Zeitung für neue und experimentelle Musik

noies chimären jasmina al-qaisi: psycho-somatic scores with jess aszodi

Mai 2024

In her third and last Chimäre, author Jasmina Al-Qaisi searches for where her voice rests. Lead by artist Jess Aszodi she goes on a journey to look for it in various locations in her body: memory, pain, inheritage, language, resistance, breath and soil.

The composer and opera singer Jess Aszodi met first with Jasmina Al-Qaisi for her artistic research about contemporary librettos. Second, Jess helped Jasmina resurrect some auditive pareidolia she experienced during an MRI. At the moment Jess is writing a novel, reads, sings and recovers from a traumatic near death experience. At the moment, all of those interconnect with an intense pain recognition in the methods Jess implies in her voice and body training practices. This time Jasmina visits Jess. Through Jess’s unique practice between philosophy, physiology, feminism and vocal technique, Jasmina finds a new way to understand the connection of body and voice. You, the reader, get to eavesdrop and readdrop depending on the senses used to experience the following diary.

Photo: Marga von den Meydenburg

in black: knowledge that fixes the context
in red: quotes from the artist
in green: glossary of ancestral body of voice
in blue: poetics of pain
in purple: glossary of pain definition

Jess’s work space 

I visited Jess in her studio with the initial idea that I want to be loud. We start from uttering at large. And it seems impossible to talk about uttering without placing ourselves in our bodies. Jess speaks about how the flow of voice through the body is part of a bigger system of matter moving through the expressive portals of the body. How the air moves through the sphincters and the connection between all the muscles that have a lot to do with eating, defecation, pissing and speaking. How the voice is also a metabolic process of our own body. The muscle memories, the contractions, all of the music, sympathetic resonances. Starting from the middle, I get reminded of the genealogy of lumbar pain.

命門 mingmen, the point between the kidneys in traditional Chinese medicine

In an exchange process of healing, where the knowledge beholder starts from their own pain, we learn to mirror. We mirror to learn. We are mirror-learning. Might sound childish, but learning from each other as artists, as feminists, in a sorority of sonority, we shapeshift remaining eye level. I ask Jess to look into my mouth. I copy.

to look into someone’s mouth = to believe them 

How can I arrive at my own voice? During our talk, before eating, in between a tea and a tear, I tell Jess that people do not hear me. Or better yet, don’t understand what I say. I also complain about doctors and institutions. Language border and boundaries. It might be because I keep my mouth closed to hide my teeth.

Your mouth opens plenty. The problem is not the degree to which your mouth opens. That’s such a tiny part of what influences your ability to have the body in a continuous flow between the intention to create meaning and the capacity for that meaning to emerge expressively and without stoppage and holding. The mouth is just the end of the tunnel. It’s the construction of the whole tube, and whether or not you have these blockages that is important.

to enter someone’s mouth = to be talked about in your absence

Case study pain.
There is a gate between wanting to utter and being understood. I sing to myself:
People don’t understand me People don’t understand me 
I don’t want to fix my language I don’t want to fix my language

to a spinal cord = to have a stand, to be grounded, to know who you are

Physiotherapy wisdom 
Driven by pain
Sit in any position you dare
Dare to sit in any position you need
Let yourself be read while you are attending your needs
Be dangerous while you breathe

Rehearsal for letting go and gassage exchange

Pain, hazardous or inflicted by others with or without consent, informs how we are dealing with knowledge. Transgression of boundaries without consent informs us traumatically and leaves wounds we carry. I learned from Jess that we rarely make differences between the pains we have, we had, we inherited. Pain and sorrows of wars melt within us with personal sorrows of ancestral pain, ecological disasters, combined with loss and immense frustration of political absurdities, people being silenced, repressing one’s own voice, all mixed up – we collapse as if pain was one. When Jess teaches, the scientific and artistic bodies of work transgress the space of learning. Jess mirrors, hugs, pulls strings and suggests at a pace. Jess teaches workshops on the bodily as well as theoretical applications of her research. She tries to help people locate desire in their bodies, and also to locate lack. To find the places that are hurting and hungry. She wants to make it easier to bear. To be with it. To sing. To learn to sit with it. And let it out when it is ready to go. Whatever that it is.

So I do this thing with my students that takes up huge amounts of time where I have them lying on the floor going into their bodies and starting to feel safe there, safe holding themselves, safe being held also. This is a thing that can be an exchange between a teacher or a body worker and somebody who wants to create a change in that body. You create a space where you can make an opening, make a possibility and open and relax into itself.

Bulgur while we talk, before we eat

We are attending to our immediate needs. We have lunch together which leads to speaking while eating. My jaw and my hips mirror in the experience of what is said to be the most common body pain, lumbar pain. This is how I wrote »To enter the ____’s mouth«. Ancestral language pain was in my maternal lineage: one woman fell from a carriage and broke her hip, another died of cervical cancer, another one had hysterectomy and skipped menopause, two others can’t lift weights anymore and I am a lucky owner of a hernia. I might know how to caress, how to nurture, how to tell a story, how to smash garlic. To know what I know when I know…

There are things I feel like they can’t be completely foreign, there must be some memory in the body that we are not able to translate. We are so arrogant in this belief that we have a handle on analysing what is going on, that we are able to quantify and make sense of the world. What you need to do is close your eyes, or just go through a period of time when your body ceases to function the way it did and you will get a whole new perspective of what you are able to or not with all of the stimulus. I feel that limitation of the capacity of the body to translate experience into sense. I know I don’t know where all this knowledge comes from. I am trying to give myself the space to listen to these signals that I get. Because they do something. When I let my body talk to me in its own language, when I try to let the people I care about talk to me in their own language even if it doesn’t make sense. To let the beings I am interacting with be themselves and to learn how to listen, then we can really make progress in communication rather than trying to force them to work in my language.

A while back, Jess has received a PhD in the materiality and politics of embodiment practices in the creation of new vocal performance. The most cited of her articles written in this time is: »Grains without Territory: Voicing…« where Jess is describing the power dynamics of composition within a structure of dominance in composing. 

Very often a composer wants a certain thing, and they will ask the performer: can you do this certain thing? And the performer will say yes, or no, or I’d prefer not to. When I give a no, or any variation on that theme, it sometimes happens that the composer (or conductor or artistic director or whoever else is in a position of power), then begins his campaign to change my mind. To get me to do what he wants, rather than what I have told him I do not want to or can not do. I say »he« because in my case, these situations have always involved cis-men in the position of power. Sometimes they are trying to convince me to do something they believe I’m refusing out of laziness, or a lack of self-confidence. But they nonetheless will continue to push until they get a »yes«. I think usually they don’t really understand (or sometimes they just don’t care) that my instrument is not an object, but my own tender flesh. That if I give a »no«, that that’s me stating a boundary that should not be crossed. That violating it could cause not only psychic but bodily harm. I’ve had it happen more than once that a composer has forced me to sing something that was hurting me, over and over, and I keep warning them »I need to stop. I can’t keep doing this« and they say »do it again« until I lose my voice entirely. Like the instrument just stops working. Then it’s hours or days before I can sing again, or talk. And then there’s this fear all the time that you’ve done some permanent damage.

»Prayer for Nil« record by Jess Aszodi

to step on someone’s tail = to piss off someone, to overcome boundaries

Most of the parts of your body that control your vocal mechanism, your expressing mechanism are none of the control of your conscious motor nervous system. You need to create the conditions in the body for these kinds of changes, openings and increased freedoms. The easiest way to get there are various kinds of tricks with movement and attention you plant in the body that reorganise how we perceive with our senses. This creates little psychosomatic scores you can perform.

psychosomatic scores
there is a bear in here

I am present, I don’t disassociate, listening as she guides me through a pathway of a multi brain/body thinking/feeling. She describes the psychosomatic scores as gateways through the body, musical scores which move sensations, imagination and movement. They are little spells or recipes, a process to stay with… for a little while reassuring me that all those kinds of instructions have a reason, sense, a language, a meaning. They down-regulate the nervous system.

Homeostasis = homeostasis, noun; BIOLOGY specialised 
the ability or tendency of a living organism, cell, or group to keep the conditions inside it the same despite any changes in the conditions around it, or this state of internal balance  (Cambridge dictionary)

you lay me down                                       rerooting
as a disconnected ovary 
in a bathtub                                               float

With my consent, Jess was touching me with her hands insisting I need to learn to listen to my resistances and say no. This is for you, this is not for me. Methods, steps, interactions are replaced with the idea of a gift in active passivity.

resistance = the act of fighting against something that is attacking you, or refusing to accept something (Cambridge dictionary)

A word in a body sentence

A little bit of light passes through my eyelids. Curiosity is sent through the whole body. I sent curiosity to my ears. I announce it to her. Jess sends her hands to the same place. We calculate percentages and we make me heavy on the ground, thinking towards my feet. 
See where your weight is as if you are painting with wet paint. 
When I put pressure, I would ask you to invite the pressure in. 

a knot in the throat = a fear, a cist over the thyroid cartilage, an inheritance from the parent that gave birth and from Chernobyl disaster, a place of social history  

I learned in those years of actively living a feminist’s life, that without the sisterhoods beyond gender, that we need to talk to each other to find out what is inside. 

My tongue is electric I say, I can feel it in the gums. Probably here behind the ears, a lot of stuff we don’t want to hear resides. 

They call it styloid and mastoid processes. Many big muscles in the joint to the skull and the neck and in the shoulder blades and torso hang off this tiny bit of cartilage. They place so much pressure on this spot. If I press really hard they cause pain. So I don’t offer pain, I’m just offering the information for your body to attend to this spot. You are the one who has to request your own softening here. We don’t learn in pain, you have to want to invite my pressure inside you here. The transformation only becomes possible in the moment your body wants to stop resisting.  

The recognition of resistance is part of the learning process. I am in public, reminding myself and you to distinguish between resistances, and recognize those needs to resist, recognizing those small moments of depressurizing this constant inheritance and think beyond definitions, beyond grey zones, we are colours beyond seeing. My jaw is widening. Magic of science. The smiling muscles are also satisfied. 

If you think about the corners of your lips you notice that the muscles of your mouth are like a circular band, just like the muscles around your eyes or your anal sphincter. They sympathetically resonate with one another. You’ve got your eyes closed but can you also imagine you are looking at a distance, with your closed eyes. And now imagine you follow the horizon as far as you can. As you are going from left to right, focus on the distance as far as you can, with your closed eyes. I want you to notice what happens in your jaw as you do this.

Hands observation 
The sound of my jaw 
Because of the teeth how they bite 
The codependency of joints 
My tongue is a shovel
Bring the air in
The shape of the air 
There is more consciousness 
In how the pallet is moving
Like the wind on a hill

Your spinal fluid is flowing. Your occipital joint. Well received. Five minutes. Five clockless minutes. Psychosomatic scores:

🪱 I became more aware of this tightness which seems very disconnected. 
🪱 Silent. 
🪱 Like a croissant, like a banana, I was not a line being, I am more like a round being. 
🪱 More like an organism going through different stages.
🪱 I think it is something to embrace rather than feeling like a broken machine.

to look in someone’s mouth = to believe them in a way

Jess’s mouth

Two people humming, reaching similar tunes. Tunes combined.

I was trying to play a little bit with the frequencies, moving the tongue, shifting the attention between there and there so I could have more control over that tightness. I was swinging my breath inside of my throat. I could feel the connection between my throat and my nose.
Your emotional and intellectual bodies integrate. Let the whole of it  »feel its feelings«
I believe in those two combined never alone.

The mediocrity of spoken sensations is encapsulated within words we know. In the verticality of letters, horizontality of sentences and circularity of the sound waves, we find ourselves curved.  The vitality of time well spent is reaching beyond the clockwise time span bodies know. The perfect pitch and musical clock are trained skills Jess masters. To be a singer, you give others, while intrinsically you receive with others, the reflection of impeccable performances, recognition and success and all that comes with this job. To be a singer embracing pain, you give in another way. 

When you touch me I react as if I am an earthworm, when the soil is wet I come out for air. You can see the soil through me. Like an earthworm split in two, I kind of got back together. My middle body earthworm kind of got back together.

When we take on the affect of sadness, I could not feel sadness, I thought the knot in my throat is not sadness, but information. As any other information. We teach people who want to learn opera singing to breathe it as if they are going to cry. Because the position we want the larynx to take for opera singing is similar to the position it takes as part of the physiological response to crying. If you put your hands on my throat the thyroid cartilage slips down and forward and the larynx descends. That’s a crying action. The difficulty of working with the affect of sadness for singing is that we want this action to come from a contraction of the cricothyroid cartilage, we do not also want the tongue to push the larynx down. As an opera singer you learn how to decouple the parts of the body that usually work together instinctively and hand in hand with emotional and regulatory patterns. To decouple the larynx’s motion from the tongue, for example, we can practise this by sticking the tongue out. Massaging it. Stretching in opposition with various other structures.

My tongue is wide. I keep on thinking of labours of precision, on all spectrums of resistances and letting-go’s. I’ll keep practising to be always ready to keep saying what I have to say. Plus, with a visit to Jess, here and there, to couple and integrate all the emotional and intellectual bodies, channeling an unexhausted but slow earth worm after rain.

Jess Aszodi is a literal shape-shifter. An artist, writer, educator and performer, her mezzo voice has been praised for its »utmost security and power« (Chicago Tribune). Its unusual range, both in terms of colour and pitch – make it possible to perform repertoire across genres and voice types, where she creates bespoke techniques and concepts from project to project. She has built up a truly idiosyncratic set of embodied knowledges, from cycling while singing, to choreographically affected song, and a not small number of extremely extended vocal techniques. Her favourite thing is challenge. Jess also holds a Doctorate from the Queensland Conservatorium, and continues an artistic research and teaching practice focused on the materiality and politics of embodiment practices in the creation of new vocal performance. She has written articles for several books and journals and teaches workshops on the bodily as well as theoretical applications of her research. She likes difficult stuff. And takes pleasure getting messy in the process of creating thick, touching, thinking, pieces.

Jasmina Al-Qaisi is a poet.

Jasmina’s AI Chimäre is based on her answers to these 3 questions:

If you could live in another time, which would it be?

Whenever I could be a berry seed in the belly of a small flying Sauria.

If you were an animal, which one would it be?

I would like to be a symbiont, probably a rhizobia bacteria between beans, squash and corn.

What is your favorite season of the year?

My favorite season of the year is harvesting season somewhere around Danube.