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Gabrielle Herbst on her opera-in-progress “BODILESS”

Contemporaneous will perform an excerpt from Gabrielle Herbst’s opera in progress BODILESS this Friday in Brooklyn! Click here for more information on the show and read on for Gabi’s ideas on the piece.

“I used to feel guilty at night. I live in, I always used to live in two countries, the diurnal one and the continuous discontinuous very tempestuous nocturnal one. But I didn’t tell. I thought myself under false pretences in the one and in the other under false pretences differently, since I had but one visa for both. Furthermore I couldn’t have said which was the main, the primordial one, having two lives and two temporalities, which one was the legitimate or the other. I went to the one that was perhaps the other with the surreptitious joy that gives the soul wings on its way to love, to lovingness, even without going anywhere save to the depths. I have a rendezvous. What a delight to head off with high hopes to night’s court, without any knowledge of what may happen! Where shall I be taken tonight? Into which country? Into which country of countries?”

Hélène Cixous, Dream I Tell You

The inspiration and libretto for BODILESS came from French‐Algerian writer Hélène Cixous’ Dream I Tell You. She sees dreams as a way of processing extreme emotion we are prohibited to process publicly in our culture—pain, passion and ecstasy. I was interested in looking at the symbolic nature of dreams as overly emotive representations of everyday life and how that is similar to my understanding of opera—storytelling through symbols and archetypes.

I used this dichotomy borrowed from Cixous as my groundwork: “You know my love everything is false — Dream I tell you.”
“By the Beating of my heart which does not lie.”

I was thinking about fakery and deception versus sincerity and corporeality in the waking and dreaming world and how that too relates to my concept of an opera, a play, a show, a momentary pleasure of deception.

Through compositional structure and fluctuating rhythms I tried to replicate my own experience of conscious and unconscious states—at times blurry, unstable, shifting foundations surrounding “learned” overly sentimental gestures. This relationship of blatant romance and unstable groundwork resulting in the bombastic give and take of serenity and chaos mirrors the dramatic, unpredictable state of dreams.

There have been recent scientific studies speculating that at the moment of death there is a brief period of time where your mind is still active after your body has died. Religions like Tibetan Buddhism prepare for this liminal period through meditation over the course of a lifetime. Ultimately this piece became about being left alone in one’s own mind—the difficulty and fear of that state in our current overly stimulated culture dependent on consumption. This piece is an exploration into solitary dreams and unstable quiet—hence BODILESS imagining the state of mind when the body has been left behind.

— Gabrielle Herbst

To hear Gabrielle’s music, visit her SoundCloud page.

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