Interview: Line Tjørnhøj - enTmenschT

Line Tjørnhøj continues her exploration of the human voice in her debut concert 'enTmenschT' - DehumaniseD. The work will be performed by Theatre of Voices 15 and 16 September.

Photo: Kåre Viemose
Fear of the future
Line Tjørnhøj  opens the conversation about 'enTmenschT' with a statement: "I am filled with a major fear of the future!" She isn't talking about her own immediate future following the debut concert, but the future of humanity in a larger perspective.

"My fear of the future is the content of my work, so to speak. I find it incredibly meaningful to create a retrospective look at our own time, to look at human kind through the filter of history. I have chosen the filter of the time around the two world wars because at that time there was an essential change in the perception of art, psychology - of being human."

The tales of Charlotte, Alfred, Oskar and Alma
In 'enTmenschT' history is represented by two expressive artists and a person they were each romantically involved with. The artist Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) and the singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn (1896 –1962). Painter and poet Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) and composer Alma Mahler (1879 –1964).

"All four of them could be said to exceed our usual notion of normality, and Charlotte and Oskar both ended up doing something that goes beyond what we consider ethical, human behaviour. Charlotte Salomon kills her grandfather to liberate herself from abuse. Oskar Kokoschka was so obsessed with Alma Mahler, that when she left her, he commissioned a life-size doll to simulate her, and pose as his model."

 Charlotte Salomon is primarily known for an autobiographical series of 769 paintings 'Leben? oder Theater?: Ein Singspiel'

“Charlotte and Oskar have left behind material in writing and in their art that declaim these actions," Line Tjørnhøj tells. Part of the text in enTmenschT is based on Charlotte Salomon's confessional letter, addressed to Alfred Wolfsohn, and on Oskar Kokoschka's written directions to the puppet maker. "When we look at ourselves and at our present time through this filter, we get a sense of the fact that what we do now have a great impact on the future that we shape. And that we are currently seeing a change in the perception of humanity equivalent to that time.”

 Double portrait of Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler (1912/1913)

The full spectre of the human voice
Line Tjørnhøj detects an element of that change in the notion that there is barely anything authentic human left. She finds that we all exist in so many different versions online and offline, and she works with the notion of authenticity through the voice.  

“The voice is a metonymy for the authentic human or authentic person. There is such an evident signature in the voice. We recognize each other by the voice, and we can tell if someone is truthful or not by the sound of their voice.”

"I have worked with the full spectrum of the human voice ever since I started writing music, and the scream is completely essential to me. It is my leitmotif." Line Tjørnhøj exclaims. "In that sense I relate deeply to Alfred Wolfsohn. He was haunted by the screams from the trenches, and after the war he was obsessed with developing a psychotherapeutic method to heal yourself through your own voice.”

Inspiration and collaboration
Since she wrote 'Vox Reportage' in 2013-2014 Line Tjørnhøj has had a number of conversations with Paul Hillier, the conductor of Theatre of Voices, conversations about our time, music and the human voice. "These conversations have been a great source of inspiration for me, and they have kept opening new doors, feeding my obsession with these subjects."

Working with Theatre of Voices adds yet another layer to Line Tjørnhøj's reflections. "When I work with such a specialized ensemble as Theatre of Voices, you have to question the perception of the authenticity of the voice. Is the authentic voice still there, in such extremely trained singers? The sound of this work contains the exploration of that question." 

enTmenschT is hard to capture in a well-known artistic form. It is not an opera, not really music theatre and not an art installation. “It is a musical artwork that also unfolds visually,” Line Tjørnhøj explains. “My reflections about fear of the future, art and the authentic human is integrated as an underlying conversation with the audience throughout the work. To do justice to the tales about Oskar Kokoschka, Alma Mahler, Charlotte Salomon and Alfred Wolfsohn, I have established a collaboration with Signe Klejs. I have taken on the role as the model posing for the artist, and have posed for Signe Klejs as Alma posed for Oskar."

 Signe Klejs and Line Tjørnhøj. Photo: Kåre Viemose

Shedding skin
A significant element in the visual expression of the work is the skin, and skin being shed, like a snake moulting. "These four persons left so much stuff behind and we all leave a mess behind for the next generation - be it artistic expressions, environmental problems, digital traces or unresolved psychological issues," says Line Tjørnhøj.

Never the less some remains from the past can be put to good use. Line Tjørnhøj works with the texts left behind from Oskar and Charlotte, and the music also contains references - like shedded skin she picked up.

"Parts of the music may sound like arias and classic duets, you may hear or sense Dadaist features or extremely expressive elements. Parts of the score consists of completely free directions, that the singers must interpret, but I also work with the human voice in an orchestral manner, and parts of the score is extremely complex and precise."


September 15 & 16, 2018 - 15:00
Godsbanen, Åbne Scene, Aarhus (DK)
Performers: Theatre of Voices & Paul Hillier
Visual artist: Signe Klejs
Costume design: Mads Dinesen
Photo: Kåre Viemose
Tickets here