Ghostland -
Pierre Jodlowski

Immersive and spellbinding, Pierre Jodlowski's latest creation plunges us into an area of indefinite boundaries. Composed for electronics and four percussionists from the famous Percussions de Strasbourg, the score also includes the play of lights and writing of the stage space.

Extended by a large panoramic screen, the stage changes into an infinite space, a territory where shadows seem to come and play with the bodies.

A dreamlike show, Ghostland however opens eyes onto today's world: the "ghosts" in question certainly refer to deceased loved ones and the traces preserved by memory as well as, in a more metaphorical way, the individual caught up in the machinery of a system that tears him from reality, from self and from others. On the screen, we see meeting rooms, large offices, cold areas gradually inhabited by strange, ghostly beings... The percussionists Minh-Tâm Nguyen, François Papirer, Galdric Subirana and Florent Duverger progressively abandon their instruments to play their attaché-case or virtual percussions con brio.

To these four performers, who look like young executives, puppeteer Katharina Muschiol provides a counterpoint: a silhouette behind the screens, an evanescent presence, she is like an echo from afar... Here two space-times meet and contrast, opening up the field of possibilities to the spectator.

The piece was commissioned by Les Percussions de Strasbourg. Coproduction: éOle / Les Percussions de Strasbourg.


Sound all around us...

...Or, rather, sounds; strange, damaged sounds.

The impression of being somewhere, a somewhat hostile place. begins...

The houselights dim; onstage, one distinguishes nothing, or practically nothing...

The hostility extends in the indistinction of bodies or of instruments.

Murmurs, rumblings, thuds, as with pieces of bone or wood.


Ritual of light that, in this darkness, is going to gradually weave

a silent counterpoint structuring time. Objects move, or seem to

move... as well as the percussionists' bodies whose limbs, standing

out in the light, seem beyond time.

Here, time continues to stretch, like that of a place that fascinates

as much as it frightens, archaism or counter­utopian projection...


Light has no function; it is, it acts, it responds.

Sound has no function; it spreads in space, giving it its materiality, nothing more.

Time alone proposes to act, in a very long stage, an immaterial path.

Conceived for four percussionists, an artist from the world of puppet theatre, an elaborate setup of interactive lights, videos and an environment of electronic sounds, this project is based on the concept of phantoms: the phantom as envisaged in its manifold symbolic dimensions and different perceptive degrees.

Several sources of inspiration are present here. First of all: Marie Darrieussecq's novel My Phantom Husband, published in 1998, which weaves a relation between quantum physics and the ghostly presence. In this novel, wherein a woman finds herself alone following the disappearance of her companion, the phantom is going to be born of an obsession, an activity of memory contrasting with reality. In this journey, the author also questions tangible reality, that of objects, for example, and gives them another materiality, through recourse to particle physics, which abolishes the classic points of reference of matter. Another reference for this project comes from cinema, with Kiyoshi Kurosawa's lm Pulse. About this lm we can read: "Pulse's ghost is not even vengeful since there is nothing to avenge. The Tokyo sky, according to the filmmaker, is already a phantom. Pulse paints a Japanese society of ultramodern solitude, that of otakus shut away at home, a solitude where communication transits above all via Internet. The spectre is a metaphor for this isolation that threatens the characters until they lose themselves permanently for, we hear, 'death is an eternal isolation.'" (Nicolas Bardot, FILM de Culte, internet blog)

Finally, in a more classic way, the phantom is also viewed in its "childlike" or mundane definition the mysterious incarnation of a being that has died, which cannot really be seen and whose power is generally associated with fear, the bizarre, the immaterial... Beyond these references, the idea consists of envisaging the stage not as a performance space but an ambiguous setting, essentially intended to see a sort of audiovisual ritual take form and be transformed, itself becoming an object to perceive. In my composition work, I have been able to question the stage space in its semantic dynamic through numerous projects. In a certain way, this work constitutes a synthesis of my practice around the tools lying on the stage: the score, the sound environments in multichannel, the question of sets, light and video, the relation to the text, notation of the gesture as an integral part of the subject. The whole of these elements makes up a controlled vocabulary somewhat like an extended counterpoint in which the different perceptive levels interact in favour of an overall perception.

Part 1: Holon(s)

Inspired by Arthur Koestler's book The Ghost in the Machine, this first sequence features ghostly forms and avatars projected on the screen. By extension of Koestler's theories, the development of artificial intelligence transits via an appropriation of the real world by machines. This is the theory of "holons," articicial particles able to imitate and reproduce series of actions and construct increasingly autonomous organised systems. At a certain stage in their development, these "holons" escape from the initial system, like sorts of ghosts in the machines...

The music, video and staging thereby depend on this metaphorical vision in which all the elements interact between themselves. We thus witness a transformation where the stage actions are gradually going to be absorbed into the image. The video therefore represents an extension of the space, a sort of evolving mirror where strange beings are gradually going to organise and absorb the musicians' energy.

Part 2: Büro

This sequence evokes the alienating corporate universe that turns us into phantoms devoted to making a system function whereas the wagers of it increasingly elude us. Here, this critical dimension is broached with humour and energy and contrasts profoundly with the previous part. The four musicians find themselves in empty office spaces (shadow theatre) and are going to gradually organise the stage in a ballet inspired by daily actions in the world of work. Caught up in a sort of mechanical logic, they install their instruments (four drum sets), play with their attaché-cases, and stroll in front of and behind the screen as if entrapped by their material environment. is sequence concludes with the evocation of a grotesque hell: the musicians become marionettes at the mercy of a monster, which appears in shadow in the screen.

The music, which seemed to be in the process of being born, must momentarily make room for burlesque chaos where the stage seems to blaze up. In this sequence we can see the immoral, manipulative presence of the company's directors who continue to impose an increasingly violent economic world.

However, the music is finally going to free itself, as if recalling the independence of artistic thinking, which cannot adapt to systems that are imposed on it... The writing becomes virtuosic and jubilatory: series of drum solos, gestural alchemy in relation to the electronic sounds, moments of high tension that are meant to recall the necessary freedom of expression, or indiscipline in daily life, which is increasingly constrained.

Part 3: Inventory

The stage continues to change, making room for strange rituals. The musicians begin haunting, repetitive cycles; a white phantom starts to de ne the space with lights and objects; and a sort of infinite chamber appears on the screen.

Here we experiment with time, and phantoms are simply those that we make up at every moment of our lives by the principle of memory. In certain Asian mythologies, it is said that we leave indelible traces of our presence on objects: a book, once we have read it, keeps the mark of our hands or of our gaze.

These are the phantoms of particles, which assemble and gradually constitute this memory of which we sooner or later take inventory.

Sounds, texts and videos

Phantoms are also conjugated in the sound universe that unfolds in two directions, the first consisting of creating an environment that seeks to physically materialize a space. For that, a multi-channel soundtrack is played around the audience, and the score is conceived for a vast body of instruments and objects that are amplified and also spatialised. is work on the sound space (interior, exterior, landscape, moves...) brings a permanent distortion of the origin of sounds, making them ghostly and impalpable.

The second direction appeals to the musical memory: phantoms of history intervening in the form of harmonic and rhythmic colours. Quotations from music of the past constitute strange presences, here again distorted, stretched, and fleeting.

During the opening sequence and the transitions between the main parts, texts appear in the soundtrack. The voice, whispered and distorted, generates a kind of additional semantic space and opens other perspectives for our imagination. ese texts draw on classic German literature with major figures of the Sturm und Drang movement (Goethe, Schiller) and of romanticism (Heine). By quoting Goethe's very famous Erlkönig in the overture, the idea consists of echoing the recurrent themes of this literature with the whole project. ese poems, filled with spectres, disturbing figures or, in the case of Heine, giving an esoteric function to the natural elements goes beyond the Cartesian definition of the world, reveal another universe, teeming with referential images that enter into dialogue with the stage space.

The use of video consists primarily of an extension of the physical space. A large screen comes to close off the stage frame, serving as a receptacle for the appearance of sets in which the artists can move (principle of the shadow theatre). ese images are essentially based on spaces (empty rooms, offices) of which the perspectives seem plausible in the space. The video thus has no narrative function (very little editing) but exists as a physical surface, interacting considerably with the light, it too treated dynamically throughout the show.

Theatrical dimension, the character of the phantom

The score of Ghostland calls for an extended typology of the musical vocabulary, integrating gestures and actions beyond the musical text. The movements are worked on so as to produce a continuity between scenes. The percussion instruments thereby become "transformable" objects that lose their sound function in favour of a visual, theatrical logic.

Alongside the four musicians, a mutant character accompanies the action. Interpreted by Katharina Muschiol (an artist from puppet theatre), this character concretely embodies the figure of the phantom. During its appearances, this evanescent presence takes us beyond the real: to the heart of the "territory of shadows"...

Pierre Jodlowski