«When I feel like listening to music, I open the windows of my apartment.»
Manon de Boer is a Dutch artist based in Brussels. She uses cinema as a territory for creation and expression. Her first silent films, from the late 90s, are cinematic portraits. Contrarily, her latest ones that evoke the musician Bela Bartok are about sound, music and plasmodia, conceived in perfect intellectual complicity with the Rosas Company, choreographer Anna Teresa de Keersmaeke and interpreter George van Dam. Her portraits of musicians are experimentations of filmic and temporary forms. Her films, halfway between art and cinema are, likewise, spaces in a state of perpetually welcoming emptiness. Manon de Boer’s cinema consists of bodily performance, choreographed in scores, focusing on the notions of performance, scores, notation and register.
Attica (2008) refers to the mutiny that took place on 9 and 13 September 1971 at Attica prison (New York State), in which more than a thousand people revolted after the murder of the Black Panther party militant killed by prison yard guards at San Quentin prison (California), and then against the conditions of detention at Attica prison. 29 prisoners were killed as a result of the riot.
In 1972, composer Frederic Rzewski composed two pieces, Coming Together and Attica, based on letters from Sam Melville, a white prisoner who was shot in the final assault by the mutineers. In Attica, four musicians – Laurent Blondiau (trumpet), George van Dam (violin), Emmanuel Louis (voice) and Jan Rzewski (saxophone) – play the musical piece with a precise architecture: the main loop that forms the backbone of Rzewski’s work – Attica is in front of me, gives shape to a repetitive loop, as the device of a circular journey is filmed in the reflection of itself.
With Dissonant (2010), a film that talks about the relationship between dance and music – since in 1939, John Cage wrote in the essay Silence that “music will become more than an accompaniment: it will become an integral part of dance” – Manon de Boer films a live memorisation process: a dancer from the Rosas company is filmed while she is listening to a movement of a violin sonata by the composer Ysaÿe, in order to perform it. The dancer memorises the sequence while deciphering it. Afterwards, the filmmaker films her again as she performs the movement while dancing, in the absence of the music. The sound is always outside the frame in Manon de Boer’s work.
‘On a Warm Day in July’ (2015 – Le Fresnoy)
The film On a Warm Day in July (2015) was shot at the Wolfers Hotel in Brussels, with American soprano singer Claron McFadden. The elements that constitute the main motifs of this work are breath, space and the emptiness of the architecture; the performer freely improvises a sung piece inspired by a 17th century chant.
‘One, Two, Many ‘(2012 – CNAP)
One, Two, Many (2012), instead, is a work conceived for Documenta 13 in Kassel that explores the spaces of listening to and interpreting music passing through the body. Three major movements make up the work: a first forward tracking shot shows a close-up portrait of a flute player in the process of searching for breath, sculpting it and exploring its grain. A second movement-sequence plays the voice of Roland Barthes recorded during the last courses of the Collège de France devoted to Comment vivre ensemble. The fragment deals with the relationship between thought and voice. Finally, the last movement is a looped lateral travelling that shows a choir of singers performing Giancito Scelsi’s Tre cante popolari while a few characters revolve around the choir creating a disorganised circle, immersed in a singular listening.