Polaroid self-portrait, NYC 2018
1.- Falso Raccord: In most of your performance work you use the voice as part of your actions, however the voice seems to come from a void/vacuum very close to the Butoh dance. In this case, what triggers your performances, the voice or your movements?
Muyassar Kurdi: In my practice voice and movement are interdependent, and in performance the sense of presence is crucial wherein I engage with my body. Each movement is an engagement with great awareness no matter how subtle, and from that acts as an inspiration for the voice (and vice versa). Imagine I were to pick up a single strand of your hair and gently raise it as if a string from the top of your head -- how would you respond to that information? It is energy-exchange, yes, with the audience too. Butoh is part of my dance background, and I gravitated to it as I am very interested in theatre with dance...a meditative dance, at that. When introducing my electronics into performances, one of the microtonal analog synthesizers responds to movement and light so the movement and sound also inform each other as well as the environment itself. There is an in-between place of tension when trying to identify the source; it is a combination of sound, movement, and architecture (sound as liquid architecture, architecture as solidified sound) in this large body of ongoing works called ‘Machine/Body’.
2.- Falso Raccord: The sound is a main element in your work. How do you position it and what do you deduce from it?
Muyassar Kurdi: As an interdisciplinary artist, sound is a main mode of my work, but it is also connected to the other modalities such as film and movement. I work very closely in understanding the relationships between the modalities I use, and these relationships contribute to the positioning of elements. I have a very intuitive and non-linear process with a focus on the transformation. I am obsessed with form; I create compositions with room for improvisation. Improvisation allows me that freedom of really being in the present taking into consideration all of the new energies of a given space and/or audience. I consider myself a poet even though I am disregarding ‘words’ as we know them to be in our native tongues. In my daily voice and sound work, I practice being present and when I forget, I go back to my breath. I usually begin with singing tonalities then move from there into other gestures and instrumentation which take on many different colors and shapes depending on my mood. I am a very moody woman. Ha! I am often writing music in my head throughout a day, and it is a beautiful moment to watch it naturally take form again during my sessions perhaps months or years later. Sound is connected to memory, of course. And once it takes form again it feels like an artifact.
3.- Falso Raccord: In your performance you seem to force the concept of breaking the 4th wall. How do you situate and conceptualize the territory of your actions?
Muyassar Kurdi: Depending on the instrumentation I choose, it allows for different levels of mobility. I began working with these homemade analog electronics (built by my collaborator Michael Una in Chicago) when I came up with the idea to design a device that connected the modalities of sound and movement. It was very important for me to have this mobility because in addition to movement, I was interested in exploring the interaction with the audience. In my opposition to being seen as a spectacle or entertainment only to be consumed and lazily half-experienced, witnessed, gobbled up and thought about analytically, I began to grow in the idea that I want to be making a many-layered cinematic work that acts as an experience for the audience that engaged all of the senses. I also want the audience to be part of the work itself, and to arrive at that special place depends on the audience’s willingness to go ‘there’ with me. I am understanding more and more each time I perform that I am confronting myself and challenging myself;
breaking the fourth wall allows the audience to see my many selves and shamelessness, gives a sense of urgency, and shows that we are not separate.
4.- Falso Raccord: It is evident that the body remains the political place of restrictions of desire, even today more to a greater extent, thanks to social networks and their bodily standards. What are your reflections on these situations?
Muyassar Kurdi: Over the years, I have learned the importance of claiming space as marginalized person. I have learned to love my body and to really live in it shamelessly. Dance has inspired me endlessly in ways that I cannot explain; it is a sensuality I can have with myself as if I were making love to myself. After my near-death experience with a brain-injury in 2004, it allowed me to confront the body and to work on the process of healing it and even now with the constant day to day oppression of outside forces. It sickens me to no end, makes my blood boil, and what does that leave me with? A life I can live in total opposition of that, a rebel, a truth-seeker, a lover. To live fully and boundlessly. I would rather break the silence than to die silent.
5.- Falso Raccord: Guattari in his famous text / manifesto, "To Have Done With the Massacre of the Body" poses as a radical measure, leave the concept of "person" "individual" to require us to think our body and their desires towards the community as emancipatory measure. How do you conceive the collectivity in your performance?
Muyassar Kurdi: So we are trapped in a trap in a trap, it is laughable at this point, most things are. I am the biggest joke I have ever played on myself so at least I know that much. I also know it is a lie so that’s when I tap into the comedian in me, people know me from my laugh; laughing is my ‘default’ state.
--- onwards -- in performance I am interested in reconstructing the idea of a stage. I am so disgusted by the idea of being seen as entertainment, and want to connect to the people in the audience. It is about creating a safe, judgement-free, and unique space that we all could exist in, a world inside a world. During a performance, I feel as though I am a tree growing on the edge of a cliff; I feel the most strength when everyone else in the room is truly present. It is all about energy and presence and openness. The idea of collectivity comes from living the experience together and interacting, sometimes more directly but always energetically. If we were truly living NOW, it would revolutionize everything because life is so delicious but we are barely living it because we are so programmed. Last night I was playing music with the legendary jazz musician Daniel Carter in my flat, and we talked so much, we can talk for hours and hours between our music-playing even in the boiling summer heat of NYC. We spoke of the importance of living NOW without compromise, guilt, or shame. He told me he loved how I spoke, encouraged me to continue, and for a moment I experienced a kind of hallucination (perhaps partly from the heat and smoking flower), I caught hold of something, maybe a speck of truth, but I realized that NOW was all that mattered. And my eyes watered a bit because I felt it so intensely in that moment with Daniel as the sun was setting. The light in my living room at that hour is just unbelievable.
6.- Falso Raccord: Which is your favorite work of Meredith Monk? And how much has it influenced your work?
Muyassar Kurdi: I do not have a ‘favorite’ anything simply because I do not think of things in terms of hierarchy. All of her work is very different and presents something new for me. I personally listen to her piano album ‘Piano Songs’ the most. Of course MM is a big influence; apart from having studied with her over the last five years, I have grown to understand myself through her practice as an interdisciplinary artist. I remember seeing the connection at last: openness, creating textures and layers in space with multiple bodies and voices, awareness, connection, presence, playfulness, and improvisation by means of relating to the environment.
7.- Falso Raccord: Do you conceive your song as a liberation of language to find a kind of feminist glossolalia?
Muyassar Kurdi: There are many kinds of languages, and I am often conflicted with the limitations of the ‘traditional’ language (the language of words, defining, naming, identifying, attaching value). I was speaking with a friend recently, a great artist and filmmaker, and during a late hang in the East Village neighborhood in response to my ‘I feel like a fraud when I uses words’ he said that we could ‘bend words’ or ‘make love to words’. I loved thinking about it in this way; it isn’t a new idea for me but a reminder. To an extent, I am bending words right now in order to complete this interview and Bradley Eros was bending his words when he said we could bend our words.
I have written a lot in the past years, a book of erotic poetry and a semi-autobiographical novella which I released to the public, but words were not enough for me to express what I felt (a perpetual scream). I even went to the University and received my Masters in Linguistics as I was always obsessed with patterns, sound, and meaning. Occasionally I use words by means of free association; I do not want the image to be so concrete in my work. I create my own language so yes it is a kind of liberation, but I think we can all agree on that once we have accessed our inner-voice. It is about going deep within yourself to tap into your own expression free of any dualities or categories, which is unique as it exists as a part of you or at least your ‘idea’ of yourself at that point in your journey. Sound is a vibration which is capable of taking us back to our ancestors, the highest form of language beyond ideas, thoughts, and memory. It creates meaning but without the grammar and definitions chosen and deeply woven into our sick culture. Sound is my earliest memory, tones that trigger movements and images. I was singing since I was a very small child, this was my ultimate freedom encouraged by my mother, a French-Swiss orphan named Marlies; she was a folk singer and classical guitar player; I remember her beautiful emotive voice. I recall the Palestinian cassette tapes my father would play in his van, which made a deep impression on me even though I didn’t understand Arabic at that time. I had learned piano from a strange quiet woman named Judy, the organ player of the Chicago baptist church I attended, who gave me lessons for 6 years. When my lessons ended and teacher left, I would throw away my songbook and improvise for hours. My small body would move circularly with my feet dangling from the bench as if in a kind of trance. I wanted to break all the rules and perhaps little has changed with that.
8.- Falso Raccord: What is a poet that has influenced you the most?
Muyassar Kurdi: There are too many to name, but I am currently reading a lot of Audre Lorde, the black lesbian radical feminist poet. She has answered a lot of questions and uncertainties I have had in regards to living in the world as a woman.
She said: “I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."
I have never been silent about my oppression, traumas, or grief; I speak irreverently and without a filter so I feel Audre and I are on the same tip. Perhaps I got dropped on my head too hard, maybe I just don’t care, maybe I care ‘too’ much. And at this point where utter turmoil and destruction consumes the world (as it has been just in a different mask) I realize I am not only hurt, but I am also deeply angry. I am angry towards the sick racist and sexist individuals that I am confronted with on a day to day basis. And Audre reminds me that it is OK to feel anger as long as we learn to build strength from it. I am learning how to cope every day, and to direct my energy where it is needed as I am not responsible for changing anyone’s mind. I know to live radically means breaking the silence with love. I am also thinking of Meredith Monk when she told me of ‘gentle resistance’ although sometimes I do not feel gentle in the resistance, I feel ‘crazy’-- but only I can call myself that. With all I have endured in my past, I shouldn’t be alive, but I am so I live very intensely. How is this life not the best and worst thing that has ever happened to us?
Muyassar Kurdi (b. 1989 in Chicago) is a New York City-based interdisciplinary artist. Her work encompasses sound art, extended vocal technique, performance art, movement, photography, and film