Artistic Research – New Pathways to New Knowledge? A conversation with Ciro Goudsmit

Photo: Nellie de Boer

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It’s no secret that artistic research takes place at the Academy of Theatre and Dance, but what does it actually involve? In this tenth episode in a series of interviews, we take a look behind the scenes, in conversation with Ciro Goudsmit, a third-year student at the SNDO (School for a New Dance Development)who is also participating in CHANGE NOW!

Part 10: Vibrations are everywhere

My mother was forever shouting ‘Can you please turn that music down!’ but I just loved getting between the speakers and feeling those vibrations going through my whole body. It was a real obsession of mine. Later on, I did intensive Vipassana meditation, and those vibrations came back again. Your body vibrating is a kind of letting go. Animals quiver too, like dogs after they’ve been out hunting or if they feel riled up.

I was curious about precisely where in your body you feel each frequency. So I used a subwoofer to test it out. At 40 Hertz, I could feel the vibrations in my pelvis and when you turn up the frequency you can feel it rising up your body. So in my first year at SNDO, in 2020, my classmate Sasu Korom and I explored the questions ‘Could this get us to dance?’ and ‘If the energy goes upwards, where does it go to?’

So that was the start of the research you’ll soon be taking with you to Poland?
That’s right, I’ve been taking part in CHANGE NOW! since summer 2021. It’s a two-year exchange programme run by the theatre schools in Warsaw, Paris, Giessen, Glasgow and Amsterdam. It’s a series of workshops, conferences and performance work sessions. The 16 students involved are searching for a new and inclusive horizontal practice in theatre education. The whole group came to Amsterdam this summer. I gave a workshop on vibrations and polyrhythms* – it was a sneak preview of the piece I’ll be presenting in Warsaw next February.

Could you tell me a little about how the research evolved over the last couple of years?
After performing the piece with Sasu I asked myself: ‘What if the vibrations originate in my own body? What if it’s me who’s the subwoofer?’ I took singing lessons and studied the relationship between the voice and the vagus nerve, the most important nerve affecting relaxation and recuperation – it goes from your brainstem into the spine and branches out to your heart, your lungs and gut, and you can stimulate it by singing and humming.

This summer I visited Uganda for a dance festival called Nyege Nyege [literally, ‘Urge to Dance’; described by Mixmag France as ‘the punkiest festival in the world’]. All you hear there are African bands playing polyrhythms. I danced for hours and got into a trance. We all listen with our bodies as well as with our ears, of course – check it out for yourself while you’re brushing your teeth, or a when a tram rides past you or you’re standing next to a washing machine. And as human beings we’re also vibrational – quantum mechanics tells us vibrations are what we are.

Everything is rhythm, right? It’s just that in the West everything is reduced to four-to-the-floor [Ciro taps a 4/4 rhythm with the accent on the first beat: tap, tap, tap, tap). We keep on repeating the same rhythm; the same Western perspective. That’s why this world doesn’t work for me. I’m really inspired by Gabber Modus Operandi from Indonesia. They use traditional gamelan and polyrhythms to construct new worlds and futures. I also love the old work of jazz musician Sun-Ra, based on his cosmic Afrofuturistic philosophy, and reggae producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who thinks we are in bad times, so he says: ‘Let’s create a new reality.’ I’m trying to do something like that.

I bought a whole bunch of bass shakers for the performance in Warsaw. Bass shakers are the devices they put in cinema and theatre seats so you feel the sound vibrating through your body. They emit very low frequencies, from 20Hz. I use them to enhance the vibrations of my voice, instead of the sound. So when I start singing, you feel my voice; my voice makes your body vibrate – it’s like I’m actually inside you.

And the public feels what’s inside you, right? Because, if I’m understanding it properly, when you sing we feel the vibrations inside you.
What did you do for your workshop with the CHANGE NOW group?
I placed a subwoofer at the centre of the space. We started in silence, with a kind of guided meditation. I got them to start humming, and asked them ‘Where in your body do you feel the vibrations?’ Then I got them all to lie on the ground, and said ‘Can you feel the vibrations from the rest of the world? Do you feel the floor; the cars driving by; electricity?’ In the next step I asked them if there were vibrations stored in their bodies: memories from when they were small. I said, ‘Maybe you remember feeling your mother walking across the floor.’

Did anything come out of that?
Yeah, crazy enough, it did. Lots of very personal memories come up that never did before. That’s purely because of the vibrations: your muscles store all those old memories. So I’d switch on the subwoofer and play higher and lower frequencies through it, which is like a massage for the muscles. People were also allowed to make their own sounds, and if you sing the same tone back, you get dissonances. Then, to close, Rachwill Breidel, a DJ I’ve been working with since the first year, played a polyrhythm. He uses electronics to make Surinamese polyrhythms. These are the things I research. I know what it does to me, but I want to know what it does to other people? For some people it’s the first time they’ve become aware that voice resonates throughout the entire body, like ‘Oh, shit, vibrations are everywhere, wow!’

In the piece I’m making now, I use the subwoofer right from the start. My theory is it’s best to take them straight to a zero point – they’re busy-busy-busy the whole day long, then I just pluck them out of it. Then they find themselves in this whole other world. We use vibrations to construct a new reality.

I also link that need to shake people up, to recognise that nothing’s static, with identity politics. We learned about critical race theory at SNDO. I’m a ‘mixed kid’ myself – black and white and neither black nor white. Being a mixed kid means you’re inbetween. It can be confusing, but it can also be an interesting position to be in. Over the past year I’ve been working on a short research project for DAS Research with my classmate La Uyi Hassee, putting together a Mixed Kidz reading list. At first we wanted to see ourselves reflected in books, films and documentaries, but as we progressed we noticed the what it was mostly about was building bridges between the worlds. I don’t want to cling to a single reality. I want to create different realities. And I use vibrations to achieve that – with the audience all around me or on the performance area. What I love doing most is shaking people loose in a club or in a forest.

*Polyrhythms comprise multiple rhythms or a single rhythm that can be heard in multiple ways.

Interview by Hester van Hasselt