Esther Perel is a Belgian psychotherapist and famously specialises in couples therapy. She was inspired to write her first book after the Clinton-Lewinski affair which was highly successful. On this experience she wrote: “I encouraged my audience to grapple with the tensions, obstacles, and anxieties that arise when our quest for love and security conflicts with our pursuit of adventure and freedom.” (Perel, 2021). 

Perel gives a very general and simplified outline of the change that has happened to romantic relationships during the modern age. Simply, a large part of the population moved from villages, which gave them “identity, continuity, and belonging” (Perel, 2015), to cities where people discovered freedom but were also more alone. Individuals now choosing partners who are like them, free from the auspices of their native communities has given rise to a new type of intimacy that is no longer bound by domesticity. Instead partners share with each other their insecurities, ambitions, secrets and fantasies. One partner seeks validation from the other partner to help them overcome their aloneness. For Boomers, that is people born between 1946-1964, this was the new standard for their relationships, indeed their marriages. Within this new romantic marriage, partners are asking that the other fit the role of “best friend, trusted confidante, passionate lover, greatest lover, best parent, best friend, emotional companion, intellectual equal…” (Perel, 2015). One person is being asked to provide everything that at one time was provided by an entire village.

Perel observes that while intimacy was a value and cornerstone of the relationships of boomers, millennials, that is people born between 1981 and 1996 approximately, value transparency along with trust and truth. Millennials are more likely to be talking about polyamory and non-monogamy in their relationships, reaching out to other couples and people in their communities. Millennials primarily meet their lovers through friends, through their communities, they find love by association, whilst of course many meet via apps. Millennials are in some way rebuilding the community that the boomers did away with.


In this chapter I will investigate what intimacy is within the context of music and theatre and how it appears in a limited number of examples. Before that, I will examine one of my inspirations for this RP and explain it by drawing on recent writings on performance and try to answer Fintan Walsh’ question: “what kind of intimacy might something as promiscuous as performance have to offer?” (Walsh, 2014, p.57). From there I will reflect on intimacy’s differing and sidelined potentials as they apply more broadly in the world. I will then return to the domains of music and theatre and examine a limited selection of works and writings to establish just what intimacy is in those contexts.

An inspiration for this RP was a concert given by Gyorgy Kurtág and Marta, his wife, on December 1st 2013 where Gyorgy was receiving an esteemed Royal Philharmonic Society award at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. They sat together at an upright piano, their backs to the audience, and played a programme of Bach interspersed with short pieces by Kurtág with the piano’s practice pedal depressed throughout. 

What struck me was the immediacy of them, their relationship and the closeness that poured from them. The performance was at once cosy and intimate and set inside an enormous concert hall. John Gilhooly, who was giving the award, writes: “As we have just witnessed in his performances as a pianist, with Marta, his wife of over 60 years, we have the perfect partnership: their complete accord creates no barriers to the music; there seems to be no difference between their symbiotic personal relationship and the music they make together.” (Gilhooly, 2013). Gilhooly too remarks upon this, that the music they make together, that is when they play, we hear the music and we feel them. The music is the medium through which we can hear and receive more than just sound but who they are as well. How can I explain this? Or better, can I understand this so that I may harness it myself?

The theme for the 2017 version of LCMF (London Contemporary Music Festival) was ‘New Intimacy’. Curator Igor Toronyi-Lalic planned an exciting programme of music, performances and film that spanned several days in December. He programmed works and screenings that he felt used intimacy as their main material or produced intimacy as some kind of by-product of the performance. The festival was opened by an erotic art film made in 1967 by Carolee Schneemann and husband James Tenney called “Fuses”. Another piece I remember clearly was “Tape Piece” (2014) by Andy Inagmells and Maya Verlaak where the two performers join themselves together in a frenzy of arms, ripping, and sticky-tape before wrestling each other to get unstuck again. Ingamells and Verlaak were in a relationship together at the time of composition. One work I participated in was “Ear Actions” (2016) by Neo Hülcker and Stellan Veloce in which the composer-performers actually play on the surfaces of protective earphones worn by the audience.

In these examples are different incidences of intimacy. “Fuses” used intimacy as its material; sexual and taboo acts and body parts form many of the images. “Tape Piece” physically put the performers into one another’s kinespheres; it tangled them up through the task at hand. Both of these works have been produced by collaborators who have a close relationship together, be they lovers or family. The last, “Ear Actions” proposed intimacy with the audience by making them the site of the music; the sounding bodies and listening bodies simultaneously. This approach to curation has offered up several approaches to intimacy (material, proximity/touching, relationship of collaborators, audience interaction) and has provided me with a type of method which I can depart from. As well as these different kinds of intimacy, which are by no means an exhaustive list, I will look at how intimacy manifests between collaborative partners also.

When discussing intimacy, it is almost impossible not to mention presence. Performance and vocal coach Patsy Rodenburg’s explanation of presence as an energy and the different types or presence offer a way of understanding this, in some way, untenable experience in 2013. On energy, she writes: “I began to recognize the different types of energy that a human can learn to harness: the energy of the body, the breath, the voice, the mind, the heart and the spirit. We all give out energy and by listening we all receive energy. Give and take.” (Rodenburg, 2009, xiii). She identifies three distinct types of energy that she calls circles of energy. The first circle she describes as disabling if lived in forever. Those living in mainly first circle come across as self-centred, withdrawn and draining and likely to feel victimised. In third circle, people will find that their energy is spraying out non-specifically into the world, it lacks intimacy and people feel it is impersonal to them (Rodenburg, 2009, p.17).

In Second circle is where performance, of all forms, ought to happen: “In Second Circle your energy is focused. It moves out toward the object of your attention, touches it and then receives energy back from it...You react and communicate freely and spontaneously within the energy you are giving and receiving. You are in the moment - the zone - and moment to moment you give and take....In Second Circle, you touch and influence another person rather than impress or impose your will on them.” (Rodenburg, 2009, p.21). Her use of touch does not mean to physically touch. The interesting thing to note is that energy comes back to the performer. This explains why, with the Kurtágs, I was pulled into their performance from over fifty metres away. 

Erika Fischer-Lichte would deem what I experienced a performative quality of the Kurtágs presence. Although typically used in relation to Theatre, Fischer-Lichte’s terms apply here and I will describe the Kurtágs as having had a ‘strong concept of presence’ (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.96). This is designated by a sense of a ‘stream of magic’ (p.96) and a power emanating from the performer - Fischer-Lichte always uses the term actor - that forces the spectators to focus their full attention onto them. The spectators sense that the performer is present in an unusually intense way which in turn grants them the sensation of themselves as present. A strong concept of presence then is rooted in the performer’s ability to command space and hold attention (Fischer-Lichte, 2008).

As well as being a highly relatable idea, this theory has a clear resonance with gestural musical performer Winnie Huang who said: “it’s important to understand that each thing you give received by someone who’s just as powerful and how you choose to give could alter how they choose to receive and then it becomes a feedback, a possible feedback. Some people aren’t ready to receive and that’s okay, some people aren’t ready to give and that’s okay.” (W. Huang, private communication, March 26, 2021). With the Kurtágs, I was engaged by their presence and they asked something of me that I was happy to offer. Both Winnie’s reflection on her own performance experience and my experience with the Kurtágs support and illustrate Fischer-Lichte’s (2008) theory of ‘autopoiesis’ or the feedback loop between performer and audience that defines performance. This is a term borrowed from biology and simply means a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself. Again she speaks from the perspective of theatre but her idea of the live self-generating, self-referential system shared by performers and audience is relevant to all live performance. The autopoietic system is in some way an energy flow between those producing and receiving that enables a highly contingent and “fundamentally open, unpredictable process” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.39).

The Kurtágs’ ‘strong concept of present’ amounted to a touching and intimate experience, as if they had left a mark in me, in my mind. I hung on every note, each glance they shared and every turn to the audience. The concert experience felt like it was intended only for me and that somehow they could actually touch me. I even had a physiological reaction to it in the form of goosebumps.

Perhaps it is possible then to understand music as the medium. Through this medium, the Kurtágs fluently communicate moment to moment, both together and with us the audience. This view is somewhat heretical from the perspective of Schenker for example whose teachings and theory positions the musical work as the message that the performers must deliver; everything else is subordinate or irrelevant. Researcher Henrik Frisk (2006) formulates the relation of the work, the performance, and the performers differently saying that the work takes place in the performative event. Auslander too states that music is indistinguishable from its performance. He focuses on the performer and offers the concept of the persona that the musician performs through the music, that is the Kurtágs are performing their personae through the music of Bach and Mr Kurtág during the concert. Auslander (2006) even defines musical performance as a person’s representation of self within a discursive domain of music; he continues that what musicians perform first and foremost is their own identities as musicians. My own experience of the music was mediated through the Kurtágs and their personae. The music they played was an expressive resource that they used to perform their personae (Auslander, 2021). Music behaved as an affective medium and was made real by the Kurtágs.

Auslander’s is quite a radical view but in the context of comprehending my experience during the concert, it holds that what was being communicated was some part of the Kurtágs, their identity they adopt during performance, through the music. A performance studies approach asks more relevant questions in this regard about what music does and what it allows people to do. In my example, the performance allowed for me to experience the music and the identity of the Kurtágs as individuals but probably most strongly as a couple, to such an extent that I felt involved and this is an example of intimacy. 

Though relatively fresh within research, contemporary theorization of affect originates with Baruch Spinoza. I will use this theorization to explain my experience with the Kurtágs. If I am one body sitting in the concert hall then there are two more on stage (the Kurtágs), and two next to me; one each side. Spinoza does not define the body by its anatomy or form but instead “‘bodies are distinguished from one another by reason of motion and rest, speed and slowness” (Spinoza, 1994, p.126). In his scheme, a body must be considered equivalent to what it can do and the capacity to do is defined along two axis. On the kinetic axis, bodies either move or are at rest; in the concert hall, we in the audience are seated and quite still whilst the Kurtágs are very much moving on stage, at the piano. Spinoza’s dynamic axis refers to the capacity a body has to affect and be affected by other bodies; its porosity (Spinoza, 1994). The Kurtágs had strong potential to affect. I do not remember feeling especially willing to be affected and cannot speak for the others in the audience but we were greatly affected by the performance. Spinoza argues that bodies are not limited to individual bodies but bodies can unite with other bodies, in this case, we in the audience form a single body. Rebecca McCutcheon notes that “Spinoza’s expanded idea of the body, as both possibly collective and not limited to the human, creates space to consider encounters between individuals and groups, and between other, non-human bodies.” (McCutcheon, 2020, p.81). She describes Spinoza’s formulation of axis as expansive, suggesting “it creates space in which to consider a range of behaviours, which may be non-verbal, perhaps not always conscious”,  one of these behaviours might of course be music-making (McCutcheon, 2020, p.81). The nature of the concert environment and the new understanding of the performance of music as I outlined earlier alloyed to this porousness through the potential and capacity to influence other bodies, sets up this concert, and others like it, as a preeminently affective encounter.  


Large-scale view

Scale is a useful structure of difference, according to Anthropologist Niko Besnier, to distinguish between different approaches to intimacy - that is the breadth of the context in which intimacy operates and the nature of what that context encompasses (Besnier 2015, p.108). Intimacy is not a place, activity or kind of relationship, indeed it means nothing without a context but I will show how it serves to help understand much within the field as well as my own approach to composition and performance. Besnier writes that one of the big problems with grappling with discussing intimacy is its deep-rootedness in the private, amorous, small-scale and pleasurable. Queer studies have offered the most incisive critiques of “the unproblematic conflation of domesticity, conjugality, privacy and intimacy” (Besnier, 2015, p.107). With intimacy no longer resigned to the bedroom, how does it show up more publicly? It is no longer heteronormative, comfortable or predictable. How does it exist in performance? 

First, I will take on a large scale view. Social Anthrolpologists Sertaç Sehlikoglu and Aslı Zengin (2015) suggest the reason that the sexual realm has become the primary definitive dimension of the intimate is that this realm is the main site of detraditionalization in the late modern era. They write that an intimate act is typically an affectionate act within a couple and might include caressing, hand holding, kissing, intercourse and so on (Sehikoglu and Zengin, 2015). Because nation states have politicized intimate matters of conjugality, sexuality, family and domesticity in colonial, postcolonial and neoliberal times, it is hard to examine sex without examining it within the context of the state or nation. Sehlikoglu and Zengin cite the example of the Belgian state’s civil registry officers who are tasked with determining whether a marriage between a Belgian national and a non-Belgian national is real or fake. This evaluation becomes an “institutionally intimate domain” in which it is the state that draws boundaries between good and bad, modern and traditional, and acceptable and unacceptable forms of shared intimacy (Sehikoglu and Zengin, 2015, p.23). States are interested in creating moral and sexual boundaries in individual and social lives under the mirage of family values. A ‘good citizen’ finds themself preoccupied with work and family-making rather than caught up in wider, more important social and economic issues. It is this preoccupation with sexuality, coupling and relationships that risks limiting our view of intimacy and how it operates in daily life, particularly when we make sense of our emotions like affection and moments of violence (Sehikoglu and Zengin, 2015, p.21).

It asks the question of whether the tendency to equate sexuality and intimacy in the modern age is a result of settler colonialism that sought to erase the rituals and beliefs of the native or indigenous, be it the Americas, Africa, or Australia for example. Whilst I am not a scholar in the field of Anthropology, the following example is useful in showing the effect of colonialism, where a new belief system, Christianity, not only displaces the native belief system but brings about an ontological change for the society. Anthropologist Aparecida Vilaça (2015) writes on the Wari’, an indigenous Amazonian people numbering about three thousand, who were first converted to Christianity in 1969 and then deconverted again during the 1980s before reconverting after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, fearing that the end of the world would catch them unprepared, and take them to hell. Until the mid-1950s they had no peaceful relations with anyone. The Wari’, like many of the societies in the Amazon, believe themselves to be part of the Amazonia, that is the culture which is shared by human and animals as well as spirits. Multinaturalism replaces multiculturalism as there does not exist a single underlying universe, instead the world of humans exists alongside that of the world of animals; they do not overlap. The belief is that the body is a piece of equipment that enables the spirits, animals and humans to inhabit their distinct worlds and that bodily metamorphosis enables the passage between worlds. Metamorphosis can occur through food sharing and coexistence with other beings, implying the adoption of their perspective and their natural world, and at the hands of Shamans who are endowed with multiple bodies and perspectives (Vilaça, 2015). The Christian missionaries impressed the Wari’ initially with abundance of food as well as the ability to cure through medicine. As they began to receive the translation of biblical writings into their own language, they became very interested in the Christian idea of stewardship, that is man’s position as leader of the animals. They were keen to take up this myth as a means to control interspecific metamorphosis, which was otherwise a constant threat for the Wari’, demanding particular care and behaviour towards different animals (Vilaça, 2015). 

Two huge transformations were observed. Firstly humans were set apart via the understanding that the Devil could only exist in them, meaning animals retreated to being predators or prey causing the shamans to lose credibility. This shifted the belief system to that of a single universe lorded over by a God, quite at odds with the perspective of multiple natures. The second transformation was the arrival of the inner self, completely novel to the Wari’ whose identity was relational, contextual and determined from outside. To give an example, a child afflicted with a disease caught from Monkeys is seen as a person by Monkeys but seen as a Monkey by the Shaman, who is tasked with healing the child (Vilaça, 2015, p.6). Whilst in the perspectivist world, a man is a husband to one woman, a brother to another, and a son to a third - “people are relational terms of the same type as kinship terms” (Vilaça, 2015, p.6) - for the Wari’, the Jaguar’s Monkey is a White-lipped peccary and the Tapir’s beer is muddy clay. Within the context of Christian rituals, the Wari’ began to conceive of the idea of the secret and to use expressions like “he knows his own heart” (Vilaça, 2015, p.7), suggesting a new interiorization of knowledge and feeling as now shared between the individual and God. Not only did the individual begin to emerge but that individual’s actions, devoted to God, became their salvation, meaning that the individual began to self-police from what they knew of sin and other biblical teachings that were certainly oriented around sexual behaviour, thought and intention. The deep, particular relations to animals, the spirits of animals, and the intimacy with the rainforest dissipated in these transformations. The specific intimacy shared by the people and the shamans as curers was pushed out. Intimacy in this case underwent a complete transformation along with the Wari’s conception of themselves. It is just one example where the imposition of western industrialized, christian values and teachings shatter a society’s beliefs, rituals and traditions on which its paradigm of intimacy is based, and replace it with a paradigm rooted in the western, conjugal, heternormative grasp of what intimacy is for.

That explains why I began this chapter with Esther Perel, an authority on romantic relationships; it was my assumption that relationships, tied up with sexuality, proximity, desire, affective attachment and secrecy, are where the dynamics of intimacy play out.

Promiscuous Performance in Music

Clarinetist Heather Roche has written extensively on intimacy in her collaborative partnerships in her thesis. She writes on the importance of exchange, citing that she wishes to grow as an artist through them. She uses the metaphor of a line “that connects the two artists and the work that they create” (Roche, 2011, p.14) to emphasise the intimate aspect of these projects. She stresses that dialogue is the bedrock for her intimate collaborations. Roche (2011) pursues the creation of a shared voice that blends personalities, aesthetic preferences and develops a common history. A shared voice leads to “a kind of collaborative space where both collaborators are secure. Here in this collaborative space, there is trust in which risks can be taken” (Roche, 2011, p.13). I wholeheartedly agree with this reasoning and identification of what makes up an intimate collaboration.

Roche (2011) lists intimacy as one of the components or important themes in the foundation of a successful collaboration. The complete list comprises: importance of dialogue, focus on the process of collaboration, mutual respect/trust, humour, intimacy and conflict. I agree with this formulation but suggest that intimacy is contingent on humour and trust, for example, rather than parallel to them; I offer my own definition of intimacy at the end of this chapter. 

Composer Jeppe Ernst creates drastically minimal works that are essentially silent and built of actions and movements, which he notates in some detail. His biography from Edition S reads: 

“With his radically reduced works, Jeppe Ernst fundamentally questions our traditional ways of thinking about music, both in terms of the musical expression itself and the way it is presented to us. By removing all unnecessary layers of a work Jeppe Ernst seeks to illuminate its most essential idea, often eliminating one or more of the most basic musical parameters in the process – such as, for example, the audible sound. Demonstrating a both open-minded and historically aware approach to composing, Jeppe Ernst is already considered one of the most original voices of his generation. At the same time, his music displays compelling social and intimate aspects as it often breaks with traditional performance practices and is performed for a single person or without the intervention of any musicians at all.” (Edition S).

Use of the word intimate here is interesting and relevant to my investigation. A small number of his works bypass performers and are instead instructions for the audience, who become performers for themselves. These can be done whilst sitting on public transport or at home for example. In an obvious way this departs from the conventions of composition by going direct to the audience or the reader and we might view this approach as a kind of intimacy. A number of his other works are concerned with touch - music for physical touch - be it the performers touching themselves or each other. These works also break with WAM traditions in as much as music is a non-contact activity. Because these pieces comprise different kinds of touch between performers, stroking and drumming of the skin and body parts, the works are easily, and I feel lazily, described as having “compelling social and intimate aspects” (Edition S). I question whether such actions are automatically intimate simply because they are rooted in touch between people. In my way of viewing, this kind of work finds a parallel with pornography: the performers are paid to perform a work written be a composer who, through notation, asks them to touch, sometimes in the nude. Ernst, has determined everything that the performers will do and has notated it, meaning his performers have reached quite an extreme version of the automaton state that composer Matthew Shlomowitz mentions. He describes the automaton approach as a dead-pan performance mode where musicians execute tasks or facelessly enact content that has allowed composers to extend their compositional thinking to include physical movement, in recent years (Shlomowitz, 2016). At once it allows for exploration into the non-musical whilst notated parts play into the strengths of the musicians however it denies the difference and particularity of individual bodies and lacks subjectivity. The partially nude, female performers in Ernst’ work “Offertorium: Behandling C” (2015-17) are treated as automatons; they are dead-pan and tasked with executing composed actions on each other’s naked bodies. This sits slightly uneasily with me. At first glance, I find it deeply troubling if this type of work is deemed intimate.

In my work “Music for Human Face”, I was initially trying to achieve intimacy through using intimate material and representing intimacy, Ernst attempts the same. I was working compositionally to achieve intimacy, drawing on images, quotidian actions and signifiers of intimate aspects of my marriage like kissing and mouth to mouth sonic material; I was using actual flesh. What I realised was that attempting to make an intimate work compositionally was unlikely to yield a pleasing result, or an intimate piece even with someone whom I was intimate with; instead I discovered that I had to work intimately. Both Ernst’ and my own insistence on human flesh is significant though. 

Touch as an idea in the context of WAM is not unfamiliar. But touch between performers is quite taboo; WAM is a non-contact activity. On Touch, in the haptic sense, Professor of Modern Languages Naomi Segal quotes Sartre’s “L’Être et le néant”(1943) to argue that the caress, a touching of skins, creates the other as flesh for both parties of the caress and, as Sartre writes: “it is not so much that we take hold of [prendre] a part of the other’s body but that we bring our own body up against the body of the other. Not so much pushing or touching, in an active sense, but placing up against [poser contre].” (Segal, 2020, p.75). The body in contact with another body could be said to be “caressing itself against it rather than caressing it” (Segal, 2020, p.74). In this way, I view the actions that Ernst composes as more like attacks, strikes and interventions on the body; it lacks the intimacy of a caress.


However, for someone watching the work in performance, the experience may be different or more affective. Mirror neurons, discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti and Vittorio Gallese, are a subset of cells in the front of the brain that are amongst motor command neurons, neurons that are engaged when reaching for a coffee cup or a door handle. Neuroscientist Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran writes that these mirror neurons actually fire when we watch someone else reaching for a coffee cup or a door handle, for example.  I quote him here in an interview: “Pretend somebody pokes my left thumb with a needle. We know that the insular cortex fires cells and we experience a painful sensation. The agony of pain is probably experienced in a region called the anterior cingulate, where there are cells that respond to pain. The next stage in pain processing, we experience the agony, the painfulness, the affective quality of pain. It turns out these anterior cingulate neurons that respond to my thumb being poked will also fire when I watch you being poked.” (Marsh, 2021). Following Ramachandran, when we see a performer touching another’s naked flesh, in some way we are being touched, at a neuron level, or we are doing the touching. This experience somewhat implicates us, the audience, in the action and that is really what creates the taboo in my opinion. I discuss this particular pathway in more detail in the chapter named “Contagion”. It is certain that Ernst’ are affective works that bring into question the space for intimacy in WAM by not only presenting the crossing of physical borders in performance but by implicating the audience in such a crossing too. 

Éliane Radigue is a Composer whose process, when composing instrumental solo works, demonstrates a degree of intimacy with the commissioning performer through their collaborative working relationship.  The subsequent work then calls on and challenges the performer’s own relationship with and knowledge of their instrument.  Radigue’s “Occam Ocean” series is built of twenty-two solo pieces for almost entirely acoustic instruments as well as over twenty ensemble pieces that usually comprise superimpositions of the solo pieces in different combinations. Luke Nickel’s article “Occam Notions: Collaboration and the Performer’s Perspective in Éliane Radigue’s Occam Ocean” (2015) is a rich insight into the series and is enriched by Nickel’s own correspondence with Radigue and many of her collaborative performers. It is interesting to note that Radigue has never created any kind of score for any of the works in the series. Each work usually lasts between fifteen and thirty minutes. In performance these works have no fixed duration; instead the acoustic of the performance space becomes a deciding factor in the work’s length. 

Despite not using a score, the pieces all depart from the performer’s water-related image that they and Radigue have settled on together. This guides the work and subsequent improvisation from which Radigue selects sounds to establish the sound world of the burgeoning piece. Radigue encourages the performer to explore novel techniques. The performer usually leaves Radigue to practice alone and may return for further work but “at some point, Radigue proclaims her part in the collaboration to be finished, and the piece ready for performance. Sometimes, there is an interim stage where the performers demonstrate the piece to small groups of friends or colleagues before the piece’s public premiere.” (Nickel, 2016, p.26). The composer declares that the works belong to the performer and that only they can transmit their work to another performer if desired. 


From Nickel’s interviews with performers, it is clear that the experience of learning a Radigue piece is like no other. They take a post-instrumental approach to the work period that calls for a relinquishing of good or formal instrumental technique in the service of discovering a new playing style. This is a work-specific approach that might demand a specific tuning from the performer and even that they discover or learn something new about their instrument. To forget technique requires that of course the musicians knew them intimately already. Radigue mines the orientation the musician has with their instrument, demonstrating the capacity a musician’s intimacy with their instrument has in defining themselves.

While they must forget good technique the performers must remember the content of the piece. Tubist Robin Hayward remarks that this results in a piece that is “‘never a static thing that’s finished in the sense that it’s set in stone’, due to the fact that it is ‘residing in [his] memory, when [he’s] not playing it, and it’s residing in the collective memories of people who’ve heard it.” (Nickel, 2016, p.28).

Charlie Sdraulig explores intimacy, nuance and quietude in his creative practice (Sdraulig, 2021). In his “One to One” (2018-2020) series he presents three pieces, one for vocalising violinist and audient, the second for gesturing, vocalsing performer and audient, and finally pianist on an amplified, old upright, and audient. Each is written for a specific performer: Marco Fusi, Winnie Huang and Gwyn Rouger respectively. Sdraulig has taken intimacy as a clear concept for the project and explored it. As a premise, a one-to-one performance is a different proposition for an ‘audient’; they are on their own with a performer, the performer knows what is going to happen and the ‘audient’ does not, so must trust that they will emerge safely when it is over. Each piece then is also dependent on the spectator, who through the piece becomes a participant because of how Sdraulig has chosen to mediate their physical presence. For example, in the first, Marco Fusi is tasked with matching the breath of the audient, which creates a self-consciousness and presence. Similarly in the second, Winnie is tasked with a degree of imitation in the behaviour she sees in her audient. Through the process that Sdraulig calls ‘Entrainment’ - the interaction of two rhythmic processes undergo such that a ‘locking in’ to a collective phase occurs - the spectator (Clayton, Sager and Will, 2005). This entrainment is used as an instruction - entrain. He also notes, within the score for “enfold” for Gwyn Rouger, that mutual entrainment might also take place, in conversation for example where empathetic parties will tend towards matching their turn lengths (Clayton, Sager and Will, 2005). Clarinetist Heather Roche writes on something like entrainment in her thesis quoting Mary Alm: “As Alm writes, the most successful creative partnerships are those in which the pair are ‘in sync’ with each other, ‘…finishing each other’s sentences, eliciting responses from one another...all are evidence that collaborators are…participating in a synergistic relationship (Alm, 1997, p.132 as cited by Roche, 2011).

Minute almost silent sounds that might be attached to large physical actions imply proximity, as if the ear is held next to the thing making the sound or being played. Sdraulig’s compositional approach here makes the work contingent on the audience, who become essential to the work’s functioning; they are highly successful investigations and experiments into the topic. Intimacy in Sdraulig’s works means that each encounter will be a little different.

These examples from the domain of music have begun to touch on some of the core ideas to this RP. I now do a similar investigation into the domain of theatre.

Promiscuous Performance in Theatre

Theatre Theorist Jerzy Grotowski, like Ernst, Sdraulig and Radigue, was interested in pulling away elements to reduce the performance to focus on a particular thing. For Grotowski it was the connection with the audience: “the core of theatre is an encounter” (Grotowski, 1968, p.56). Grotowski was reacting to the film industry and commercial theatre, to an extent, which was trying to match film’s elaborate sets, costumes and effects. He wished to focus on the liveness of theatre and he was trying to strike intimacy as the technique itself. He asks the question “why are we concerned with art?” and answers: “to cross our frontiers, exceed our limitations, fill our emptiness” (Grotowski, 1968, p.21). He favoured the process rather than widespread fame and sell-out shows; after 1970, he worked with very small groups in venues that seated fewer than one hundred. Richard Schechner who attended a Grotowski class at NYU in 1967 explains that he used the acting process to seek spiritual knowledge and that his effects on theatre will not be remembered through a method or training but through the effect he had on people he met (Schechner, 1999).

The late Adrian Howells’ body of work draws on intimacy in performance and uses it in a myriad of ways. Owing to his emphasis on text and interaction within distinct scenes and settings, his work falls into the domain of Theatre. Although I cannot speak on his process for making new work, he draws on proximity, often touching, spooning or hand-holding with his audience, which is usually very small, normally a single participant. Fintan Walsh writes that “Adrian Howells's practice is primarily concerned with mining boundaries between himself and the participant.” (Walsh, 2014, p.57). In his work “Foot Washing for the Sole'' (2008) trust becomes a dynamic of the piece, something that Howells, who is the performer in his work, builds with the participant and then inverts such that the participant betrays Howells through the pouring of a glass of what looks like wine for Howells to drink, only to find that it was actually Vinegar and Howells drank it all anyway. Fintan Walsh calls this kind of work “that centralizes confession, physical and emotional intimacy, and rich affectivity within its structure”, "neo-Aristotelian catharsis” (Walsh, 2014, p.57). Like Sdraulig, Howells employed entrainment in this work, asking Walsh to breathe with him, on this Walsh remarks: “He also invited me to breathe methodically, which in the company of just one stranger felt more intimate than talking.” (Walsh, 2014, p.59).

Walsh notes that works like Howells’ raise questions about “the physical, emotional, and affective boundaries between performers, participants, and spaces, in ways that have implications for how we think about the pains, pleasures, and politics of proximity on a wider level” (Walsh, 2014, p.57), questions that were quite overwhelming for Jennifer Doyle who, although was in possession of a ticket for Howells’ 2007 performance of “Held”, sabotaged her own participation; she writes on it in “Hold it Against Me”. “Held” consists of three twenty-minute scenes, beginning with a chat at a table drinking tea, then the work moves to a sofa where Howells holds hands with his audience of one, before finally moving to the bedroom where they spoon together. Howells’ work maximises the possibilities of what he describes as “accelerated intimacy” (Doyle, 2013, p.2). Doyle reflects that the idea of seeing a work that engages more ordinary forms of relational intimacy, that ‘feel’ real and therefore cut too close was too much for her and she unwittingly missed her time-slot with Howells altogether. She writes that Howells showed her how deluded she had been about her capacity to deal with difficult performance work, citing her high threshold for gruesome and violent work but defensive need to assert control over this simple intimate experience. Doyle notes that everyone responds differently to “Held”, some even fell asleep in Howells’ arms. Her reaction was to bring cookies to Howells at the end of the day to apologise. She cried and was conscious that her affect risked expanding into a selfish display of abjection; shame mounted as a kind of counterattack. She insisted on getting forgiveness, what she thought Howells had promised her but on her own terms. Afraid of what would happen at the end of “Held”, she subconsciously preempted the betrayal that she expected (Doyle, 2013, p.3).


Doyle continues to ask some good questions: “Does a feeling come from inside the spectator or from the artwork? Does an artwork represent feeling? Whose: the artists’ or the viewer’s? Does a work make feeling?” (Doyle, 2013, p.4). Although neither Doyle nor I will answer these questions in straightforward terms, what they reveal is the dynamic, collaborative and synergistic relation between artist, work and audience in the creation of, in this case, feelings.

Deidre Heddon writes on autobiographical theatre and with Howells on his work. In Howells’ works, she writes: “the boundary between performer and spectator dissolves in the process of exchange, an exchange that asks for a very committed and at times vulnerable sort of spectatorship.” (Heddon, 2011, p.4). This exchange is  a result of a kind of bespoke theatre as she describes it, with particular reference to “Salon Adrienne”, a performance she saw in 2007 by Howells. It is bespoke because Howells cannot script the conversation that they will have, he must respond and be attentive, “responding to and feeding off what is being said by his co-creator” (Heddon, 2011, p.4). Heddon knows that the work is made just for her because it is made with and by her, in the capable hands of Adrian. She writes: “I am put at ease. I am solicited, courted, consulted, included, engaged, heard, responded to, attended to... This is bespoke theatre and as I leave the Salon I do feel really special. I have learnt about Adrian, but I have also learnt about myself. This is the value of exchange.” (Heddon, 2014, p.4) 


It is worth mentioning the inverse possibilities of both intimacy as well as affect within this context. Doyle introduces the term ‘extimate’ (Doyle, 2013, p.6), proposed by theorist Tavia Nyong’o who uses it to describe the capacity for such encounters to fail and leave an audience actually feeling more alone. Fintan Walsh points out that, in his experience as a participant in Howells’ work, he had to do more than simply perceive what was going on. “Foot Washing for the Sole” actually required Walsh to act in some way or to appear moved, as he puts it (Walsh, 2014). Because there is one performer and one participant, they need to do more than merely spectate, they have to “make the feelings happen” (Walsh, 2014, p.59): “We are not just here to see, think, and freely feel, but to work affectively. If we do not engage in this labor, the performance won't happen. We fail the performance, we fail Howells.” (Walsh, 2014, p.59). Nicholas Rideout suggests that Theatre’s most powerful affects are produced in the “(expected) failure of its attempt to represent affect” (Walsh, 2014, p.59). Failure in a one-to-one performance for example produces a particular feeling for both but for Rideout (2006), the participant becomes aware of the economic and political conditions of their theatre-going. He continues: “something of our relationship to labour and to leisure is felt every time the theatre undoes itself around the encounter between worker and consumer.” (Rideout, 2006, p.34).

Shame, a real affective possibility from failure, is thought to be one of the nine affects by Silvan Tomkins (Shmurak, 2006, p.7). Along with dismell and disgust, shame seems quite far removed from the realm of intimacy. However gender scholar Ara Wilson puts forward the idea that “the concept of intimacy captures deeply felt orientations and entrenched practices that make up what people consider to be their “personal” and “private” lives and their interior selves, and includes positively valued feelings like affection but also problematic feelings like fear and disgust” (Sehlikoglu & Zengin, 2015, p.22). It is important then to note that encounters or experiences which are deemed failure, or at least have unexpected outcomes, can be intimate.

Claire Bishop writes on a piece by Jeremy Deller called “The Battle of Orgreave” (2001) which took the form of an event, specifically a battle reenactment. The work, involving many people, restaged a clash between the Police and striking british miners at the nearby plant in 1984 where it is estimated that fifteen thousand people attended. Deller involved twenty reenactment societies to play as the Police. Many of these men had watched the 1984 encounter as it unfolded on the news. Many of the 2001 miners were the real miners from the same encounter. Bishop writes that it brought the middle class reenactment societies into contact with the working class miners. Deller noted that many in the societies were quite frightened at the idea of the miners, believing them to be complete hooligans based on their reputation from the strikes during the eighties and the initial reporting on the clash, which wrongly claimed that the miners threw the first punch (Bishop, 2012). Bishop writes that: “Re-educating the battle re-enactors to be more politically self-conscious about their activities emerged as an important subtheme of the event.” (Bishop, 2012, p.34). This exchange emerged as surplus of the project not dissimilar to Heddon on Howells one-to-one performance.

For some, the repetition of events was apparently traumatic although the miners did have the option of playing the Police. Deller drew on the real history of the event and of those involved. The miner’s closeness to the real-life event, their emotional and physical memory of it brought authenticity. When asked how it was going during the rehearsal process, Deller answered: “It’s going interesting...This is the first time we’ve actually got these two groups together, and it’s difficult to say what’s going to happen. Look at it...I’m not in charge anymore, really. As you would be in a real situation, you’d be a bit excited and a bit worried as well.” (Bishop, 2012, p.33). There was clearly tension on various levels of this project between order and chaos, good and evil, authentic and fake, miners and reenactors that was reminiscent of the real clash. The authenticity of this work meant that the tension was palpable as Bishop writes, and something real from the lives of the miners and the community was presented. Deller was sensitive in his handling of the material and sensitive to the clash between Police and miners. It is enormously significant for the history and folklore of the mining community; it represented the entire struggle for all British miners, not just those local to Orgreave (Bishop, 2012). Deller thematises the intimacy of a community and sensitively represents their struggle again on a large scale, through an event that some described as having the air of a village fête but in which important exchanges took place amongst miners and, importantly, between miners with reenactors. The event was cathartic for some but for others it opened old wounds; indeed this event allowed for a new conversation about the “Battle”. 

Closing and definition

Boundaries are an important aspect to Intimacy. This RP is concerned with processes that are based on boundaries that define the shape of a task or role.  This RP is concerned with roles that are traditionally clearly delineated by boundaries and they shape the workflow or process. In order to emerge, intimacy requires boundaries to be acknowledged, created and respected. If boundaries are to be temporarily stepped over in pursuit of greater unity then this must be a collective decision otherwise trust is withdrawn and often hurt ensues. Strong emotions come with hurt and they isolate partners from one another; emotions announce the difference between people, yet another boundary. Usually we experience the moment of hurt as caused by a boundary crossing and forget that we are also experiencing the boundary crossing through the feeling of hurt. In this RP, the most obvious boundaries are concerned with the roles of composer and performer. From the outset I have tried to marry the two within my own practice. It is an obvious potential site of conflict at the start of a collaborative project if boundaries have not been established. My reflection on my collaborative projects in the upcoming chapters will show that by and large boundaries are not crossed, usually because roles are clearly delineated and unchallenged. However I have documented one incident of boundaries being crossed that had serious consequences. Often roles are shared in periods of ‘Integrative collaboration’ that are enabled by moments of intimacy. ‘Integrative collaboration’ is a term used by Vera John-Steiner in her typology that will be used in the following chapters (John-Steiner, 2006, p.203). It is defined by role-sharing, the creation of a shared vision and ideology, all rooted in dialogue. 

Although I never intended to explore intimacy with the audience or a community to the extent that Howells or Deller do, it is a valuable example of the extent to which it can be used and explored in performance that I was not aware of prior to this RP. In some of the examples that I have given, the audience clearly experiences a closeness and synergy as part of the performance and becomes a co-creator, often blurring the types of intimacy thematised (material, proximity, audience interaction) at the London Contemporary Music Festival, where I began.

These examples and writings belong primarily within the domain of theatre studies, but they help to give a clearer image of what intimacy could be. The consequences of failure in theatre are applicable to all performance. I return to Sehlikoglu’s and Zengin’s (2015, p.22) anthropological approach to intimacy and borrow their definition: “Any form of and instance of relatedness can be interpreted as intimate in its capacity to shape people’s sense of selves, their feelings, their attachments and their identifications.” 

Erika Fischer-Lichte too remarks on the border between the public and the private, using the Clinton-Lewinsky affair as a watershed event, suggesting that those borders are now blurred with far-reaching consequences that create new conditions for performance as well: “Every detail of the affair, including instances of oral sex, was the subject of public discussion, which has changed the landscape to such an extent that when actors and spectators touch each other in performances, they are aware that the binary between public and private belongs to the past.” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.65). This could be a contributing factor to the interest in intimacy in performance since around the turn of the century and the impetus behind my project. Fintan Walsh offers his own definition of intimacy: “Intimacy, derived from the Latin intimus, meaning "within," refers to both spatial and experiential relationships of closeness, achieved by connecting physical, emotional, and affective borders between people or places, even animals or things, drawing them into contact from what is presumed to be the estranging effect of distance and distinction.” (Walsh, 2014, p.57). 

From these I finally present my own elucidation on the meaning of intimacy:

Intimacy is the play of physical, emotional and affective borders between people that produces a moment or incident of relatedness that can be determined as more or less intimate based on its capacity to shape people’s sense of selves, their feelings, their attachments and their identifications. Relatedness then is built from trust, familiarity, humour and shared history, all generally developed through dialogue and repetition. It produces transformation through exchange. An object’s capacity to orient a person, I am thinking of musical instruments specifically, is another example of relatedness.

I have shown various cases of intimacy within performance, as a feeling, as a condition for collaborative work between a composer and performer, as nature of process, as material with affective potential, and as a tool. Intimacy means the opening up of a shared collaborative space, to use Roche’s term again. As we have seen, and as I will show in the following chapters, the shared space can be established between working partners in the creation of a piece but can also emerge in performance, between performers and audience. Doyle’s experience of Howell’s work proves the power of intimacy and its ability to shape a person’s sense of self, even at distance. Exchange and growth can happen through risk-taking in this space and this is what interests me so much. The following chapters will focus on the shared space, what new modes of collaboration appear and with that, I will retrieve intimacy from the private, heteronormative bedroom and show how it can exist more publicly and unpredictably. Intimate collaborative processes, by my definition, include the exchange of much more than just work or ideas. They create a shared line that is reinforced not only by completing the task at hand but that crosses into the emotional and interpersonal arena, making collaborative working a transformative process.