Emilio Aguilar on Singing at the Borders of Translation

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Photo by Emilio Aguilar

Questions by Anastasia Prokopi Taki


What brings you this year to the mountainous Polystipos and to Xarkis Festival?

I heard of the festival thanks to a good friend of mine, Sophie Fetokaki, who was one of the artists in residency last year. She’s also a singer and a writer and I’ve been very inspired by her work for quite some time now. When she suggested that I apply for this year’s festival, I didn’t doubt it.


How did the interest and involvement between Google Translate, creative writing and human communication come about?

As a musician I’m used to performing other people’s work, but not so much creating my own work, which is something that I’ve been wanting to do since I started a Research Master’s in Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam two years ago. This degree has trained me to speak about culture and art, and the more I speak about this things, the more I feel the need to make my own work.

My work as a singer is based on both the sound of my voice and the lyrics of the songs I sing. But already some time ago I realized that it is not possible to separate completely what you say from how it sounds – the meaning of my words and their sonic or visual presence are never completely different from each other. I came to Polystipos then with the idea of playing with the technology of Google Translate to explore some of these questions. I’m interested in technologies that extend the idea of what a voice is – like the app that is transcribing my words right now. I consider these technologies that make use of synthesized voice as possible vocal prosthesis. And I’m interested in how such synthesizing processes change not only how we use our voices but also the way we understand what a voice is and what it can do.

Because I see these synthesizing processes function as processes of translation, I have put Google Translate at the centre of my work here in Polystipos. Translation here is not just a matter of language (I use it to communicate with the people from the village since I don’t speak Cypriot or Greek) but also of moving across different media. Process of translation tend to remain invisible to us, but when we pay attention to them, they can help us understand the tensions that I referred earlier between content and form.

When I arrived in Polystipos I realized that most of the noise in the village is made by the people working on construction. For me, voice is more than the medium of language; noise is part of voice’s materiality, of its embodiments – it is the untranslatable. This has lead me to start searching for how language relates to the noise of the infrastructural works that make life in this village possible. And that’s what I’m working on right now. 


What are your personal expectations from this year’s participation in Xarkis Festival?

The questions that I’m exploring are very abstract and it’s important for me not to lose myself in that abstraction. Xarkis works in specific communities and the residencies have an emphasis on local interaction and collaboration. I guess that’s the main reason why I feel that this is really good opportunity for me to create work that asks questions about voice and communication across different media in a specific time and place.


Photo by Ariel Villegas

Emilio Aguilar is a singer specialised in the performance of historical music – namely a repertoire which spans from the 14th to the 17th century. He is currently combining his professional work with an interdisciplinary project between the University of Amsterdam (Cultural Analysis) and the Conservatory of Amsterdam (Early Music Singing), in which he researches material-discursive practices in order to bridge the gap between the speaking/thinking and the singing/performing body.

Emilio will be performing with local artists on Friday at 18:30 and opening the concert on Saturday at 19:30 with his performance Digital Borders: Translating Together with the Algorithm

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