoet in poetry readings. When we worked together, we called our shows "digitorecitals" 1 ... what does this word mean to you?

EX: I have great memories of the "digitorecitals" we made with your splendid MIDIPoet. Together with Carles Hac Mor 2 we devised the word "digitorecital" for defining these performances. This word suggests a uniqueness with respect to more conventional readings. It points towards the fact that the text passes through some digital process which gives it a different appearance; live voice, for example, can alter texts or images 3 . In fact, there are a lot of possibilities for real time interaction with MIDIPoet.

Here is the text included in a flyer, announcing one of our first "digitorecitals". It broadens the definition I just gave:

"In a "digitorecital", the computerized MIDIpoetry, in the shape of a textual "paraparemia" 4 in motion, acts upon the hearers-seers, otherwise known as the audience. The visions heard (invented) by the audience are delivered to the MIDIPoets, who manipulate them using their voice, in order to return them to the spectators, which suddenly become active so as not to ignore what they are receiving: liberated language, which deflects the perception of grammatical sentences as the perverse sedimentation of logic. In this pleasing manner, the hearers-seers end up becoming aware not of their own visions, but of those of the MIDIPoets, who have burst the sack of the unconscious. Then, the words and the sentences can say much more than when one tries to reason, with the pretention of saying even more. It is then that the "digitorecital" truly starts, in a "paraparemical" way: the visions of all those who speak or simply hear become simultaneous. And thus, the spectators (now ex-hearers and ex-seers) are also transformed into MIDIPoets. And everything starts all over again, with new combinatories."

ET: Which expressive possibilities did you find through your experience in using MIDIPoet at the shows? Which other paths do you wish you had explored more?

EX: The fact of working with images and texts in an interactive, real-time fashion, implies a full-fledged entry into the schizophrenic dimension which I metaphorically mentioned earlier. It also implies entering the world of computer programming, -which I think should be learnt by the writers and the artists- which is an additional language that comes to expand the creative parameters.

Programming, then, would be an area that I still have to explore. To be able to program the textual compositions, the interactive visual pieces, and also design the strategies of the movements that can be generated from the participation of spectators that intervene the piece.

And this, in fact, reminds me, on a more limited scale, of the poetical measures that appear in a formal level, calculations and constraints that confer rhythm and sound to a poem. These are the keys that give the performance of poetry a musical dimension.

On the other hand, I would like to point out what you always say, that programming can be a way of making compositions, which can be considered as scores that determine the behavior of text and image on the screen. I find that making evident the aesthetic qualities of the structures is a good thing, whether they are computer code, the metrics of a written poem, or something else.

ET: Apart from the fact that a "digitorecitador" does his/her "readings" on live stages, and a VJ also works live at clubs and parties, do you find coincidences / differences between a "digitorecitador" and a VJ? What happens when an audience observes live manipulated images in different contexts?

EX: I am very interested in working with images and text in real time. Doing things live is always quite magical! And magic, precisely, is also a technique, and a very sophisticated one. In fact, in magic, everything is seen and unseen in real time.

But I think that, when we talk about magicians, "digitorecitadors" or VJs, we are rather talking about performance or recreation (which in several languages also means "the time to play"); let's say that it is the most ludic aspect of writing or audio-visual production. And in fact there lies all the richness of improvisation, in playing games with chance, combining all the raw materials that each one has: visuals, sounds, texts, etcetera.

Personally, I feel most passionate about preparing things, working in the background, doing the inside job, manipulating the "dragon's machinery". I get the biggest enjoyment from composing and working with constraints and chance.

That's what I would point out about MIDIPoet, that it allows everything, improvisation, chance and constraints.

Now, for me, creation lies also in the configuration of programs, in the aesthetic quality of interfaces, in the adventure that involves reconstructing insatiably the bachelor machine 5 of weaving and unweaving chance.

 

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Ester Xargay

ESTER XARGAY (Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Catalunya, 1960), writer and video producer. As a poet, she has published the books Salflorvatge, Trenca-sons, Darrere les tanques, the booklets Els àngels soterrats, Les flaires del galliner, Volts en el temps, Ainalar i Éssera Ponent, and also the books Un pedrís de mil estones, Epítom infranu o no, Tirant lo Blanc la and Amor lliure, ús i abús, co-written with Carles Hac Mor, with whom she has translated, among others, Adrian Todorov, Pascal and Queneau. She is a regular collaborator in Avui, a catalan newspaper, and magazines such as Papers d’Art, Transversal, Barcelona Rewiev, and Paper de Vidre, among others. Together with Carles Hac Mor, she published Sextina al microscopi, a DVD-ROM created for the Microscopies exhibition in the Metrònom gallery (Barcelona, 2003) and the CD-ROM Paraparèmies, desplaçaments, cosificacions…., with Adolf Alcañiz, Carles Hac Mor and Barbara Held (First Prize of Audiovisual Creation of Navarra, 1999). She has produced documentaries and video-poems for BTV (Barcelona Television), one of which received the Prize Espais a la Crítica d’art, in 2000.

 

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Notes

1 An invented word in catalan, made up from the words "digital" and "recital" (reading)

2 Carles Hac Mor is a catalan writer, and Ester's partner.

3 The MIDIPoet version of Raymond Queneau's "Cent mille milliards de poèmes", performed by Ester Xargay and Carles Hac Mor, featured a device that transforms sound (voice) into MIDI signals, thus allowing MIDIPoet to react to their reading by altering text on a projection in real-time.

4 A catalan term invented by Carles Hac Mor. It is, by definition, undefinable, and is associated to the practices of the absurd.

5 A term invented by Marcel Duchamp, and later used by Deleuze and Guattari. For them, the bachelor machine "forms a new alliance between desiring machines and the body without organs to give birth to a new humanity. The subject, which is produced as a mere residuum alongside the desiring machines confuses himself with the bachelor machine, and thus the autoeroticism of the bachelor machine gives birth to the subject. The bachelor machine produces pure intensive qualities."

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VJ Theory: INTERVIEWS
Date published: 06/03/2007