Interview with Fabrizio Cassol

Before the start of the performance in the lobby of the Sava Center there was a chance to talk for Bitef blog with Fabrizio Cassol, the music author for the show. In the interview we have touched upon many topics, from traditional African music to the death of a woman who agreed to be filmed at dying.


When we talk about Requiem for L., you use different types of music: classical, traditional and popular music, if I understood well. Is it your stance that there's no fundamental differences between these types of music?


Fabrizio Cassol: I have to correct you a little bit because we didn't use traditional African music. Why? Because the idea was to recreate a new ceremony of mourning, a new way to celebrate the death. What is used clearly is the reference to Mozart's Requiem. I can talk about all the different aspects, but the first aspect with the Mozart. I think everybody knows that Mozart couldn't finish himself the Requiem. When you have the editing score you don't see what is from Mozart and what isn't. But in the manuscript you can see. Sussmayr is one composer mainly, but also others worked on it. You can see the different writtings because they were writing on the manuscript. Sometimes you have few bars, sometimes you have empty pages, then you see the other writings, and then I thought: okey, if we don't use mainly the other writings you have holes everywhere and could we recreate a new ceremony using other influences? Then this is a proces of composition to create extensions and how can you africanize these extensions. But not only the extensions, also Mozart itself. You have pure Mozart reference and how can you africanize in fact these aspect? But this is just one part, there's so many different things to conect. Now, what I would like to say and which is for me important... When you say you use different types of music and you take this and take this and take this... You create like that a proces of addition. And it's also not the point. The point is to create a process of multiplication when something could be linked to something else and go somewhere even if you don't know its origin. If you don't know anymore if it comes from Mozart, from the Western world or it comes from Africa. You know, you lose this perception. You create something which is unity.


You did some research concearning music in Africa and in the Western culture. Do you see any essential difference in aproaches towards music in these different places? Is music in Africa more incorporated in everyday life than it is in Europe, for example?


Fabrizio Cassol: Wow, its a lot of questions in one. But in this question you linked it with something about the first question. First of all, Africa is huge. Africa: the North, South, West, East, Center, whatever... It' full of different cultures, full of different ways and aproaches to music and life. Even if you take for example just South Africa, so many different ways! If you look at Congo - so many differences! You have parts in Africa where you have polyphony and you have parts in Africa where you don't have the polyphony, you have monody. The polyphony is many voices at the same time. The western music has the polyphony. Not at the roots, at the begining, but now we have it now. We have differeent voicings and they cross and they move, they create poly - phony. You have parts of Africa, especially the west of Africa which are monodic, like in India. In India you don't have the polyphony, in Arabic music also. There you have the basement and just one line. Where the music is polyphonic? Congo by essence I would say, and South Africa for sure. We have Congolese musicians and we have South African as well. In early coulture when people were singing in the forests, people were singing in the polyphony. And what is Mozart? Mozart is polyphony. The challenge here is when you have the Requiem and the melodies are always delayed. You have one melody and another one which is nearly the same starts later and another one nearly the same starts some more later... And this creates movements. And in African music you have polyphony but not with the same essence. Then our work is how to create this link, how to make it possible. Then, in this kind of world there're also secrets (laughts). You know, how to touch the things. I think when you have composers like Mozart or any composer, it's one thing that's important, their period of time and the prolongations. I think that great composers know that very well. It' s important with Bach and Mozart and all those huge people, they all have different periods of time in their music. It' s just a question how you create holes in the composition. And after you have to create and to use some little secrets and create the combination.  To do, for exaple, the same work for Requiem pour L. with the musicians from the west part of Africa, Mali, Senegal, you have to do it in another way because they don't have the polyphony.


Do you think this Requiem for L. is telling us that the death of an individual should be accompanied by a collective ritual in order to let go off the taboo concearning death in our society?


Fabrizio Cassol: How can I answer to such a question, it's so huge (laughs)! I can say that me and Alain Platel, when we were working on Requiem for L., of course we had all these questions. But the fact that we're trying to create a new ceremony is our proposition. I don't say it's the proposition, it's our proposition. I think everybody could propose something. But I would like to come back to this notion of individualism and collectivity because this is something very important and we confronted with this question precisely. First I came with two ideas. The first one was concearning the stage. The inspiration was the Memorial of the Holocaust in Berlin with these big black stones. And this is the representation of the collective death. But this is also a simbol of every collective death, to just this one in particular. And Lucy, she' s there. We can see her. She offered us the last hour of her life. Then, little by little she' s dying till the moment she' s dead. She represents the individual death. Then this is a relationship of the symbol of the collective and the individual death. I think in every collective death you have a single way to live it and you have a collective impact. And the taboo, what does it mean the taboo... It think it was important for Alain to do this piece because the people could talk probably more easily about lot of things. It' s very crazy, in this piece we play in many countries. We were in a few countries already and it will be a world tour on all the continents. In each part everyone lives and feels this relationship between the individual and the collective in another way. What is beautiful to see right now is that we have so many different cultures to cross with this piece. When we play in Africa, whatever Lucy is white, whatever is the Memorial of the Holocaust, it just creates something which is connected to your inner center. I think this is very important. Alain knows how to touch these kind of things. In the music itself the Mozart Requiem is really a musical symbol of really collective impact. When you go to the concert to see the regular Mozart Requiem you have a lot of people singing and a lot of people playing. Everybody is in black, nobody smiles. You have solists who only express individuality. You have this huge collective impact in the adaptation we work on. But you will see how the musicians will individualy, from this collective express themselfs. And they express their net relation with Lucy during the whole piece. And it' s like magic because it' s like Lucy is there. Alain always said when you are on stage, don' t play for the people, play for yourself, play between each other. Because more you are connected, more the public will come. Don' t try to just push to the public. Just create your own place, just like you were in a cemetery, and play music, do things and you have this relationship with Lucy. What you have to do is to take the public and to realize that everybody is with Lucy in the same room at the moment she' s dying. This is a really big challenge to do. Because, for example, when we received the footage of her from the family, Lucy was there and the family was around her. But Alain focused it because some people of the family didn' t want to be on the stage. So he focused on her so we can see quite a few people from the family, but it' s like that everybody in the theatre is the family of Lucy. And the musicians have to bring everybody there. It is not a concert, it's not a show, it's a ceremony. And everybody is there to share something. Now we have the music and the musicians, they are crazy musicians. They are super musicians. They give so much, sometimes they groove so much. Somethimes we get some deep things, somethimes we get the energy to dance. And they give all this. Alain creates such a relation because the film is not edited. The film just goes. The first part of the film just goes slower in a way you see Lucy' s there. It 's like you are familiarized with her. The film is cut only two times, I think. And there' s no synchronization. At the moment it goes realtime when the death occurs. But it' s not synchronized. You know, you play this when she does this - no, no. Sometimes musicians play a little bit faster or a little bit slower or a little bit longer or a little bit shorter. Just the film goes. But it' s like Lucy is always with the musicians and it's like musicians are always with her. Some nights I wonder what is going on because she opens her eyes and something is happening. It's like she's there, it' s like it' s in realtime. There are a lot of sensibilities, there' re a lot of misteries. Sometimes they feel something, they decide to go to her, sometimes not specially. Then it' s really how they live these kind of things. It' s very special, it' s very emotional. People react in so many different ways but at the same time they react all the same all together. I' m very curious tonight if it's going to be an exeption in some things. Sometime when it starts nobody moves. And most of the time when you arrive at the end the public explodes. You know, they live something. It' s not they just saw something, they share something.


And you mentioned Lucy's family. Did this performance had an effect on them and on their perception of Lucy's death?


Fabrizio Cassol: First of all, everything is within an agreement with the family. The family came during the process and they said: oh, yes this; or: oh, no this. And Alain listened to them. There' s no choice or no decision without an agreement of the family. The family comes very often. They came I don't know how many times. The sisters also, but the daughters - I don't know how many times they came. They loved their mother so much and their mother was a symbol of change, because the mother fought all her life for the rights of women, for the social rights. She was extreamly engaged in many aspects in life. Then for daughters, for example, it's like their mother continues to live and to act in a way. And they were always there, when we created in Berlin, they were in Berlin. And they came in many other towns. They want always to know how it goes and I know that they will come again. Sometimes they dance with musicians. They really understood this new ceremony. But there was a time when they were a little bit mad on their mother: she passed and she should be there to see the whole performance. But she's there after all, all the time.


This year's BITEF is thematizing the rise of right-wing populism and autocratic regimes. And it's interesting that some people are saying that Requiem for L. is in a dramaturgy of the festival a requiem for the Western civilization, because it is closing the festival. Do you have any thoughts on that?


Fabrizio Cassol: The moment when you work on something and something is created, suddenly it's like a birth. It goes into the world and it starts to travel and to meet many different people with many different perspectives, languages and cultures. Of course you have a lot of observations, a lot of reactions... And I think that's very good. It's good to hear different points of views. Is the Western world dying? I don't know. But if people see that, why not? What I would like to say is that for me it's always better to let the performance connect to things even bigger than itself. Asian people, for example, see the Asian reality even with more African people on the stage. And it's good. Now, when we play in Africa, I'm very curious what will the African people think. I have no idea. When we play in States, I have no idea what will they think. It also depends if the country is more catholic, more protestant, more atheist, muslim... All these things can orient the vision. So it's difficult to answer to this question. You will understand why it's sometimes difficult to talk, to answer the question. For example, with this piece we decided not to have a meeting with the public. Why? I remember when we were in Berlin. You know in Berlin dramaturrgy and meetings with the public is very important. And when we had a meeting with the public it was packed. I thought that nobody left, that everybody was there. And people start to express emotions and to talk. And then we thought that it's better that the public stays with their own feelings. Sometimes the questions are good but so simple. And we need to simplify then. And it's not necessary to understand everything. I think that it's important to protect the inner feeling that we have towards a performance. It's not crucial to create a direct debate. And sometimes debates go in so many different directions. I mean, no it's not a political piece about Africa! It's that everybody is equal in front of the death and it's even not talking about the death, it's talking about the life. We live and let's use this energy and this beauty that we have and go for it. It's much more the piece about the life than about the death.


Are you familiar with the music here in the Balkans? And would you like to do a performance concearning the Balkan music?


Fabrizio Cassol: I love Balkan music! I love Serbian music! And I love the Balkan music alltogether. Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, those are all different types of music. There are Serbian songs that are just killing! I did already things concearning the Balkans. But the question is not bad because I'm preparing something concearning it. But I can't talk about it more right now.


Interview by Borisav Matić