Reservoir: Eric Sleichim (ENG)

Kaaitheater bulletin Jan 2008English

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In this section we plunge into an artist’s ‘reservoir’: the library, video and record collections, the archives and the experiences on which they draw when engaged in creative work. This season, on the occasion of Kaaitheater’s 30th anniversary, we are hearing from artists who have a long career behind them and whose work we have often shown.


My one all-encompassing obsession is to be engaged with sound. I sit in my studio in the same kind of solitude as a writer or artist, sculpting sounds. Fortunately, a variety of projects bring me into contact with a whole series of artistic people, usually in other disciplines. But my greatest source of inspiration lies in music, especially of the 20th century: everything that emerged as a consequence of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. I listen to these works and also read the more theoretical writings such as the writings of Pierre Boulez and John Cage. I regard composers such as Stockhausen in the same way as one would look at an artist’s work, where one can only understand a particular piece if one sees it in the context of the whole oeuvre or of what the artist was trying to develop in a particular period. But my obsessive starting point is always sound itself. When I was nine years old a friend prompted me to start playing the guitar, first acoustic and later electric. Our idol was Jimi Hendrix. Our first rock group – two electric guitars and drums – was called Purple Haze, after Hendrix’ song. We crumbled purple chalk into powder over the drums so that from the very first beats we found ourselves literally in a ‘purple haze’. My own enthusiasm soon led me to experiment with the guitar: tuning the strings differently, using all sorts of pedals, and so on. My parents’ record collection consisted mainly of classical music: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Debussy. Nothing contemporary, little chamber music, but above all symphonic orchestral works. My grandmother had a bookshop where I spent hours reading, looking in art books... I studied law at the VUB but went to music school at the same time, I played in rock groups and went to a lot of jazz concerts and everything else that was presented as new music. The monthly electronic concerts by Godfried Willem Raes and Logos at the Palais des Beaux Arts (the Brussels Palace of Fine Arts) made a great impression on me. They appeared on the podium in white lab coats fiddling with those first synthesisers and cables and microphones. Jazz led me to the saxophone, an obsessive love that has never left me. On the modern literature course at the university I made the acquaintance of Dadaism and Surrealism. A whole world opened up: André Breton, Paul Eluard, and all their links with the art of Duchamp, Cabaret Voltaire and others. I literally swallowed it all, reading everything, looking at everything, with my grandmother’s bookshop as a great treasure trove. Later, I was extremely attracted by such Japanese writers as Junichiro Tanizaki and Yasunari Kawabata because of their strong ritualistic slant.

However, the greatest revelation of my life was the discovery of music as a language when I went to study at the Conservatory. I started to realise what counterpoint meant, as well as harmony and compositional structure. I soon tired of the traditional compositional structures in jazz, though not everyone played these traditional themes. I am thinking of someone like the composer and conductor Butch Morris, and the freedom with which the pianist Cecil Taylor approached structures, or the incredible complexity of Anthony Braxton. Fortunately I soon discovered contemporary music and got to know the language used by Ligeti, Webern, Berio and Xenakis. This new idiom was a revelation to me. As if you opened a door in a library and found yourself in a room you had never seen before. As if you were entering a new civilisation.

Apart from the friend who had taught me to play the guitar when I was nine, the most important encounter in my career was that with the musicians with whom I set up Maximalist! That group’s ‘dogma’ was its anti-dogmatism. With Walter Hus, Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch I listened both to Prince and Jimi Hendrix and to Monteverdi and Messiaen, and we could talk all night about Pierre Boulez’ Le marteau sans maître. It was we, the first four members of Maximalist!, who recorded the music for Rosas danst Rosas. It was through that recording that I met Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. In the same period, the early eighties, I met Jan Fabre, who was rehearsing in a back room of the Stalker club in Schaarbeek. Then I found myself in the Kaaitheater vivarium and met the Epigonen (later Needcompany), Josse De Pauw and Hugo De Greef. Another important encounter took place in Ghent. At a concert in the museum of contemporary art I met Jan Hoet. I literally lost my way in the museum and was fascinated by the sound in those huge rotundas. Jan Hoet immediately senses this sort of artistic fascination in someone. For months he let me experiment with sound there all on my own, on Mondays, when the museum was closed to the public. One winter evening I sensed that someone was listening in. The man who had been sitting in the dark for three hours turned out to be the Canadian sculptor Royden Rabinowitz. He was working with space in a very mathematical way: he was trying to uncover in it a geometrical logic, but not that of the axioms of Euclidean geometry. That encounter led to years of cooperation.

Jan Hoet introduced me to the work of Joseph Beuys. Both Beuys and Duchamp have something to do with the birth and the name of the BL!NDMAN Quartet in 1987. The Blindman was the title of a periodical Duchamp published in New York in 1917, in which he formulated the ‘dada concept’ of a blind guide leading the public around an exhibition. I had once seen a marvellous performance by Joseph Beuys on video, with the title Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt. Beuys was sitting on a chair with a stuffed hare in his arms, a very intimate scene. Beuys’ head was completed covered in gold. His eyes were closed: here too was the idea of someone who cannot see, a blindman who tells someone else what the world looks like, what the truth is.

The icons who have inspired me most recently are artists who suffer a tragic fate. I am making a trilogy of music theatre on this theme. The first and second parts are already complete. They focus on the French author Antonin Artaud and the Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini respectively: they were both messianic idealists who still have an influence today. Artaud had fascinated me for some time before I made Man in Tribulation, among other things through the diary he kept on his trip to Mexico. I had known of Pasolini since my time at grammar school, but mainly for his erotic films such as Decamerone and Canterbury Tales. In 1977 I saw Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom. I didn’t know what I was seeing. It literally made me sick, but I kept on watching, except for the last scene, when I shut my eyes. I felt angry, and didn’t know how to handle such things. It was only in 2004 that I bought the DVD and started work on Intra Muros. That film had lain dormant inside me all those years.