Techno meditation : An interview with Belgian performance artist Lisa Vereertbrugghen

Awaiting her new performance DISQUIET sensational aesthetic or technokin, Belgian choreographer and dancer Lisa Vereertbrugghen released a Techno Meditation onto the world. Intrigued by the fact that these two supposedly opposites have quite some characteristics in common, I talked to her about an alternative experience of body and mind in times of corona.

Bo Vloors : You are a dancer, choreographer and researcher. Could you explain to me, from a research point of view, what the relation is between Meditation and Techno?

Lisa Vereertbrugghen : Concerning my research on hardcore techno, I try to figure out what this music does to my body and mostly, how it activates my body. I think there is a certain political power in it. There is an interaction going on, in a very material way, between the sound frequencies and my body. Body to body. Techno lends itself very well to this because it is an abstract sort of music. At the core of the music, there are no emotions or even a storyline, but an experience and physical sensation instead. Through this experience, the sound centralizes the attention on my body, the here and now. I feel the bass in my gut, the synths on my skin and those high frequencies penetrate my ear in a not uncomfortable way. When I listen to techno or dance to techno music, I become aware of how I feel myself, right now. Mindfulness meditation has the same objective: to bring people to the here and now, to make them think about their sensations and feelings. Both practices slow down time and draw attention to sensations, be them small or large.

How do you relate the current Covid situation (which implement less social contact and isolation) with Techno and Meditation?

I think that the pandemic only amplifies what was already in the air. I felt an alienation in myself and my environment, a kind of drifting into my own thoughts that lead to nowhere, and which, sometimes, can become very critical and negative. So many conversations I shared had a very negative undertone when it came to the general well-being. Techno and meditation want to draw attention to the material, to concrete things like the body, the environment and the sensations of both. Away from “information”, and focused on “sensation”. Both practices want to reconcile the thinking with the materiality of existence. It would be great if I could say that the current lockdown has taught us all to live a little slower, but I think the opposite is true. Our bodies may be more on the spot, but our thoughts are drifting far away.

Because of that same Covid, you released this Techno Meditation while awaiting to perform your new piece DISQUIET sensational aesthetic or technokin. Do you see Techno Meditation as a kind of counter-reaction (with a certain political touch) against the closing of nightclubs and theatre, or rather as an alternative proposal to perform within the four walls of our homes, respecting the measures of the government concerning the current situation?

It is difficult to experience art during a lockdown, so much has been cancelled and reduced. Yesterday I saw a beautiful video work by Yves Vermeulen1 and Lorenzo De Brabandere2, on the digital platform of Bâtard festival3. Such experiences have been rare in recent months. With these meditations I try to send something in the world that fits the current context. A dance that can still be fully appreciated in a lockdown situation. It’s not the registration of a dance, but a work that stands on its own.

For quite some time now, I have been making these mixes for personal use. Those first meditations were part of my own warm-up during rehearsals. Then I shared one with my students at the academie royale des beaux arts during the first lockdown. When I saw that it could benefit them, I resolved to create a Techno Meditation with the necessary care and attention for a wider audience.

I have to admit that the physical stimulation by techno, in combination with the mental sensation of the meditation, does establish a certain clash. During my first Techno Meditation I was alone in a room, sitting on a chair, eyes closed. I was completely taken in by the waves of repetitive techno and the vocal guidance. At the end of the session, I felt like awakening from a trance, on one hand, and on the other I realised it was a shame to experience the Techno Meditation while being seated. The second time, I shared the same track with some members of Voyons Voir. It was a curious fact that we all started the Techno Meditation in a standing position, but we all ended up seated on the floor. While reflecting on our experience, it became clear that each individual felt compelled to make a choice between the physical and the mental. All eventually chose the mental: stimulated by the repetitive nature of techno but overcome by the vocal guidance which puts your body’s mental perception at the centre, everyone eventually decided to trade their ‘active’ vertical position for the ‘passive’ horizontal position. I think that the Techno Meditation is an experience that you should learn to practice. You do not succeed the first time to merge the sensation of body and mind without having listened to the same track multiple times to let the purity of the Techno Meditation emerge in you.

I think it is important to say that there is no single way to do this meditation. My sister has a physical disability and I also make my work for her and other people for whom dancing upright is not obvious. My sister did the meditation while sitting and yet she danced, in her own way. Dancing can also be invisible. You also hit an important point with the voice-music relation. That has really been a long process of (re)mixing. If the voice is too loud it seems like I want to dictate something and the music only serves as the background. If the voice is too quiet it seems like the content of the text doesn’t matter. It must be loud enough to allow people to engage physically in the dance without losing the vocal guidance. But then, the beats also need to be loud enough to touch people. And then in the end, the whole also shouldn’t kill your ears. I do edit the meditation. For Meditation n°2, I used two different Zoom meditation lessons as material and I edited them in where I found them fitting the music. The two elements, voice and sound, are therefore completely equal and you can follow what you want, and when you want.

The first Techno Meditation was released at the end of December 2020. For it, you mixed existing songs with a meditation voice that could be found on the internet. The second track was released at the end of January 2021, where you collaborated for the first time with meditation master Linda Naini4. How did this collaboration go? Have you discovered, from one another, more insight into the inner experience of both techno and meditation?

Indeed, the first meditation consisted of one of my favourite techno tracks Soopertrack5 from Extrawelt6, with a meditation of “Living Better”7, which I found on Youtube. That meditation was a very general body scan, where a voice guides you through your body and pauses at each body part; For the second meditation I wanted to introduce a new meditation concept, and also a new voice. The sound of the voice is so important. Linda has a phenomenal voice. I found one of her meditations on Youtube and when I sent her an email asking if I could use the audio, she responded very positively that she wanted to create one, especially for the Techno Meditiation. Together we then looked which concept would fit the techno track I had in mind and we arrived at feeling tones (vedanās). She then sent me the Zoom registrations of two of her online meditation sessions that I could edit according to my own wishes.

Our conversations were also about language, mainly about how to keep everything as concrete and physical as possible. Sometimes meditation can be about « life » or « existence » in general. For this project I was looking for concrete language. The more concrete the better.

Despite the Techno Meditation being sent out into the world within the framework « awaiting », can we expect a future development of this project? Such as releasing a Techno Meditation album, where you not only work with a meditation master, but also with your favourite DJs? Or as a participatory performance in the theatre, or even night clubs?

I would indeed like to continue with this and I dream of performing them live as soon as we are allowed to dance together again, with the necessary accent on sound to make the live experience even more intense. But for the time being I have planned to make a series of 5 meditations for the upcoming months. In the meantime, I am learning how I can approve my mixing-skills and also how to do this live. I’ve been making shitty garage band tracks for years. This is the opportunity to give myself the time to make better tracks, better mixes, better production.

To end, would you describe Techno Meditation as a « physical lecture »?

No, because a “lecture” means that I have a wisdom that I want to share, which I don’t think I have. I ‘m mainly a dancer who wants to share a dance.

The Techno Meditations are available to listen to online :

Bo Vloors

1 Yves VermeulenBelgian performance artist
2 Lorenzo De Brabandere – Belgian performance artist
3 Bâtard festival – annual performing arts festival in Brussels.
4 Linda Naini (US), is a certified Mindfulness Meditation teacher and Life Coach through the Maryland University of Integrative Health
5 Soopertrack – released 13 june 2015, album Soopertrack
6 Extrawelt is a German electronic music duo composed of DJs and composers Wayan Rabe (GER) and Arne Schaffhausen (GER)