Jelle Dierickx


Frau Luna’s Deep Listening @ Peenemünde

© Jiri Sláma

Jelle Dierickx holds a doctorate in arts (musicology). He is currently director and artistic director of the Festival of Flanders Mechelen/Kempen. In this position, he is responsible for the spring festival Lunalia in Mechelen and the autumn festival Musica Divina in the Kempen region.

He created more than 30 festivals in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Czechia and Poland. Among others, the Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci, the Ghent Festival of Flanders and Concentus Moraviae. He has also organised various symposia, artistic projects and workshops.

In addition, he is active as a writer under his own name and under pseudonyms. He has published more than fifty texts and three books. The subjects are mostly related to music, poetry and multimedia. Accordingly, he also gave several lectures in Europe and North America.

The people attending the speech receive an A4 with the golden disc of Voyager 1 printed on the front.
With that paper, noise is generated. Pp to ff and back to pp.

Stop, stop, stop, dear friends, don’t listen to the heavens. Don’t! Don’t listen to your music, don’t listen to each other’s music. Best not to listen at all. Best plug the ears completely. For that, press the inner nuke button. Then we have had that too. We are in a place where bombs were born. There are also enough fingers present today to press enough buttons. But for that, we need to take at least one finger out of our ears. Let’s call that hope.

South African poet Antjie Krog writes it this way in her poem “digter wordende”, meaning “becoming a poet” from the collection “What the stars say” (Podium, Amsterdam, 2004, translation by JD):

one morning you wake up in the middle of sound
with vocal and vowel and diphthong as feelers
to calibrate with hesitant care the lightest stirrings
of light and loss in sound

to find yourself immediately kneeling
above the audibly beating wall
of a word – searching for the precise
moment when a line of verse fills up in sound

when the meaning of a word yields,
begins to slip and finally surrenders to sound
from that moment the blood yearns for the incantation
of language – the only truth stands felled in sound

the poet composes with her tongue
she draws breath – yes, deep from within her ear

Let us all become poets for a while in the coming days. Knowing that we are part of a solution.
This conference is all about The art of awareness, caring and connectivity. It is easy to be cynical about this. We need empty slogans less than ever. We live in a time when we need to formulate answers to how we survive ourselves. We cannot afford to stop at the statement “There is so much to be done”. There are plenty of things to be done and to hear the answer to a correctly asked question, deep and true listening is the key. Let us briefly go over the three keywords of the conference. I am focusing on the musical dimension, but much is interchangeable with other creative dimensions.

1) AWARENESS – Where and when are we?

Let’s listen to where and when we are. We are part of a solution, not only part of a problem.
Ignoring the music, ignoring our music. Not listening. Not listening to the heavens. In short: Don’t hear up. It is a reference to the popular film “Don’t look up”. In it, a comet approaches Earth and the political and other leaders decide that not looking up will solve the problem. Many see the film as a metaphor for how we deal with climate issues. In a film, it makes sense that the eye is primary, but we are also in collective denial in terms of listening. So let us take our fingers out of our ears for a moment and listen to where in the jungle we are.
1977 is the year when part of this story begins. It is the year in which I was born, in which the probe Voyager 1 was shot into space and in which Wernher Von Braun died. This gentleman Von Braun was technical director of the Heeresversuchanstalt Peenemünde when the first functioning Flüssigkeitsrakete Aggregat 4 (better known as V2) was created and after World War II, he was cheerfully continued to be employed at NASA. He helped create a terrible weapon, he helped advance space exploration and he is partly responsible for the deaths of at least 12,000 forced labourers and 8,000 other people who helped manufacture and deploy the V2.
The firing of an A4 rocket from the former Prüfstand VII here at Peenemünde on 3 October 1942 was the first shot into space. We are talking as much as 84.5 kilometres. That moment is considered the birth of space travel and it is at the same time the birth of a terrible weapon. The rocket was painted in black and white, but its makers had also painted a picture of Frau Luna on it. This partly as a reference to the 1899 operetta of the same name by Berlin composer Paul Lincke (text by Heinrich Bolten-Baeckers):

Ja, ja, ja, das ist die Berliner Luft, Luft, Luft
so mit ihrem holden Duft, Duft, Duft
wo nur selten was verpufft, pufft, pufft
in dem Duft, Duft, Duft
dieser Luft, Luft, Luft

And the march goes on.
2024 is the year when another part of this story begins. We will all be together in Peenemünde on Monday 13 May 2024. With all our stories. I can hear them buzzing in this room.
2024 also marks 300 years since philosopher Immanuel Kant was born. In his 1788 Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, he wrote:

“Zwei Dinge erfüllen das Gemut mit Ehrfurcht: der bestimmte Himmel über mir und das moralische Gesetz in mir.“

“Two things fill the mind with awe: the heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

A few years ago, the probe Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to leave our solar system. The sky above should fill us with much more humility with all we know now. The moral law within us has grown stronger in many areas, but the barbarism of humanity still rears its ugly head. The question is whether we will outlive ourselves. At times, like Baron Von Münchhausen, we seem to have to pull ourselves out of quicksand by our own hairs.

This is also the time when my mentor, Professor Herman Sabbe, is experiencing his last moments on this globe. My thoughts are also with him now, in beautiful Bruges. I want to mention his name to honour him. So that you also bear his name for a moment. Coming from and going to the stardust that we all are.
One of the things he taught me is to be aware of the fact that double meanings often go unheard. In his honour, this is a speech full of double bottoms.

Oh, and the operetta Frau Luna can also be heard live this year, for example at the Deutsche Theater München on 25 and 26 June.

2) CARING – Who are we, the other and our circumstance?

Let’s listen to who we are, to who others are, let’s listen to our circumstance.

A foetus hears from the 16th week onwards, according to the latest findings. This is linked to the development of the limbic system. Hearing and feeling grow together. Hence, a real feeling of happiness can arise with true listening. Blessed be oxytocin and dopamine.

Ullrich Fichtner and Gene Glover wrote a six-page article on the power of music in the German magazine Der Spiegel of 28 March 2024. I don’t want to withhold the following quote (translation JD):

“Whoever says music says an infinite amount. It could, it should, play a much greater role in our lives, in the organisation of society. Instead, it continues to be persistently underestimated as a garnish of a cultivated bourgeoisie, possibly as a pleasure for the wealthy. For many people, talking about it might even seem like a waste of time or like cynicism in the face of war and misery and climate change and everything else. This attitude is based on the misunderstanding of music as a mere ingredient to a pleasant life, a nice side issue, but that means failing to recognise how deeply it touches and defines people.
In fact, in the course of evolution, musicality has been firmly inscribed in our inner being, a universe of stimuli, literally, a firework of unimaginably tiny and countless electrical impulses. Anyone who refuses to recognise that music and musicality are part of the basic human make-up generally also overlooks the infinite possibilities of living healthier, happier, more intelligent, more peaceful – in a word: better – through music.”

Music is part of a solution. We are part of a solution. The word “we” is important in this. Are we really curious about the people around us and are we able to listen deeply to the music they make? Do we recognise and acknowledge the musical person?
It seems obvious that we care for our children, for our elders, for our fellow human beings. It seems evident that we care for our garden which is the earth. It seems evident that we care for our hearts and our sanity. It seems obvious that we care for our festivals and other activities. It seems so obvious. The power of love remains one of the greatest forces in the universe. Just use gravity to push this obviousness even deeper.

Do me a favour and go through the following exercise: write down ten activities, actions, organisations, people who realise brilliant things. The only restriction: it must not be from your own organisation. In your next discussion with politicians and other decision-makers, take this list with you. It is also a form of taking care of each other. After all, creativity is part of a solution.

3) CONNECTIVITY – How are we?

Again, music is part of a solution. Music is making something together. Music is dealing with (space) time, with each other. It is playing with time, proportions, listening, social coordination. It is being curious about new tones, staying attentive, hearing the beauty and comfort deeper and deeper. The creation and decay of sound is a metaphor for life itself.
But the other creative dimensions also possess the power of connecting.
Kae Tempest describes it well in her book On connection (Faber&Faber, London, 2020):

“Creative connection is the use of creativity to access and feel connection and get yourself and those with you in the moment into a more connected space.” She quotes Carl Jung and his idea of two spirits: the spirit of the times and the spirit of the depths. “The internet seems to me to be the ultimate expression of the spirit of the times; it is the multi-voice of the collective conscious. But it cannot represent the collective subconscious; the spirit of the depths speaks through poetry and music, through fiction, image and myth. It is offline.”

Offline are also Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer’s Romanesque arches (from In meinem Schatten werde ich getragen, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 2013. Translation JD):

Inside the great Romanesque church, tourists crowded in semi-darkness.
Vault after gaping vault and no overview.
A few candle flames flickered.
A faceless angel embraced me
and whispered throughout my body:
‘Don’t be ashamed to be human, be proud!
Inside you, vault after vault opens in infinity.
Never will you be finished and so it must be.’
I was blind with tears
and was chased up the sun-soaked piazza
along with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr. Tanaka and Signora Sabatini
and inside them all opened in infinity vault after vault.


We should not be ashamed to be human, but then we should also make the effort to be human. Our eyes cannot do it, but with our ears we can focus on the earth and on space at the same time. To focus the ears on the earth is to focus the ears on space. And the cosmos does sing. Stars, planets, red giants, white dwarfs, pulsars, contracting, expanding, getting colder and warmer, interstellar vibrations. The harmony of the spheres is a swirling mishmash.

In this immense spacetime in which our sun is but an insignificant little star, Voyager 1 floats with a golden record in it. On this record are various photographs, as well as a lot of music. It is bottle mail in an immeasurable universe.

Back to the A4 we were making noise with just now. On the front is the golden record that Voyager 1 carries out into the wide cosmos on behalf of humanity. But did you also notice the pale blue dot on the back of the sheet?
Isn’t that what we all do with our many activities and festivals? Pointing at a pale blue dot with a golden disc?
It is Carl Sagan who caused Voyager to turn towards Earth one last time. He wrote a brilliant reflection around this picture. In it he says, among other things, the following:

“To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

What result do we get when we simulate the total sound of the cosmos? Noise. The cosmos murmurs. It sounds like the soothing sound of parents to their children. It will be all right. It will be all right, children of the stars. We’re going to make sure of that ourselves. Ssssh.

This text was the opening keynote of Jelle Dierickx at the European Festivals Association’s Arts Festivals Summit Usedom on 13 May on Usedom, Germany, hosted by the Usedom Music Festival.

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