The cello in my life

Knot Applicable [x 0.5] (Sophie and Vera, with guest Wilma Pistorius) at the OCCII, Amsterdam, December 2016.

A small crowd drinks at the bar. Gijs Borstlap djs. Scores for solo cello pieces (Morton Feldman and Rens Tienstra) are attached to black thread and suspended from the ceiling. Vera, Wilma and I start to play around.

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Then we invite the audience to join.

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I tie Vera in a chest harness –

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and Wilma plays Morton Feldman’s Projection I. Bow on string punctuates the silence, which is in turn broken by the frictive sound of jute against jute, jute against skin, jute against the ground.

Knot Applicable

We invite the audience to get involved. They cautiously pull, release, tighten, trying to test what is permitted, and what might constitute going too far. Our bodies and the space are offered as a means to ask these questions.

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Various answers are arrived at.

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Then we tie the audience and use the rope geometry for the remainder of our performance. Wilma plays more solo cello pieces, and I sing Morton Feldman’s Only.

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Vera does a tangled solo and the audiences assists, varying the tension of the ropes she is caught in.

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We experiment with double cello bows –

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and adorn Wilma and her cello with jute, as she finishes her last piece.

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As usual we spoke to the public afterwards. They described to us the feeling of having to make decisions within the framework we had provided for them; of being active agents, and having a responsibility towards the performance and our bodies. These moment of one’s subjectivity suddenly becoming relevant to a performance are like magic for us. It is exactly this state of presence we are seeking to evoke, and the relationship of mutually present subjectivities that we wish to cultivate. Our art (music; dance; rope) is not a means to do this – it’s rather the other way around. Not only our musical and physical performance but our subjectivity – and that of the participants – becomes the art work itself.



All photos Kasper Vogelzang.

Knot Applicable [x 0.5] (Sophie and Vera) at the Corrosia Theater

Vera enters the black box space through heavy black curtains, tied in a chest harness with ropes, the end of which I am holding. I am still standing behind the curtains.


People stand around (the seating area is closed off) as she inches further into the crowd, while I sing a sort of deconstructed version of to yasemi from behind the curtains (a version of this traditional Cypriot song can be heard here:

After a while I emerge as well, and we play together in silence.

Vera dances around me with ropes that eventually weave into a hip harness.


She lifts me.


We offer some rope to the audience.


After some initial skepticism and wry bemusement, our friendly fellow obliges.


He gets the hang of things and doesn’t want to let go. He has made a choice, and this is always exciting for us. We offered him agency, and he accepted; what happens next is now up to all of us. The rest of the public watches carefully.

Vera teases him for a while, offering him her weight, taking it away. He holds on tight. Then she approaches him with another rope (we have 36 metres of it) as if to tie him. With his body language he gives a crystal clear response – NO – and releases her rope. Another choice. Another development.

Now Vera is free to join me in tying other members of the audience (participants) who are happy to be restrained.


These individuals are malleable and accommodating to our various touches and physical manipulations. They keep their eyes more or less lowered as they offer their bodies to the performance. We tie two people, and offer two others the ends of the ropes to hold. Once we’re finished tying they start to feel more in control. They begin to make visual contact with one another. Curious, playful smiles appear.

Vera uses this narrow corridor of ropes and bodies created by the four participants to dance a short improvisation while I sing Morton Feldman’s Only.


Only when flight shall soar / not for its own sake only / up into heavens lonely / silence, and be no more, a translation of Rilke’s O erst dann, wenn der Flug / nicht mehr um seinetwillen / wird in die Himmelstillen / steigen (Sonnets to Orpheus).

Then she disappears behind the curtains, and so do I. The audience remain. The interval begins.


Some moments later we return to untie them. We talk to them about their experiences and reflect together on their part in the show. They are sweet, generous and open in their communication with us.

We thank them, and we all drink beer.


All photos by Sybren Planting.


Rope. Voice. Body. Percussion. These are the four elements of Harness, a work bringing together the music of John Cage and the Japanese rope-tying art of Shibari into one immersive performance art work, exploring the dynamics of tension and release; silence and sound; movement, stillness and duration.


John Cage’s Ryoanji is an auditory sketch of the stone and sand in the rock garden of Kyoto’s Ryōan-ji temple. The sounds appear like imprints on silence, like brushstrokes on a blank page, or a body in an empty space. This sensory materiality of sound is the sonic garden in which the shibari practice unfolds, playing out its own dynamics of stillness and movement, of power and trust, of symmetry and suspension.


Cage described sound as events occurring in a world which is occupied by silence. The point is not of the order or structure of the sounds, but of their dynamic activity:

I love the activity of sound. What it does, is it gets louder and quieter, it gets higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter.

– John Cage

In the same way a shibari suspension is a practice consisting purely of variations in dynamics, some subtle, some sharp, some extremely slow. The tie begins simply, binding hands and chest, and slowly evolves over the course of the 40 minutes into a full suspension, finally unwinding to end where it began, in stillness and silence.

Harness raises all sorts of questions, about trust and spectatorship, about consent and power, about beauty and desire. But most of all, it invites the audience to come along for the ride, to travel through the duration of the performance, to permit and explore the inevitable flux of responses; to dive into a deeply dynamic experience of slow, patient transformation.