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Lions Roar : November 2014
there are a few people who i respect very much and i really accept their criticism because i can learn something from it. But we’re human beings and people have their own agendas, so sometimes criticism is very personal and doesn’t have that much to do with the work. if it’s vicious criticism, that’s not something that you learn from, and it’s very hard. it used to take me months to get over things like that, but now i read it and i’m like, “i don’t think this person gets the situation or the artwork.” i’m not saying that it’s not painful but it doesn’t affect me in the ways that it did when i was young. Sometimes if i hear that there’s a vicious critique then i won’t read it because what’s the point of that? it’s hard enough as it is to just keep going. in the long run, the things that are the most important are inspiration and just doing the work and somehow growing and finding insight. What i try to do is to make work that moves people, that touches them. Why do you usually use vocalized sounds rather than words? the voice delineates energies and feelings for which we don’t have words. the voice is an eloquent language in itself, so i don’t need another language. Singing mostly without words, i’ve been able to tour all over the world, and the work goes directly to the heart of the audience. they don’t have to deal with the filter of language. i love language, but i trust non-verbal com- munication more. voice is so deeply eloquent and powerful. When you’re performing the same piece over and over again, how do you keep it fresh? Here we go back to meditation practice. i think performing is about as close as you can get to practice in that you are present. For the really good performances, you’re 100% present, and there’s no division between you and your material. you’re pin- point focused but at the same time you’re very open and loose in terms of what’s coming in around you and the other people. there’s a kind of power that’s built into that focus but at the same time you’re utterly vulnerable. you’re throwing energy out to the audience in a kind of figure eight because they’re throw- ing it back to you. it just goes around and around in an infinity sign. a live performance with both the performer and the audi- ence being in the same space at the same time is a prototype for presence and openheartedness. ♦ PHotoByCameRoNWittiG,CouRteSyoFtHeWaLKeRaRtCeNteR Would you say that there are Buddhist concepts that play a role in your work? as a young artist, my aesthetic was very much in line with Bud- dhist principles but i wasn’t aware of it. then in 1975, i started teaching at Naropa, which was my introduction to Buddhist practice, and i was struck by trungpa Rinpoche’s talks about principles that seemed aligned with what i’d found out as an artist. one of those principles is that time is fluid—it can be compressed or extended and it can be circular. other principles are silence or stillness as a base and space as the underlying principle of what comes up. Silence and stillness? i’ve always felt that my music uses silence as part of the music—that the silence in between events or phrases is literally part of the composi- tion. also, when i use move- ment or gesture, there is always a sense of stillness underlying the gesture and movement, so from stillness comes motion. And what do you mean by space as a principle of what comes up? i sometimes perform on stages and in concert halls, but i’ve always been very interested in having a dialogue with a space and doing what’s now called site-specific performance. So i go into a space, listen to what it’s say- ing to me, and try to make a piece that actually animates that space. i work with sound and images for that particu- lar space. i work with the relationship between the audience and the performers. are they close? are they far? Does the audience move around? Do the performers move around the audience? if i’m performing in a space like a railroad station that’s still functional, then hopefully after- wards somebody will go back into that space and see it in a new way. i’m also trying for a sense of spaciousness in the work. i want there to be a sense of space underlying all the elements in a piece that allows for each element—music, object, gesture, etc.—to be what it is. When each layer is allowed to have its own integrity, a luminosity occurs and the combined layers make a multi-dimensional whole. How do you deal with it when a critic has a negative reac- tion to your work? SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 26