Matra • Persona (2019)
for voice of Noh theater and flute
Commissioned by Ensemble No
Premiere: Ryoko Aoki (voice), Kazushi Saito (bass flute and piccolo)
Shibaura House, Tokyo, December 19th, 2019
Matra. Persona draws on the Japanese Noh-play Lady Aoi as well as on three different plays that are based on the story of Phaedra: Euripides’ Hippolytus, Jean Racine’s Phèdre, and Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love. The four languages of the text correspond to the four plays: the Japanese text to Lady Aoi, the Greek to Hippolytus, the French to Phèdre, and the English to Phaedra’s Love.
Phaedra steps out from her social role in the family, voices herself as a self-determined subject, overcomes the role-bound individuality of the Greek ethical life that is based on gender, and in doing so challenges the social and political norms of the time. She is no longer a good mother, a good wife, and a good caretaker of the family but, rather, an uncontrollable, vulnerable, unstable, groundless individual who falls fatally in love with her stepson: she suffers, loves, hates, takes revenge for her unrequited love, and determines life by committing suicide. Likewise for the protagonist of the Noh-play Lady Aoi, that is, Lady Rokujo, who returns as a ghost in order to take revenge for her lost love. She rejects the social function of the female subject and voices herself as a free individual who expresses extreme situations of love, hate, madness, and loss of control.
The Noh-singer raises herself over the traditional performance norms. She is no longer the mediator of a text that has to be communicated but, rather, an uncontrollable and unstable force, a vulnerable and groundless individual, defined not by language, but by a primordial desire for sonic evocation. In other words, the articulation of the vocalized sounds is not the expression but, rather, the evocation of a force that demands to be externalized. Just as the liberated female subject is not an abstract negation of the old gender-bound individuality but, rather, its advanced and more inclusive version, likewise the Noh-singer does not negate language itself; instead, she illuminates how the phoneticization and, thus, the de-semanticization of the text does not, in fact, cancel the significance of the given text off but, rather, adds a new semantic and expressive meaning to it.
The flutist is the vocal satellite of the singer. He mirrors, reflects, and resonates the role of the voice. Instead of producing sounds with his instruments, he uses unconventional vocalized sounds, and his instruments become mere resonators of his own voice. The lack of text, the lack of instrumental sounds, and the role of voice as the connective nexus of the work challenge the communicative aspect of human voice, uncover its primordiality, and provide a raw listening experience of the most primitive human sounds. Matra. Persona is a drama of the voice: it raises anew the question that the employed dramas ask about the being of women, but it sheds new light, at the same time, on the role of the human voice. To put it differently, the inherently unstable, uncontrollable, unrepeatable, and constantly-moving sounds that I use in Matra. Persona form a music drama, not in the sense of enacting or representing a theatrical narrative but, rather, as the drama of the voice; the human voice which unfolds in its own way and represents nothing other than itself.