Needed Notes To a Nascent Performance Practice:
Open before a performer lays a score that self-evidently prioritizes, or is
substantially concerned with, the inherent physicality of sound production –
Which is to say the presence and absence of bodily physical energies brought to
bear on ‘musical-actions.’ The score at hand, through such means [among other
possibilities] as information-surplus/information-reduction, the adoption of
hyper-extended nigh-imperfectable material or gestural idioms which foreground
the over-taxed resources of production, or the utilization of an analytical/deconstructive gestural/tablature notation, disrupts the normative
functioning of a more conventional notation which serves to connect the
performer, in whatever mediated capacity, ‘directly’ to the sonority intended by
the composer – The physical means of doing so being set aside from the ‘essential’ on the conceptual level of the work. It is this ’normative functioning’ that is shortcircuited by such compositional procedures, and it is here that physicality and the body are thematicized, case-by-case from ever-new perspectives, as Physicality and Body, with all of their latent energies and implications in tow.
A performer, following the recognition of such prioritization or thematicization, is
responsible to leap into a process of inquiry addressing where, in what register,
and in what terms this foregrounding of physicality takes place in the greater
conceptual-whole of the work: From which compositional perspective, or on what
level of the compositional thought/process does physicality and the body in-fact
enter? This is a questioning as to context and demands a grasp of the conceptual space and basis of the work such that one can actively situate the ‘aspect of physicality’ therein. It is this sense of context which is to lead to the conscientious development of a performance practice/approach complementary and reflective of the site-specific ‘location of physical/body fore-grounding’ at hand – A performer wishing to do interpretive justice to the work being unable to remain interpretively at-arms-length with a parameter of such excessive strength. At end: Perhaps never so obviously has merely realizing the prescribed demands of the score been such a staggeringly insufficient navigation of what is conceptually at stake in a work. One must actively search for and insist upon the composer’s fingerprint amidst the avalanche, be it thunderous or whispered, of imminent physicality.
A performer can approach this search with the assurance that focus on the
physicality of sound-production is in-fact only the thematicization of a latently
central and highly dynamic element of any generous definition of interpretation.
Before one begins discussion of orchestrational signatures or of the specificities of period instruments it is to be taken as self-evident that in the performance of
canonized music, knowledge of which being situated in a scale of context
telescoping inwards from epoch, to oeuvre, to work, that this single initial tone,
within a work of an early French modernist for instance, is indeed physically
other, by virtue of being staged on a different register of physicality in the context of the relevant concept of sonority, from that ‘self-similar’ single tone found in the work say of an early nineteenth-century Viennese. It is this aspect, this inward-looking re-registration of physicality, this redefining and resituating of real and imagined physicalities within varying concepts of sonority, which has here in the species of work at hand been made exterior, made thematic in a leap wherein a previous dialectical sum, the latent registration of the physical aspect within a work’s conceptual space, is reified as a concrete object of compositional address. It follows that the performer must learn themselves to articulately navigate the terms of that address if the listener is at-last to be a given the opportunity to experience, in whatever light they themselves bring to it, both the concrete and abstract ‘resultants’ of the address with a depth to which they can respond.
As pointed to earlier, the richness of such an exchange can be nearly entirely lost amidst the hazards of this music’s performance – One recalls the image of the avalanche. If the performer or performers in question possess less than an
absolutely clear conception as to the terms and register of physicality staged
within and upon the work at hand, the specificity of the attempt to articulate such upper compositional registers can be crushed under the surface-level ‘physical interest of the piece’ – ‘An aspect with which it is obviously preoccupied but, alas, finally in uncertain terms’ – The danger here being that the performer, and by association the listener, accepts the potential vagueness of the ‘focus on physicality’ without greater specificity as to how to situate that physicality in a conceptual depth of field wherein it relates to broader contextual questions of form and discourse. What is at stake in an attempt at the unequivocal articulation of ‘this’ situation is, on the level of interpretive energy, categorically different than a ‘good,’ even ‘compellingly musical,’ performance. Musicians cannot be satisfied with the ‘performative demands’ made by a work and must come rather to recognize the interpretive challenge, furthermore the impossibilities and irreconcilabilities of interpretation, which await confrontation at a work’s centre.
Such a work’s final physicality, that of its realization by a performer or a group of
performers, occurs at the intersection of the physical fact of performance with
that register of physicality compositionally imagined and inscribed into the work
as a space to be physically deciphered, recognized and interpreted by the
performer. The crisis at hand is that the sheer immediacy of the physical fact can, in the absence of interpretive clarity, exert a spectacular dominance over the ‘abstracted’ physicality imagined within or inscribed into a piece. It is a question which must be asked again and again during the preparation and rehearsal of such music as it is all too easy for a performer to recognize the prioritization of the physical and yet inquire no further into, for instance, the focusing of that priority into and along particular imagined planes and conceptual axes: Perhaps regarding a work of Timothy McCormack – For them to encounter a score which sonorously and gesturally on the surface-level could be mistaken for a ‘physical or body-centric’ work while in-fact this seemingly fore-grounded aspect remains paradoxically ‘relatively abstract’ in its capacity as the highly specific albeit duly contained material means to a formal end: Or of Andrew Greenwald – Perhaps they fail to fully mine the communicative and collaborative implications, the formally staged perceptual shifts possible in a highly physical albeit materially reductive idiom: It being a work of Charlie Sdraulig at hand. Whatever the case may be, the truism that the task of the ‘good’ composer wishing to effectively address such compositional issues whilst hoping for ‘good’ performers is to make these questions unavoidably clear and to in-fact begin the act of answering selfevidently in the score itself, deserves in this new case of physical-thematicization a longer-than-customary nod towards the interpretive responsibility acutely entailed by such a project. Exceeding commitment and interest, here what is needed is an interpretive desire to carry across, above the roar of the spectacular inherent in physicality, an interpretive reaching towards the centre of the work at hand. It is possible to envelop un-deciphered spectacle in the musicianship of great performers. This must be brutally recognized, however ‘musically-fulfilling’ it may seem to be, by both composer and performer as only an alluring evasion of the attempt to reach that which is inscribed into the work’s centre. It is in the field of tension between this centre and the interpreter’s striving that great performances occur.
In directly addressing the described intersection of the physical fact of
performance and the composed register of physicality, composer, performer and
listener are left between an avalanche and a fingerprint – An avalanche of
physicality not-yet held at bay by the clarity of either composer or performer –
And the depths and consequence of the attempt, the fingerprint-like-uniqueness
attainable by both parties within such a paradigm. The price of such potential is
the threat of its dissolution into the obviousness and banality of physicality’s
inherent tendency towards dominance and excess. The task of charting the space between these poles lays before composers and performers prepared alike to risk clarity, embrace the attempt in its own terms, and reject the flat self-satisfaction of a ‘compelling performance of a work greatly concerned with matters of physicality.’ One insists on the fingerprint against the avalanche – And then insists again.