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The Life in a Sound

relex?, originally uploaded by Florentina Tilea.

Andrei Serban and Eileen Blumenthal

We attempt to create a sound-a sound which grows and turns into a cry. We try
to find the energy which produces this action and to become aware of it.
I see the sound as an image. I see what is enclosed in it-a column of air trying to
break open. In the effort to produce the cry I attempt to replace heaviness with
spontaneous vitality. The cry becomes either an expression of freedom and awakening
or a sign of imprisonment; it all depends on how the sound is controlled and
directed from inside.
At the beginning of this research real calm is required. One must accept the risk of
passing beyond one's accustomed realm of habitual expression. One must try to
discover an image, to nourish this image with something concrete, a taste, a smell.
Without ever forcing it one must allow oneself the immense pleasure of bringing to life
very little known vibrations and energies, of discovering each sound as if for the first
This exercise, centered on the desire to free the voice, unveils an enormous field
of possibilities.
Not only with words but with fragments of words, with each consonant and each
vowel-every sound is charged with a particular activity and a specific color. Deepening
this search is like delving into the unknown. One is always afraid, and courage is
needed. But if you make the commitment, you soon discover that each combination of
letters gives a new meaning and each letter shapes the letter that follows. Nothing, in
fact, is accidental, because everything is interconnected.
We all find ourselves faced with the same difficulty in this attempt, which is to
understand something that is very simple. The core of our search is to try to work as if
the whole world existed in a single word and each word represented a fragment of life.
We perceive that in the theatre which uses comprehensible language, the word is
used mostly to transmit something on the level of information or the level of psychology.
People are not terribly interested in other dimensions of the word. When we
approach an ancient language it is impossible to discern a literal meaning, but in this
apparent lack of sense one rediscovers, perhaps, a greater potential for expression. In
an immediate, concrete relationship with the word, the sound, one can perceive
rhythms, energies, and impulses of a different order.
*These notes are dedicated to Peter Brook, who inspired them.
We know nothing about the lives of the people who pronounced these words two
thousand years ago. We know nothing of the training they underwent. We do not know
what their voices were like or what sorts of movements they made. Nonetheless, we
are sure that this was possible: that human beings with arms, feet, and chests like our
own found a way to master the invisible energy of communication over a great
distance. By reading learned volumes on the history of ancient theatre or certain
archeological studies, we might learn something. But the actor has the possibility,
through his work, of finding that reality far more directly. Approaching this material,
he tries to capture the quality of a vibration, of a sound which someone else once
made. The entire research consists of rediscovering this sound, this word, of serving it
by looking at what it formerly could have been.
The ancient Greek language is perhaps the most generous material for actors that
has ever been written. At that time, poets felt the need to invent a poetic language to
try to accomplish an enormous task: to send messages through words over great
distances in a space open not only to the assembly of Athenian citizens but also to the
sea, the air, and the stars.
We can imagine, therefore, that these words must have carried within them a
certain force and energy to make possible and sustain this contact.
When we speak ancient verse, it is not only the rhythm which comes alive but the
entire imagination which begins to stir in many directions. We try to see the images in
the sound. We believe that we become those who first pronounced the words. Hidden
vibrations start to appear, and we begin to understand the text in a way truer than any
"analysis" would have afforded. It is not only the imagination but our entire being
which lives through the words. It is a matter of discovering the paradox that the head,
the heart, and the voice are not separate but connected with each other. The entire
body is a complex, sensitive instrument which must be tuned if we wish to use it. For
the sound to emerge properly, it is necessary to search for and become aware of a
source, to find within oneself a support which allows the sound to grow. To develop
the potential for a complete affirmation. Movement and voice rediscover one another
in a common effort. Gesture and breathing exist mutually indispensable as the
expression of a whole.
This potential cannot be realized by means of any technique, but rather through
the opening of a particular sensibility.
What is it then that touches us in Electra? What is its message transcending time?
What does Electra say during her long lament? It is difficult to determine. Let us take a
word that she often repeats: "eee." It is simply what one hears: a prolonged "e." What
does this continual repetition of a vowel mean? Nothing that can be translated; "e"
means nothing other than "e." The meaning is in the sound itself. The fundamental
character of the tragedy can be rediscovered in this unique sound-impossible to
The word is written to be experienced at the moment it is spoken, in an immediate
relationship with the sound, with an infinite possibility to create moods and situations
as music does. It exists on its own. It comes from somewhere-and it goes away. We
sense its vibration. We hold onto it. We can try to make it vibrate inside us.
Translated from French by Eileen Blumenthal
in consultation with Andrei Serban.

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