Ernesto Estrella (ES/USA): What is that voice?

Ernesto writes poetry, performs in several contexts philosophical lectures, is a publisher and musician and an educator. Polyphony, here and there. He uses a variety of artistic and poetical expressions merging into a reduced room of slight installation-like instances that will show you secretly the mechanics of abstraction. I met Ernesto on a bridge in Berlin, Neukölln.

JS: Ernesto, I have seen you do philosophical performance lectures which focuses on the voice. In your performances the crowd is confronted with voice-only in an emptied exhibition space while you read your performance behind a curtain. Ever wanted to be on the radio?

Ernesto: No. but I was thinking about producing a podcast. You could say that it is radio on demand though. I took the German genre „Hörspiel“ [an audiobook with several actors] as a model. And actually the gallery I am linked to -Errant Bodies- is setting up a project to rethink radio and internet radio as it is today. In relation to the radio we actually had an Acousmatic lecture with Marcus Gammel, a well known radio figure of the contemporary and experimental music scene in Berlin. When you are listening to the radio the voice becomes a gesture and we are interested in the experience and the choreography of it.

Out of ideas for music?

No, not at all, (laughs) but we have been developing -along with Mario Asef and Brandon LaBelle- a project about listening called „The Voice Observatory“.  It is about creating an environment to have an experience which sets you apart from everyday life listening routines by isolating certain elements. This slight intervention, the minimal difference redefines the coordinates of your experience. The Acousmatic Lectures stem from discursive practices and propose a listening experience based on the Pythagorean acousmatic model: a mode of presentation in which the speaker is hidden from the public.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]In every instance, the readability of a text, a sound, an experience, a texture, is an opportunity to reinvent reading.[/pullquote]

What is your practice? I mean, what do you do when you do philosophy?

I would not call myself a philosopher. I would call myself an educator, poet and musician. But I draw my inspiration from philosophers like Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Žižek or Alain Badiou…

…what about Deleuze?

Too poetic, but he is brilliant. His writing is too close to the logic of poetic thinking which runs through my veins. The poem with its harshness and its fragility is already in my blood, that´s it.

About Badiou I like the systemical approach. I take as much from the poetry of Mallarmé as from philosophical thinkers like Badiou. Poetry is a device that holds different elements at the same time. It enacts a possibility. In philosophy, the arguments somehow have larger and denser arguments and it is more interesting than a novel. So my notion of working within a sound or poetic idea can be traced down to my philosophical and literary background.

(c) Ernesto Estrella
(c) Ernesto Estrella

You teach and research at the university of Potsdam at the Institut für Romanistik. In what way does that work inspire you?

Ah, you mean, I am an artist with a brain, no? (smiles) My years at Yale as an assistant prof in Hispanic poetry were essential to create the bridge between my poetic work and the cultural and social invention I am doing now. To give a brief idea, I started teaching a panoramic survey course on contemporary Hispanic poetry and ended up crafting original courses in Hispanic poetry off the page which covered experimental poetry in all its aspects. But yes, I have been teaching some seminars on poetry and performance at Potsdam’s Institut für Romanistik during last year.

If you are to make thinking and visuals of poetry graspable – in a big hollywood movie – what would u do?

I have no sense of minoritarian art. I understand the codes of popular culture and the more alternative underground scenes but I do not agree with closed products delivered for finite circumstances. My next big project  will deal will mass-media codes and the interview format. It´s called Archive Detained/Archive Unleashed. In general, I believe we have to be able to move between codes and circuits, that is where thinking happens.

How would you transform the Unreadable into language?

My question would be: Why would you want to transform the Unreadable into language? Why into language? In every instance, the readability of a text, a sound, an experience, a texture, is an opportunity to reinvent reading. Or in other words: When you read you reinvent yourself and actualize your knowledge by the act of reading.

In artworks the Unreadable is often connected to linguistic negation like blank pages that confront the reader with the very act of reading. I agree with you. You did once a show called Dance of the Unreadable and I wondered about which kind of performative vocabulary you would use, how you would write the Unreadable, may it be movement, reading, sound or blank space.

Yes, that is the first episode of The Insider Series. Imagine reading in a foreign tongue that you don’t know well. There you can hold on to the parts you do know, and then you have to develop a new self for reading the rest. Or think of when you read a difficult poem: the poem asks of you to displace yourself as a reader. To read texts and poems you have to reinvent the tools for doing so. One thing is to ask how transparent a text is, and another task is to get back at texts and find out how transparent they may be, for they could be full of holes or dark prints. I find this contradictions and misunderstandings between transparency and hermeticism working in language and music. This very much resembles the cultural logic of popular and alternative artistic scenes that I mentioned before.

Reading about your work, I found that you are writing an experimental poem-novel. What is it about?

I did already. It is called School of your name („Escuela de tu nombre“). It is about love, of course!

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I have no sense of minoritarian art.[/pullquote]

Is it experimental because you could not decide to write poems or to write novels?

No, the potential publishers weren’t open to both sides so I had call it experimental.

What else are you currently working on?

Inside The Voice Observatory series we presented a project that is actually the one that brought me into CROWD. It is a musical poetical show done by the Atemwende Ensemble, which we have recently formed along with Miako Klein and Antonis Anissegos.

What is the Spanish scene in Berlin like concerning literature and/or philosophy? Any hints for my next interview partners?

Precisely about that topic we just published an anthology lead by Bilbao-based publisher Juanje Sanz. It is called Der Weber in Berlin („El Tejedor in Berlin“). Berlin-based scholar Jorge Locane and myself did the edition. There is a good prologue we did there. And also an epilogue from Susanne Klengel, the director of the Lateinamerika-Institut at FU Berlin. Buy the anthology!

Why have you chosen the color brown for your website? That is quite unusual.

We are actually working on a new website. Actually, I should say new websites. We will soon release several sites related to my different projects:  The Voice Observatory has already its own blog,  the anthology I mentioned also, and then there will soon be a new one for my Insider Series and for my educational project Nomadic School of the Senses.

Thank you very much, Ernesto!

Thank you, it was my pleasure!

Ernesto Estrella Cózar is an educator, poet, and musician born in Granada who  has lived in New York between 2000-2012. He completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University, and between 2007 and 2011 he was assistant professor of Contemporary Poetry at Yale University’s Spanish and Portuguese department. Since the spring of 2012 he has turned to Berlin as a second base for his artistic and academic work. As a musician, he concentrates on the voice’s potential to explore the poetic process through sound. In this vein, he has created a wide array of performances that have been presented at international festivals in Argentina, Uruguay, Austria, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Russia, Finland, Latvia and the U.S.  Since his arrival to Berlin, he has been teaching seminars at Potsdam University. Moreover, in 2014 he launched The Voice Observatory, along with sound and conceptual artists Mario Asef and Brandon LaBelle. Funded by Berlin’s Senate, this laboratory of investigation offers regular seminars, workshops and performances related to the voice in its acoustic, communicative, performative, and socio-political dimensions. Most recently, his work in cultural management and civic education has led to the creation of the Nomadic School of the Senses. 

Heading photo: Евгений Пронин

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