Sedje Hémon – Hidden Agreements

On Thursday 3 May at 2018 in Korzo The Hague, Ensemble Modelo62 presented a new program named Sedje Hémon: Hidden Agreements. This program was comprised of works by Dutch artist and composer Sedje Hémon (1923-2011), artist Marianna Maruyama and composer Andrius Arutiunian. The program, which was conceived by Arutiunian and Maruyama together with the Sedje Hémonstichting, and Ensemble Modelo62  aimed to bring the musical works of Hémon back to life, as well as to present new works related to her artistic ideas. While her striking painting-scores were exhibited in Documenta 14, Kassel and Athens, her music hadn’t been publicly performed for almost four decades. With this new program, the contemporary relevance of Hémon’s practice became clear and a crucial missing piece of the cultural history of the Netherlands fell into place.

Three compositions by Sedje Hémon

A female composer in the post-war period, a musician, a painter, a member of the Dutch Resistance, an educator and an inventor, The Hague’s very own Sedje Hémon (1923-2011) had a remarkable life story, but her artistic output, which she continued to generate up into her late 80s, speaks even louder.

She had an intimate connection to music and drawing from a young age, and was dedicated to playing the violin professionally. After the war, she transitioned to painting and composing, largely because the physical injuries she sustained in concentration camps during the war made it impossible for her to continue playing violin. Hémon’s urgency to express her ideas though art became evident from her very first exhibition in 1955, when art critics were struck by the music “hidden” within her paintings. In the 50’s and 60’s she strove to ‘take the music out of the paintings’ through the method she invented to extract concrete musical values, and eventually entire pieces, out of her visual works. Hémon’s carefully documented “method of integration”, consisted of placing a pitch grid onto the painting and extracting data, which then was used to compose a musical score.

On the evening of May 3rd, three pieces by Sedje Hémon were played by Ensemble Modelo62, all of which also exist as painting-scores. Harmonie, Mouvement d’un Adagio, and Lignes Ondulatoire.  Lignes Ondulatoires is a Dutch premiere.

Two world-premieres by Marianna Maruyama and Andrius Arutiunian

1. Marianna Maruyama and Hémon’s re-training of the body. Sedje Hémon’s RSI (repetitive strain injury) prevention courses for musicians and office workers were an officially recognized treatment method in the Netherlands. The injuries Hémon sustained in her youth abruptly stopped her career as a violinist and this gave her a deep understanding of physicality and its relation to music making. Until the end of her life, she taught others how to relieve and prevent pain by re-learning ways to use the body in an optimal manner. Fascinated by this relationship between the body and music, Maruyama learned Hémon’s movements and transformed those exercises into musical and choreographic parts, which in turn will be taught to Ensemble Modelo62’s musicians. In this piece, the musicians will behave not only as musicians but as individual bodies in transformation and movement. Maruyama draws from her own interest in translation, choreographic vocabulary, and moving bodies, to highlight the special physical and emotional relationship each musician has to their instrument.

2. Andrius Arutiunian reopens Hémon’s virtual reality world. In 2007, Sedje Hémon launched a virtual museum made from fragments and shapes of her paintings-scores, and enhanced by her music, which was audible in the museum. In the new work composed for Ensemble Modelo62, Arutiunian will use the website as an interactive musical score and an interpretative platform. Since the original website ceased to function after Hémon’s death in 2011, the website will be re-launched and reconstructed. During the performance, the website will be projected onto a big screen visible to both audience and musicians. Using live-visuals software, a live musical score will be projected on top of the website, consisting of graphic signs, points and lines. Following this score, the musicians will interpret the different chambers of the virtual museum as browsing unfolds in real time. Just as Hémon used to turn her paintings into music, Arutiunian turns her virtual reality-based environment into an interactive score, which will be played live by the musicians.