The Real Stories Arise...
by Béla Herczeg
As singer, Ágens had her first appearance on the stage in 1992. Since her music cannot be related with "standardised" artistic lines, movements or trends, her critics have permanent problem to specify or denominate her art. In spite of their surprising creativity these efforts were frequently found to be vain. Fortunately enough Ágens does not waste her time with the futile endeavour of defining the genre of her performances: instead of that she simply sings. The main milestones of her creative work are several concerts yearly, music and roles in films, and issuing two CDs ("Ágens", author's release, "Of Heaven and Earth", Periferic Records, 1999). The main musical elements --also including Agnus Dei-- of the new performance by KompMánia Contemporary Dance Theatre were composed and will be sung by her (The premiere is expected to be held in Szkéné Theatre, Budapest, in the end of May.)
Gramofon: In two records of yours your voice has musical accompaniment, but in the last work, in "Agnus Dei" you have chosen a pure polyphonic three-part song.
Ágens: The issues entitled "Of Heaven of Earth" and "Ágens" can serve as the proofs of a period in my life in which I had to experience and learn my own voice, my skills. Nowadays I have much more courage. It is more easy to "carry the can" alone than doing the same with a whole orchestra behind me. Now this is my "private" business. Otherwise, it is very difficult to find musicians who can understand my intentions, who are tuned up to my own "wavelength".
Gramofon: Have you ever made any attempt to work together with musicians on the stage?
Ágens: Once I had such a period but it was not successful at all. By now the situation has seriously changed. Now I am "discovered" by musicians mainly arriving from the realm of classical music. I have the plan of an appearance in which I would be accompanied by a piano and a viola.
Gramofon: A few years ago, when you had your debut as a singer neither orchestra, nor pre-recorded, self-made parts accompanied your singing. Did this "self-confident" Ágens relying only in her own voice really disappear?
Ágens: This is not the question of cowardice at all. It was only the first milestone in my personal development. First I discovered and realised the "thing" with which I wished to be "engaged": the use of my voice as a special conduct of life. I started to learn and understand the "meaning" of my voice. I simply went to the stage and sang. Later on, with the aid of Ferenc Boudny, the composer of my records, we started to "edit" this voice, "to put it to its own place". This is the story of the issues "Ágens" and "Of Heaven of Earht". My novel songs took quite different direction. They are the results of much more profound studies. Furthermore, they contain many classical elements as "improvisation". And this is the question now, too.
Gramofon: How have you developed your particular technique of improvizative singing?
Ágens: It is the result of a very hard struggle. My voice formed itself, without any "external assistance". I do not have teachers: my voice develops itself. The only important aspect is the meaning of my voice, a system of relations, what is symbolised by it, and how my voice can "guide" the audience, and myself too.
Gramofon: If it is really true, why do you need any music at all?
Ágens: Because I feel, that the particular, concrete pieces need it. Also, for my feeling of completeness I simply need it. But in the recent and present period I am absorbed by an approach towards classical music. This is very interesting for me, but I have to confess that singing "Agnus Dei" was a very hard work for me. Through my voice I realised a possible new direction of activity: such a revelation always is very hard for me.
Gramofon: It is quite "common" experience in our days that representatives of contemporary music frequently lament: they are equally ostracised from the "societies" devoted to classical and popular music as well.
Ágens: Poor men ... For me, this question has no significance. I wish to sing, and simply I sing the songs I am able to sing and I think to be good to be sung. And no any inclination I have to do essentially different things out of the realm of my skills. Please, try to understand that I am interested in the "philosophy of music" only from a special point of view and at a particular level: what is the starting- and the end-point of my thinking, and that of my voice, also guided by my cognition. My mental development is strictly related to the development of my voice. First I imagine and invent the voices and the surroundings in which I shall sing. This equally holds for the concerts and for the studio recordings, too. Then I realise it, and the "miracle" may or may not happen during this "implementation". That is all... Thank heavens, in the latest period it more frequently happens ... I think that the Gods love me ... In comparison with that my expulsion from or inclusion in certain particular musical castes is of minor importance.
Gramofon: Your reviewers used to mention certain spiritual and instinctive way of presentation in connection with you. Do you agree with that?
Ágens: Partly I do. It is much more than simply "instinctive". The attribute "spiritual" is far more exact. My singing has a kind of special mentality, which normally is not acknowledged by my critics. The music I do needs full devotion like any other important thing in our life, therefore it is "elementary". This is the explanation for my ability of "grasping" people, to share with them the eternity of the present moment, that is the sparks of creation.
Gramofon: In several civilisation music is attributed with magic power, as you think it, too. It is just enough to mention the shamans' spells. You surely know shamans' songs from records. How did you experience these songs? Were they real revelations for you, or served only as some exotic manifestations of a strange culture?
Ágens: It is very interesting because with me things usually happen in a "reverse" order. In spite of the similarities these are only certain elements of that what I do. I use them, but my intention is not a simple reproduction of something pursued by the shamans in Siberia. (Otherwise I am able to do it, not only imitate the superficial appearance, but to really exist in the story, therefore this is very dangerous for me and I do not wish to swap the roles...) I perform my own music, and sometimes someone remarks that it was exactly like the shamans' songs.
Gramofon: If it is so, what is the "event" which really happens?
Ágens: The really important fact is that I do not wish to make something else of myself, nor I wish to become similar to anything else than myself. I wonder why it is so difficult to be understood. Some people say that it is simply a bluff. But let me question what kind of bluff may be in standing on the stage and singing? Simply that is all, "no more" or nothing "else" happens ... Let it be their business to worry about the special circumstances that I have not spent 20 years with studies at the Music Academy: instead of that this skill simply welled up of me. I do not wish to mystify that, but in this case my critics have their difficulty of properly labelling, tagging or classifying me ...
Gramofon: What is the essence of that skill resulting in this unlabellable "Ágens voice"?
Ágens: I am able to improvise in any key for anything. In the very moment in which I hear a song I can identify myself with it. Any "prophetic role" is out of the circle of my interests. However, I know that what I do is elementary, even if in its centre there is something which "normally" is deemed "shameful" in our days. This core is nothing else than studying our inexplicable and immense system of relations binding us to this World or in other words, being involved in studying ourselves. I think that those people who state that they never were indulged in studying themselves are pretenders or liars. I admit that I am apt to be indulged in self-studies - but I do it in a way different to the common one... The consequence of this difference is my voice which guides me and those people who pay attention to it.
Gramofon: In the "canonised castes of music" your activity is quite unfamiliar, many of their participants strongly refrain from it. However, this virtually leaves you intact. You regularly expose yourself to the criticism of the audience.
Ágens: I naturally seek for connection with the audience: I am not a wise-woman who lives at the periphery of some village and casually sings a song to cure somebody... I am a singer, I believe in Music and Art. And all the artists have the common property: the desire for manifestation. Manifestation is one of the duties of the talented men. I believe in the power of the fate. However, I also believe in a kind of freedom, our freedom of making our choices, which depend only on us. Different people have different choices. I dare not state the one choice would be definitely better that the other. None of us is necessarily better that the other. We simply are different..
Gramofon: As far as I know singing is not the material basis of your subsistence ...
Ágens: I think that it also would be possible to subsist on it. However, for that it would be inevitable to turn into the "more popular" direction and this definitely is not my cup of tea. I always had to work for the possibility of doing what I wish to do, what I love to do. I would not be able to make up my mind to sing even a single unnatural voice. I can state that on an experimental basis: I already attempted that. For a while I remained without job, and someone came to me with a deal to sing in a short film of advertisement. I tried to do it but soon I burst in cry and tears, and eventually had to escape. I was not able to continue it. Many of the artists fall into the trap of allowing some compromise, and finally they get stuck in it. It is impossible for the same man to have appearances as a true artist in certain scenes, and also behave as a slag or a laughing stock in other ones. In this case there is now way to attain true balance or equilibrium. The slightest deviation from our true being leads to fatal lost of equilibrium: our activity and personality loose their authenticity.
Gramofon: Have you ever been pondering over the extension of the circle of your "artistic instruments" you use in your concerts, to make your appearances approach towards some "performances"? The "musical world" you already created naturally seems to offer such possibilities...
Ágens: Yes, it offers it, but ... First of all it needs a lot of money. Beside this, I have to find those people on which I can perfectly rely. Till now I was not too lucky in that. However, in the latest period it seems to me that I'll find such people. Since I started singing relatively lately --and without teachers--, in the periods dedicated to the discovery of "voice" in general and that of "my own particular voice" I had to work alone, without any support. Of course, during this period I received many advice, but I definitely struggled against and refused any external influence. I do not regret this loneliness. Though my learning phase definitely lasted due to it, after reaching its end, I feel a great freedom, liberation, and happiness. Now I dare do anything ...
Gramofon: In general it is necessary to attain a certain "age" when it clearly crops up if you really think seriously your activity. As the Japanese proverb says: "By the age of 30 one gets responsibility for his features." Your appearances and CD issues well testify that you are self-consistent, you take very seriously what you do. However, only the members of a quite narrow sphere know your art and work.
Ágens: Actually I do not belong even to the circles to which I am thought to pertain by people in the lack of any other idea or point of reference. I have never been the member of any "caste". Simply I need not them, and they also do not need me. The publishers dealing with music not belonging to the mainstream do not deign even to speak to me. It is because I cannot be properly labelled or tagged. Neither my dressing, nor my system of gestures, nor my manner of communication makes it possible to regard me as the member of a typical sub-culture. There is no branch to which I could belong. I know that my life would be easier in that way, however, I do not wish to do it.
Gramofon: The premiere of KompMánia's new performance is expected by May. The great majority of the musical texture of this performance consists of your songs. You also will be an actor of the performance. When I listened certain excerpts of this music I found it surprising that this material comprises many classical musical elements, and in general, it is far more complex than your earlier works. I became apt to suspect that you have broken off with the free forms ...
Ágens: No, not at all. This whole music is improvisation. I already told you that my system is ready and complete. It is the end of a process of thinking, and I hope that I will be able to use the realisation one results of which is the "birth" of "Agnus Dei". I do not state that the whole set of my artistic instruments is complete, however, the system itself seems to be perfect. The music I made is built up of the "textures" of long centuries: I sang all the three parts, in an improvisative manner, but following a long period of mental and cognitive preparation.
Gramofon: In your concerts you also use such previously recorded parts serving as the basis of your improvisation. Aren't you afraid of some external perturbation which casually may "kick you out" of concentration and potentially may jeopardise the success of improvisation? The improvisative art is very difficult because it assumes the perfect knowledge of the available instruments, and besides this, requires full concentration. I think that in the case of an appearance on the stage some unlucky circumstances may risk the whole performance.
Ágens: For me improvisation is neither easy, nor difficult. It is the natural "medium" of my life. One simply goes to the stage on which she or he is nothing else than a body: and at once the empty space around will be "filled up" as the real stories commence to arise.
Translated: dr. József Tar