For those of us making forays into music that requires so much beyond what we were trained to do, shouldn’t we be getting more serious about how to get good at it (whatever that might mean)? 

Jessica Aszodi, Undisciplined Music, 2017 [1]



In the 21st century an increasing number of composers [2] and performers [3] include elements in their work that activate the musicians’ voice and body in ways not related to playing an instrument. 


The musician’s moving, dancing, touching, speaking, singing, shouting, grimacing, sounding body opens an novel and still expanding palette of expression – but its use also requires new skills that are currently not an explicit part of higher musical education or standard musical performance practice. 


Just Do It! is an artistic research project that seeks to explore the possibilities of bodily performance in an expanded field of music and to detect, define and describe some of the skills and knowledge needed to realize them. The project’s practice-based methodology is rooted in the creation of five new solo pieces for accordion and body and a concerto for ensemble and accordionist written by James Black, Marcela Lucatelli, Philip Venables/Ted Huffman, Jennifer Walshe, Louise Alenius and Andreas Borregaard. Based on these works, I will unfold the artistic practice of the performing musician – working with the composers, practicing the works, performing them, evaluating performance recordings, practising to improve, performing again, repeating it all over – as well as my reflections on these activities in the light of acquired knowledge from literature studies and practical studies of other performative art forms. The process of unfolding and reflecting will feed into the practical work, which will then lead to further reflections in a positive feedback loop of development. 


It is through (co-)creation, learning, practicing, repeated performances and ongoing reflection prompted by theory as well as practical coaching and critique from actors, dancers, and other musicians, that aspects of the musician’s bodily involvement will be scrutinized. And since artistic research ‘does not assume the separation of subject and object, and does not observe a distance between the researcher and the practice of art’ [4], the artistic reflection at hand is an account in which any new knowledge regarding the musician’s use of bodily performance is formed through – and described from the vantage point of – my working body and already existing expertise.


The New Disciplines

Asking musicians to do other things on stage than playing their instruments is not a new idea: with threads arising from the performative experiments of the Dada and Fluxus movements, the artistic field surrounding Just Do It! emerged in the middle of the 20th century with composers such as John Cage, Dieter Schnebel and Mauricio Kagel as driving forces. In recent years, however, the field of expanded music has ramified and blossomed significantly, with composers such as Jennifer Walshe, Simon Steen-Andersen, Jessie Marino, James Black, Francois Sarhan, Thierry de Mey, Trond Reinholdtsen, Laura Bowler, Stefan Prins, Jeppe Ernst and performers such as Frauke Aulbert, Winnie Huang, Steven Schick, Jennifer Torrence, Nadar,  Decoder, NO HAY BANDA and sound initiative as important contributors.


The plethora of new works which cross traditional disciplinary boundaries has resulted in a plethora of names to describe them: music in the expanded fieldexpanded musiccross-aesthetic musicextra-musical performancetransdisciplinary performanceperformative musiccomposed theatremusic theatre and many more, are used from various perspectives to describe the practice today, but the term most suited for Just Do It! is The New Discipline, coined by Irish composer and performer Jennifer Walshe in her text with that name, written for the programme book of the Borealis festival in Bergen, Norway, 2016 [5]

Walshe wrote:

The term [The New Discipline] functions as a way for me to connect compositions which have a wide range of disparate interests but 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. In performance, these are works in which the ear, the eye and the brain are expected to be active and engaged. Works in which we understand that there are people on the stage, and that these people are/have bodies.


The constitutive role of the performing body here stands in clear opposition to classical music, where the purpose of the body is traditionally confined to handling an instrument [6], and although this new role liberates the performer and promotes a multiplicity of new expressions, it also poses a risk: when several artistic disciplines are brought into play in one and the same piece performed by one and the same performer, the specialization and expertise usually required from the performer is challenged and blurred. In itself this is not a problem, but a potential erosion of quality is. A startling virtuosic instrumentalist is not necessarily able to recite a text or move across the stage in a compelling way – which, however, most probably is expected from both the audience and the work.

Walshe is aware of this risk as she continues to specify that: 

The New Discipline is a way of working, both in terms of composing and preparing pieces for performance. [...] this is the discipline - the rigour of finding, learning and developing new compositional and performative tools.


This last sentence resonates well with the fundamental motivation behind Just Do It!: to investigate if and how all aspects of the (non-instrumental) performance can be treated with appropriate discipline and attention. The challenge is not that musicians should become dancers, actors and singers in order to perform New Discipline-works, but rather that expanding the means of expression demands expanded skills, knowledge and working methods.   


The New Disciples

The recent proliferation within the realm of New Discipline has naturally led to increased activity in both artistic and academic research. Often new knowledge is sought from the spectators’ perspective, whether through discussing the ‘composer-performer’ (for example Krogh Groth [7]), the work and its material (for example Lehman [8]), the craft of composing (for example Craenen [9]), or even the meaning of the term ‘music’ itself (for example Kreidler [10]) – but luckily also a growing body of artistic research is investigating the consequences of the New Discipline from the point of view of the performing musician. 


Håkon Stene’s PhD ‘This is Not a Drum’ (2014) [11] shows how the recent extrapolation of the percussionist’s historically multi-instrumental practice has naturally led to ‘post-instrumental’ music that can be performed by non-percussionists or even non-musicians, Jennifer Torrence’s PhD ‘Percussion Theatre: a body in between’ (2019) [12]explores how a trajectory away from instruments enhances the (intrinsic) theatricality of the percussionist’s body (she uses the term ‘hyper-instrumental’ to emphasize that the works are ‘self-consciously aware of a unique bodily relation to the instrument’ even when instruments are absent) and that creation of such body-specific works calls for new reflection on the degree and location of creative agency in and between composer and performer. In her PhD, ‘Sonic Silhouettes Musical Movement – Investigating the Musical-Gestural Perspective’ (2022), [13] violinist Winnie Huang  leaves the violin in its locked case to develop a musical use of the body alone, thus becoming a ‘gestural performer’, whereas violinist Barbara Lüneburg, sociologist Kai Ginkel and violinists Diamanda La Berge Dramm’s ‘Embodying Expression, Gender and Charisma – Breaking Boundaries’ (2022-2025) [14] intends to keep an unbroken relation to the instrument in order to contribute to innovation in the classical instrumental performance practice by exploring ‘the importance of a performer’s body as a determinant of musical expression, gender, and charisma’. 


The range between instrument-specific skills versus non-instrumental skills, body versus instrument, theatricality versus musicality, outlined by these projects mark a field in which Just Do It! is situated: although the developed works involve relatively little accordion playing, none of them can be played by non-accordionists and my relation to the accordion, the way I play it and my ethos as musician all shape the pathway through which I move into the non-instrumental – a pathway that is not intended to be one-directional.


Musical works that ‘draw on dance, theatre, film, video, visual art, installation, literature, stand-up comedy’ (Walshe 2016) often require technically well equipped performance spaces, so in order for such works to be realized at all they require collaborating venues and promoters. Luckily, major festival for contemporary music in Europe such as Borealis (NO), Festival d’Automne (F), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), KLANG (DK), Musica Strasbourg (F), New Music Dublin (IE), November Music (NL), SPOR (DK) and Ultima (NO) have eagerly entered into such collaborations, and since these festivals have also programmed the works developed within Just Do It!, they are in part defining the project’s artistic context and relevance. (A full list of performances is presented in the section ‘Dissemination’ in the Outro.)



Except one, all the new works within Just Do It! are commissions. I chose the composers out of fascination with their work or our previous collaborations but also with the intention of ensuring aesthetic and conceptual diversity and the hope that the bodily performance introduced in the works would be as varied as possible, including both movements, voice and text. Below are a few words explaining the initial motivations for approaching each of the specific composers. 


James Black: Piece About Everything (2020)

James Black (UK/DK b. 1990) had intrigued me by the powerful, absurd, humorous but also vulnerable and beautiful use of the body I had seen in their performances of own compositions and in the quintet piece Everything’s gonna burn, we’ll all take turns (I’ll take mine too), they wrote for my ensemble MTQin 2017.   


Philip Venables/Ted Huffman: My favourite piece is the Goldberg Variations (2021)

Philip Venables’ (UK/D, b. 1979) interest in gender- and body-political issues and in using text could be interesting elements in Just Do It!. And I was instantly fascinated by the intensity, humour and direct communication in the piece ILLUSIONS (2015) I saw on their website. Venables suggested to include their long-term creative collaborator, the writer and stage director Ted Huffman, which I imagined would only contribute further to the research potential of the collaboration. 


Louise Alenius & Andreas Borregaard: Relationer (2021)

I read about Louise Alenius’ (DK, b. 1978), series of performances for 1-person audiences called Porøset (2014) (porous) and heard excerpts of her duo work Silent Zone (2016) composed to be played for hospice patients. I was immediately drawn to the radical intimacy and concern for human relations displayed in these works – both of which would be apt for the research project. 


Marcela Lucatelli: Drift (2021)

Marcela Lucatelli (BR/DK, b. 1988) was not initially part of Just Do It!, but when an extra commission was made possible in connection with the premiere of Venables/Huffman’s piece at the Borealis festival in Norway, I chose Lucatelli because of the extremely raw and almost animalistic performances I had seen her do on stage. 


Jennifer Walshe: PERSONHOOD (for sinfonietta and accordionist) (2021)

Working closely with Jennifer Walshe in the creation of her solo accordion piece SELF-CARE in 2016/2017, was the direct inspiration to further investigate physical non-instrumental performance from an instrumentalist’s point of view – and thus to the genesis of Just Do It!. Commissioning a large scale ensemble work – a concerto – from her would not only be sure to significantly push (my) boundaries on stage but also have significant impact in the field.


Andreas Borregaard: Study #17 – Total Knowledge (2022)

It was not part of the original project plan, but my main supervisor, cellist and researcher Tanja Orning, suggested substituting one composer commission with a piece composed by myself for my own body. I supported the idea, since it could function as a buffer to include types of performance not being covered by the commissions, add a layer to reflections on the co-creative performer and in general challenge me to write my own piece, which I had previously never done.


Although the composers were all informed about the aim of Just Do It! and my wish for incorporating bodily performance in the most diverse and new ways possible, I did not attempt to further steer their creative freedom. This led to five distinctive collaborative processes – and five distinctive pieces. 


The fact that I put myself at the composers’ disposal not just as accordionist but as performing bodyraises an ethical question regarding power structures and potential exploitation, which could spark the interest of researchers who problematize hierarchies between composer and performer. However, in a relation where the performer is the potentially vulnerable part, the ethically intricate position is that of the composer – not the performer. Composer-performer hierarchies and power relations in collaborative creative processes [15] are inherent to the design of Just Do It! as research project, but although these topics are interesting and could be problematized, this is not the objective of my research. Just Do It!seeks to investigate the musician’s bodily performance from the practice based point of view of the musician, and therefore neither the composer-performer hierarchies nor the collaborative creative processes will be discussed further. 

Nonetheless, in order to describe the musician’s stance from which my research is conducted, my relation to composer and work is of course relevant. 


The responsible performer

In my early years of study at the music academy, practical experience forged the fundamental credo which I still profess: music is the communication of emotions through sound. This is a rather common and old-school idea, stipulated by the ancient Greek philosophers – in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music (2011), philosopher Stephen Halliway ascribes the notion that ‘music allows processes and impulses of feeling to be captured in the movements of sound and thereby transmitted to and replayed by other minds’ [16] to Socrates – but neurology and the discovery of mirror neurons approaches a contemporary scientific explanation to the phenomenon, musicians and audiences have enjoyed forever: ‘listening to music lightens up parts of the brain associated with both emotion and movement’ [17]. 


Thus, the act of performance is also an act of creation: music is constantly conveying an emotional expression from the body of the musician to the body of the listener. There is no such thing as expressionless music (although the expression may at times be ‘expressionlessness’), and the musician must constantly be consciously engaged with emotional expression. In other words: the communicative potential of a musical work is realized through the inescapably co-creating performer. 


In his influential essay ‘The Death of The Author’ (1967) [18], Roland Barthes asserts that the meaning of a text cannot be controlled by the author, because meaning is created only when the text meets the subject of the reader. Similarly (but not identically since music as opposed to the author-reader dualism is a composer-musician-audience trinity), one could say that a composer cannot control the meaning of a musical score, because meaning is created only when the score meets the body of the musician, through whom it is then induced into the audience. This indicates why we are usually drawn to performances where the musician ‘owns it’ on stage. However, it is not to say that composer-intentions, notated instructions in the score or historically accumulated knowledge of stylistic traditions or ‘great masters’ should be disregarded, rather that none of those elements make any sense if the musician is not subjectively engaged in bringing them to life in the moment of performance. 


Since musical meaning depends on the musician’s ownership of the work, we can revitalize the concept of ‘werktreue’ [19] – fidelity to the work – which performers of scored music sometimes regard as ‘subordination to the work’, meaning inhibition or elimination of the musician’s subjective influence on the performance. For the co-creating performer, however, the stance is different: the work offers itself as an interface or prism through which the musician can uncover, catalyze, cultivate, embody and experience expressions which would otherwise be hidden, or even unattainable, because they were initially conceived by someone else, namely the composer. In human relationships fidelity differs from subordination (I would hope) although fidelity often implies a loss of ego. It is only when we strive to meet the other that we develop ourselves, so in my opinion, werktreue facilitates an expansion rather than an inhibition of the musician’s subjectivity. In this light, werktreue becomes a positive, stimulating virtue, not least when engaging in the bodily performance of New Discipline works.


Following this, I agree with musician and musicologist William Teixeira and composer Silvio Ferraz, when they write that:

As interpreters, we are challenged piece after piece to seek the most appropriate way to know a new reality and to have access to that, making it known in our performance. There is not only a single vibrato, a single fingering, just as there is no single harmonic system, phraseology or formal approach. We must actualize, making music real in opening ourselves to its own vibrato, its fingering; its harmony and its form. Open ourselves to the other who are there and respond to him; that is, being responsible. And so we can offer to the public maybe not the best, the most refined and most beautiful; but surely the most responsible performance. [20]


Striving to ‘open ourselves to the other’ in order to unfold a work’s ‘new reality’ which we could not be imagined alone, and ‘make it known’ to the audience through a consciously constant expressive engagement is in my opinion the ethical obligation of a performing musician – and it is from the point of view of this responsible performer that Just Do It! attempts to answer the following primary research questions:


       How can musicians fulfil the same demands of finesse and expression in bodily performance as with their instruments? 

       How can methods from the fields of acting and dancing be fruitful to obtain this?  

       How can instrumental musical praxis can be augmented into the realm of non-instrumental performance?

       What new skills, knowledge, and practice methods have I acquired through the process? 




My sincere and heartfelt thanks goes to you,


James Black, Philip Venables, Ted Huffman, Marcela Lucatelli, Louise Alenius and Jennifer Walshe 

– for agreeing to collaborate and for writing such profound, challenging, wonderful and transforming new works for me. Without you, Just Do It! would have never been done.


Kirstine Fogh Vindelev, Aedín Cosgrove, Pierre Martin and Susanne Borregaard

– for invaluable and vital contributions to the works. Without you they would not have become what they are. 


Oslo Sinfonietta musicians and administrators

– for incredible devotion to PERSONHOOD on and off stage. I still do not comprehend how we managed to put it all together in only four days. 


Jonas Kriegbaum, Louise Beck and Henrik Birch 

– for essential observations and inspiring conversations. 


Edward Pearce, Hilary Briggs, Idil Alpsoy and Naja Månsson

– for providing countless revelations through your exquisite coaching. 


Tanja Orning

– for your ceaseless and contagious optimism, apt feedback, insightful questions and inspiring discussions through four years of supervision as well as crucial, critical reading of the writing in this exposition. And – not the least – for suggesting and gently but relentlessly pushing me to write my own piece!


Manos Tsangaris

– for knowing exactly how to guide me into and through my first composition process 

and Frauke Aulbert/Festival für Immaterielle Kunst

– for programming it in advance. Without both of you I would still not have created my first ‘Study’. 


The Norwegian Academy of Music and the The Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music (NordART) 

– for believing in my research proposal and for offering outstanding framework and support for the realization of it. 


all the festivals and venues that have programmed the Just Do It!-pieces and the audience that came to experience them

– for facilitating what this is all about. 


the following financial supporters and co-commissioners of the new works

– for making it possible.


Augustinus Fonden

Arts Council of Ireland


Borealis en festival for eksperimentell musikk

Danish Arts Foundation


Koda’s Cultural Funds 

New Music Dublin

Norwegian Academy of Music

Oslo Sinfonietta

Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival