From a conversation between Daria Fain, Robert Kocik and Janeil Engelstad April 20, 2012
Janeil Engelstad (JE): How did The Prosodic Body begin?
Daria Fain (DF): The project began from an understanding of space and how we inhabit space. I studied architecture and Robert has built buildings so the perception of space was fundamental to our work. As I became more engrossed with understanding the emotions, energy, and the organs in the body, Robert was becoming more interested in the vibration of sound and language. This is how our external work converged and started to become more concrete.
Robert Kocik (RK): Well, I have a body and Daria also exists in language and I even do some choreography, yet it gets very interesting because we are not native to each other’s mediums. So we are uninhibited. I have no judgment or critique so it is always fresh and raw, fascinating and authentic. Prosody has not been an easy word for people, but it is really the key for what is going on with us as humanity. It is how we have something to do with each other. Until you have the prosody you only have the building blocks, or the letters, or the body. It’s how we express what we express. With the gesture, with the rhythm, the tone, the pause, the emphasis, until the prosody is there we just can’t come across to each other. So we open prosody as the medium that we are in relationship with.
DF: The work is energetically focused. When you look at someone talking the energetic state of the person manifests through the way they speak. It is the gesture, the intonation, the tone of the voice and the way that speakers position themselves in space. There is also an energetic manifestation of the person beyond the talking and through this work you can really help people to understand what they are emanating. In Robert’s work, he speaks about the physiology of the poet, which is how the sound vibrates in the body and thus activates different hormones or a different heart rate. This is the way that he thinks about sound and for me this has a lot to do with how I direct the performers.
RK: You could also say that everything comes from sound. So the phonemes are a cosmogenesis and the body forms around the sounds that we make. The body can only make a very limited number of sounds. For example, in English, if we count diphthongs, the body can only make about 44 or 45 speech sounds and that is it. Outside of this phonic range, we don’t make sounds that are intelligible or morphemic. You can start with the sound as a kind of seed of something and it shapes matter, it forms matter, and then our gestures are an extension of that. Our work is a way of seeing that and engaging and composing with that. So prosody is composing the very matter that we are made of. It’s fundamental.
JE: How has this work resonated with the participants? Have you noticed change, or resistance? Are you working with people who recognize that we are made of energy; or is this a new concept for your audience?
DF: Well, there are different ways that we are working. In terms of the performances, we primarily have had people who are performers coming to work with us. And they do discover something, depending upon what they bring to the workshop. Performers often discover a lot about the differences between our bodies and the different cultures that we each come from. There are people who cannot make the sounds that other people are making. And we know that. We know when we go into a foreign country that we cannot pronounce words in the same way as native speakers, but to be in the same room speaking for hours using these sounds deeply over time has made people realize many things. About the way that they form sound, the way that they speak, and the way that they move. They see how they can move very well with certain sounds and are blocked by others.
In the work that is more educational, our approach is much more specific to the individuals and their needs. It is based on neurology. Understanding how the neurological aspect of the person is operating. They learn how emotions are just vibrations and not only a psychological state and they make changes within from this place. Understanding this, whether they are performers are non-performers, they then can re-balance themselves very easily. One of the main aspects of change is the group dynamic, from a gathering of individuals to a real collective endeavor.
RK: It is a very open situation. The participants become composers with the material. There is no pressure to perform or even to know what is going on. There is no prescription, even though we place the alphabet in the body. We are opening up and discovering what sound does in the body. We have developed a sort of science based on this. For example, we have sound sequences that stimulate oxytocin, the peptides and estrogen. We listen carefully to what sound is, where it goes, and how it affects the cerebral spinal fluid pumping through the body. The fact that sitting right on top of our vocal apparatus is the hypothalamus and the pineal gland, which in a vibratory way completely connects those glands to the center of speech, you can’t ignore that. It is the amazing way that we are built. At the same time we use guides, such as Vedic tradition, that teach us a lot about the influence of sound on the body.
When I say that a particular sound sequence stimulates oxytocin, that is a very preposterous thing to say and I like being prosperous at the same time because it introduces the context and people can say I don’t think that does that at all. Then you have a place that is experimental in context and we can begin to see how these sounds really work. The findings from my deep prosodic meditations serve as starting points.
JE: What changes have you noticed within yourselves through this process?
DF: For me, it is really complex. It pushed me to see things extremely fast. Things became more visible. It created within me an agility that I probably had, but was not yet activated. The esoteric within me became more visible. People are afraid of esoteric work because they think it is immaterial, but really, it is material. That is the external manifestation of what that work did for me. The internal change never stops. It is this ongoing thing that once you tap into it, you just open up to greater possibilities and a deeper awareness. There is no end to it.
RK: It is always amazing and it is always pristine. Like a rehearsal space is an empty space, like a blank sheet of paper. If we start from the vibratory place that everything comes from, then you just start something new everyday. The effort is to keep it generative.
DF: The other thing that I would say is that I now understand that there is no difference between the material, the social, the political, and art. You can be right there in all of the layers all of the time. It is such a mistake to compartmentalize those things. The other day, I was in rehearsal and we were working on this piece of choreography and it was very hard for the performers to understand that the work was material. They wanted to think that it is immaterial or esoteric. I told them that all they really had to do was feel it because that is how they can access the energy—otherwise it is just in their heads. This is where the work really excites me, to be present to all these layers at the same time.
JE: Having a concept of time that is not linear is important too. Recognizing time as something that is constant, with no past or future, just present. This concept of time influences my work and when I hear you talk about your process and what you are doing, it really resonates with me on this level.
RK: Daria talks about the esoteric and I would like to rid of us of our bias of that word. Esoteric just means more practical than usual. That is all. The more practical the deeper the need of stabilizing in the unknown.
JE: And it is looking inward and connecting with and expressing that hidden knowledge that Daria spoke of earlier, as opposed to exoteric, which is more commonplace and expressed outward.
RK: Yes, when I do hospice work, I think of what is useful, what helps people, what guides or calms them and I’d be hard pressed to call coming to the aid of others at that most basic level ‘esoteric’.
JE: Having studied Esoteric Healing, I have a deep relationship with the word esoteric. It is the underpinning for everything.
RK: You have had the opportunity to really know what that word means, how it works, and how we can engage it. Perhaps you have a relationship to that word as we have to ‘prosody’. People sometimes approach these words as though they are freaks of nature.
JE: They are words that many people do not really understand because they are not used in our daily lives, or in a lot of people’s daily lives. Many of these words have been taken hostage by one group or another, or events throughout history and it’s important to have conversations like this one where we can liberate them from definitions or from a place that scares or confuses people.
RK: Speaking for the word ‘prosody’ and the more social aspects of our work with the English language, in our choir we work with the premise that today’s economic, ecological, and security crises are direct consequents of the sonic and connotative qualities of superpower English. If you look at the history of the English language and how this language formed itself, and the culture that it formed, and seeing that English is currently the globe’s hegemonic language, we could have only gotten ourselves into the condition we’re in, having brought the world to the brink, by means of this hegemonic tongue palpating the earth day in and day out. So that is our overarching narrative and we draw upon it a lot. We go to the English language with new sound possibilities, new connotations, new intonations, new creoles, bad English, and non-native English. We bring many practices to it and make new sounds so that we can have a different vibe resonating throughout the land.
JE: Superpower English leading the world to the brink, was that by consequence or a deliberate act on the part of particular speakers?
RK: I think when forces as powerful as language are left to the whim or the intention of purely economic or political forces, this is what we get. Language has to be met, picked up, and engaged by these other forces and influences that we are talking about. We need benevolent intentions and outcomes and that is what we are working on.