Sound, Music and Audio Direction by Sami El-Enany
Text and Visuals by Dorine van Meel
In The Phoenix’s Last Song the listener is presented with the legend of the paradisiacal bird who descends to earth in order to die. Whilst the sun sets fire to the pyre of twigs on which she lays, the phoenix sings a song to the child that will be born from her ashes. Her words are a call to think and live against the patriarchal, capitalist and colonial power structures that define the world as we know it. The text draws on the work of feminist thinkers like Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir and Emma Goldman, who each look at the ways in which institutions like the bourgeois family, state education, the legal apparatus inscribe the child within these power structures. Against this background, Phoenix’s Last Song opens up a space to imagine how a new world may arise out of a burning of the old.
The exhibition ends with a finnisage with contributions by participants of 'Decolonial Futures', an exchange project between artists from the Rietveld Academy / Sandberg Institute Amsterdam and Funda Community College in Soweto in South Africa. The artists wills respond through performances to the question that emerges from Phoenix’s Last Song : ‘What does a possible, alternative future look like, and what kind of present is needed to disrupt the course of history?
Phoenix's Last Song has been made possible through additional financial support from Stichting Stokroos.
The audio component of The Phoenix's Last Song was selected to be part of the second edition of Soundhouse: Intimacy and Distance at the Barbican.
A subjective description of the Sound Design and Music for The Phoenix's Last Song, written for Soundhouse: Intimacy and Distance.
[Music rushes into the scene - like a train pushing air through a tunnel. A gentle melody - the image of small, glowing balls of light - slowly and delicately picked out]
[Enveloped by birdsong - the outside world starts to trickle through the music. The feeling is warm and immersive, like plunging your head beneath the surface of a swimming pool and feeling the water swirl around your head]
[A distant rumble like thunder. Occasional shimmers of light shiver through the sound. A gathering storm, the air thick and moist. Light glinting through the mist]
[Birdsong shimmers to the surface. A soft tone - glowing - begins to rise. Light emerging from the brush of metal - the sharpness of glass]
[A melody delicately trickles down - like drops of water, or glass beads - sunlight shining through them]
[The birdsong clears - underneath the music rises up and down - like breathing in and breathing out - crystals on the surface shimmering and refracting the shards of light]
VOICE (otherworldly): Curled upon the pile of twigs she has laid her body swan-like.
[Warm tones, shards of sunlight rise, metal shivers]
VOICE: Crimson in colour, she breathes...
[More light, glittering, a warm layer underneath]
VOICE: Out of Paradise she flew - her final flight - into the land of men - with eyes that witnessed otherwise, a vision, un-obscured.
Her long neck tilted backwards, her feathers sweet with moisture warmed by the rising sun, she looks down, opens her beak…
[Music continues - light, glowing, embers sparking. A drum skin is hit - metallic shimmering rises up out of the sound]
VOICE: ...the Phoenix sings and her words they travel widely over forests burned and oceans smeared.
Faint yet clear they travel, only barely to be discerned.
[Strings start to move in and out - like the slow beating of wings, or lungs expanding and contracting]
PHOENIX (doubled up, like a creature from a myth or legend): My child, my child, you will be born out of the powder that is my ashes and you shall be child of your mother.
[A low, warm, single hit of a drum - like the ground shifting beneath your feet]
PHOENIX: You will not turn away your face. I will teach you how to smile, but not in service of men.
Show you how to be strong, but not in order to dominate.
And if you play the trumpet, it will not be for the battlefield.
[A rush of air, a shiver of light - a breeze rippling a curtain of glass beads, pierced by sunlight]
PHOENIX: You see your heart I fashioned from a bit of mine. For indifference it has no place. Your wings I moulded with the greatest care. They might hold, but never take. Because the dreams I will instil do not speak of conquest. And if you love, it will not be in order to possess.
[Strings still moving steady and slow - the strength of a gently moving wing, the inhalation and exhalation of lungs. A shimmer of light]
PHOENIX: Let your tenderness not be mistaken for obedience. Let your voice not be silenced and your rage not be dismissed. Because for every child trampled upon, yes for every child lost, your heart will die a little too.
For you do not belong to me alone.
[Strings softer, more distant]
PHOENIX: You should not be held by me alone.
[A deep beat of a drum moves the scene into something more sparse - clearer, sparkling, glassier, slower. The beat reverberates again - metal and glass shimmer light across the surface]
VOICE: And the sun rising above sets fire to the twigs.
[A delicate vibration shivers through the twinkling light - like a spark caught in the air above a fire]
VOICE: Feathers they rustle, words fade out, the old world burning, the phoenix - dying.
[The glimmers slowly disappear]