Vincent Meelberg - Perform Now! Musical Performance as Affective, Disruptive Practice
(last edited: 2016)
author(s): Paulo de Assis, Vincent Meelberg
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Vincent Meelberg | Radboud University Nijmegen, NL, and Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Leiden and The Hague, NL
Day 3, 11 November, Orpheus Auditorium, 9:30-10:00
Musical performance is an encounter. It is an encounter between sounds, bodies—both human and otherwise—and ideas. All these actants are affected by this encounter, just as the encounter itself is influenced by the actants involved. Consequently, this encounter co-determines how the performance will continue. Put differently, an encounter is disruptive: it disturbs the actants’ state of rest and incites them into action, into doing something that they did not intend to do before the encounter.
Gilles Deleuze suggests that disruptive encounters between bodies, objects, sensations, and thoughts can be conceptualised in ethical terms. He asserts that bodies and thoughts can be defined as capacities for affecting and being affected. For Deleuze, ethics is the study of the relations of speed and slowness, of the capacities for affecting and being affected that characterise each thing. These things can be anything: an animal, a body of sounds, a mind, or an idea. According to Deleuze, this amounts to an ethics of joy, in which the production of joy is a positive expansion of affective capacity, while sadness is a negative stagnation of feeling.
In my presentation I will propose that a musical performance, being a disruptive encounter itself, also always has an ethical dimension. Through an analysis of a performance by my free improv trio Molloy, I will argue that musical performance is an act that infringes the autonomy of the performers, instruments, and sonic bodies. Because of its intrusive nature, it is a performance that influences the capacity of these bodies to undergo joy.
I will analyse the recording of a collective improvisation by Molloy as well as my own and my fellow band members’ impressions of this performance, using autoethnography and interpretative phenomenological analysis. In this investigation I will focus on interaction: interaction between performers, performers and instruments, sounds and performers, sounds and instruments, and so on, and the manners in which these interactions contribute to the improvisation as it develops during performance. As these interactions are responsible for the infringements on the autonomy of all actants, human and non-human, that are involved in the performance considered as encounter, a proper examination of these interactions may lead to a greater understanding of what musical performance is, or can be.
My aim is to demonstrate the productivity of Deleuze’s theory of ethics in the analysis of musical performance. Following authors such as Suzan Kozel (2007) and Anthony Uhlmann (2009, 2011), and building on the ideas I introduced in Meelberg (2011), I will argue that interaction is the core of those encounters we call performance, and that Deleuzian ethics is able to articulate the specificity of the interactions that constitute a performance. Conversely, I will suggest that musical performance may be a very productive means to teach us what ethics is really about. It is about the way we human subjects deal with encounters between bodies, ideas, sounds, and minds, and vice versa.
First of all, I would like to thank the peer reviewers for their valuable comments. And since JAR offers the authors the possibility to publicly respond to the reviews, I would like to address some the issues raised by the peer reviewers.
The question whether Moving to Become Better is a composition or an exercise is an interesting one. Since my performance practice mainly concerns improvised music, I don't really make a clear distinction between musical performance, musical investigation and musical experimentation. I don't expect the audience to do so, either. Failing, or the risk of failing, is an intrinsic part of improvised music. Hence, I am not afraid that the audience would perceive the disappearance of the groove as a mistake or a bad thing, but only as an interesting musical event (but perhaps I'm too idealistic or naieve here). So yes, it could be considered an exercise (although I would prefer the term "experiment"), but an audience used to improvised music would probably not mistake it as "failed" music.
Furthermore, I find it surprising that Taina Riikonen believes I treat the body as a surplus. I would say that my account verges on suggesting the opposite: that cognition is a surplus. I don't really understand why she arrives at that conclusion, but I do agree with her that an elaboration of embodied methods would be preferrable, and that a stronger focus on bodily interaction, and on the question "what does the body do," would be welcome. This is something I plan to do for a future project.