Groove as Embodied Performance
While the process of composing Moving to Become Better can be regarded as an investigation into the possibilities to create, in the musical score, possibilities for groove to emerge, the actual groove won’t present itself until the piece is performed. After all, groove is the result of a particular interaction between musical sounds created by one or more musicians. It is also something that is greater than the sum of its parts, i.e. the individual contributions of the performers and/or the individual sounds that together constitute a groove. Moreover, the sonic entity that results from this interaction no longer belongs to, the musicians’ individual bodies. Instead, it is another, transcending, vibrating body that will interact with the human bodies it originated from. Peter Szendy calls this phenomenon the ‘airealisation’ of a performer’s body (2002: 128). A vibrating, sonic body is produced by musicians, with their own bodies — indirectly, by playing an instrument — while these same vibrations act as sonic entities that are separated from the musicians’ bodies, but which, in turn, can affect those very same musicians. The musicians’ movements — the playing of their instruments — are transformed into sonic movements which in turn can affect listeners, but also the musicians themselves. 
The performance of Moving to Become Better by my trio Molloy, with Jasper den Hertog on keyboards and sampler, Marc Huisman on drums and me on electric upright bass, makes the phenomenon called airealisation explicit. Take for instance the moments in which a groove is established by all three musicians after a phase that did not groove, such as after the termination of the groove by the drummer in scene 3 and the establishment of a groove on the basis of a loop in scene 6. During these moments I no longer seem to have conscious control over my body, my limbs, my facial expression. Instead, it seems as if I am subjected to an experience which Szendy describes as ‘an infinite number of phantom limbs that are performing a sensational wild dance’ within my body (2002: 12). My fellow musicians acknowledged that they experienced similar effects. By making music, performers create vibrations in sonic and human bodies, including their own. At the same time, they escape their own bodies — or, more precisely, their bodies escape them — and phantom limbs take over control — all as a result of creating vibrations and being affected by those very same vibrations. Is it still me that is playing the music, or is the music playing me?
The sonic vibrations in Moving to Become Better are created by three musicians. This means that there are many bodies, both human and sonic, that have to be reckoned with during the performance. Guerino Mazzola and Paul B. Cherlin (2009) explain that making music with others requires gestures that bind the actions of the performers, just as it requires listening to all musical participants. Ensemble playing consists of corporeal imitation and variation. The musicians are influenced by each other's movements. Playing music together not only means paying attention to the sound each performer makes, but also coordinating each other's bodily movements. Making music with others is thus not only a temporal affair, but a spatial activity as well.
This physical attuning is also very important in the performance of Moving to Become Better. In scene 3, for instance, it was not only important to listen to the drummer in order to figure out what he was going to play next, but also to actually watch him play and change the mood of the music. By looking at the drummer it becomes possible for the keyboard player and myself to almost predict the new groove that he intended to play next. 
Another example of the importance of physical attuning between musicians during the performance of Moving to Become Better are the musical cues in scenes 3, 5, and 6. Even though these cues are designed to be easily recognizable by ear, musicians often prefer to play with them: to suggest these cues, but not actually execute them. In the performance of this piece by Molloy, the keyboard player in particular created such allusions. In these cases a visual/physical confirmation of whether or not the actual cue is played was necessary.
Watching each other's bodily movements also proved essential during other, rather unexpected, moments in the performance of the piece; namely in scenes 4 and 7, in which the themes are played. Because the rhythm of these themes are so irregular and are played without the drums, it was necessary to watch each other carefully in order to correctly play the phrases in unison. Just counting and playing the score was insufficient to achieve this. Here, musical synchronization was only possible by means of physical synchronization. We needed to be able to feel, or rather, to be moved by each other's physical movements to be able to properly execute the phrases in unison.
One provisional conclusion that could be drawn from this observation is that physical/visual contact is even more important when playing music that does not exhibit an explicit groove. Moreover, it could even be argued that the physical aspect of musical performance is so explicitly present in musical groove itself that additional observation of the performer’s physicality is not necessary in order to play together in a proper fashion. Put differently, physical attuning is a necessary precondition for correctly performing, together with one or more other musicians, music that is rhythmically too complex to groove; whereas physical attuning is an unavoidable consequence of music that exhibits an explicit groove. The creation of the groove in scene 1 resulted in synchronized bodily movement between performers, but the performance of the themes in scenes 4 and 7 necessitated the proper perception of the bodily movements of the other instrumentalist with whom these themes are played.
Rolf Pfeifer and Josh Bongard (2007) show that musicians are indeed literally moved by the movements of their fellow musicians. They remark that human subjects have so-called mirror neurons that fire when a subject performs a movement or observes a movement in another subject. Performing actions and observing actions activate the same brain areas. Watching movement thus can lead to sensing this movement within the subject’s own body, as if the subject is actually performing this movement.
This is also the case when it concerns musical performance. When musicians are watching their fellow musicians perform, they are able to sense these musicians’ movements within their own body, because of the way their mirror neurons function. The physical movements of their fellow musicians are literally felt within their own bodies.
Moreover, the body is also included because it kinaesthetically senses the gestures produced by the musical sounds. It feels the music by sensing its dynamic and temporal flow. The body mirrors the movement of the music. Sonic vibrations are transformed into bodily movements that can be felt. This is corroborated by Marc Leman (2007), who suggests that sound literally does something with the listeners’ bodies. These bodies kinaesthetically sense, and subsequently process, the dynamics and the physical properties of sound and music. Thus, these bodies are literally moved by musical vibrations; they kinaesthetically move along with the movement of sound. Perhaps the phantom limbs that Szendy discusses, which can be produced by music that grooves, might actually be generated by the firing of mirror neurons.
I tried to create such a kinaesthetic sensation in Moving to Become Better. As I explained above, the bass line is composed by imagining how it would feel when it was played and listened to. It was my intention to elicit in the listener the movements I felt when writing the music, to create a series of sonic vibrations that in turn are able to set human bodies in motion. And of course, these sonic vibrations can only be created by performers who, through their movements, produce these vibrations.
According to Gilles Deleuze (1988), all these vibrating bodies — the sonic, the listeners’ and the musicians’ — have the capability to affect each other. Sounds are created by musicians, these sounds affect listeners and musicians alike, and this influences the creation of future sounds. Moreover, witnessing, both aurally and visually, my fellow performers playing under the spell of phantom limbs can be in itself highly influential. It changes the relation between the performers and the music. Watching and hearing my fellow musicians play induces movement in myself, and the same holds for the other musicians, who report similar experiences. It emphasizes the physical character of music and maximizes the affective capacities of the musical performance.
Towards an Ethics of the Groove
The artistic research conducted by performing Moving to Become Better suggests that performers are not always in full control when it concerns musical groove. Both the musical sounds as well as the presence of other performers influence and effect their actions. The question then arises how performers should react to these influences. On the one hand, one might argue that it is the performer’s responsibility to sustain a groove once it emerges. To accept this musical phenomenon that is created by the interplay of musical sounds and gestures and to go along with its flow. However, a groove cannot continue indefinitely. At some point a performer has to decide to terminate it. But when and how? And what should come next? In short, in what ways is a performer supposed to engage with the sonic sensation called groove?
Deleuze suggests that encounters between bodies and sensations (such as music) can be conceptualised in ethical terms. Here, ethics is not considered in terms of morality, but conceived as ethology instead. It is ‘[...] the study of the relations of speed and slowness, of the capacities for affecting and being affected that characterises each thing’ (Deleuze 1988: 125). These things can be anything, Deleuze explains: ‘[...] an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea’ (1988: 127). Bodies and thoughts can be defined as capacities for affecting and being affected. Referring to Baruch de Spinoza, Deleuze asserts that everything that increases or enhances the subject’s power to act is good, whereas everything that diminishes it is bad. As Deleuze explains, the power to act is a positive expansion of affective capacity and therefore a ‘good’ thing is one that enables the body to be affected in a greater number of ways (1988: 71). A bad thing, on the other hand, results in a decrease of the power of acting, and is therefore a negative stagnation of feeling (1988: 72). Anything that inhibits a body’s ability to be affected is bad. This amounts to what can be called an ethics of joy, with joy understood as a maximisation both of the capacities for being affected and of the possibilities for establishing any kind of connection between the affecting and affected bodies.
This means that a ‘proper’ attitude is one of openness. Openness, exposing oneself to influence, contributes to the enhancement of the possibilities to be affected and thus can be considered as ethically good. At the same time, however, this openness to affection implies vulnerability, a vulnerability towards intensities that affect the body.
According to Barry Hoffmaster, this vulnerability has its own ethical consequences: ‘All human beings are born into vulnerability and remain vulnerable for some time [...] Moreover, our universal vulnerability resonates with moral significance. For one thing, it is our very vulnerability that creates the need for morality’ (2006: 43). Alasdair McIntyre (1999) adds that the vulnerable body is the basis of all ethical thought. Consequently, vulnerability, the condition to be able to be affected, is in itself already ethically laden. Thus, musical experience can be productively approached from an ethical perspective, since it is an event that acts on and affects the performers’ vulnerable bodies, while it is exactly this vulnerability that enables music to affect them through musical phenomena such as groove. 
Musical groove acts on the vulnerable bodies of performers, as it is a phenomenon that infringes the autonomy of these bodies. This implies that groove can be considered as an intruder. As Jean-Luc Nancy explains, ‘[the intruder’s] coming does not stop: he continues to come, and his coming does not stop intruding in some way: in other words, without right or familiarity, not according to custom, being, on the contrary, a disturbance, a trouble in the midst of intimacy’ (2008: 161). A groove is a disturbance, one that transforms normality into an extraordinary situation by violating the autonomy of the bodies of performers by stimulating these bodies to move. A groove intrudes in perhaps the most intimate place performers can inhabit: their own bodies.
Since the effect that groove has on performers is involuntary, inescapable, and at the same time highly influential on them, musical groove can be regarded as a characteristic that makes up the ethical aspect of music. If, as Deleuze does, one defines bodies and thoughts as capacities for affecting and being affected, encounters between bodies and sonic sensations can be considered in ethical terms. Groove is an aural phenomenon that enhances the music’s affective capacity. Moreover, it is a sonic intrusion that makes use of the vulnerability of the listeners’ and performers’ bodies. Performers, for their part, are enticed to react in some way or another to the groove. It is impossible for them to ignore the influence caused by musical groove and they need to do something in response to this. According to Deleuze’s ethics of joy one should always strive for a maximisation of the capacities for being affected. Consequently, in this view performers should try to be open to the influence of the groove and try to establish some kind of connection with this sonic phenomenon. They should try to act faithfully to the intrusive sonic event.  They should try to accept this event and explore its otherness, its idiosyncrasy. They should move along with the groove created by the music and enjoy the power this music has to move their bodies. If they refuse to do so, the music will almost literally be pointless to them.
Or is it? Even though Moving to Become Better is all about the groove, a large part of this composition consists of moments in which the groove is supposed to be resisted, at least by one or more performers. Therefore, the point of this piece might just as well exactly be the resistance to the groove. Moreover, if the maximisation of influence is the goal, the termination of a groove can also contribute to this end, for terminating a groove can be highly influential in itself. Also, the tension between grooving and non-grooving instruments can be influential, as happens for instance in scene 5. In this scene the bass is supposed to resist the groove while improvising, whereas the drums and keyboards play the groove from scene 1. This creates tension on at least two levels, which in both cases can be very effective, especially for the performers themselves. Firstly, the (rhythmical) tension between the bass improvisation and groove created by the keyboards and drums. Secondly, the tension within the bass improvisation itself to resist joining the groove. It seems almost impossible to completely ignore the groove and not go along with it. There were moments in the performance where I, as the bass player, could not resist this temptation any longer and I just had to groove along with my fellow musicians. Sometimes this happened without me being consciously aware of it. The groove simply seemed to intrude into my playing and alter it. Only after I had realized that I was actually grooving while I was not supposed to be, did I try to change the improvisation in order to avoid the groove again. In short, I was not supposed to be hospitable to the intrusion of the groove. Still, this does not mean that there was no affective response. Quite on the contrary, at least for me, the bass player, these moments were highly affective, sometimes even more so than the affects getting into the groove might elicit. Thus, not being hospitable is not necessarily unethical in a Deleuzian sense.
The same holds for the keyboard improvisation in scene 2, only here the improviser is supposed to slide in and out of the groove. Consequently, the tensions and affects experienced by the keyboard player are different. In this case the freedom to choose how to relate to the groove diminishes the affects that going with or against the groove may elicit.
One of the most affective aspects of Moving to Become Better remains the groove and its intrusive character. And we, the performers of this piece, are very well aware of this. Consequently, we know we have a responsibility to create and support this groove whenever the music calls for it. This responsibility weighs heavy on the performers, for instance, at the beginning of the piece. I, the bass player, need to be able to groove right from the start. Also, the keyboard player needs to find the proper moment to join the bass. Moreover, there is always the risk of inadvertently terminating the groove established by the bass through imprecise playing or entering at the wrong moment. The same holds for the drummer, who has the additional responsibility to not only enter at an appropriate moment, but also with an appropriate drum pattern.
Once a groove is successfully set, at some point it needs to finish. But when, and how? How to satisfactorily end the influential intrusion called groove? A groove starts at some point, and this beginning arouses the desire to experience it from the beginning onwards. The beginning elicits desire, the desire to undergo the groove until the end. To paraphrase Peter Brooks, the beginning is desire and this desire is, ultimately, the desire for the end (1982: 284). But when and in what way, this end should come, is the responsibility of the performers. The performers of Moving to Become Better need to face this question at several moments, for instance in scene 3, where the drums decide when the groove ends, or scene 6, where this is the task of the keyboard player.
With regard to beginning and ending, Brooks recognizes a parallel between narration and life: ‘All narration is obituary’, he contends, ‘in that life acquires definable meaning only at, and through, death’ (1982: 284). Life is finite, and because it is finite and thus has an end, it has meaning. Hence, death is the final reason life makes sense. Yet, Brooks stresses in reference to Sigmund Freud, that the human subject is not supposed to achieve this ultimate meaning-giving moment too soon. Living organisms instinctively head towards death, but only in a way that is proper to them. So, it must neither be reached too quickly, nor in a way which does not suit them (1982: 290-291). Similarly, a groove only has the impact it has because it terminates at some point, because it is something out of the ordinary and not a phenomenon that is permanently present. But this end must not come too soon, otherwise the groove cannot have a genuine affective, intrusive impact, and thus act as a proper ethical musical phenomenon.
This project posed the following question: What are the mutual influences of groove and the performance of musicians? In order to answer this question, the project started with a study of existing theories on groove. This study suggested that groove is about musical and bodily movement, that it depends on rhythmic regularity and repetition and that a certain degree of musical, rhythmic tension is necessary. These outcomes were incorporated in the compositional process of Moving to Become Better, which was an artistic research into the possibilities to create, in a musical score, opportunities for groove to emerge. This investigation showed that it is vital to imagine how the music would literally feel, both to the listener and to the musician who performs the music, in order to write music that is supposed to groove. Moreover, this also holds for music that should be as non-grooving as possible.
The performance of Moving to Become Better was an artistic research into the mutual influences of groove and musical performance. This research indicated that performers are not always in full control when it concerns musical groove, since both the musical sounds and the presence of other performers influence and affect their actions. Finally, the outcomes of this research were discussed within the theoretical context of embodied Deleuzian ethics. In this way it was possible to articulate the responsibility musicians have to instigate or resist a groove, to discuss the extent to which performers can control the groove, but also how the groove, as an intrusive phenomenon, is able to control the performers. Here, too, affecting and influencing proved to be key notions. Musicians should maximise the influential potentialities of music, and establishing a groove is a very effective way to do so. However, resisting or terminating a groove can also exert infuence, sometimes even more so than instigating or sustaining a groove, depending on the musical context.
The artistic research was crucial to this project. Not only did it provide the ‘data’ that could be interpreted within a theoretical context, it also enabled me to properly assess theories on musical groove. Moreover, the artistic research prevented me from making claims about the relation between groove and musical performance that were unfounded. My conclusions regarding the ethical aspects of musical groove, in particular, although speculative in themselves, have gained considerable support from the experiences obtained by performing Moving to Become Better, a piece that offers the performers the opportunities to experiment with groove.
Ultimately, this composition can be regarded as an exploration of sonic and human movement, and interaction. It is an study into the ways in which performers engage with sound, as well as the possibilities sound has to influence, and perhaps even manipulate, performers. One of the most effective ways in which sound can achieve this is by establishing a groove.
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