Lény Bernay & Axelle Stiefel are Jardin & Eve. Here is a digital exchange between the Belgium- and Switzerland-based artists about their collaboration partially published on Jardin’s third LP ÉPÉE, released September 14 via Le Turc Mécanique and Cultural Workers.
Lény: Hey Axelle ! To start our exchange about our collaboration you asked me “Why so many words?”. Words are a sort of reflex to me. I started music by writting rap lyrics and it stayed with me until today. Sing, speak, or scream: feelings, concepts, emotions, poetry is the perfect connection to me between the abstract world of ideas, the invisible, and the material state of my body. It’s a way to embody the invisible things that organize our life. It’s the same process than making electronic music, it is a way to make electricity flow visible. And in the end, when we may shut down everything, in search of quietness, or when we might get bored by these digital – and therefore electrical – connections, what will remain ? Just our bodies and our words. This is my social reflex. That’s why i’m moved by your work as poet-artist and also as a reader. You give a lot of importance to the way of delivering language. Each oral moment with you is a real dance of words, this is where we are connected.
Axelle: This question you just answered, I read it in an interview you gave previously and it struck me because you said it as an open question, which sounded very sincere. I understand by your reply that you situate yourself in a tradition of rap. For me words are not an evidence – they are work. And I realise it is just not possible nowadays to grow an interest in words without acknowledging the heritage of rap. Rap cultivates a plasticity of words, a form of playfulness even at its most serious manifestation. I would further say that in the best case rap is trans, because it is counteracting a general use of words as matters of territory, exclusion, power.
Like nearly everything else, words are exchangeable, they are the currency with which we negotiate our position in society. They are the codes which determine our credibility in a system of cultural references. Not everyone is able to decode, not every code is meaningful, like words do not necessarily produce understanding. Sure is that there is nothing un-usefull about the use of words and we are not equal in our capacity to manipulate them. So working with words, staying with the open question is political. “Why so many words?”
The pendant question in the interview was “why say more words when you can say it with lesser words”. The problem is that the tendency to reduce leads to a proximate of the slogan which is only turned towards the efficiency of the message, its effectuality. From the potentiality of words remains only the communicative drive, usually to generate a reaction, often an emotional one. This is the reason why we cannot be contempted with lesser words than we are left already. We cannot stay innocent in front of the systematic erasure of our “textualité”, the kind of tissue we are made of. We need to reprogram our world. Bring in more complexity and spaces to breathe.
Lény: For the LP, “ÉPÉE”, we worked on an excerpt from a larger collection of texts you called “operaTor”, can you tell me what this specific word means to you ?
Axelle: operaTor is probably some body who manages inputs and outputs, someone at work, posessed by its activity. It comes from the latin operarius, meaning « ouvrier » « worker ». In the same time, you hear the word opera, and Tor – door or gate, in german – or Thor – the name of the god of thunder in nordic mythology. Perhaps it is all about an opera of gates or a concert of electricity in the air?
Lény: Like I just told you, every time you are using words, it’s a dance, of sounds, even better, it’s a fluid and poetic movement of your thoughts. Even if we are using english here, which is not our mother tongue. You are right, it’s all about the complexity that every consumerist system tries to hide. Actually, i’m going back to rap to recover this complexity, to take the time to unfold my tongue. I’ve got the impression that rap is the
style of music the most loaded in words. And finally, it does not engage with the complexity of our lives and sensitivities but, mainly, repeats the same old ultra-capitalist and patriarchal shit. Repeating “Cash” or “Slut” as mantras without the modesty of Dance Music, Hardcore or Techno, which can have the same effect with the minimalism of looping or sampling.
Axelle: We are not saying that «bitch» or «slut» is a bad thing, right! Its more about who and how you use it, which background, which movement of speech. Repeating those words « can » be an act of mimicry, appropriation, exorcism, and in the end dis-alienating. It «could» be humorous, defying, or a form of disguise like a cloth you put on and off.
Attention, slogan: More words, more writers without books, wanderers between languages, wavers of the real!
Lény: The way you can embody even few words is also a way of sharing information. Of course, we need to re-progam our world by making complexities visible, bringing new models, re-politicizing music, making poetry appear everywhere we can, telling stories which look like us and which are fully tensed to a possible and more decent future. In that perspective our “program” needs to be fed by sensitive and lively material. Not only with “Zeros and Ones”, to quote a part of your texts which is introducing the all LP we are preparing together, but with body impulse, breathing, by shifting subtly the meanings of a word by its oralization. And I agree that’s a part of our “work”.
With our company Cultural Workers, we co-produced the record with Le Turc Mécanique and we decided to join a text I wrote called “I’m A Ghost Now”. This is a transcription designed by the artist-publisher Roxanne Maillet – who is fully devoted to the process of oralization – of a reading we did together few years ago. The text is a sort of manifest of what makes a “live” for me and how I’m using technologies. While I was reading, you were modulating my voice like yours is modulated on this second ÉPÉE’s tracks.
The text you are reading and singing here describes you – Eve – using machines and words. Recently you sent me the “Zeros and Ones” edit completly cut by computer. What’s your relation between words and technologies ?
Axelle: Its a beautiful project by Roxane, and so relevant. To integrate the orality in the writing, with traces of intentions, inflexions, affections of the voice, and even with exaggeration is an activist practice. Departing from minor or neglected things and reorganising the hierarchies according to it is a certain way to proceed and alter language definitively.
My reading on the preamble to Zeros and Ones by Sadie Plant departs from an interest in technology and stories. I like this fragment because it carries this tonality of the story of the beginning of the beginnings – it’s very seductive and melodic – while talking about the end of that very story, a world we will never experience – like Eden does not exist for us, we’ve got an Eve and a Jardin, and that’s it – because this story has been interrupted, we’ve moved on. Did we? How do we move on away from nostalgia?
The tracks you mention from your album are the result of jam sessions. The lyrics are a transcript of a video in which I am performing an apparatus of reproduction, another operator. It’s a literal description of what happens on screen, a form of stupid automatic writing. While you’ve got an Épée, I’ve got a scalpel. I apply it to a body – lets say Eve – whose head I cut off the frame, the butt balances in and out, a squat position, a mic fusing into a mouth. For this time, I am not in control, especially not of the machines. In the end it sounds all too sweet, isn’t it?
Words by Lény Bernay & Axelle Stiefel
Artwork by Patrick Weldé