December 7, 2018

When Woman Was the Sun: A Conversation with the “poemproducer,” AGF

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The music of East German composer Antye Greie, better known by her artistic names AGF and poemproducer, is near impossible to categorize. Put simply, she explores speech and humanity’s relation to technology. Excerpts of her most recent audio collection, Dissidentova, were incorporated into Stowe Nelson’s sound design for PlayCo’s recent production of Intractable Woman. In it, she narrows her focus to the speeches of Russian poets–like the woman about whom journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote her dissertation, Marina Tsvetaeva–so as to explore the her-story of Russian culture. Whereas Stefano Massini “rewrote [Politkovskaya’s words] completely” in Intractable Woman (according to his interview with The New York Times), AGF accentuates these poetess’ spoken words. She succeeds by different means, yet her primary task parallels that of Massini: She strives to “recreate the real.”

We speak with her here on the development of her experimental music and how she links her journey to the words of female dissidents in Russia.

 

You describe yourself as a “poemproducer.” What do you mean by that and how did you come to that title?

I release and perform my music as AGF: “poemproducer” is my internet name. It is derived from a technique I use at times to compose music out of language and deconstruction of text. I have released over 30 long player albums, many of them dealing with digital audio deconstruction (as in Derrida) to different effects of sound poetry or language play.

 

To me, it seems that oxymorons define your experimental music to some extent. You amalgamate and deconstruct the language of divergent cultures for the purpose of understanding them. You are a solo producer who on this album alone collaborated with sixteen Russian musicians and sound artists. How does this approach fulfill your overarching mission?

Haha: the overarching mission is to survive and live this life. Being a digital composer leads in many directions. I release and perform music solo, in collaborations, groups, for commissions, film and theater. The poetry project has a different origin, more a feminist approach to retell history from a women’s point of view. Most history is told from an exclusively male angle. But women have always written. Since day one, women are said to have invented language and poetry. Projects like Dissidentova are my contributions to feminism. By un-surfacing these women and compiling them together, reinterpreting their words or our current time, I find new narratives and oppressed stories that are important to tell.

 

You were born and spent your formative years in what was then East Germany, a country that maintained close diplomatic, political and economic relations with the Soviet Union. Growing up in the geographic center of that relationship you witnessed the alliance at its peak and at its end. Has that experience informed your perspective on current events in Russia. If so, how do you express that perspective through your music?

Yes, it has absolutely informed me! Raised under Soviet “occupation” and a Marxist upbringing, I studied Russian since I was 9 and was used to Soviet culture all around me. I loved it from a child perspective of course. My school was named after [Nadezhda] Krupskaya [a Russian Bolshevik revolutionary and Vladimir Lenin’s wife]. For the project Dissidentova, I had to re-study all the history and read many books, like Tsvetaeva’s Biography and [Nadezhda] Mandelstam’s account of the revolution, wars and times after in the Hope memoirs from and about Akhmatova. [Other readings included] revolutionary, brilliant texts by [Alexandra] Kollontai and [Emma] Goldman. I am in pain actually about how the “failure” of Communism is told by these women and no one listens ever. This is not specifically a Russian situation: Women in all cultures! Famous examples are Cassandra in Ancient Greece, or right now in the U.S.A. you have Sarah Kendzior. … Speak truth to power and no one cares.

I guess one of my “messages” is: listen, read, follow women! I also tend to empower women to not let this happen again.

 

What inspired you to pay tribute to Russian feminist and dissident culture, from the mid-18th century to the present in your album Dissidentova?

I started in 2010 with German women poets and since have made a Finnish [Edition] (I live in Finland now), a Japanese Edition, and the Russian is the fourth one. I always go back to find the first recorded woman poet in a language, which of course is not the first, but the one we can refer to, and from there I find other poetesses until our current time and look at their lives and writings and make these interpretations with other women composers, DJs, producers singers. So for example, I have the first Japanese feminist text interpreted with a Japanese composer Tujiko Noriko “I am a new woman.” [The video for this project can be found here.]

The words are inspired by Hiratsuka Raicho, who published Japan’s first all-women literary magazine, Seitō (Bluestocking) in 1911. It opened with the words, “In the beginning, woman was the sun…” Her words could be referring back to the Japanese foundation myth of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun who emerged out of a cave and brought sunlight back to the universe.

I was working with “An Anthology of Russian Women’s Writing, 1777-1992” by Catriona Kelly and other collections for the Dissidentova work. I also went to Moscow in 2017 visiting and meeting artists, speaking about localities and the state of feminisms. I met interesting people and from I made two radio programs about current women producers in Russia. You can find them here and here. One program was aired as part of the DOCUMENTA 14 program and contains 10 interviews and statements by Russian artists.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about how your album Dissidentova relates to Anna Politkovskaya’s legacy of brave storytelling? Her words are not as lyrical as those of Tsvetaeva, who has a whole track in the Dissidentova album, but she was a storyteller of purpose. Has that purpose reflected in your work at all?

Absolutely. Politkovskaya is an extraordinaire heroine and a brave writer, and I am the biggest fan. I adore her calm and fearlessness. I find her writing very lyrical, actually to a point that it really, really moved me to tears and made me study her life and death. … I am deeply angry and upset about her murder. She is an example of how oppression works, how basically organized crime is upholding power structure to sustain lineages of brutal mafia like structures. These structures are in place right now, in many, many places of this planet. And in some places like the U.S.A., they even get “legally” (more or less) elected.

 

In the online magazine Pitchfork’s review of this album, Jesse Dorris called Dissidentova “a fine example of what resistance might sound like–revealing and reveling in the endless ugliness of the world men build, and the beauty of feminist rebellions against it.” To learn more about AGF and her work, please visit her site here.

Author: MelissaHardy
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