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Ágens - I have a sense of singer

Erika Ozsda

"On a night of 1994 the big hall of a youth club in the suburbs was separated into two parts. One, the lower part was the territory of the drawer, where his drawings were placed on dozens of music stands. The pictures were the copies of our archaic knowledge projected through our dreams, precise representations or mementos of existent or non-existent zoology and architecture. The other part, the stage was the territory of the singers, who - mostly without any instrumental accompaniment, only with guttural and opera voices and improvisations - tried to establish a link, a connection with the drawings."

singing: Ágens and Moduna
music: Boudny
drawings: Szalai Tibor
dresses: Tresz Zsuzsa

How do you call your style or genre?

Ágens: It is a strange mixture of the classical opera sounds and the ritual songs. It consists of all kinds of guttural and other sounds, which can be studied and imitated but can't be learnt.

What are the antecedents of it?

There aren't any. I started to sing from one day to another. It was two years ago that I realized that I had to sing. I am absolutely sure of it that this is my fate.

Are you very tired after a concert like this?

Yes, terribly. I am sweating, gasping for air, but this is of no importance. The important thing is to make the voices sound.

Why was it important for you to be in the same space with the drawings of Szalai Tibor?

Because this was an opening of an exhibition and not a concert. Though Tibor is an architect his drawings are very special. He maps non-existent towns, but you feel that they could have existed some time ago. He creates a kind of zoology with detailed anatomical drawings of sex organs, all kinds of birds, insects, their feelers and a wide range of horroristic creatures. I think that a traditional exhibition wouldn't give place to these works. The two singers - Moduna and I - volunteered for singing the pieces on the music stands. The audience tried to reconcile what they heard with what they saw. The singing with the drawings.

Does Szalai Tibor draw what you sing?

It isn't as simple as that. I'd rather say that there is a link between us, but he doesn't draw what I sing and vica versa. It is instinctive. If I were asked what Tibor's drawings are about, I wouldn't be able to answer correctly. I would say that it comes from an instinctive knowledge that can't be specified and can't be curbed or kept in check. I am on half way and I don't know what the end will be, but I'd like to avoid traps and cul-de-sacs. I am careful about not getting stuck in anything I do. This is very hard work. I'd like to let my intuition drive me.

This concert was organized in a rather strange way. It was only when you started to sing that the audience could go into the hall, and they didn't know what to do, th‚y just stood by the wall and waited. Hardly anyone dared to approach the drawings.

Yes, the arrangement of the pictures created an inner space that people considered invulnerable. I expected them to come in finally but they didn't. With this arrangement we closed down the space.

In what direction can you go on, how can you perfect what you are doing now?

Surely there are lots of possibilities in the technical sense, improving virtuosity etc., on the other hand it can be deepened, too. I can imagine a performance without any instruments, but with 25 women singing in the background like an orchestra. Their voices would function as the instruments.

How many performances have you had so far?

Those that are worth mentioning? Two in the Toldi Cinema, which were really successful, though in that case I couldn't design the space around me. I had a good concert in Pécs with Tresz Zsuzsa, who is doing the same outrageous things in the field of stage- and costume-designing as me in singing. Usually I made a performance when I felt a very strong desire to make one. At first I didn't know what to do and with whom, but I was definitely peevish and hysterical. Then on one day I was fully aware of who to work with and why. And gradually the whole thing took shape.

Do you like those musicians who have a similar attitude or approach?

I think that your attitude, your views are not chosen, they are inherent. You either have or don't have an approach to other worlds. You can be an interpretator like most opera singers, whose tragedy is that they don't get the role of Aida for example even if they have every talent for it. But you can take any field of music, the singers are always at the mercy of others, composers, musicians, unless they have their own composers.

Are you looking for a composer, too?

I think I am my own composer, because I usually sing without any instrumental accompaniment. What I do is based on improvisations, though this is something I'd like to change in the future. I record my singing, then I take down the improvisations or I try to remember them. I select those parts that I can use, put them together, and finally learn it sound by sound. This method has the drawback that you can't step out of your own world, while with a composer you can get new ideas. (...) The possibility of ecstasy is in the unpredictable things. You can prepare for it, but after a certain extent it is beyond your control. Neither the performer nor the audience knows what causes it to happen, but everyone knows when it starts and how long it lasts. That's why it is so accidental and difficult to reproduce. I was often told that I could make a lot of money with this, but I should decide what I want: to be a showman, or to devote myself to creating a new genre in music. In other words, I can choose to achieve ecstasy or join the club of ...- this will sound rather rude now - half-prostitute, half-intellectual, half-connoisseur, half-dilettante lot. Be a whore or not. It's not that one is better or worse than the other. But you have to decide, you can't float between the two. This middle-of-the-road policy is not my syle.

Don't you want to earn money?

Well, not at all costs. I could sing blues or jazz. I could ruin my voice in smokey pubs night by night for a bunch of drunkards. But my music is not like this.

How do you feel on the stage? Do you have a good time?

Yes, even if it doesn't look like that. This is not what one would call happiness in the original sense. I'd rather say that I feel a perfect consistency with my own self. Standing on the stage I can give vent to such things that nowhere else can be released. The stage is not the real world, though it is reality because I am there, my face is recognisable, only my relations are different. The reality of the stage and the "real" reality are two different things. My parents for example don't belong to the first one. I can't expect anyone to understand and accept what is happening there. That's why I call myself Ágens. She substitutes me on the stage. I am not schizophrenic, but from a certain respect performing on stage is always a kind of schizophrenia.

Do you exclude the archaic from your everyday life?

No, but you can't be aware of it in every moment of your life. The key-word is loneliness. You have to be totally lonely to make it work.

Translated: Eszter Szabó