04. 06. 2006. 09:23

Sounding myths

On Ágens’ sound poetry

Ágens, the singer is no follower of any musical trend. Her singing and the style of her works have been compared to that of shamans and to the atmosphere of religious initiation rituals, as well as to jazz, György Kurtág and Meredith Monk. Nevertheless, we had far better avoid compulsive categorising and just listen to her music.

The term agent signifies "spy, medium, secret political agent, some force that produces an effect or movement, an element of a process causing an effect". With the exception of “secret political agent”, all of the above are indeed applicable to Ágens, the singer. She is no follower of any musical trend. Her singing and the style of her works have been compared to that of shamans and to the atmosphere of religious initiation rituals, as well as to jazz, György Kurtág and Meredith Monk. Nevertheless, we had far better avoid compulsive categorising and just listen to her music – as in the case of György Kurtág and Meredith Monk.

On the Way
Ágens did not plan to be a singer. She only started to sing at the age of 27, at the encouragement of her husband, the composer Ferenc Boudny, who has been her partner in composition up to the present day. Comfortable with all vocal ranges and demands from alto to soprano, she has appeared more frequently on Hungarian stages since 1992.

Her first work was Passages 1, produced in cooperation with KompMania Contemporary Dance Theatre. Agnus Dei was her first work in Latin. Since staging that, she has sung more frequently in Latin and has orientated herself towards productions involving multiple types of performance art. She worked together with Meredith Monk on the contemporary ritual entitled Celebration Service, in which she was asked by the author to sing a solo.

The year 2004 was most productive for Ágens. Her first modern opera entitled Purcell Pyknolepsy, sung in a language she called “angel tongue”, was staged in February. She produced the modern dance opera Tenebrae with Krisztián Gergye, after which she presented her work entitled Opera mea. Then, her Songs for viola, viola da gamba, drums and Shostakovich was performed during the Autumn Festival in Budapest. She also appeared in a number of contemporary plays and films, all in the same year. As she revealed in her interviews, preparing for her performances usually begins with improvising, after which she teaches herself what has been created in this way. The sequence of sounds is not necessarily determined. It is contrary to points of reference, points of entrance and points to step over.

In the year 2005, she appeared with Songs of Maldoror, the “agentes mentis” interactive opera, and Ulixes. She presented Aqua Toffana, her latest work on Mozart’s life, featuring the St Efraim Byzantine Men’s Choir, at the Budapest Spring Festival in March 2006.

Socrates, immortalised in Plato’s dialogues, was led onto the right path by his daemon, who did not allow him to escape from prison and thus evade the verdict of the thirteen tyrants, holders of political power and representatives of the public itself. He was forced to drink a glass of hemlock for debauching the spirit of the young men of Athens. In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates teaches by asking questions, and the actual result of his doing so is that we may finally learn that we know nothing; being aware of this is the ultimate knowledge we can ever attain. He is prevented by his daemon from getting lost in the world of pseudo-knowledge, in the labyrinth of false values and ever shifting political and moral value systems. He puts these thoughts into words, but formulates them in questions rather than statements. (It would take us too far afield to examine whether this Platonic transition was a great trauma or a lucky turn for European culture.)

Writing in 2002, Ágens has the following to say: “To me, the Daemon represents the daemonic world ungraspable for the human intellect and existing beyond the senses of humans, a world which intrudes into human reality from time to time to remind us all that we are nothing, possessing no knowledge of the world, with no power over our histories. [The Daemon] suppresses us into that 'primeval depth' lurking in each one of us, pointing out a world which, albeit existing, has been alien to us before the arrival of the Daemon. Although we did surmise that such a world exists, none of us ever thought that we would ever have to come to terms with it. But the Daemon requires a sacrifice. He will ravish us, and we will never return. Place, space and time will all vanish…”

The plays Passages, Korayta, Tenebrae and Purcell Pyknolepsy analyze the area of passing over and initiation, delving increasingly deeper into the matter. Ágens’ daemon is transformed into a positive force in Purcell Pyknolepsy, the last stage of the process. Passing over the limits, she does away with the problems of the I. Now it is the historical essence of the other that appears, making way for the general and the world of myths.

In an interview given in December 2002, Ágens said this in connection with  Tenebrae: “I will use all sorts of male and female art to get nearer to that operating reality we can hardly, if at all, see from the benevolent veil set before our eyes. My chances are small, but the moment a work of art comes into existence, this time of love offers an opportunity. Everything else is but longing and fancy.”

Imre Kertész, author of Fatelessness, in his speech broadcasted by Free Europe Radio in April 1991, later published under the title Letters Home, relates: “I would like to speak about the feast, the real one. When we all stop for a moment, becoming mute to let the spirit which I could briefly define as the meaning of life, the spirit of culture and myth, imbibe us. (…) It seems that myth can, at best, be the child of need now. Hunger and unendurable thirst is necessary for it to break through, like a spring will gush forth at the touch of a magic wand.”

Speaking of the hardships of representation experienced by writers living in a dictatorial system, in his essay The Redundant Intellectual, he mentions how, driven by this very coercion, one turns to myths: “You will brace yourself to writing and cannot get rid of your awareness that something is missing. First, you will blame the material, but soon you will learn that you have to look for the mistake in yourself. You simply see things from the wrong perspective, and this will make you examine yourself. Gradually, you realize that – as psychologists call it – you think compulsively, and this compulsion is forced upon you from the outside. You realize that you are living in an ideological world. The longing for pure forms will urge you to step out of this world of self-reflecting perspectives and find yourself face to face with the earth, the heavens and human fate.”

After a long search, Ágens, the medium, has reached the sound (its power, its effect, the movement hiding in sounds) that is, even through the obstacles of language, capable of making room for this passage, the sounding of myths in this world. It is able to direct our vision to the hole made in time and space, holding aloft the myth so that others may see it. Language is not adequate for this, not even in the form of questions. Consequently, Ágens has sought a new medium, buoyed in her productions involving multiple types of art – performed in Latin, “angel tongue” or Greek – holding aloft (in Pilinszky’s words) “the ever-void monstrance of the night”.

Györe Gabriella

Translated by Ágnes Ecsedy

Ágens' website

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