Vinko Globokar: excerpts from the interview with composer

Excerpts from the interview with composer, conducted by journalist Max Nyffeler, published in the booklet of CD “Vinko Globokar: Exil 3 (Das Leben des Emigranten Edvard); Musica Viva, 2017.“

Your new work is called Exile No. 3. What are No. 1 and No. 2?

Four years ago a group of musicians from the former Yugoslavia requested a short composition from me. At that time I was reading a book of poems about exile. I selected several texts from it and wrote a piece for five instrumentalists and a soprano. That was Exile No. 1. As for No. 2, it remained an attempt. Then came the commission from Munich, and for that, taking Exile No. 1 as the point of departure, I have now written a large work of about fifty minutes. The orchestra consists of 32 solo instruments, with the four strings amplified. Then there are 48 choral singers and four soloists: a high soprano, a narrator, a contrabass clarinetist and an anonymous improviser who remains unseen by the audience.

What role does improvisation play in this piece?

The four soloists start improvising at the climax of the work. They hardly know each other and introduce themselves to each other here. This spot does not belong to the context and produces the effect of a break. It is in any case a surprise, perhaps also a risk. Influenced by Brecht, I call this a distortion effect.

Did you provide instructions for this?

Formally yes. The soloist starts, then comes the singer, then the speaker and finally the improviser. But what the individuals do is free for the most part.

Why should the improviser remain anonymous?

Because the improviser should not be named.

You’ll have to explain that more precisely.

Improvising is a completely different kind of making music from playing notes. During the 1970s and 1980s, I gave about 150 concerts with the group New Phonic Art in which we didn't say a word about the preparation. We simply went on stage, each with his instrument. Nor did we ever speak about what we had played afterwards. In this kind of musical practice, based on spontaneous reaction, the risk is of course enormous. There were concerts that were a total disaster, where the audience left in droves. But sometimes there is something that arises that no composed music can attain.

So it's always full of risks?

Voila. And with this improvised insert in Exile No. 3, I would like to create a stimulator intended to shake the foundations of the composed structure.

Let's talk about the content of Exile No. 3. The textual basis is the Hundred Poems about Exile (Cent poèmes sur l’exil, Le cherche midi éditeurs, Paris 1993).

Out of 49 poems in this volume – each of which is by a different author – I have in each case taken one verse with a strong statement and instructed the soprano to sing it. I have translated the verses into seven languages, so that they are for the most part incomprehensible. In this way, I want to show the audience how it is when one comes to a different country as a foreigner and understands nothing. I thus put the audience in the position of an emigrant. Then there is a second text entitled "The Life of the Emigrant Edvard", spoken by the narrator This is a prose text that I wrote myself and that Peter Handke translated into German. it is intended to be comprehensible and is therefore spoken in the language of the given country of performance.

This text has a strongly autobiographic component.

Absolutely. But I won’t tell you who Edvard is.

You are of Slovenian lineage, but born in France, where you have spent most of your life. What do you feel like now? Like a Fenchman? A Slovene?

I regard myself as a European.

That is a construction, however. The question, of origin cannot be swept under the carpet. Your text also deals with this: it is a kind of genealogy of Edvard's family.

Right. But let's take my own biography: that is a mixture. I grew up in France and went away at thirteen. Then I lived in various countries: 22 years in Germany, 19 years in Italy. 4 years in America, but for the longest time in France. I was only in Slovenia for 7 years.

So rather a Frenchman.

Culturally in any case. In the Lorraine mining village where I grew up, I first came into contact with music and learnt the accordion and piano. At 13 my parents sent me to: high school in Ljubljana. But it was only at age that a deep cultural interest was awakened in me, when I was in France again.

And why did you return to France?

That was by chance.

Sounds interesting.

It is. In Slovenia at that time, two scholarship sojourns were being offered -four months in Vienna and one year in Paris. The one in Vienna was intended for me and the other one in Paris for a physics student. At the office of the Ministry of Culture, where we were supposed to fetch our train tickets, we found out that I could only speak French and the other fellow only German. So we exchanged tickets and scholarships, and I landed in Paris by chance. Everything important concerning me happened by chance.

Don't tell me that you became trombonist only by chance.

But that is exactly the case! During my schooldays in Ljubljana I played the accordion in a small dance orchestra, and then they said: learn the trumpet, we need that. But I didn't have this instrument. Then someone came with a trombone, so I learnt the trombone at age fourteen, I have never seen the instrument before. Four years later I became the trombonist in the Big Band of Radio Ljubljana.

You then studied trombone properly at the Paris Conservatoire…

… whilst earning money for my studies in the jazz basements of Sint -Germain de Prés. I also accompanied chansonniers like Gilbert Bécaud, Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf. 

An existence based on chance is typical for an emigrant. How is this precarious situation reflected in Exile No. 3?

Among other things, in the poetical texts that I selected; they show this isolation of the individual abroad. Musically it is shown in the precarious form in many details.

One of the percussionists sharpens a sickle at the end. Why?

It is a symbol of death. Death always has a sickle. For me, that was a gesture to describe the special fate of the emigrant. He has a different death from the one who has always remained at home.

To what extent?

He has seen many countries and experienced much hatred. Hatred towards emigrants is dreadful. And he dies abroad. For this reason, his death is harder, too.


Interviewer: Max Nyffeler

Vinko Globokar: Exil 3 (Das Leben des Emigranten Edvard); Musica Viva, 2017.