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Interview Serge Verstockt HRZSCHMRZ


Serge Verstockt & ChampdAction

Co-production : Klarafestival

In collaboration with deSingel, Vooruit, Opera XXI

Interview with Serge Verstockt

In Japan, there are an estimated one million youths living in complete isolation. They lock themselves in their bedrooms and exclusively look at the world through their computer's monitor. Manga heroins fill their dreams, erotic games fulfil their desires. The loneliness of this growing group of hikikomoris was the motivation for Serge Verstockt and ChampdAction to create a performance about love in times of digitalization. In HRZSCHMRZ, imagination and desire simultaneously play their age-old game – escaping reality is not a new concept in the least. Guido Belcanto wanders across the scene like a medieval troubadour, Buddy Holly rises from the dead and Schubert finally has both feet firmly on the ground.

C'est trash!

You titled your performance 
HRZSCHMRZ. Is love painful by definition?

Serge Verstockt: “To me, love means passion. The passionate are willing to go to extremes and as such easily reach a treshold of pain. Passion can be something very warm. But when you look at the meanings of love throughout history, you will soon find that pain, schmerz, is inevitably a part of it. One cannot exist without the other. Between the warm character of love and the schmerz of love exists a continuous tension, there's no two ways about it.”

HRZSCHMRZ addresses the character of love in an overly digitalized world. Do you believe the internet has changed love?

I thought so at first. I based myself on the large Japanese group of hikikomoris. They isolate themselves from the outside world and experience a major part of their passion and libido in cyberspace. That seemed new to me. But then I started asking myself whether what they do is really that exceptional. Perhaps virtual love is something that has existed through the ages? Female mysticians withdrew from the world and devoted their complete love to God, also a sort of virtual creature. Perhaps love has always wanted to escape its earthly existence? And

perhaps only then can it be truly sublime.”

At the same time, a form of uneasiness creeps through the performance. Virtuality may be of all ages but the idea that a lot of people feel love for something that is not real or material also worries us. As long as we use cyberspace for practical applications or for obtaining knowledge, nothing seems to be the matter. But when we see these internet figures being a part of our emotions, we feel uneasy. Is that truly what we want? Is this the life ahead of us? To me, it conveys a certain sadness and that feeling is also part of the performance. I thought it was important to give a voice to that discomfort.”

How do you view the hikikomori?

The performance is definitely not about the hikikomori as such, but I did want to use them because their situation is so distinct. It's an incredibly large group of youths as well: one million according to some statistics. I view them as the extreme example of things that happen here as well. How many young people spend 8 or more hours a day immersing themselves into games that makes the outside world look pale to them?”

It seems as though they find a form of freedom in these virtual worlds, but I don't look at it that way. Those virtual worlds are tailor made by others and you could say the same about religion: that too is a custom designed framework. You can only move freely within that framework. The internet offers a vast multitude, which makes you feel like you have the world at your feet. But at the same time, the internet is a business: you're roaming the internet like a consumer in a huge supermarket. It is a world without morality.”

Is it not reassuring that man is able to create virtual worlds?

Absolutely. That ability may even play an essential part in our continued existence. That is also what HRZSCHMRZ is about: will this be the new life form to which man will evolve? That chance exists. If, for example, it will be ecologically impossible or irresponsible to travel four times a year, it won't be unthinkable that we'll be making virtual travels.”

Singer Guido Belcanto plays an important role in HRZSCHMRZ. Why did you want him to join you specifically?

Lately I've been basing my compositions more on people than on instruments. In Hold Your Horses, for example, Peter Jacquemyn also played a major part: he is an inspiring double pass player, an excellent improviser, overtonge singer and visual artist. Someone like that is irreplaceable. That unique aspect is in stark contrast with everything happening in cybserpace, where everything is reproducable and as such replaceable. In HRZSCHMRZ, people of flesh and blood stand opposite an entire choir of replaceable avatars. Guido Belcanto is unique in the same way. There is no placing him. And, at the same time, he has something mythical about him. I view him as a mediary figure: someone somewhere inbetween the earthly and the supernatural. Aside from that he is a wonderful source of inspiration. He lives by his passion, in which he has found his own way that he still maintains. That is the kind of passion HRZSCHMRZ needs.”

HRZSCHMRZ explores very different musical worlds: from medieval chants to pure noise, from Buddy Holly to Schubert. Is that something you're turning a new leaf with?

I've been doing that for a while. I've been part of the world of 'contemporary classical music' for a long time: in that world, the notes are usually the most important. By working on a theme like this, you break away from that notion in a very fundamental way: life itself is your subject, not the notes. That is very liberating. A timeline arises through which you can freely travel back and forth and only by doing that you break through a great number of self-imposed 'codes' from the world of contemporary music.”

After Hold Your Horses, this is your second 'Grand Opéra de Trash’. Why 'opera' and why 'trash'?

We were looking for a name for what we wanted to do and 'opera' is, of course, a beautiful world with a beautiful history. Historically, opera is a genre that always evolved with the newest technology. That intrigues us and that is something we wanted to pick back up with ChampdAction. At the same time, our budget is peanuts in comparison to any opera house. By very deliberately opting for trash, we've given ourselves the opportunity to solve problems in a very trashy manner with a great deal of unbound inventivity.”

Interview : Annemarie Peeters

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