1. My use of the term 'framing' here is very different to Auslander’s use of frames.

“The New Discipline” is a term used by Irish composer Jennifer Walshe in her 2016 manifesto-like text of the same name. Walshe uses the term New Discipline to connect musical compositions with very different interests and features but that all share a common root in the visual, theatrical and physical whilst being musical works (Walshe, 2016). New Discipline has become a point of reference for many in both the artistic and academic fields and is quite well known as an idea. The notion is mentioned and explained in articles by Moniker Voithofer and Marko Ciciliani for example yet there seems to be very little critique of the text itself. It may be that because the work is so short and only published in the programme of Borealis Festival of 2016 that it has not received special scrutiny from the community.

Whilst I do not wish to make it the focus of this research, examining New Discipline in this chapter serves two functions: it becomes the primary context for much of the artistic result of the project and it provides a contextual base for much of the critical reflection. In the following chapter many of the key areas of research, theory, and concepts that underpin my research project as a whole will be mentioned and introduced.

I consider myself a composer whose way of working can be understood within the “framework” that is New Discipline, where “the physical, theatrical and visual aspects [are] as important as the sonic.” (Walshe, 2016). I define myself as a composer-performer, which is a term that I adopted after taking part in the composer-performer workshop at Darmstadt International Ferienkurse Für Neues Musik 2016 led by Walshe and David Helbich. Although Walshe does not mention the idea of the composer-performer specifically, she writes that: “the New Discipline is located in the fact of composers being interested and willing to perform, to get their hands dirty, to do it themselves, do it immediately” (Walshe, 2016). The term means that a creator will create work in which they will also perform. This means that as I discover my strengths, dispositions and interests, I create accordingly. Because of this, I am able to test out ideas immediately rather than having to wait on another person, perhaps an instrumentalist or an ensemble to explore my work in a workshop situation. In this way, I can rehearse as part of the compositional process, whereas rehearsals are typically meant for preparation for performance. This feature makes the composer-performer practice, primarily when creating work for myself, a reflexive one; it is on a continuum. 

I use my Drag film “The First Ladies” (2020) as an example of this. The concept for this piece was to put the US Presidential wives into dialogue with each other by performing as them and lipsyncing to audio taken from interviews and speeches As I rehearsed and watched myself practice on video, different roles were clarified and sedimented, and through my physical exploration the compositional idea of distinct characters became fortified. Only through doing was I able to fulfil my initial concept of distinct characters. I discovered how the characters including Jackie Kennedy, Hilary Clinton, Laura Bush, Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and Nancy Regan would sit in my body. 

I began from the position of using politics as material and attempting to embody the women by giving them a realistic rendering. What I discovered through doing this was that I had adopted the language of Drag in order to drag politics, which left the idea of a truthful impersonation behind in favour of a hyperized caricature. This shift pulled the focus of the work, the material and my conception of the performance, of what I was doing, to be as much about gender as politics. Makeup of course helped distinguish the characters and effected how I performed each of them. After completing the makeup using a mirror and donning my different costumes, I filmed myself performing and watched what I had just recorded back, in order to make improvements. The person I saw was of course me; they moved as I had done and were doing the actions that I had just performed. However the resemblance was uncanny because it looked like someone else. The makeup had a similar effect to masks when used in theatre. Not only do they help distinguish characters but also in the case of Lecoq’s neutral mask for example, the mask disconnects the performer from the past and future and anything else that is not that exact moment. For me it created a pregnant space or “vacuum” of possibility that my own likeness does not produce (Yarrow & Chamberlain, 2002, p.76). I filmed each character as I went and so my execution of the makeup improved over the course of the two-week filming period.


I describe this aspect of the practice, this play between a composition and performance-preparation as reflexive: much of the preparation for the performance of this work was compositional in the same way that much of the compositional thought was clarified through the preparation for its performance(s). Periods of creating and rehearsing are not easily distinguishable. I have tried to demonstrate this using the diagram below.

In this way, Walshe has been important for my development and I am grateful for her contribution to the field. My wish is that through offering my critique of “The New Discipline”, I make clear my position in relation to it and I clarify its ideas and powerful message, not only for myself but for the field. I will discuss its shortcomings too; it is a text that is so often mentioned and cited without very much discussion. Below, using Walshe’s own words, I introduce the New Discipline and then I outline my key points to address that will structure this chapter: 

“The New Discipline is a way of working, both in terms of composing and preparing pieces for performance. It is not a style, though pieces may share similar aesthetic concerns. Composers working in this way draw on dance, theatre, film, video, visual art, installation, literature, stand-up comedy.” (Walshe, 2016). 


“Examples of composers working in this way include: Object Collection, James Saunders, Matthew Shlomowitz, [Neo] Hülcker, François Sarhan, Jessie Marino, Steven Takasugi, Natacha Diels, myself.” (Walshe, 2016).


2. Confronting different discourses 

3. Content or what musicians do

4. Rigour v.s. Amateurism 

5. Is it really about the body?

6. Interdisciplinarity

7. Why (Music) Theater?

8. The future that New Discipline creates


Nicholas Cook uses the term “New Discipline” to a completely different end to Walshe in “Music as performance: Beyond the score”. He uses it as a way to describe the new understanding that, after Barthes and Foucalt, the responsibility for production of meaning has shifted from the author to the interpreters including performers, and spectators and so this required a new focus of academic study (Cook, 2014). He cites Richard Schechner’s essay on the need in education and academia to not limit the study of performance to the performing arts, that: “Performing arts curricula needs to be broadened to include courses in performance studies. What needs to be added is how performance is used in politics, medicine, religion, popular entertainments, and ordinary face-to-face interactions.” (Schechner, 1988, p.5).

Erika Fischer-Lichte supports this idea: “the realms of art, social life, and politics cannot be clinically separated in performance.” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.51). Fischer-Lichte uses “New Discipline” in a similar way to Cook to describe the establishment of a new focus on performance - theatre studies in Germany - as an object of study within a discipline that had previously ignored performance and focussed instead on text (Fischer-Lichte, 2008). Barbara Bolt uses the term New Discipline in relation to the rise of artistic research as a new paradigm for research in this century (Bolt, 2016). 

Philip Auslander describes a situation where the study of musical performance is in a way without a home in musicology. Similarly by virtue of it being musical it has no place in the study of performance from the perspective of theatre either (Auslander, 2021). This is an interesting place from which to begin to talk about the New Discipline, which is described as a practice for the composition and performance of works that no longer use solely musical language. As well as being a term that is in use in neighbouring and relevant fields, I will show that the idea is already rooted in the discourse of WAM and has been for more than half a century. The Performative Turn is a significant idea to this entire RP but particularly to understanding a longer-term context for the New Discipline. Fischer-Lichte writes: “Overall, Western art experiences a ubiquitous performative turn in the early 1960s, which not only made each art form more performative but also led to the creation of a new genre of art, so-called action and performance art. The boundaries between these diverse art forms became increasingly fluid.” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.18).

Fischer-Lichte continues to say that the Performative turn in music had already “set in by the early 1950s with John Cage’s events and pieces. Here, audio-events consisted of a variety of actions and sounds - especially those produced by the listeners themselves - while the musician, for example the pianist David Tudor in 4’33’ (1952), did not play a single note.” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.20). In the 1960s, composers increasingly began to write instructions for movements into their scores. The performative nature of concerts came into focus. New terms were brought in including: “‘scenic music’ (Karlheinz Stockhausen), ‘visual music’ (Dieter Schnebel), or ‘instrumental theatre’ (Mauricio Kagel), often coined by composers. These approaches to the concert event posited a new relationship of musicians and listeners.” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.20). 

Composer Stefan Prins is quoted in Ciciliani’s paper claiming that the tools with which we build our practice have radically changed, not just a little, but enormously. Prins writes this is in relation to Helmut Lachenmann’s idea, quoted by Ciciliani, that when one composes, one must first build an instrument anew: “In 1986 Helmut Lachenmann published the text “Über das Komponieren”, in which one sub-chapter is titled “To compose means: to build an instrument.” (Ciciliani, 2017, p.24).


Ciciliani continues to say that Prins revisited Lachenmann’s analogy where orchestral instruments act as building blocks for this metaphorical instrument and questioned whether the building blocks of today are different. Prins concludes that: “Today, this metaphorical instrument no longer merely consists of an orchestra, a piano, saxophone or tape recorder, but includes laptops, game-controllers, motion sensors, webcams, video-projectors, midi-keyboards, internet protocols, search algorithms ... This novel meta-instrument obeys a different kind of logic; it creates different fields of tension; it has different possibilities and different implications; it creates different material and asks new questions. It is urgently in need of other modes of presentation and requests other approaches by composers.” (Ciciliani, 2017, p.25).

I tend to agree that now more than ever, composers have such a variety of musical and non-musical tools at our disposal. My own practice comprises a long list of roles and skills - things that on their own would comprise an individual person’s entire career - such as video editor, sound mixer, fundraiser, video colourist, event producer etc. Monika Voithofer remarks on this too: “It follows from this that, for composer-performers who work with different media and with materials that require extended performance practices in contemporary music, it is no longer enough to learn the ‘craft’ of composing; over and above this, it becomes necessary to acquire a mass of other technical skills, such as the use of video editing software, VJ tools, film cameras, stage and lightning technology, programming, working with microprocessors or even soldering auto-didactically.” (Voithofer, 2018).

Andy Ingamells is a composer whose practice can be understood through the idea of the New Discipline. On its newness he remarks that the idea is not intended to supersede anything or be better than anything else, it is simply like new neighbours moving into the house next door (Ingamells, 2016). With Prins, Ingamells supports the idea that things like Facebook have changed the landscape but Ingamells also writes that this newness is not purely signposted by technological development: “‘New’ in this context could also refer to an intense focus on an everyday activity, looking at it anew. For instance, what rhythm do you make as you type your Facebook password? Is it the same every time? Can you repeat it ten or a hundred times? Can you do it with your toes? Would you like to work with other people to take this idea and make it into an activity that holds your attention for an hour?” (Ingamells, 2016, p.1). 

Ingamells continues to say that the ‘new’ refers to a passion for newness, describing those interested in work that the New Discipline addresses have an interest in the Twentieth Century avant-garde(s) because those people were also interested in the new. Whereas those working in the avant-garde “smashed down the artistic barriers”, the New Discipline plays in the rubble and builds from it; technological advances are not the only “representatives of newness” (Ingamells, 2016, p.1). Instead, Ingamells claims that sincerity is the key to this type of work, that it is much more nuanced and interested in the changing world and forces our physical, emotional and intellectual capacities to adapt (Ingamells, 2016, p.1). For Ingamells, the same rigour could be applied to an activity like typing a Facebook password as practising the violin for a concert: “All musical performance is a disciplined action of some kind, so why limit these disciplined actions to just operating musical instruments?” (Ingamells, 2016, p.1). 

Walshe makes it clear that we, as creators and performers must adapt through learning new skills and that we are taking on new roles like director or choreographer: “In the rehearsal room the composer functions as a director or choreographer, perhaps most completely as an auteur.” (Walshe, 2016). The use of the term Auteur is interesting because it relates to cinema, a non-live art form, whereas the others relate to theatre and dance respectively who share similar concerns of live performance with music. Auteur Theory places the director in the position of “the major creative force” in a film that grew out of mid-twentieth century French cinema (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). All visual and aural elements were overseen by the director who was more of an author of the film than the screenwriter. Plot and script were not the only means of conveying the meaning of the film, instead lighting, scene length and pace coupled with lighting and camera work contributed to a director’s style, which became recognizable across their movies. In one way we should understand this as a large collaboration between many different departments and technicians coordinated to create something expressive and spectacular. On the other hand it has a dictatorial connotation mustering an impression of a genius individual managing and overseeing every small detail of a production through suppressing the creative voices of the crew, a connotation I suspect Walshe did not intend. Sanne Krogh Groth (2018) makes a similar observation, she cites Francois Truffaut’s 1954 essay to demonstrate the claim “that a film of good quality was created by a strong director and should be an expression of the director’s intention and inner thoughts”. Groth quotes a similar essay from 1962 from Sarris’ “Notes on Auteur Theory”: “The strong director imposes his own personality on a film; the weak director allows the personalities of others to run rampant.” 


With this brief overview of the context for New Discipline, we can see that Walshe is building on a preexisting area of investigation whilst addressing the fact that those of us creating and working in 2016 are doing so in a very different landscape to Cage in 1960, for example. To use Walshe’s own words, it allows compositions that might be otherwise ghettoised as performance art and music theatre “to be viewed as differing in degrees rather than kind” (Walshe, 2016).

2. Confronting different discourses 

On composers wishing to venture into other domains, Ciciliani (2017) writes: “Certain elements which might be new in one discipline may already have been dealt with decades ago in another discipline.” An example would be: a composer is creating a piece for singers or perhaps instrumentalists and wishes to introduce choreography into the composition of the work; they then see that choreographer William Forsythe has been using dancers who also sing for many years in his productions. 

Auslander writes on genre and the idea of frames, which are essential for an audience to understand what it is that they are watching or even that they are an audience to something to begin with. Auslander (2021, p.4) writes that Bateson was the first to use the term “frame” in 1955 and it is described as consisting of messages or information “intended to order or organize the perception of the viewer”. His simple analogy is the picture frame: it tells a viewer that the thing inside the frame is to be read differently to the wallpaper surrounding it. The crucial idea is that sound must be framed as music in order to be heard as such. “Once we understand that a particular event has been framed as a performance of music, we know the terms in which we are to perceive, think about, and interpret the situation.” (Auslander, 2021, p.5). 

Auslander continues to point out that whilst many find the idea of classifying music into genres is old-fashioned, unappealing or limiting, it is actually important and the very act of classification is something that makes us human. Auslander mentions Fabian Holt’s approach to genre as one that understands its emergence as related to specific historical circumstances. For Holt, musical sounds are read as codes; things like instruments or musical structures become genre signifiers (Auslander, 2021, p.9). Auslander (2021, p.10) contends that genre is a very important frame for the reception of music owing to the fact that with genre comes the expectations for the audience of what is going to happen, the coding of the music and the assumed shared values between audience and performers.

Walshe’s writing on this topic within the text is perhaps confusing. She writes that pieces united by New Discipline “are works in which the ear, the eye and the brain are expected to be active and engaged” (Walshe, 2016). Who is expecting this is unclear. I can deduce that she is referring to the composers and performers and the audience. Whilst it is unlikely Walshe thinks the audience have this expectation, it is fair to say that as more of this kind of work is performed and seen, a genre becomes reinforced.

As mentioned, the types of works that the New Discipline unites have a precedent in Cage and Kagel as well as movements like Fluxus for example. New Discipline is contributing to this body of work and way of composing in WAM and in doing so reinforcing the genre. Within this genre, that Cage might have initiated, is a different proposition; there is a different way of ‘listening’ to the piece that requires the eyes to be open. Cage’s “Water Walk” (1959) was premiered on television in Italy and then USA and featured the composer walking about the stage, operating objects and executing tasks for the duration of the three minute piece. The audience found the performance to be completely hilarious, as evidenced by the laughter in the recording, host Gary Moore even warned Cage that the audience may laugh. Perhaps they laughed because the host framed the event in such a way.

I imagine that many of those in the audience thought the performance was supposed to be funny or even a gimmick that would not find longevity in art. This was not a concern for Cage who had devised a clear concept for the work, using objects like baths, jugs and food mixers that all had something to do with water and could be operated. He created a score containing events at specific times on a timeline. Erika Fischer-Lichte comments on Cage’s use of time brackets, that is a system of organising events and their times within the piece, perhaps in minutes and seconds, for no narrative end or intended significance. She suggests that conventionally, ‘rhythm’ remained subordinate to the plot’s logic - obviously she is speaking from a theatrical perspective - and was meant to assist structurally but since the time of Cage, rhythm has become the “guiding, superior, if not the sole principle of organizing and structuring time” within theatre and performance art (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.133).

For Cage, a pioneering Composer-performer, “Water Walk” was not a gimmick; it was something that could be repeated. It is also accurate to say that “Water Walk” represents the rupture that was happening at the time where “high art” and “low art” were becoming less distinct; where everything became potential material and maybe this is what was so surprising about it. For Paul Craenen, what we see in Cage’s ‘silent’ work “4’33”, is the presence and foregrounding of both the performer and listener in the performance situation, suddenly laid bare by the absence of music-making. Through the denial of musical composition and music-making, the body performing the music becomes ‘emancipated’ through the ‘silence’ and joins the listening body as, what Paul Craenen calls: ‘remnants’ (Craenen, 2014, p.74). This performance situation provides a fecund context, perhaps it is what Ingamells names ‘rubble’, for New Discipline.

When combining material that is physical, musical, or textual or even about performance itself, it is easy to overlook how an audience for this type of work might struggle to get all the references. It might not even be understood that a composer is referencing ideas and material from different genres and domains in the first place.

Justin Patch, who writes on music and politics, suggests slightly dogmatically that as well as possessing a keen ear, the composer must understand the representational modes and norms of their audience (Patch, 2017). Patch uses the example of composers Leopold Mozart and Ludwig Van Beethoven; both present the idea of the bird in their orchestral works through representation and invocation via a Bird whistle and Flute respectively. For Patch (2017), the composer has to successfully integrate representation creatively into orchestration, form and development such that the listener realises that they are experiencing a musical representation and integrate it into their listening.

A more recent example is the song “Spastic Hawk” (2011) by The Rubberbandits (Dave Chambers and Bob McGlynn) written in 2011. The Rubberbandits have written and recorded the song themselves. It is conventional in form with verses and chorus, a constant pulse and a clear tonal centre; it is suited to the recorded medium. Chambers by his own admission is actually drawing influence from Bill Callahan’s recording of “Teenage Spaceship” (1999) in the arpeggiated downward melody set to the word “Hawk” in the chorus (Buxton, 2020). In particular, they focussed on a moment of Callahan’s singing, particularly on his setting of the word “Stars”, and borrowed the inflection. Whereas we might expect songwriters to use lyrics, chord sequences, or melodic turns from other songs in their own, here Chambers and McGlynn have used Callahan’s vocal style in their song “Spastic Hawk”, a song that otherwise has very little in common with “Teenage Spaceship”. This can be described as an incident of intertexualiity, where Callahan’s vocal style is treated as one text that is applied to “Spastic Hawk”, another text. 

Jennifer Walshe’ piece “LANGUAGE RUINS EVERYTHING” (2013) similarly combines different texts but here texts are defined as broadly as album cover artwork, movement, words, and sound. To give a specific example, one section in the piece sees the countertenor singing text, likely written by the composer using, I suspect, Google autocomplete, whilst holding the pose from David Bowie’s “Heroes” album cover. In this brief incident, Walshe has combined singing, text from a specific process with its own meaning, and a well-known image from Pop Culture, all within the arena of a chamber music context. Musicologist Joanna Demers has a more useful term than intertextuality to explain how this technique, though interesting, can be risky.


Demers’ idea of ‘discursive accents’ describes the space where a listener of a piece of new music, for example, that incorporates ideas and references or even material from other disciplines and domains into its composition, will either understand and be able to read those references, or not (Ciciliani, 2017). As language spoken with an accent conveys meaning and provenance for the listener of the speaker, likewise much of Walshe’s work, for example, draws upon media and references outside of the traditional field of New Music with their own histories. As these different layers add up, so does the complexity of deciphering them. When deciphering fails on the part of the audience because they are simply unaware of the origins of the material being presented to them, for many the meaning is lost; instead a sea of material is experienced that seems surface.

This means that without understanding the languages, we cannot always discern the discursive accent, meaning that meaning itself is lost. Jameson describes the loss of meaning of material as “the waning of affect” (1991, p.61) in postmodern art. Here the interior emotional world of the subject is ousted for a disorienting play of surfaces. The surfaces here appear when material from a variety of domains are collided and hybridised. Many of these works which are already in the niche of WAM become more esoteric and perhaps alienating. 

Musician Danika Paskvan wrote about the composer-performer workshop performance at Darmstadt Ferienkurse 2016, an event that I performed at and she attended. She is ultimately disparaging of the event and New Discipline’s outlook that she views as “egoism, juvenile artistic limitations, and charlatanism, not to mention taking liberties with the rich social histories of those disciplines” (Paskvan, 2017). She had a strong reaction to some of the pieces in the event and wished that there had been trigger warnings about the content. Whilst I tend to disagree with Paskvan, she makes an astute point on New Discipline as a whole, pointing out that it is time to bring rigour to the consideration of the (people in the) audience and their bodies: “The New Discipline is precipitated by the discovery that performers have bodies” (Walshe, 2016); its practitioners seem to find this discovery very fruitful and inspiring. I suggest that audiences have bodies too, and that those bodies have histories and feelings of their own.” (Paskvan, 2017). She suggests that composers and performers ought to incorporate questions of sensitivity and creative ethics when creating and negotiating powerful affectual realms. This has helped me to reconsider the audience as a complex group of clusters of socially situated individual readers. Each individual’s reading is framed by shared cultural formations and coloured by their own individual experiences (Staiger, 1992). 


When composing, it is useful to consider how the new composition sits within the genre, even what genre it will sit in, and the kind of dialogue it will have with other works within the genre. It is then important to understand that this knowledge of the eventual genre that the work finds itself in does not exist abstractly, instead it is shared and part of the culture in which the performance takes place.

3. Content or ‘what musicians do’

Many of the works united by New Discipline, differing in degrees rather than kind, ask the musicians to play instruments, to play objects as instruments, to not use instruments and to execute a whole gamut of other actions and tasks. The musician’s body has traditionally remained static on stage, whether standing or seated on a chair or piano stool. The instrument, though also static, has a highly dynamic and fluid sound presence when played by the skilled musician. So what happens at the level of perception when these traditions are upset?

Cook has shown that for Schenker there was a general mistrust of performers of WAM; that they somehow got in the way. Fischer-Lichte also notes that before theatre as we know it, the text was most important and an actor should not be overly dramatic as to draw attention to their earthly bodies on stage and break the illusion. At once, simultaneously, the body of the performer was not important but also undeniably present.

Auslander highlights the long pervasive idea that performers of WAM either made technical movements or ancillary movements when they were playing. Researcher Marcelo Wanderley (2002) too uses the terms ‘ancillary gestures’ and ‘effective gestures’. Auslander cites Derek Miller as a theorist who distinguishes the two: technical gestures are considered to be the only gestures directly involved in the production as sound, such as a finger playing a piano key, while ancillary gestures communicate the performer's feeling towards the music. These have no direct relationship to sound production and therefore strictly no musical function (Auslander, 2021, p.41). Auslander (2021) points out that to insist that musical performance is focussed on sound means that only technical gestures count is to treat performance in a one-sided way by attending only to the musician’s production of sound and not to the audience’s experience of it.   

Further to this, Auslander (2021, p.42) cites a study by Michael Schutz who concluded that a Marimba note can be perceived as being sustained longer when accompanied by a long slow gesture by the percussionist rather than a short one even when the notes lengths are identical.

In reference to pianists Keith Jarrett and Glenn Gould, each known for their eccentric performance styles that included moving and singing during performance, Jane W. Davidson suggests that these movements, and idiosyncratic performatics are actually integral to Jarrett and Gould’s means of producing sound. Davidson categorises these movements as actually generative, not just illustrative as Miller would have it, for the performer to produce sound, they are vital parts of their technique: “Expressive bodily movement operates to generate in the music an immediate and communicative purpose for the performer as he/she creates the performance...generating and responding to the musical sounds in an interactive manner between self and music.” (Auslander, 2021, p.45).

Auslander, using Schutz, determines that music, especially in the context of performance, is less about sound than it is about using sound to create a particular experience within the mind of the listener. He continues: “To this end, the strategic use of visual information is no less important than the manipulations of breath control, bow position, striking angle, intonation etc.’ This suggests that the concept of instrumental technique needs to be extended to the musician’s nontechnical gestures that nevertheless shape the listener’s perception of musical sound itself.” (Auslander, 2021, p.42)

Of course it is well known that some audience members choose to close their eyes when they are attending concerts. They do this either because they have been taught to do this or have found that the actions and/or appearances of the performers stimulate and affect their perception of the music. The crucial point is that it is in the mind of the individual members of the audience where music sounds, is seen, is formed, and perceived. Christopher Small’s idea of musicking or ‘to music’ puts the emphasis on the social aspect of musical performance, as something we take part in, as performers and listeners and everything else. ‘To music’ is defined by the relationships established between all participants and these come to define our humanness as much as language and everything else that we participate in (Small, 1999).

Craenen (2014) gives the example of a melody played by an instrument, built of a rhythmic succession of pitches across time, being heard as a flowing continuous movement. For Craenen, it is because of the active participation of the listening body that such a bodily response is given, a response or even metaphor that is rooted in movement owing to its grounding in and through the body.


What we observe with New Discipline is a declaration that everything the performer does on stage is part of the work and that it always was so. Walshe (2016) writes: “Perhaps we are finally willing to accept that the bodies playing the music are part of the music, that they’re present, they’re valid and they inform our listening whether subconsciously or consciously.” Most of all, this demands that a performer’s technique should/could be extended to encompass the so-called nontechnical gestures and actually make them technical, depending on the work being prepared. This means that a performer would be in control of all aspects of their presence on stage.

With those works united by New Discipline comes a plethora of additional material and information that can and cannot be said to be rooted in music but the principle remains that all of this is perceived by the audience; the mind does not simply focus on one aspect, such as sound; it is not how human perception operates. Walshe (2016) accounts for this in describing how works connected by New Discipline “all share the common concern of being rooted in the physical, theatrical and visual, as well as musical; pieces which often invoke the extra-musical, which activate the non-cochlear.” 

So if we apply a similar approach to works that activate the non-cochlear, we can assume that the perception of the work is affected by things on stage also, not just the people performing. A good example is the use of the music stand; its presence and use creates a frame by building an expectation that there will be people reading music from them. 

As the lens widens on what exactly composers are using within their musical works, some aspects and parameters are left to chance or are at least left unconsidered. One example is the size of video projection when it is used in this kind of work. Often it is enormous and dwarfs the performer and their actions, establishing a relation that can be interpreted. It creates a perhaps unwanted surplus of meaning. In a similar way, much of the work by the composers who Walshe mentions from around 2016 is executed with a particular mode of gaze on the part of the performers. Speaking from experience, this gaze avoids the audience, indeed it situates itself over their heads and focusses somewhere in the back of the performance space. To me, I read this decision in several ways: a default, zombie, as an aversion to the audience, passive, disinterest, longing to go home etc. For accordionist and artistic research fellow Andreas Borregaard, it is important that no performance is ever passive, whether performing Walshe or a conventional Accordion Concerto (A. Borregaard, private communication, April 13, 2021). Perhaps what is important is that there never exists a neutral; everything means something, or at least everything is read. Despite these examples, what New Discipline is arguing for is a new approach to performance where things like gaze are considered and practiced; that a performer has as much dynamism and control of their gaze, for example, as they do their instrument. Gaze can then become a performative action or a performer’s control of gaze can become a performative tool. Performativity in this context means the ability and potential to create affect in performance, usually through theatrical techniques and vocabulary.

It then follows that such things should be considered new areas of material and expression. Why not take creative control, particularly from the standpoint of a composer but of the performer as well, of this enormous dimension of performance that is and has always been there?

What, if anything, does this mean for the score as a tool in this physical, visual and theatrical work? Most if not all of the composers Walshe mentions use scores, that is notation to communicate exactly what the performer is to do. Composers have found creative and adventurous ways to notate quite complex choreography and stage actions for example. I will focus on Walshe’s use of score, for brevity, and because the New Discipline is a concept ascribed to her, it follows that I use her works as exemplary.

It is hard to demonstrate a change in how Walshe created scores from before 2016 and after 2016, for instance, but it is accurate to say that at that time and since, Walshe has been creating text scores more than before. Many of her works are mapped onto a timeline using minutes and seconds, demanding the performers use a stopwatch. In the context of the composer-performer workshop at Darmstadt in 2016, Walshe spoke of the shooting-script as a structure for score-making. These are used in filmmaking and contain detailed descriptions of shots in text form as well as descriptions of audio alongside the script for the scene. With text, she is able to concisely describe tasks and actions with specificity and quickly communicate how the performer is to do them.

I cannot describe the text score as a new approach. The obvious parallel to make is with event scores from Fluxus. Contained in these event scores are simple instructions for activity that are often presented as a single sentence or two. At first glance, instructions given in works like this might seem very clear, for example “Shoes of Your Choice” (1963) by Alison Knowles is such a work:

“A member of the audience is invited to come forward to a microphone if one is available and describe a pair of shoes, the ones he is wearing or another pair. He is encouraged to tell where he got them, the size, color, why he likes them etc.” (Knowles, 1963)

It appears that the instructions are concrete but actually they are arguably vague. Who is inviting the audience member? If there is no microphone, should they not come up? What if there are no men in the audience, can it not be a man? What if he holds the shoes whilst talking? When does he stop talking? Although the rigour in the composition and performance of work like this is questionable, Fluxus represents a significant period when art broadly opened up to everyday actions and materials.

Artist Alison Knowles (Smart Museum of Art, 2012) says that “in Fluxus there are no actors. There are just people who are really trying to turn you on to enjoying the simple activities that you do every day.” This statement seems to contradict itself by suggesting that whilst no one is trying to perform, they are trying to convince also; to create an effect.

Today those working in this domain, including myself, are interested in accessing a spectrum of performance modes that we can use to specific ends. We might do this through borrowing, co-opting, practicing and imagining. There is a new interest in different performance modes and how to practice them and this is, as I see it, at the core of the New Discipline. Percussionist and researcher Jen Torrence, using Lehmann and Kirby, writes that there exists more than just acting and not acting, where acting is understood as classical acting defined by training and emphasis on the works of Shakespeare for example, but there is a huge space between these two positions: “That is to say, the many ways one can appear on stage before the complexity of actual acting skills are required. And it is, in my opinion, within the vast terrain ‘below’ that the theatrical music performer thrives. This terrain builds on a musician’s pre-existing stage crafts, and by shifts in emphasis that highlight the performer’s body, they become another kind of performer.” (Torrence, 2019).

Through learning to meet the demands of works that ask for dynamic modes of performance, presence and physicality, new skills which contribute to new practices and new bodies emerge as a result. “New Discipline offers a disciplined, rigorous approach to making and critiquing compositions where physical, theatrical and visual elements are as important as the sonic.” (Walshe, 2016). Walshe has provided a means to understand what is going on here and formulated it within the context of music.

As she has asked for performers to execute complex and rich actions on stage from memory, she has shed conventional music notation from her scores, specifically pitches and rhythms on a stave. Walshe remains reliant on the score and has successfully bent what a score is to serve her means. “SELF-CARE” (2017) is a solo work for accordionist and video commissioned by Andreas Borregaard. Walshe and Borregaard’s plan from the beginning was to remove the music-stand so that the score is not even used during performance (A. Borregaard, private communication, April 13, 2021). Parts of SELF-CARE have also been made by Andreas Borregaard through Walshe’s use of framing.1 It is fair to say that if we are looking for a piece that embodies the ethos of Walshe’s new discipline, SELF-CARE is it. The piece asks that the performer jump, shout, play, move with a variety of qualities and explore presence to name but a few things. Andreas has also written an insightful and detailed reflection on preparing the piece for performance called “Performing Jennifer Walshe’s SELF-CARE”. 

Sections in the piece are constructed from Andreas’ early improvisations during workshops with the composer (A. Borregaard, private communication, April 13, 2021). The “Precision Routine” is an example of a frame that Walshe gave to Andreas to fill, to populate with action that he had to generate. Its purpose was to create focus and intention for Andreas when taking the instrument on and off during the performance. The piece starts before Andreas has entered the performance space and his entrance is full of energy and intention. Walshe wanted to maintain this high-level of focus and intensity and, because putting the Accordion on is so automatic and everyday for Andreas, she was concerned that “the quotidian nature of [Andreas’] habitual instrument handling movements could easily break the performance flow every time the accordion is picked up” (Borregaard, 2020).  

On the “Precision Routine”, Andreas (2020) writes: “Although I initially approached the routine-development from a practical viewpoint - which movements would be big enough for the audience to perceive them? could I find movements that also had a sonic quality? which parts of the accordion would I normally check before playing? - the instruction’s emphasis on both the delicately tactile and sedimented psychological aspects of the instrument-musician relationship 1) prompted me to leave behind my fossilized habits, 2) activated my specific (perhaps tacit) accordionist knowledge to invent a completely new way to put on the instrument and 3) infused this new way with a personal significance, despite none of my meditations on “anxieties” and “tricky passages” were turned into distinct movements.”

Walshe’s (2017, p.3) instructions for this are in text-form and specific and somehow offer up possibilities for what the performer might do rather than closing them down. They are instructions for activity rather than a notated sonic result, as we understand conventionally notated music to be. They describe familiar compound actions and encourage the performer to always be present through their thought, choice, and, importantly, finding what works best for them:

“You need to put the instrument on in a very exact way. Feel the straps align with your body, the weight of the instrument distributed across your body, in very specific ways. Run your fingertips over certain parts of the instrument, check that all the buttons are there, that the registrations are as they should be. The feeling that the bellows are aligned on some psychological plane. Consciously develop and meditate on any anxieties you’ve ever had about the instrument, whether a scratch you rue ever happening or a tricky passage in a piece which was extremely difficult to master. These are acknowledged/placated in some way through this Precision Routine. This Precision Routine is something which is done smoothly and quickly, with the modality of a Navy SEAL who is checking their weapon and equipment, or an ice diver preparing to dive - there is a feeling of life being at stake, but that certain dangers can at least be averted through rigour and responsibility, through being efficient without rushing.”

Andreas (2020) shares what he does physically at the beginning of the “Precision Routine”:


  1. Stare intensely at the accordion straps. They are my first contact with the
    instrument, and I need them to flip over my shoulders unhindered in one smooth

  2. Notice how my heart rate is slowly dropping after the intense Backstage

  3. Keep bodyweight a bit to the forefoot, feeling a sense of lightness

  4. Keep a grounding direction through the heels, an up-drift along the spine
    (remembering many an Alexander Technique lesson) and a readiness to react effortlessly at the right instant (remembering the leaf leaving the twig in Eugen

Herrigel’s „Zen in the Art of Archery“)

  1.  Keeping hands still either clenching or in an about-to-grab-the-gun shape to increase

              my sensation of potential energy



This demonstrates how this kind of work can be scored and in doing so communicate a specific mode of performance. It also shows how a performer, through applying rigour, can successfully prepare for such a work that demands more from them than only playing their instrument. The score continues to act as a fixed set of instructions and tells me very little about how such a piece is composed. My conversation with Andreas gave me an impression of how the composition of SELF-CARE happened. The composition process is hidden and it is in this interesting hidden terrain where I focus my enquiry. Work such as this makes extra-musical demands of the musically-trained performer that often have nothing to do with their instrumental practice. Shouldn’t composers of this work create for the bodies of their performers as idiomatically as they might do for the performer’s instrument or even playing style? I would understand this consideration as taking a more rigorous approach. To do this, there must be rehearsal, conversation, familiarity, and intimacy. I am certain that for many composers, this is the case and that for many it is not, however, much of this is hidden from view. 


Taking SELF-CARE as an example of a musical composition that can be understood within Walshe’s framework and Andreas’ performance as a musical performance, albeit with extra theatrical elements, alongside the performance styles of Jarrett and Gould, the definition of what music is and can contain becomes much broader than before - for Auslander: “Music is what musicians do.” (Auslander, 2021, p.48).

4. Rigour v.s. Amateurism

The strongest point, for me, from Walshe’s (2016) text is this: “This is the discipline - the rigour of finding, learning and developing new compositional and performative tools.”

I have shown some ways that rigour has been mentioned in relation to this field using Borregaard, Ingamells and Paskvan. Whilst these are freshly imagined areas to bring rigour in thought that disrupt the traditions of WAM somewhat, the idea of being rigorous was already inherent in classical instrumental training. We see this manifest in the idea of instrumental practice towards a level of professional proficiency, the conservatoire, the technique and reproducing classic works over and over, itself a version of virtuosity.

Schenker has provided a framework for performers to use to prepare for performances using the score as the source of all information that could possibly be required. Cook (2014, p.35) writes: “The performance of a musical work of art can be based only upon a perception of that work’s organic coherence. Interpretation cannot be acquired through gymnastics or dancing; one can transcend ‘motive’, ‘theme’, ‘phrase’, and ‘bar line’ and achieve true musical punctuation only by comprehending the background, middleground, and foreground. As punctuation in speech transcends syllables and words, so true punctuation in music strives toward more distant goals....Consequently, the concept of background, middleground, and foreground is of decisive and practical importance for performance”. Schenker’s attitude purveyed most of the thought around classical music performance during the twentieth century. His theory was that a performer could give an excellent performance of a work if they applied a rigorous analysis to the score in preparation. This suggests that the score contains everything the performer requires in order to give a fantastic performance and even that a performance will not be great without such an (Schenker’s own) approach.

What is different about the New Discipline is that Walshe is dealing with much more than playing notes on an instrument. Specifically: “How to locate a psychological/physiological node which produces a very specific sound; how to notate tiny head movements alongside complex bow manoeuvres; how to train your body so that you can run 10 circuits of the performance space before the piece begins; how to make and maintain sexualised eye contact with audience members whilst manipulating electronics; how to dissolve the concept of a single author and work collectively; how to dissolve the normal concept of what a composition is.” (Walshe, 2016). Walshe is knowingly broad with her examples by trying to represent the spectrum of what New Discipline is setting out to encompass. Most of these examples are apart from what a score can teach or contain.

A problematic idea of Walshe’s (2016) text is that she normalises the idea of rushing. “And always, always, working against the clock, because the disciplines which are drawn from have the luxury of development and rehearsal periods far longer than those commonly found in new music. Then again, the New Discipline relishes the absence of that luxury, of the opportunity to move fast and break things.” From my own experience, both the creative process and production process is longer in the domain of theatre than music. This could be explained by the expectation in music that musicians will practice their parts alone and come to rehearsals prepared whereas most of a rehearsal process within the theatrical domain will be a collaborative group activity concerned with more than just executing the text. Often composers will also take on the role of lighting designer for example and the other roles Walshe lists like director and choreographer. Limitations on time are in some way a source of drive and motivation but to attempt theatrical work within the same time frame as an experimental music production period is to short-change the work and the performers. It would also demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the processes within the theatrical domain. Instead, Walshe ought to be arguing for more rehearsal time.

If one is to venture into another domain, then one will start out as an amateur despite being proficient in one’s own domain. Does a rigorous approach preclude a certain amount of experimentation through amateurism? Or, can you be an amatuer rigorously? Travis Just (2014, p.2) from “Object Collection” writes:  “Fallibility and amateurism are profoundly useful, even still. Anything to combat the stagnation of professionalism.” Although Just writes from the context of American Opera, I agree that amateurism can provide a rich source of energy. Amateurism is a necessary part of “finding, learning, and developing new compositional and performative tools” - what other approach is there to such an endeavour? Opponents to this idea, like Paskvan, would benefit from rethinking what an artwork is, particularly what is considered inside and what is considered outside. Travis Just introduces the idea of ‘linguistification’ in relation to his own compositional work that he calls ‘Opera’ and that draws on various genres like WAM, noise, and Rock alongside a rich text-based element delivered in various styles. ‘Language’ refers to all the text, sound, theatrical and visual elements of a work, the environment in which these elements are produced, the perception of the work by the reader or audience, along with the memory of the work (Just, 2014, p.6). 


Barbara Bolt, from her perspective as an artistic researcher, points out that training is part of the practice of being an artist. Beginning explorations in a new field almost always requires a steep curve of learning and repetition. For Bolt (2016, p.135): “It could be argued that there is no artist who precedes the repetitive practice of art (and it is repetitive). Through practice, the artist comes into being.” Bolt uses Judith Butler to also argue for the repetitive and iterative nature of being an artist at the level of process rather than in front of an audience for example - through my practice as a composer, I come into being as a composer; I am performing as a composer. Butler (1993, p.315) argues that “there is no performer prior to the performed, the performance is performative [and] the performance constitutes the appearance of a ‘subject’ as its effect.” I perform as a composer through doing the same things over and over, which are performances in Butler’s theory, and as I do this, differences are introduced with each iteration through ‘bad’ performances: “Repetition is never repetition of the same. It is always repetition of difference.” (Bolt, 2016, p.136). These normally unwelcome bad performances or pieces that we might deliver as we are becoming a composer, exploring, passing through amateurism, are what Bolt (2016) calls the source of innovation and movement. These things are part of the practice, which if viewed as performative, produces or enacts music as an effect. Looked at in this way, amateurism is not only a fact of a practice but imperative to art itself through its accidental originality and difference - imagine how the planet, let alone art, would be if we shunned amateurism. My answer to the questions I pose above concerning whether amateurism and rigour are at odds with one another is quite simple: to be rigorous in one’s practice is to embrace amateurism as part of the practice and to even consider and explore new things often, compositional tools for example, so that amateurism disrupts the practice. 

5. Is it really about the body?

Walshe mentions the body nine times in her text. Walshe lists an exciting group of artists but many of the works by this group from around 2016, in my opinion, are not yet exploring the body. While Walshe makes it clear that works which fall into the New Discipline category are rooted in the musical as well as theatrical, visual and physical, in my experience, often this remains an ideal. She, along with the composers she lists, are by and large primarily concerned with the score as an object and part of the process.


Very often, movement that a performer is asked to execute with their body or instrument is notated in the score, graphically or with text. There is a large body of work that explores the way notation can be used in this way. Composers including Lachenmann, Birtwistle, Cage, Stockhausen and Schnebel have all tried to notate movement to differing degrees and varying amounts of success. Notation here often falls short of what is required from it, namely detail and quality, and is a wholly composerly approach. There exists ‘Labanotation’ to notate choreography, pioneered by Dance theorist Rudolf Laban, but this system is by no means ubiquitous amongst Dance companies across the world and can certainly not be sight-read in performance like musical notation can be. 

My own approach would be not to notate movement. Instead I favour a technique similar to Walshe where she uses reference videos that the performer can study. Videos here are a more reliable source of information than still images, which leads to a binary approach to composing movement. This creates results that resemble something more like freeze frames or semaphore; positions and shapes rather than movement across time. It is difficult to present video within a conventional score however. Later in this RP I elaborate on my own use of video scores as well as my ‘framing’ method for devising that works with the bodies, differences and creativities of my colleagues in the creation of their own movement.

The composers Walshe lists, I assume, by and large create some kind of score before beginning to rehearse. The act of score-writing means the composer has already imagined the final production and probably the ending without the musicians having performed a single gesture. It imagines stage instructions, volume, things that would not be known until it was rehearsed in its place of performance. So these works are as much about composition itself rather than, say, the body. In fact, this process that is representative of a lot of the composition in this field does not take the bodies of the performers into account in any substantial way.

Another trend, perhaps crutch, and contradiction I observe from the output of the composers she mentions, particularly around the time Walshe’ text was published, was the composer’s reliance on ‘props’ and furniture, such as music stands, chairs, tables, and microphone stands carried over from the world of concert music.


Steven Tagasuki’s “Sideshow” or even his “Strange Autumn” from the early 2000s are both trying to engage the audience theatrically, to bring attention to the performer, to their movements and those of the group as well as their interplay with prerecorded sound. But the composer, and perhaps the musicians, insist on blocking themselves with music stands or tables, respective to the pieces. 

James Saunders cannot really be said to be concerned with the body when the body is so limited in his work through being positioned in relation to a static table. “You say what to do” (2014) and “things to do” (2014) are examples of this. Through performing with Neo Hülcker on several projects, I have seen a change from works with performers seated behind a table, to then standing and performing in a line on stage, to then moving backwards and forwards and using more and more of the performance space. In 2019 Neo created work where the performers return to a static seated line formation. He also created a piece for himself called "What is the future other than a dream that we are able to dream right now?" where he returns to being sat behind a large table. Jessie Marino’s piece “Rot Blau” (2009) with Natacha Diels is similarly concerned with executing instructions from a score, amounting to rhythmic movement with an almost vacant performance mode. And they are sitting behind a table. 

It is Walshe’s intention for this kind of work to be received as music and the use of such furniture, like the music stand and table, helps support this by creating an expectation for the audience that what they will be watching is, in fact, music. The table can also function as an instrument or storage place for instruments. What the New Discipline states is that we need new ways to be able to do this practice, whether we are using our musician bodies or not. There are many different types of theoretical bodies that Walshe could be discussing and pointing to but it seems safe to assume that she is talking about physical bodies in space. Erika Fischer-Lichte (2008) would describe this physical body as the phenomenal body; the bodily being-in-the-world of the musician, or actor, as Fischer-Lichte is writing about in relation to their representation of their dramatic character. It is also likely that Walshe is speaking of the emancipated body performing music that emerged during the performative turn and through the works of Cage and similar. 

It is useful to mention Sarah Ahmed’s theory of Orientations with respect to musicians performing in works that ask them to move and perform theatrically, often without using or holding their instruments. A musician is orientated to their instrument and instrumental playing through repetition and acquires skills I mentioned in the introduction, like counting and playing in tune. The repetition occurs through practice and in this way, something becomes gradually familiar. To quote Ahmed (2010, p.246): “the labor of such repetition disappears through labor: if we work hard at something, then it seems "effortless." This paradox - with effort it becomes effortless - is precisely what makes history disappear in the moment of its enactment. The repetition of work is what makes the signs of work disappear.” Repetition of scales and arpeggios, of breathing, of creating certain facial expressions for difficult passages are all examples of things that a musician might tend toward because of practice. On sitting at tables, Ahmed writes: “It is important that we think not only about what is repeated but also about how the repetition of actions takes us in certain directions: we are also orienting ourselves toward some objects more than others, including not only physical objects (the different kinds of tables) but also objects of thought, feeling, and judgment, or objects in the sense of aims, aspirations, and objectives.” (2010, p.246). When approaching a musical work in a score form, a musician will “tend toward” what they know as a musician, what they have  acquired through repetition, with their musician body. A musician’s body is shaped by the history of much instrumental playing, it is “sedimented” in their body and becomes a given; a path of least resistance.

For Paul Craenen, works that foreground the body by asking the musician to execute physical actions without their instruments, for example, pull focus from sound as the primary medium, directly changing the experience for the audience. The body of the performer on stage becomes primary and immediate and a presence. “The experience of concrete presence becomes possible when the normal functioning of the musical apparatus is obstructed but the physical presence remains.” (Craenen, 2014, p.92).  Craenen also makes a useful distinction between the dancer and actor and the musical performer by pointing out that the latter is oriented towards the instrument, the second body, with which it is entangled (Craenen, 2014). Even when the musical performer is not holding their instrument - often imagined as an extension of the musician’s own body - they remain entangled together. Is the audience entangled with such things as instruments too? It would follow that they are, or at least anticipate that a performance of a piece of music will consist of people playing instruments. 

Whilst Fischer-Lichte is writing largely about actors in theatre, she also writes on Fluxus and “Action performers” like Joseph Beuys. ‘Actions’ in Beuys’ context were “heavily symbolic events that illustrated his evolving ideas about how art could play a wider role in transforming society” (Walkerart.org). It seems prudent to discuss Walshe’ work within Fischer-Lichte’s framework owing to Walshe’ interest in the body, theatricality and performativity. As I have shown with “LANGUAGE RUINS EVERYTHING” and “SELF-CARE”, Walshe draws on image-making in her compositional practice, which pulls the work into the theatrical realm, if we follow Alan Read’s definition of Theatre as: an expressive practice that foregrounds the body and involves the audience through the medium of images (Read, 1993, p.10). The performativity of this work requires that the performer at times represent someone other than themselves - like David Bowie. In these instances, the musicians become theatrical bodies, that is bodies that refer to two worlds (at least) and act as a projection field, as Craenen (2014, p,74) would say; a presence which is ambiguous by nature. If we continue on this line then we cannot ignore the performativity of the space in which such a performance is taking place.

The objects then, such as music stands and microphone stands, disrupt this theatre by tethering it back to the real world. Fischer-Lichte (2008, p.100) cites Gernot Boehme’s idea of “ecstasy of things” to describe what happens in our perception when we see objects within a piece of theatre. The ‘Ecstasy’ makes things appear as they are already but as well it shows that which is normally unnoticed in the everyday. So in this way, I understand the use of furniture from music to undermine the theatrical intention; the performativity of the works mentioned actually illuminates the ‘props’ of music in sharper definition. 

Gilles Deleuze’ concept of the ‘Body without Organs’ can give voice to Walshe’s argument. If we understand Deleuze’s ‘organism’ as the idea of the classical musician within a concert situation that brings its own frames and expectations, we can apply it to Walshe: “Deleuze’s notion of ‘organism’ is that of a form, which imprisons a body inside of a predefined organisation.” (De Assis, p.9). In this way, we see that a musician’s body is already always perceived in particular ways with attributes that include calmness, formality, and safety before a performance has begun, whilst for Walshe, the body is capable of so much more; indeed it does so much more. The calm, silent and formal demeanor, for Auslander, establishes and reinforces the frame of the concert as an exchange between performer(s) and audience where the audience is quiet and respectful. That the performer(s) present themselves as professional, implies that they are offering a specialised service that the audience cannot provide for itself (Auslander, 2021, p.98). This is one example of a system that the New Discipline seeks to disrupt and, more radically, to potentially thematise. Walshe (2016) writes on starting points: “It’s a music being written when Dada, Fluxus, Situationism etc have aged well and are universally respected. It takes these styles for granted, both lovingly and cheekily, in the same way it takes harmony and the electric guitar for granted. As starting points. As places to begin working.”


What is clear is work that activates the non-cochlear challenges the frame of music in various ways. The situation of performance as a social interaction as well as the expectations for the body of a musician’s body are used as material and sites of investigation, to name only two. Through demanding that this be understood as music, Walshe is demanding that the frame of music transform.

6. Interdisciplinarity

Musician Alexander Refsum Jensenius (2012) defines this approach for us: “Interdisciplinary: integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines, using a real synthesis of approaches.” Whilst I have tended to avoid using the word ‘discipline’ within this RP to avoid confusion with the term ‘New Discipline’, Moniker Voithofer (2018) uses the term Intermedia to describe the New Discipline: “The New Discipline is an intermedia art practice, since it integrates various media such as dance, theatre, film, video, the visual arts, installations, literature and even stand-up comedy. Music here is no longer autonomous; it is interdependent with the other[s] arts, and defiantly so.” 

Walshe prefers to avoid terms like this as Ciciliani (2017, p.24) notes: “It seems that these composers are expanding into different practices without abandoning the idea that they are actually composing music. Here is another quote by Jennifer Walshe that supports this: “I want to call this music, rather than interdisciplinary, and for us to discuss it as music.” (Ciciliano, 2017, p.24).

It would seem prudent to respect Walshe’s intentions but on closer inspection, they unravel. It follows that if this is all music, then what people like Walshe are doing is composing. In this quote from a conversation with Ciciliani (2017), Walshe talks of incorporating video into her work:“I realize the video parts in my work myself. Primarily this is because I want them to be an integral part of the composition – I wouldn’t outsource the cello part in a string quartet to someone else (unless that was the concept of the piece!) so why would I outsource the video part?” Firstly, Walshe does outsource the execution and performance of the Cello part to a Cellist. Secondly, she puts forward the argument that the video element is part of the composition, that is, the music, and everything within it has all been composed. Her argument, if we follow it through, is that when she is realizing the hypothetical video part, she is approaching it as a composer rather than a video artist or filmmaker so as not to be interdisciplinary. In my own experience, I find this not to be what really happens. When I was making my video piece “The First Ladies” (2020), I learnt to put makeup on my face using Drag technique to portray caricatures of the First Ladies of the USA. This experience was far from compositional; it awoke my memory of, and dormant technique for, painting small figurines acquired during my teenage years. I was not being a musician during this process and for this reason, I cast doubt on Walshe’s claim. I knew this because I was not awakening or activating any part of my practiced knowledge and skills that are sedimented in me through repetitive instrumental practice such as playing scales, breath control, practicing passages of music, counting or playing in tune, listening for intonation etc.

From another point of view, what seems at stake for Walshe is that she might lose hold of the piece and process if she does not use a musical approach, or if she cannot put the piece into a score. What New Discipline is proposing is that we as artists dive deep into other domains and use different starting points and methods to “to dissolve the normal concept of what a composition is” (Walshe, 2016), which could mean letting go of musical notation. 

It is useful to return to composer Travis Just’ idea of linguistification to understand how everything, be it text, music, theatre or anything else, is subject and ready to be put to use (Just, 2014, p.5). Richard Vella (1990) employs a similar tactic by reshaping the word ‘text’ to mean the argument the composer is presenting through their work. “Text does not mean words but rather the word text comes from the latin texere , to weave. Textum  came to mean the tissue or web of a thing which is woven. The texture is then anything that is woven, the quality of the weave. In other words the text is the weaving together of all the elements into a shape, fabric, form. In music this came to mean texture. The text of a book or essay is the weaving together of all the various arguments via words. In film and opera the text is the weaving of the sonic and visual via their respective technologies. Texture is the fabric, text is the argument.” (Vella, 1990). 


Both of these ideas are useful in that they provide a different “language” for decentralisation of music/sound and account for the importance of a work’s reception with an audience. It is my opinion that the deciding factors in the reception of a work are a) the framing of the performance (as music, as theatre, as dance, as Jazz etc.) and b) who is watching.

7. Why (Music) Theater?

“Why Theatre? or a Series of Uninvited Guests” is an essay written by Composer Steven Takasugi which describes the gradual foregrounding of the performer in his own compositional output. The live performer emerges in the performance space after Takasugi’s experience of having spent decades creating music for headphones, to be listened to and staged in the imagination of the cranial hall (Takasugi, 2016). The presence of the live performer amidst the music for headphones now heard from loudspeakers sets up a relation, a fiction, a theatre, as he calls it. In this fiction he observes a space where the performer, sat at a piano for example, could be said to be producing the sound and could not be. In this example we see the performing music-making body possibly referring to two worlds and this sets up the theatre.

Walshe’s point that works or modes of working united by New Discipline are music, not music theatre, is an important one. Then Walshe flips the argument around so we can see it in reverse. “Maybe what is at stake for the New Discipline is the fact that these pieces, these modes of thinking about the world, these compositional techniques - they are not “music theatre”, they *are* music. Or from a different perspective, maybe what is at stake is the idea that all music is music theatre.” (Walshe, 2016). Both ask that we reconsider what Music is at a fundamental level and I believe this to be exciting. It calls me to ask why Walshe would have all music deemed music theatre. What is special about music theatre? Or in turn, what stops all music from being music theatre?

Music Theatre is at once a loose term that can be used to define a many post-war works yet is also quite specific. In fact different sources define it in quite contrasting ways. It is separate from Opera although a part of WAM and agreed to originate, according to various sources including Riemann Musik Lexikon, The Oxford Companion to Music, and The Oxford Dictionary of English, in the 1960s. It is also agreed that most works within the genre of music theatre are for small forces in comparison to works for the Orchestra for example. Works, according to these sources, are built from elements including music, “drama”, even costume and, in the German sources, spoken and sung text. Much of this work appears on the stage rather than in the concert hall. 

It is a leap to try to view all music as music theatre especially as one is a subgenre of another and it does not account for everything beyond WAM. As I have shown through Auslander’s findings, music’s perception is totally informed and influenced by the visual dimension of music performance and in this way we could say that there is a strong theatricality to all live music, if we define theatre as a live form that uses the medium of images. But what of the ambiguous presence, where a body refers to two worlds? If we observe a String Quartet playing, we may be aware of both their concrete presence in the room, their phenomenal bodies performing the music as well as these bodies’ connection to the history of the string quartet as an idea, a plot; a narrative. The string quartet who we are watching perform, then become a projection field for all other string quartet performances that have happened. In this way we could easily understand all music as theatrical.  


So in response to Takasugi’s question, “Why theatre?”: because Theatre, as a domain,  has already thought through most of the things that the New Discipline is concerned with including the physical, visual, and importance of the body; things that music has traditionally more or less ignored. This is why Walshe would make the case for all music being understood as music theatre. The New Discipline prioritises the liveness and immediacy of the performing music-making body and demands that its physicality be considered in tandem with sound. 

8. The future that New Discipline creates

I take Walshe’s text as a public declaration of values and aims, akin to a manifesto. It is a powerful call for the future and suggests actions to take towards it rather than an account of what has happened prior to 2016. The newness of New Discipline is of course fleeting and dependent on certain criteria as I have investigated. Ingamells (2016, p.1) suggests, perhaps as a quip, that “Methodism” would have been a more appropriate name for the New Discipline owing to its emphasis on method and practice, and would also avoid the claim to newness. Travis Just writes: “There is no post-anything (-dramatic, -Fluxus, -modern), merely more work to be done in all directions. The forced construction of art-historical narratives is as trivial as the construction of dramatic narratives. The only relevant value judgment for art is whether it is productive or not.” (2014, p.3).

I find Walshe’s writing to be productive in this way; it has provided a set of values and a new paradigm that serves as a point of departure for me and many others. It has set the stage for composers to lead investigations and experiments with new material, technologies and performance modes and, importantly, to take these new elements as seriously as notated music. Gavin Carfoot writes in “Deleuze and Music” that: “Deleuze would insist that rather than asking what a piece of music means, we should ask: what does it do? What new affects does it create, what new connections does it allow?” (Carfoot, 2003, p.22).

The body of exciting works emerging from this new paradigm, trivial or not, ask and invite performers (and composers) to explore the production of a range of affects and disruptions through collisions of previously uncombined materials and new starting points. Walshe invites composers and performers to challenge themselves and extend their own practice and in doing so, it pulls power towards the performer. Performers are encouraged to explore their uniqueness and difference whilst gaining fresh skills. This skilling, or practice of skilling encompassed within the New Discipline, is pursuant to discovering how to do something more than analyse the harmonic structures of a musical score. The New Discipline sets the stage for a renewed focus on the audience and what is going on exactly for performers: contrary to music-centred perspective, Auslander and Craenen make it clear that music-making is shared with the people watching it.

It is still early days for the New Discipline and those united by it. This work has made an impact within the field and as I have shown, it has led to an investigation into just what music really is. With new material and approaches come new affective realms that we ought to have an awareness of and this is part of the rigour.

Walshe seems to want to have her cake and eat it too in as far as she argues for engaging with ideas from theatre, for example, without straying from the domain of music. She wants to create using theatrical, visual and physical elements and capture them within the score and control every part of it, which is not how those neighbouring domains operate. She defends doing theatrical work within a musical time frame and this is a big problem. This creates an approach where theatre and dance processes are only engaged with at a superficial level; this type of composition is more an exercise in harvesting and ‘co-opting’ than of realising the synergistic potentials of those domains. 

Crucially, she is saying to do all this whole-heartedly and experiment; amateurism is an important part of an artistic practice. The text has paved the way for others and helps us to understand that we need only apply our rigour, our musicianship, albeit within a different landscape. My position is that in order for work under the New Discipline banner that asks a lot physically or theatrically from the musician to be successful, it should be made with the musician’s strengths in mind and even be co-created with them. This collaborative aspect is mentioned briefly in Walshe’s text and demands something from both the composer and the performer.