by D. L. Pughe
Quite unexpectedly in late August of last year I was taken to the OP Project in the rural countryside near Utrecht. I was visiting my friends Lefke and Willem in Leiden who hosted a gathering of acquaintances and there I met Edna Bauer, the now famous founder of the OP. In interviews I’ve read, writers often mentioned the idiosyncratic pulling on her throat below her chin and rolling her eyes, but I quickly found her stories about how the OP began to outweigh the catalogue of tics.
The OP Project, short for Opus Posthumous, was founded in 1975 and remains devoted to finishing unfinished ideas. Artworks, novels, poems, plays, compositions, anything which was cut short by time. Edna (who has now added an unusual mouth-pursing and blowing gesture to her repertoire since she quit smoking last year), offered some of her personal experiences which drew her to unfinished fragments.
As a promising music student in Salzburg in the 40’s, Edna became hypnotized by some partial musical scores of several avant-garde composers killed in the first World War. She assembled a small chamber group which played the pieces in sequence, with one breaking off, pausing, and flowing into the next in the order in which the composers had fallen in the war. The rupture created a heightened effect and in the third performance, Edna, who was conducting the group, held the silences in a prolonged gasp where the preceding music danced invisibly along in the air, experienced differently by each listener. Edna, however, kept hearing a repeated refrain and a new movement which substantially grew with each performance. And, although she denies any affinity with paranormal forces, she came to believe that the composer was tossing notes down in the still pause. She imagined herself, as though on a battlefield, with a huge white apron rushing around madly trying to catch each clef and note that fell.
The live performances of these pieces ended with great acclaim and the chamber group went on to a more predictable classical repertoire, with much less success. But Edna did not join them and was never the same again. At night, she claims, musical refrains would cascade down to her and pull her from sleep, as if wrapping her in their embrace. She found it happened more frequently and with crystal sound when she was in the countryside. She soon rented a room above a barn in Roelofarendsveen for the summer in order to complete transcribing the imaginary scores….
At first she wanted to know everything about each composer in order to translate their concepts most honestly. Then, she realized that finding out the intimate details of the composer’s life sometimes forced her into judgmental walls which held her back as a medium. She knew that a suspension of analysis in order to allow the music to flow into her mind and soul was the only way to grasp integrity to the idea.
It was in Roelofahrensveen that she met Henk Schoonover, a retired philosopher who was taken by her eccentric nighttime quests. He once found her asleep in an open field in order, she said, to hear the notes ringing louder in the sky. If she were mad, Henk reasoned, then the pages of notes she copied down before breakfast were those of a mad genius. No, she explained, they weren’t hers at all. She had found them in the air. And she went on to describe the unusual process which had led her to lie in wait for what to her became visible music.
Henk was not unaffected. He fell quite in love with Edna, though she was too preoccupied to notice. He also began to lay awake with continual thoughts of the philosophers whose work he most admired, and what they might have written had their lives spanned a few more years. His focus soon became Spinoza, a man of the neighborhood who had lived nearby in Rijnsburg and The Hague and who had died from ingesting too much glass dust from his lens grinding occupation at the young age of 44.
This account of the Opus Posthumous project trails off here, a work of fiction in my imaginary museum series, but led to my own dreams of friends lost on the battlefield of AIDS. I awoke one night and in a hypnagogic state thought I saw threadlike beams of colored light coming down from the sky, each one humming with a radio-like frequency carrying the unfinished ideas of so many friends who had died. In my group at the Museums (of 25 employees) we lost 11 to AIDS. So many creative artists, writers and poets from that time disappeared far too young, their ambitions and talents never fully realized. I later woke and saw that the colored threads were a dream within a dream. But also palpable and humming and I spoke of it to Joe Goode, the founder and choreographer of Joe Goode Performance Group. He turned it into a brilliant performance in the darkened main court of the de Young Museum in honor of AIDS Day, December 1, 1991. Under 6 beams of light, dancers captured the longing, the distant frequency of ideas still touching down long after the mortal world is left behind.
This fragment also led to this essay on Spinoza and his houses that was originally in NEST Magazine
The illustration to Opus Posthumous is from Choregraphie, 1700, the dance notation system invented by Raoul Auger Feuillet