LCCT 2015 – Call for papers [deadline: 16th March]

The call for papers for the London Conference in Critical Thought 2015 has been released!

The CFP is a document made up of various thematic streams. Participants are invited to propose papers/presentations to a given stream, or to a ‘general stream’ (without theme).

I am coordinating a stream entitled ‘Legacies of the Immaterial in the Arts and Practice‘, addressing what renewed interests in materiality mean for the concept of immateriality (in the arts and socio-cultural practices). The full list of streams is as follows:

  • The Return of Actor Network Theory
  • Art and its Externalities
  • Bad Language, Wrong Signification
  • Eating as Encounter
  • Legacies of the Immaterial in the Arts and Practice
  • Interruptions
  • The Politics and Practice of “Just Making Things”
  • Music and Sound at Work
  • Re-thinking Political Violence, Memory and Law
  • The Digital 1: Noology and Technics: Algorithmic governmentality, automation and knowledge in the age of the digital economy
  • The Digital 2: ‘Questioning the Digital’: Critical Approaches to Digital Worlds
  • Theory Lessons: Theorizing the Classroom
  • Radical Transfeminism
  • Truthful Politics

Full details can be found on the London Critical website.

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Music and Psychoanalysis study day

University of Liverpool, 13th November 2013

This week I presented a paper about music analysis and dream analysis at the excellent Music and Psychoanalysis study day. This event brought together a number of interesting speakers and delegates. There was a sense of a (re)emerging subdiscipline within musicology; the speakers and methodologies encountered were diverse nonetheless. We heard papers that referred to both popular music (and culture more widely) as well as to more traditional repertoires, and both theoretical and clinical work (Rachel Darnley-Smith’s excellent paper on music therapy). Some focused on artist-producers (Henry Zajaczkowski on Tchaikovsky), others the products/artworks, and still others on consumers and listeners.

Lacanian thinking is clearly making its mark within some sectors of musicology. The day ended with a roundtable discussion, the panellists being David Bard-Schwarz (University of North Texas), Bruno de Florence (ICONEA, London), Freya Jarman and Kenneth Smith (both University of Liverpool). All these panellists freely made reference to a host of Lacanian ideas. There was some excellent discussion from the floor with regard to the emergence of “Lacanian musicology”.

However, I shouldn’t give the impression that there was a unified agreement from the attendees on how and what psychoanalysis might bring to studies of music (or, conversely, of music to psychoanalysis). I’ve my own reservations about some (uses of) Lacanian concepts and critical frameworks, for instance. There are three immediate examples I’d like to put forward, some of which were discussed at the study day itself:

–      First, I’d advise caution regarding the privileging and deploying of particular concepts. For example, while the Lacanian concept of ‘The Real’ might be useful on occasion, it’s my impression that it sometimes seems too easy an explanation for the complexities of expression, anxiety and trauma that arise during some aesthetic experiences. (“Why do we feel this way?” – “Because it’s an encounter with the Real!”)

–      Second, the basic functioning and disfunctioning of subjectivity is, for Lacan, linguistic. I wouldn’t posit music in counterposition to language; instead, I’d say that elements of it tend towards the pseudo-linguistic. This tension within music is itself a site that is productive of meaning, or if not “meaning” in its linguistic sense, then of aesthetic significance. Hence, this is not to say that nothing can be said about music from such (Lacanian) perspectives, but it is to underline an awareness of our own methodologies and assumptions about subjects’/language’s (dis)functioning, which have been taken into them.

–      Third, and this is something Freya Jarman raised during the roundtable, we should be aware of the “doing” of subjectivities, not only their “being” in certain forms (Jarman raised this point in relation to Queer Theory and the politics of musicology). This connects with a larger question regarding psychoanalysis and music: should we be cautious about implying the ahistorical nature of subjectivity in certain forms of discussion, especially when we fall back on particular models of how subjectivity “operates”? Sometimes the positing of psychoanalytic frameworks for the discussion of musical subjectivities seems to gloss over the cultural and historical particularities of given situations; these frameworks sometimes seem to assume ahistorical bases and, accordingly, so do the bases of musical identities and aesthetic experiences. This concern is echoed in Judith Butler’s critique in Gender Trouble of Julia Kristeva’s thinking[1] – here I’m gesturing towards caution over the essentialising of “how subjectivity functions” and a new emphasis on performativity and the cultural and historical particularities of given musical and music-aesthetic discourses.


[1] Butler, Judith 2006: Gender Trouble, Abingdon: Routledge. See the section ‘The Body Politics of Julia Kristeva’, pp. 107-126.

A note on modernism and style

It is convenient to see musical modernism as a style, one that might be held beside the Baroque or Classicism. Its tell-tail signifiers give us bearings by which we might orient ourselves interpretively. They also allow us to categorise it as a movement or a concept and, indeed, to make it safe – to neutralise what Adorno and others identify as its “critical” qualities –  in so doing making this style something more-easily commodifiable alongside the Baroque or Classicism.

Modernism of course has outward hallmarks. But it is more than the sum total of these. Modernism encompasses acts of self-reflexion and sensitivity to the medium of one’s art, including style. To put this dialectically, this is to say that modernism is stylistic whilst finding style to be insufficient.

This insufficiency reveals itself, perhaps most prominently, in what many have called modernist works’ always “unreadable” remainder.  It would be trite to merely pass off this quality as itself a stylistic signifier of modernism; this isn’t just a word or symbol like any other but rather a destabilising influence on the unproblematic functioning of words, symbols, and conventionalised (conventionalising) practices. To reduce modernism’s self-reflexive attitude to merely one of its “signifiers” is to cover over ontological and experiential effectiveness (affectiveness) of this attitude – that is, its capacity to bring about changes in how we make sense of, interpret, and experience the world and our places in it.

Some modernists were themselves aware of the ossification of “New Music”, its becoming a determined self-identity as a set of signifiers. György Ligeti, for instance, when invited to talk at a 1965 congress on “form” in Darmstadt, took this opportunity to warn against the reification of New Music as a set of outward appearances. He noted that, throughout twentieth-century musical development, an ‘arsenal of types came together in due course, such as: aperiodic jumps to and fro in wide intervals, followed by sudden inertia and then a resumption of the jumping movements; unbroken, fixed layers of sound usually built up like clusters…[etc.]’.[1] At the same time, he also warned against the over-reliance on compositional systems that gave rise to similar sonic results: ‘Instead of the coherence-establishing systems themselves [i.e., traditional tonal schema], it is the same types [of sounds] resulting from different such systems that become the established thing.’[2] He practiced what he preached, at this time exploring new directions that broke from many “conventionalised” modernist sounds in works like Aventures (1962) and Nouvelles Aventures (1962-65).

In bringing up this question of modernism and style, I’m not thinking about reasserting an early-twentieth-century modernist mind-set of “modernism as vangardism”/”modernists as the vanguard”, as an always necessarily pushing of the sonic or aesthetic envelope. We’re past New = Modern: consider much late-twentieth century modernist music – I’m thinking here of the music of Ligeti’s late period (e.g. the Horn Trio), of Wolfgang Rihm (the Third String Quartet), Helmut Lachenmann (Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied), and others – that seeks to explore ways in  which the past plays a role in the present (of course, this concern isn’t limited to music of this period).

Style – and the reproduction and consumption of style – is a central aspect of our contemporary period, what Fredric Jameson calls late capitalism. Thus, I want to end by reflecting on, if only briefly, what the modernist style’s dialectical insufficiency means now. Reducing modernism – and indeed many other forms of music – to one style among many is no-doubt a convenient practice in a capitalistic culture that values commensurability, exchangeability. This is not to grossly write off semiotic modes of analysis as inherently capitalist.

Rather, in the spirit of self-reflexion, in saying this I hope to point toward a critical mind-set: one that considers why music is viewed stylistically and what happens when one takes outward appearances as modes of identification and interpretation. This is to consider the values implicit in practising different kinds of thinking and methodological actions. It is to attempt to resist the reinscription of dominant discourses – discourses capitulating with dominant ideological frameworks – in our thinking about modernist music; to resist, in the manner practised in modernism’s own dialectical self-problematisation of style, what has famously been called the cultural logic of late capitalism.[3]


[1] György Ligeti, “Form in der Neuen Musik”, trans. as “Form”, in Ruth Katz and Carl Dahlhaus (eds.), Contemplating Music: Source Readings in the Aesthetics of Music, vol. III (New Yrok, 1992), 790.

[2] Ligeti, 790.

Forthcoming Lachenmann article in Contemporary Music Review

I’ve just sent off the final version of my article for a forthcoming issue of Contemporary Music Review (vol. 32/5). Here’s the article abstract:

Building an Instrument, Building an Instrumentalist: Helmut Lachenmann’s Serynade

Abstract: In Helmut Lachenmann’s Serynade (1998, revised 2000), the solo piano is explored as a pianistic resource from which to build a new instrument and new experiential relationships to it. Drawing on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment, I show that implicit to building instruments are encounters with wider aesthetic and historical questions – particularly of the relationships between the body and technology as they mutually mediate one-another. As such, Lachenmann’s exploration of pianistic technologies inherently engages with the handed-down embodied relationships that exist between player and instrument – pedagogy – both finding themselves modified and reconfigured in the moment of performance. Instrument and instrumentalist are rebuilt in relation to one-another.

Conference review (first day only): Music and Philosophy 2013, King’s College London, 19th-20th July.

Music and Philosophy 2013, King’s College London, 19th-20th July.

The first day of the 3rd Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association’s Music and Philosophy Study Group was, in the most part, very enjoyable and interesting  (I was unable to make the second day due to a family commitment). There were some great formal presentations and discussion. I also had some excellent informal chats with people outside of the sessions. Inevitably there were also some weaker moments. What I provide here are a few brief thoughts on the first day of conference, session by session. A conference programme can be viewed here.

Opening plenary discussion panel

The first plenary discussed the bodily nature of music although, in true philosophical (philosophers’) style, this was posed as a question to which the answer seemed obvious; “Is music a bodily art?”. Three musicologists/philosophers gave short presentations and a discussion followed. Jenefer Robinson’s opening paper was introductory, and explored that age-old dualism of music as structure (e.g. ‘the work’) and music as performance. She suggested that in the latter we might see (hear) music’s bodily aspects being foregrounded. Given the introductory nature of her talk, it might be unfair to criticise her safe walking of well-trodden ground. But, I was left thinking, given this dualism, perhaps it would be more fruitful to explore inherent tensions between the two ideas, or explicitly try and take the former conceptualisation of music (‘as structure’) as a place that concerns ‘the bodily’. Otherwise we may find that this dualism (structure/performance) merely reproduces an exclusive mind/body dualism – the first terms are abstract and disembodied, the latter terms concrete and embodied – with all the ideological and philosophical baggage that comes with it.[1]

Nicholas Baragwanath’s presentation overcame some of these problems. Put in the terms of Robinson’s presentation, he considered the place of performance in the structuring of music works. For example, he noted that counterpoint, what we consider a compositional, structuring/structured device, was, until the 19th century, often taught by vocal teachers. As Baragwanath put it, this was to learn to speak (i.e. sing counterpoint) before learning to write.

For me, Jeremy Begbie’s presentation was the most stimulating of the three that made up the opening plenary. Drawing on philosophy and theology, Begbie considered the historical quality of music’s transcendentalising – i.e. its positioning beyond matter, it being seen to evocate spheres beyond the human world, language, and so on. Interestingly, he noted that the spiritual quality that music is often ascribed – in contrast with the material nature of the world – is at odds with conceptions of spirituality under Christianity, as encompassing and encountered in the materiality of the world.

Parallel session I: Aesthetics and Embodiment 

Three papers made up the first of the parallel sessions. I attended Aesthetics and Embodiment. The first paper – by Jin Hyun Kim and entitled ‘Kinaesthetic simulation in the experience of music – asked how we might begin to formulise a theory of expression beyond a cognitive view. I found it a bit problematic (despite not myself subscribing to cognitivist models of expression and embodiment). Whilst the presenter drew heavily on theories of expression from a specific period of thinking, the first half the 20th century, without reference to particular music – of this age or any other – it seemed that they attempted to put forward an ahistorical theory of expression. At the end of the paper I asked a question with this implication in mind: Why draw on these theories? Is this choice related to the music contemporary with them, or do the theories explored form the foundation of or undermine later cognitive views of embodied expression that the author wishes to critique? I answer I received was that the author wished to set up a general and minimal framework for understanding embodied expression in the arts, so that it might be as far-reaching as possible. This I thought to be insufficient justification for omitting references to particular examples of music and art where this framework might be useful.

The second paper of the session was excellent. Alex South considered what the phenomenologies of Husserl and (especially) Merleau-Ponty might tell us about playing instruments. He considered how instruments are incorporated into their players’ body-schema, or the space of their skills and capacities as these regard objects in the world and their relation to the subject. Incorporation, put differently, means that instruments, for skilled players, become extensions of themselves, and hence places for new, extended expression possibilities. Indeed, the subject/object divide itself breaks down where embodied incorporation is concerned; “The distinction between subject and object is blurred in my body”, Merleau Ponty writes in his Phenomenology of Perception.[2] This talk also interested me as I drew on similar thinking (and Merleau-Ponty) in my recent Ph.D. thesis, where I considered how established body-schema of musical performance are problematised in some modernist musical compositions (Helmut Lachenmann’s Serynade, for solo piano, in particular).

The third paper, by Denitz Peters, I was stumped by. Admittedly, this in part perhaps derived from my own ignorance of the philosophers and theorists that Peters made constant reference to. That said, Peters professed to develop ‘a concept of embodied listening that takes its phenomenological, social and intellectual aspects into view’ (I quote from his abstract). I could not, however, detect the broadly ‘social’ aspects of his framework, a stain of theory with which I am more accustomed. Despite this, given my unfamiliarity with the philosophical frameworks he drew on, I should reserve judgement.

Parallel session II: Sound

After lunch the second set of parallel sessions began. I attended the Sound session, which was well attended and of a very high standard. Rachel Beckles Willson[3] talked on ‘Sonic Relations’. She considered how one’s situating – and I use this term as distinguished from one’s “situation”[4] – opens up certain interpretative possibilities for thinking about music. Situating, in contrast with one’s “situation”, is taken here as affirming an active mode of listening and the self-conscious consideration of one’s place as a listener, embedded within certain historical, musical, and interpretive conditions. Beckles Willson investigated how situating enables both for interpretations of music and for reflections on oneself as a listener. Her experiences as a student of the oud and of Arab music where taken as a case study. One insight I found particularly striking was best formulated in the question and answer session after the paper: music can act so as to separate and even alienate individuals (for example, in certain practices of listening) as well as bring them together, a more widely held idea.

Stephen Decatur Smith’s paper was also very good. It was expertly clear considering the complexity of the ideas he discussed. He considered the place of the soul in Hegel’s thinking, as a mediating concept between Nature and Spirit. This he discussed with Adorno’s philosophy of music in mind. Smith argued that Adorno’s idea, jotted in his Beethoven manuscripts – that music “represents the act of animation, of being endowed with soul, over and over again” – should be understood in terms of its indebtedness to Hegel’s conceptualisation of the soul. Indeed, for Hegel, sound played an important part in these relationships between Nature, soul, and Spirit. Thus, Adorno’s idea was shown to bring together these three concepts under a dialectical, retrospective gesture: music remembers the soul and Spirit’s emergence from Nature. It looks back on these origins and laments our alienation from Nature, but can only do so as the negation of the negation, that is, through first emerging from it. Music, ‘endowed with soul’, recognises the memory of its own emergence from Nature.

Keynote: Peter Szendy – ‘General Fetishism, From the Piano to the Big Store’.

I have to admit that I am unfamiliar with Peter Szendy’s work. After his excellent keynote, however, I will definitely make the effort to familiarise myself with it. This highly imaginative talk moved between discussions of keyboard technique and commodification, from the Marx brothers to Karl Marx (‘the other Marx’, as Szendy put it), and from the fetishism of the latter to its Freudian counterpart (although this move was achieved by refreshingly unexpected means). First, with reference to the Marx brothers’ (1941) movie The Big Store, Szendy considered the piano keyboard and pedagogy in terms of reproduction and commodification. The gestures of the keyboard teacher, as depicted in the movie, found themselves reproduced in the gestures of his students. This exchange value symbolised in microcosm by the keyboard technique of the teacher in the movie – each finger takes the role of any other – is writ large in the exchange value of commodities in the department store of the film’s title. In a later scene, Harpo Marx finds himself part of a phantasy of reproduction, when he himself multiplies into innumerable simulacra; this has direct musical results as he is able to accompany “himself” on a potentially infinite number of harps in one of the store’s showrooms. The horizontal keyboard thus becomes a metaphor for the exchangeability of values – first the teacher’s fingers on the literal keyboard, and later the commodities of the store, all reduced to a plane of monetary commensurability.

The horizontal is supplemented by the verticalisation of fetishes in the movie: the musical technique of glissando on the piano is fetishized as the height of technique; in the big store the elevator becomes a focal point for our access to the commodities of our fetishism, which are distributed throughout the floors of the store. This vertical aspect of fetish – in contrast with the horizontal quality of Marxian “exchange” in monetary terms – Szendy related to Freud’s conceptualisation of fetish, which derives dramatically from the boy-child looking upwards at his mother, and coming to realise that she literally and symbolically lacks a/the phallus. This lost object, in Freud’s view, the child cannot give up, and thus becomes the repeated site of various insufficient substitutions (fetishes).

Plenary: ‘Musical Understanding: a Dialogue’

The last session of the day, a plenary on ‘Musical Understanding’, consisted of two short papers by Nick Zangwill and Lawrence Kramer, responses from one to the other’s paper, and then a discussion that was opened to the audience.

Zangwill’s paper was perhaps the weakest set of arguments I’d heard all day (I say ‘set of arguments’ as I couldn’t determine an overriding argumentative trajectory, beyond his periodic assertions about Hanslick being right about music). He started by claiming that in order to formulate what ‘musical understanding’ is we must first know what music is, so we can correctly judge if we are understanding it. This, of course, revolves around a tautology: we need to understand what music is before we can come to determine the conditions by which it must be understood (i.e. know ‘what music is’).  After founding his reasoning on a tautology Zangwill added layers and layers of discourse that was (1) problematic in terms of its reasoning, (2) rhetorically empty, and (3) highly questionable ideologically:

1. Zangwill maintained that despite musicologists’ (variously held) positions that music is by its nature a plural phenomenon – put most simply, there are many kinds of music – we can generalise about Music (with a capital M). There are many kinds of dog, Zangwill noted, but we still can conceive of dogs in general, and the concept ‘dog’. The same is true of music, he said. This is patently ridiculous; foremost, unlike the concept dog, music is a process (or collection of processes) within which we find values and meanings, which we partake in, which we create and which engenders us cultural, historically, and socially. To assert it as only conceptual (‘Music’) is to foreclose the possibility of finding it meaningful in these terms, a form of meaning that I, at least, want to preserve.

2. The emptiness of Zangwill’s rhetorical gestures became most apparent when he asked, ‘Why is music more valuable than trainspotting?’. Neither did he answer this question nor did it provide insight, as a rhetorical question, into any other parts of his presentation.  Another wonderful moment came when he asserted, ‘Beauty is the point of Absolute music’, to which I will only respond: Really?!

3. Ideologically, Zangwill’s presentation and the views he espoused in the following discussion were highly problematic. Misunderstanding Hanslick – and, in so doing, using Hanslick’s writing as a blank canvas on which to pin his own agenda – Zangwill argued that we need to understand music for itself, on its own terms. Music, Zangwill claimed (following his (mis)reading of Hanslick), is most pure and thus most excellent when it is uncontaminated either by the other arts (e.g. poetry, as in music with words) or by interpretative frameworks that consider music in terms of its “extra-musical” features (sociologically, historically, etc.).

It is by way of the first contamination – music by another art – that ‘rap is crap’ (yes, those were his exact words); its dependence on words negates its purity.

With regard to the second – music’s contamination by “extra-musical” interpretations – Zangwill claimed that musicology ‘turns music into something else’ (e.g. when considering it contextually). I’m not going to respond to this claim directly, but rather suggest that Zangwill go away and read some more musicology written in the last 30 years or so (or it least engage with it!). He won’t then consider knowledge of music and its context – outside of the purely music, whatever that is – to be ‘extraneous knowledge’ (yes, another unbelievable quote). This last phrase I find particular ironic, coming from an educator and a philosopher (a word literally meaning “lover of wisdom”).

Zangwill’s position was decimated, most articulately by Lydia Goehr (thanks, Lydia!), who advised him against his discourse of “purity”, his use of it as an exclusionary principle through which to denigrate forms of “impure” music. (With his denigration of rap, for example, Zangwill not only showed his ideological hand, but with that hand gave the finger to musicology, which by its nature requires we always consider the “extra-musical”). Zangwill responded naively to this: If the word ‘purity’ makes you uncomfortable, simply replace it with another, he said. Kramer immediately pointed out, quite rightly, that to do so would leave the same ideological framework in place. Goehr’s point was very well put: stop playing logical games, what you do is naïve and dangerous. Talking about ‘purity’ matters – it is the means by which people and their actions (music included) have been excluded historically, or have been labelled as impure (and, ultimately, as ‘less’ human). Notably, Goehr enacted this critique whilst managing not to fall back on postmodern relativism.

Lawrence Kramer’s presentation, and his part in the ensuing discussion, was, needless to say, more insightful that Zangwill’s. I must admit I have had a few issues with some of Lawrence Kramer’s writing (I extensively critiqued some of his work in my thesis, for example), but I found this presentation to be both clear and well thought out. He suggested that we should think about both the understanding ‘of’ music and how we may understand the world ‘by’ music (‘the two are twins’, he said). Kramer suggested that music always pushes us towards understanding it, whilst at the same time resisting codification; in his terms, it both ‘enacts and attracts’ interpretation. He also warned against trying to come to terms with Music (capital M); affirming the singularities of musics and of musical experiences were key to interpretations.

If I have one general criticism of Kramer’s talk – not so much a criticism, but rather a missed opportunity – I feel that Kramer could have spent more time considering how the acuteness of particular musical experiences related to more general understandings. I.e., What is the relationship between the universal and the particular where musical understanding is concerned? Put practically, what is the relationship between commonly held paradigms for musical understanding, such as musical forms, and their manifestation or treatment in particular works?

What I did like about Kramer’s talk is that it treated music as ‘world-disclosive’, as Andrew Bowie put it in his Music, Philosophy, and Modernity (a work often cited by paper givers at the conference). Bowie wrote that, ‘Music is world-disclosive: the world itself can take on new aspects because of it, and an adequate approach to music must be able to respond to this’.[5] Kramer’s talk approached this possibility.[6]


[1] These basic though deeply influential dualisms have been subject to various critiques over the past twenty five years or so (as exemplified by much feminist thinking). Feminist thinking was in fact a notable omission from all the discussions of ‘the bodily’ that took place at the conference.

[2] Maurice Merleau-Ponty 2002, The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 166).

[3] Full disclosure: Beckles Willson was my Ph.D. advisor at Royal Holloway.

[4] This distinction wasn’t present in Beckles Willson’s paper itself, but I think it is useful to help summarise what can be taken from it.

[5] Andrew Bowie, Music, Philosophy, and Modernity (Cambridge: CUP, 2007), 27.

[6] I should add a general note about the conference: It would have been nice, as ever, to have seen more engagement with the political implications of music and philosophy; even Feminism, as I note above, didn’t seem to be (explicitly) represented. Szendy’s keynote was a wonderful exception to the apolitical “neutrality” found throughout much of the rest of the conference (Friday, at least).

Performing Cardew’s “Great Learning” – Paragraph 5

This weekend I had the opportunity of playing Paragraph 5 of Cornelius Cardew’s “Great Learning” at the Bath International Music Festival with Syzygy/MASH ensemble (the New Music group based at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford) and members from The Oxford Improvisers, among others. This is a mad piece – but a great piece – in that it asks for real commitment from the players to their sounds and actions. (And, after 3 hours of this focus, going back to the real world somehow seemed a little strange). The score was a little daunting at first, being 14 large pages of material including notated music, instructions for gestures, philosophical texts, and more; but this was discussed within the group, as well as condensed down into a helpful performance score by one of MASH’s principle organisers/players. This Paragraph was performed simultaneously alongside the six others in different venues across Bath – with the audience passing between them

The work opens with ‘The Dumb Show’, a section consisting of a set of instructions around mimed gestures “taught” from performer to performer, and then explored individually. Next comes seven ‘Sentences’. Each starts with a wolf howl, then a reading of a philosophical passage, and a chant based on this passage. This is followed by seven structured improvised movements of music/performance based on written instructions. These are seven Sentences are entitled:

  1. Crash Bang Clank Music
  2. Loud and Soft Laughter Music
  3. Mountain Top Music
  4. Silent Music
  5. Beautiful Sound Music
  6. Bowed Sound
  7. Plink & Tube Train Stopped Between Stations [two movements which happen at the same time]

Whilst this is happening, dancers explore other material, as well as a small group of instrumentalists and singers who play ‘Machine Odes’ consisting of notated music. All the music until this point section normally takes an hour – we took around 1 hour and 35 minutes. (We decided to really give the music space to breath – and, anyway, we had the space for three hours.)

Instructions for the music of the “Mountain Top Music” sentence

The second half of the piece starts with a “temporal point of rest” – of quiet reflection and mental preparation for the “Improvisation Rite” which follows it. Before beginning of the improvisation, the “Firelighting Component” was considered by the players – an inspirational passage taken ‘from the book of Kwang-Sze, XIV. 3’. Both parts of the Paragraph and the rest altogether totalled about 2 hours 55 minutes in our performance.

This music was great to play, as the point of it was not only its sonic outcome but the process of getting performers listen and support one-another (something of great importance in all improvised music, but here this was something really brought to the fore). Instead of focusing in on your own ‘task’ – getting your part right – the job of the player (in my opinion) was to play only in their supplementing something already there, or in facilitating changes through articulating a reaction to something already present in the material being explored by the other players; a completely different relationship with the other players (and with the audience) than in the performance of much other music. This meant that it was entirely appropriate to sit back and consider the music, to think, “Does this need adding to or is it self-sufficient already? (so that I will just let it be)”.

We were playing at Burdall’s Yard. This venue – with its various spaces, stage, bar, and corridors – gave to us the chance to investigate these improvising/improvised relationships spatially as well as sonically. We could move from room to room, interacting with other players, dancers, and audiences. This worked well for the first part of the composition too; the Machine Odes could be performed in a room adjacent to the Sentences, remaining audible but of transforming significance to shifting audience members, depending on how they had chosen to situate themselves within the venue. These things, along with all those intangibles around the performance of exploratory music like this, I thought really helped to communicate the performance, as well as making it a gratifying experience for all the music’s players.

Links: