The Demon of Intimacy

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The Demon of Intimacy

- about the music of Niels Rønsholdt

by Jens Voigt-Lund 2005
Niels Rønsholdt’s artistic project deals with intimacy, primarily intimacy; the piercing of its borders and the impossible task of dissolving intimacy’s expressed antagonism; it deals with the chasm between people and the world.
And that it is a daring project is already revealed in the titles: Reach out and touch me – drink me, make me real – ich aber weiß, daß ich aus Sehnsucht bin – inside your mouth, sucking the sun – nude from behind fastened to my bed … facades that at the same time signal sensuality and fearlessness. A fearlessness that is signaled through precisely that: sensuality. A sensuality that one doesn’t find elsewhere in the genre of art music. Here the chill of academia is broken through the sheer will of expression.

Here sultriness transcends through fervour and purity of expression. But perhaps it is these titles that act as witness most clearly to a singular lack of compromise and a concentration on that which is most important – that the composer is willing to go sufficiently far to come into the core of his work, or rather penetrate to the other side of the border. That he knows in what direction his creativity must turn.
All the titles are formed in the first or second person, me, ich, your, my. In this way the artist throws himself into the central theme of the work and speaks from there; directly to the other person – the listener(?), the viewer(?). He doesn’t sit in the safety of the puppet master’s shadow but rather casts himself out into the deeply ironic circus ring of our times with bared breast. He threatens with a completely super-serious arrogance humour’s disassociation from the absolute. And for that very reason he gives speech an even greater power. In this work there is no emergency exit, no chance to pull back if the music doesn’t “lift off” or if the situation becomes too private. One lets go of emotional armour’s flattening of expression and one is never allowed to return to the empty skin of vanity that all too often impedes that that is positive and true in composed music.
You could be tempted to call the project honest. But in a strange way it isn’t right to talk about honesty in this case – not because there is talk of its opposite but simply because the project works outside this set of coordinates. It is meaningful to talk of honesty if one can decisively know what truth and its opposite are. If one talks of honesty as a lack of speculation and calculation one can say that Rønsholdts music is of course that but in this project he is transported into the exaggeration of transcendence into a true experiment where things cannot be calculated, rather one can only set a vector – a vector in the form of power, will and insight. And in the end courage. Courage to pierce, to break through.
The music whispers the listener close to itself with its obstructive sensuality and pent-up longing, in its painful breathing and spoken sighs. It brings the senses to a point of hysterical sensitivity … but seldom lets the listener reach its own level. Perhaps it never is what it makes itself out to be. You are hit from unexpected angles and therefore quite obviously you loses orientation. Because this isn’t music that moves you, it dislocates you.

Evolutionary music moves in that it gradually and to some degree in a linear progression takes the listener to a point of ecstasy or deeper insight. In this music with its constant repetition of small gesturing fragments and its insistent continual beginning the listener is dislocated into an almost hypnotic disassembling of time.
The musical voices in the form of instruments or singers – both made human through breathing and sighing (without or through the instruments) are formed as indivisibles as in traditional theatrical roles.

They act as psychological integrities completely distanced from the concept of classical musical roles where a voice can at one moment act as extreme anima and then, at the next moment support a quite different voice (or atmosphere) with a subtle accentuation or fraction of a cord. In this work a voice doesn’t just represent the same human integrity, it is the same. In “Inside your mouth” that takes the doomed love affair between Napoleon and Josephine as its theme the trombone is indivisible from the Emperor and the clarinet from the ex-empress. They don’t follow each other or play together but the instruments incarnate the two people and in their absence – in the opera the two lovers are never physically together - the libretto consists entirely of written correspondence(!). The two instruments are quite simply the absence. When Napoleon sings Josephine is present in the form of the clarinet and Josephine is answered.
But it isn’t only in the opera’s pre-determined theatrical character that The Voice (as in the individual musician’s role) is made human … and internalized: in the duo “Drink me, make me real” the percussionist’s strength of beat is gradually dismantled as he is made to hit objects with less and less resonance whilst at the same time he is stressed by his own mirror image – a pre-recorded tape. A reflection that throws a special light on the strained repetitions that thereby exhibit microscopic shifts between people and machines. All the while the saxophonist is fighting a growing battle to breathe through his instrument(!) - an instrument that almost turns against him and in this piece it comes to represent being imbued with that which is human precisely because of the idiom of breathing. Without air one suffocates; the musician gets close to this.

We become witness to a melting together of two musicians fighting an ultra-intense fight against what appears to be a pre-set fate …

> in the pre–study for the opera “Ich aber weiß, daß ich aus Sehnsucht bin” all reciting is consistently made in the mouth of the clarinet, which in itself is claustrophobic. This sense is strengthened having a cloth (being held) in front of the mouth. A signal that isn’t downplayed to a mere symbol. Quite the opposite; the listener reaches out instinctively as a human to another human in need, in pain, suffering …

> In “Reach out and touch me” for baroque ensemble the singing gambist seems to be strangely foreign to the instrument. Maybe because it seems as if we become party to the soul behind the instrument that our ears transcend the playing and fragility stands painfully clear …

> and not least in the opera “Inside your mouth” where the singers physical separation is the major theme. Even in the opening scene with Josephine alone on the stage Napoleon is in intimate close up via video … a nervous little person trapped in the large exterior
all of the Distant Voices point to its tragedy. Separated by totally transparent but equally impenetrable glass the character’s press themselves passionately towards each other only to discover their unbreakable distance: their tenderness is tightened like condensation on the glass – they can see each other, hear each other and touch each other. In this lies the heart of the demon of intimacy. It is this that exhibits the tragedy, forces the painful realization of distance and sentencing of humans to a life of isolation. When we hear the melting together (in Drink me), the claustrophobia (in Ich aber weiß) and the longing (in Inside your mouth) it is then that we recognize the painful order of all things. When we realize hopelessness, entrapment and indifference that the locked fate of humankind is revealed. A hopelessness and pain that this music both exhibits and denies! Denying the chasm by again, again and again throwing itself into the deep in the hope and dream of merging into one.
After the music I always want to go down to the stage and give these musicians – singers, roles, voices - an enormous soundless hug of the kind that nothing can be said but through which everything understood. Like comfort for the deepest pain or the delight of the highest joy. A transmutable belonging that can only appear as the result of the kind of intensity when the mind is finely tuned and with the strength of intimacy.
english translation by Barnabas Wetton

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