ON Multilayeredness

On "Multilayeredness in Solo Performance”


When I said that it was a metaphor. That is, it's the way the Talmudist would read the same little scene, or dialogue with a capacity for interpretation, which is many, many fold. They will give you a hundred versions possible of this or that episode – which I think is admirable. There's no conclusive version, there are a hundred versions. And this is important. Now when I look at anything that happens in reality, any kind of event, I want a hundred versions of it. 


                                                           –Hélène Cixous [1]


As for the title of this project, we could begin by reading it in three parts, starting off with "Multilayeredness". A term that might seem a little unusual in relation to "Solo Performance" and for that same reason perhaps also evocative of a wider imagination as to its implications. 

In a broader terminological orientation, "multilayeredness" resonates ambiguously across a diversity of fields, covering a myriad of usages without being anchored in any specific discipline. As such, it is a term with no stable home, a semantic multiplicity transposed around various contexts. 

Within the field of music, we often encounter “multilayeredness” as a metaphor for sonic complexity, implying musical phenomena that in a more conventional terminology could refer to elements such as polyphony, counter point, harmony, rhythm, texture, structure and form [2]. Elements all pointing to the material substance of sound: its layers, lines, points, particles, amplitudes, durations, shapes, movements and speeds.

Sometimes the term also serves as a way of describing musical experience, hinting the sensory and psychological processes of listening. This aspect, however, generally seems to extend beyond the academe of music, often connecting across other academic contexts, which in part is borne by the transdisciplinary approaches within many listening and sound art practices.

If we were to stay with these two perspectives as a basis for our understanding, we could speak of multilayeredness in relation to the materiality of physical sound on one hand, and to the virtuality of psychological experience on the other. And yet, as we speak along this binary construction, the one hand and the other, we are also reminded of our inclination to dualize along such handy two-somes, as for instance the well-known, well-worn pairs: object-subject, physical-psychological, body-mind and so on. The question then, is perhaps more if these two perspectives could be approached with greater flexibility as to their orientations on the performative horizon? Even to the point of a conjugation, a vibrant conjoining. Also in order to open up an in-between which is situative of the intra-acting [3] dynamics between actual and virtual qualities: between co-affecting bodies of sound, sensation, feeling, touch, thought, imagination – connecting and colliding in-and-through the moment of play.  

In trying to define "multilayeredness" during the early stages of the project, the following lines were attempted as a preliminary framework around our term: 


"Multilayeredness” could be approached as both a multiplicity of sonic characteristics (texturally, dynamically, energetically) and as a differentiality of movements, gestures and speeds. These perspectives make ground for working simultaneously with varying degrees of horizontal and vertical orientations in the musical material, opening up a spatial and sculptural approach (planes, clouds, clusters) in contrast to a more linear polyphony.


Even if this formulation was coined prematurely, its concept of multilayeredness points to an awareness of both the substance-matter of sound and to the experiential and temporal process of play, giving hints of possible mergings between qualities and quantities, orientations and dimensions, characteristics and durations, between player and what/who is in play: the piano and its contextual layers, the sounds and their mimetic traces, the performative situation and its situated actions, which is also to say expectations, preparations, schoolings, habits, memories, all entangled in a time-space of manifold foregrounds and backgrounds.

Looking a little closer at the term, now in careful distinction between "multi" and "layeredness", we might add more detail to our understanding. 

"Multi" stems from the Latin term "multus", which also translates to "much, many", denoting the numerous, to the point of the innumerable, countless, myriad. Where "multi" denotes the quantitative, "layeredness" indicates the quality or condition of having layers. 

Returning to our project we find that this qualitative dimension not only points to the layeredness of, say, sonic material, but as much to our capacity to experience it, implying also our own layered conditioning: the habitual and mimetic aspects of listening, sensing, moving, thinking and playing.


Collins online dictionary brings a definition of the adjective "multilayered"  that provides us with yet different nuances. It goes: “offering several viewpoints, solutions, degrees of complexity, etc.” 


Could we try then to offer several "viewpoints" to this project as a way to diversify our perspectives? Viewpoints not only in terms of opinion, but also sonically, visually, bodily, imaginally, in order to elucidate the research practice, both in the on-going process and in the immediate light of play? 


Firstly, we could speak of a layer of sound (acoustics), spanning from the well-tempered piano towards a broader sonification of the unpitched regions of the piano body. 

A layer of image (optics) that illuminates the practice in a visual domain. Here, also work with a multiplicity of viewpoints as concrete visual points, camera angles, in order to shed a diversity of lights on the solo performance practice. 

A layer of touch (haptics) concerning the tactility of play, the physical contact points between body-instrument; 

A layer of motion (kinaesthetics) concerning the proprioceptive faculties of the body in movement, its co-ordination and positioning of play.

Adding to these categories, we could also speak of a layer of synaesthetics, relating to the perceptual interwovenness of sound and image, toward a listening where sounds are visualized and images are sonified, a visual or even visionary listening, or what we might call an ”imaginal listening”.

A layer of electronics, involving digital code and programming, allowing for a different kind of manipulation of the sonic and visual material, stretching the pitches and images, the temperaments and temperatures of sound, colour and light;

And we could speak of a layer of thought (noetics) concerning the faculties of reflection, cognition and memory, involving critical reflection, also in relation to a criticality of listening; 

And to sum up this eightfold, we could include a layer of poetics, concerning how to formulate – in speech and writing – insights to a practice which is situative of bodily, sensorial and imaginal experience and therefore, so to speak, tacit. 


If a terrain is slowly beginning to emerge, we could take a step further into the title, towards “in”, understood here as settled in a context, a field of practice, that resides both within historical and contemporary grounds; and as nested within a performative action, in the moment of play, which implicates yet a different temporality than the chronology of time in relation to, say, a certain tradition or lineage.

This brings us to the final part of the title, “Solo Performance”, not to be understood here as a solo feature where one performs in the foreground of an ensemble. It represents a performative situation without the support of an ensemble or the interplay with co-musicians. As such, it is a pivotal format for many musicians, which seems to carry with it a certain kind of challenge. A way of testing, more or less playfully, one’s capacities, and be as it may, a situation of also facing one's liminalities. 

In his book on improvisation, guitarist and improviser, Derek Bailey writes on the solitude of solo playing:

Improvising alone, before an audience, is not without its terrors. The temptation, when nothing else seems to be offering itself, to resort to tried and proven procedures, to flog those parts of the performance which are most palatalbe to an audeince – and no musician who has spent time playing in public is in any doubt about what they are – is not easily resisted and it is clear that in solo improvising, as with a great deal of performed music, a succesful audience response can be the cause of rituals and formulae being repeatedly trotted out long after they have lost any musical motivation. [...] Once the solo playing descends to being the recycling of previously succesful formulae its relevance to improvisation becomes pretty remote. [4]


How can one turn this situation inside out? How can one open up this apparent solitude in order to expand the solo performative terrain and free up one's orientations in the moment of play? 

Here it is perhaps necessary to inquire our very capacity to expand on these liminalities. Expanding not necessarily in terms of a bettering, as in taking a step forward or upward along some scale of progression toward a greater virtuosity. A step rather in direction of a zero, which could here symbolize a non-dual space. Zeroing meaning also a silencing of the habitual.

We may bring into play here John Keats’ famous expression “Negative Capability” coined in a letter to his brothers, which goes: 


Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. [5]


In the introductory chapter “Toward a Negative Capability” David Wood picks up on Keats’ lines in his book entitled “The Step Back”, itself a potent metaphor in this context:

What we have called the step back calls into play a negative capability insofar as it resists these pressures to prematurely resolve complex questions, it refuses to pretend that boundaries that have been constructed are just there, it refuses to agree that the way things are is the way they must be, and it consequently affirms the responsibilities of critical reflection and patience that flow from these refusals. By negative capability we do not mean what Hegel would call the work of the negative, which would take shape as dialectical progression. [6]


Taking a step back toward a negative capability, as a movement out of certain rigidities, beyond certain patterns that are repetitiously ingrained in our systems. And then to see if we can free up this fixidity by way of a repetition that intensifies and ritually expands the field of practice. Responsive to the dynamic contingencies of play, nurturing also a process of unlearning as ground for new insights.

Returning then to the aforementioned moment of play, as a notion of a different temporality than linear, chronological time. A moment of timing and timeliness, an expression of time also referred to as kairological or kairotic time, leading us back to the Greek term of kairos [Καιρός]. Artistic researcher and writer, Emma Cocker, elaborates:


Drawing specifically on the Ancient Greek rhetorical conceptualization, the term kairos is often taken to mean ‘timing’ or the ‘right time’, a ‘decisive’ critical moment whose fleeting opportunity must be grasped before it passes. It describes a qualitatively different mode of time to that of linear or chronological time (chronos). It is not an abstract measure of time passing but of time ready to be seized, an expression of timeliness, a critical juncture or ‘right time’ where something could happen. [7]


If we could agree that a critical juncture is a space of encounter between co-affecting forces, and as such, situative of dynamic relations, then what are they in light of this specific project?


There is of course the relation between player–piano which brings to mind the interacting faculties of sonic, tactile and proprioceptive perceptions of the player: one’s physical disposition, co-ordination, flexibility, speed, touch, along with more suprasensory faculties of memory, thought, intuition and imagination. All unfolding in relation to the piano, which is itself a multilayered body of rich traditions and schools, of conventions and counter movements: the well-tempered piano and its many alternative tunings and extended techniques.

Even if different contextual lines come together in this project in terms of the instrument itself, we attempt to approach the piano more in its concrete topography, as a body of many regions and materials – the keys, strings, hammers, pedals, the soundboard, keyboard, harp, piano lid – all in order to investigate its sonic potential. And then again to transpose this topography of play into the audio-visual field of the video keyboard, where the relation player–piano takes on different dynamics.

Looking a little closer at this core relation "player–piano" as two interacting bodies, the question is of course “who’s” playing “who”? 

Here we find that it is not only a matter of playing the piano but also of being played by it, thus opening our attention to the relations between an affecting body and an affected body. Could this critical juncture of co-affecting forces, of bodies playing bodies, possibly open up the unidirectionality of the solo performer (player -> instrument -> audience) [8] toward a more multidirectional orientation, which resembles the solo performer as ”one that works on and is worked on by the situation”, as Emma Cocker notes by way of Debra Hawhee: 


Hawhee conceptualizes the medial position of “invention-in-the-middle” as a kairotic movement involving “simultaneous extending outwards and folding back”; it is a “space-time that marks the emergence of a pro-visional ‘subject’, one that works on and is worked on by the situation”. [9]


This "invention-in-the-middle" opens an all-directional awareness, suggesting also a flexibility of the player's position and trans-positioning along different vectors of space and time. Reminding us again of the potential to free up the unidirectional intentionality of the solo performer in a more diverse “context of vectors and lived intentionalities”. Calvin O. Schrag points out:


It needs to be remembered, however, that decision is not an isolated act of the will. Decision requires a world, a context of vectors and lived intentionalities, which enter into the constituting process of making choices. The unification of experience is not based on a voluntaristic act, traditionally understood. The achievement of unity requires energies and contexts that go beyond the traditional isolation of a willing faculty. [10]

Linking up these traditional isolations with the conditional isolation of the solo performer, alone, on stage, solely exposed, lights turned on – perhaps also the brightness of reflection, not leaving much in the dark, the dimness of the negative capability. The question is if we could soften the fixidities of the isolated willing faculties performing “I” in place of a more dynamic fluency of experience, re-configuring the “I” into a differentiated, many-directional “vectorial flow”. Or as Schrag puts it: 


Experience in its dynamic unfolding shows itself as an organic complex of vectors, which bind together its world-manifesting constituents. The constituents of world experience (experiencer-experiencing-figure-with-background) achieve their connections and conjunctions in a vectorial flow, which binds the constituents together into meaningful configurations. When a particular content of experience is focused upon, consciousness is directed toward an attended figure, and the figure itself reaches out toward a background, differentiated into multiple regions. [11]


Translating this back to our project, it seems to connect with some our initial lines on the concept of multilayeredness: the varying degrees of vertical and horizontal orientations of play, its spatial and temporal implications.  


The vectors within this world experience, which houses a manifold of meanings, move along the horizon-forms of time and space. More precisely, time and space are themselves vectorial. The experience of temporal presence has embedded within it vectorial associations with past and future. Presentation is vectorially linked with retention and protention. The three modes of time, as we have already observed, are ecstatic; they interpenetrate and intermingle. Likewise the experience of spatial presence is imbued with vectorial references to right and left, above and below, front and back. [12]



Still applying as richly as possible our interpretation of what multilayeredness can entail, we could begin to see the research practice in terms of a terrain made up of interconnecting layers:  a horizon of practice grounds that constitute different areas or "works". This multi-strandedness also becomes a way of fertilizing a variation of positions and varying perspectives on the core topic.  The improvisatory element is perhaps what flows through them all most significantly, also relates to what is coined “fireworks”, implying an improvisatory intensification of daily practice routines.

As such, it is a practice of improvisation in which the process leading up to the performance, is one of repetition and ritual: of repetition as an intensifier that potentializes the performative situation in direction of the unexpected, unforeseen, yet still orienting on a basis of preliminary practice. We have spoken of Keats' "Negative Capability" and of David Wood's "the step back"  and so "fireworks" has to do with a practice where we try to turn down certain habitual rigidities and step back from the surface of conventional comfort, in order to "fire up" the unknown capacities of the bodies in play. Reminding us of the core teaching of Spinoza, as exclaimed by Gilles Deleuze a few hundred years later: "We do not know what the body is capable of." [13] And still with Keats in mind: to fire up the Mysteries, contingencies within the practice, reminding us that "the step back" is above all a mindset that may allow us to leap into the performative unknown.

Indeed, the very principle of improvisation—of beginning a performance without a pre-set plan or script, without knowing where it will lead—necessarily embraces a sense of risk and uncertainty, the stepping off or away from what is known towards ‘not knowing’. The challenge then is one of leaning towards rather than away from the void of the not-yet-known; moreover, to resist ‘filling’ that void too hastily with a repertoire of predicted forms and practised rhythms. [14]


And connecting these ethics of improvisation to a kairotic practice, Emma Cocker continues, again with Debrah Hawhee as co-inspirational voice: 


A kairotic practice involves responding to each situation anew, rather than based on responses that are already rehearsed and ready in waiting. Kairos is a contingent form of working knowledge, not based on knowing how to deal with a situation in advance, where the future is predicted and prepared for. It is a form of knowledge borne of the moment, from having confidence that the right decision will be made when required: it involves trusting (tôi kairôi—‘to trust the moment’) that a response will be performed appropriately and with skill at the propitious time. As Hawhee states, ‘(t)he fleeting movement of kairos necessitates a move away from a privileging of “design” or preformulated principles’, towards an emphasis on the ‘body, timing, and a flexible, responsive intelligence’. [15]


And now also including Glyn P. Norton in her voicing of the kairotic and the improvisatory:

Indeed, whilst an embodied, kairotic facility is developed through rhythmic, repeated acts of habituation, as Glyn P. Norton asserts, this is ‘not about allegiance to ingrained habits, but rather about our readiness to repudiate the habitual, to break with routine—to improvise’. [16]

Returning then to our terminological musings on “multilayeredness” and the ensuing investigations of its manifold relations to solo performance: co-affecting forces in play – encounters, clashes, collisions, conjunctions of play – vectors of time and space (per)formative of the kairotic moment. A kairological orientation that also reminds us of the aforementioned “step back” from the many-layered conditions of/in/at play: A step back from the habituative forms of a fixed track toward a field of play, situative of a more multidirectional awareness. Opening oneself to the vectorial flows of the kairotic moment. A flow, which according to our dispositioning, could be experienced as a floating, continuous momentum. Or – which may well be the case – at times, a more fragmented experience: a fleeting moment, escaping our attention, momentary, brief. Calling to our attention the responsibility in listening, acutely, and to participate with a care for sound in "its invisible mobility", as sound artist and philosopher, Salomé Voegelin here formulates: 


I argue that sound, its invisible mobility, illuminates the seen in new ways and demands we engage in the possible as well as in the actual. It challenges the notion of singularity and shows us that things are as verbs, as actions and as dynamics a multiplicity of ways, and once we realize that there is this plurality we have to become responsible and participate in how it takes part in the actuality of what we consider to be real. In this context, sound is not positioned as an essentiality, something in itself, but as a material that through its invisible ephemerality demands our engagement, our imagination and fantasy to become part of the real as a multisensory real. The notion that we are designers of our own environment does not imply an anthropocentric creationism but hints at the responsibility we have in deciding what counts and what does not count in the dominant representation of the real. [17]

A tall order, and still, in the light of the latter part of our title, its expressive outset, we could try to experience things in their plurality and suggest more active, verbalized forms of the layer – also with regard to its manifold synonyms: strata, cover, vest, veil, furl, fold. A transitivity of forms opening up yet other qualities – dynamic, contingent, responsive as to the moment of play: to un-fold, un-veil, dis-cover, re-fold, in-vest, un-furl, re-veal sounds, movements, images, imaginations – in solo performance.






Bailey, Derek (1993). Improvisation: It's Nature and Practice in Music, Da Capo Press

Barad, Karen (2012). What Is the Measure of Nothingness? Infinity, Virtuality, Justice / Was ist das Maß des Nichts? Unendlichkeit, Virtualität, Gerechtigkeit. 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts / 100 Notizen – 100 Gedanken, Nº099: Karen Barad. dOCUMENTA (13) © 2012 documenta und Museum Fridericianum Veranstaltungs-GmbH, Kassel; Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern; Karen Barad


Barad, Karen (2012). “Intra-actions” (Interview of Karen Barad by Adam Kleinmann). dOCUMENTA (13) Issue of Mousse Magazine (Milan, Italy)


Bate, Walter Jackson (1963). John Keats. Harvard University Press


Blyth, Ian & Sellers, Susan (2004). Hélène Cixous: Live Theory. Continuum.


Cocker, Emma (2018). What now, what next—kairotic coding and the unfolding

future seized, Digital Creativity, 29:1, 82-95, DOI: 10.1080/14626268.217.1419978


Cocker, E. (2014). Live Notation: Reflections on a Kairotic Practice. Performance Research Journal, Vol.18, No.5 ‘On Writing and Digital Media’.


Cocker, E., Gansterer, N. & Greil, M. (2015). Choreo-graphic Figures: Beginnings and Emergences. Ruukku, On Process. Retrieved 09 12, 2015, from http://ruukku-journal.fi/en

Cocker, E., Gansterer, N. & Greil, M. (2016). Notion of Notation >< Notation of Notion. Performance Research Journal, On An/Notations Vol.20, Issue 6.

Deleuze, Gilles (1988). Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (Robert Hurley, Trans.) San Francisco: City Lights Books. 


Deleuze, Gilles (1990). Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Zone Books. 


Deleuze, Gilles (1969). Bergsonism. Translated by Barbara Habberjam and Hugh Tomlinson. Zone Books.


Hawhee, D. (2002) Kairotic Encounters. Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention. Eds. Atwill, J & 

Lauer, J. M. University of Tennessee Press. 


Hawhee, D. (2004). Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece. University of Texas Press. 


Schrag, Calvin O. (1969). Experience and being: Prolegomena to a future ontology, p. 79, North Western University Press.


Thinking Resonance (I) – Listening to Inner Voices and Sonic Possible Worlds: An Interview with Salomé Voegelin. http://sonicfield.org/listening-to-inner-voices-and-sonic-possible-worlds-an-interview-with-salome-voegelin/


Wood, David (2005). The Step Back: Ethics and Politics after Deconstruction, p. 4, State University of New York Press

ON Multilayeredness

[1] Blyth, Ian & Sellers, Susan (2004). Hélène Cixous: Live Theory, p. 106, Continuum.

[2] Lutoslawski speaks of “wielowarstwowość” (Polish for multilayeredness) in relation to the compositional form structures of his music (see "Lutoslawski and His Music" by Steven Stucky, p. 140); Danish composer, Per Nørgård uses the term “flerlagethed” (Danish for multilayeredness) which in his music operates in both micro and macro form perspectives inspired both by the composer Sibelius and in part also by socio-cultural phenomena in the manylayered, non-hierarchical systems of music and society in Balinese culture.


[3] We draw inspiration here from Karen Barad’s concept of intra-action.

[4] Bailey, Derek (1993). Improvisation: It's Nature and Practice in Music, p. 106-107, Da Capo Press

[5] Jackson Bate, Walter (1963). John Keats, p. 249, Harvard University Press

[6] Wood, David (2005). The Step Back: Ethics and Politics after Deconstruction, p. 4, State University of New York Press

[7] Cocker, Emma (2018). What now, what next—kairotic coding and the unfolding

future seized, Digital Creativity, 29:1, 82-95, DOI: 10.1080/14626268.2017.1419978

[8] This is of course a postulation, as many solo performers speak of a rich dialogue with their respective instruments, however, as Derek Bailey also states, even the very experienced solo performers risk falling into the pit of chasing a onedirectional routewhen performing: from mind/reflection, to instrument/action, to performance/reception.

[9] Emma Cocker (2018) What now, what next—kairotic coding and the unfolding

future seized, Digital Creativity, 29:1, 82-95, DOI: 10.1080/14626268.2017.1419978

[10] Schrag, Calvin O. (1969). Experience and being: Prolegomena to a future ontology, p. 83, North Western University Press.

[11] ibid.


[12] ibid.


[13] Deleuze, Gilles (1990) Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Zone Books.

[14] Emma Cocker (2018) What now, what next—kairotic coding and the unfolding

future seized, Digital Creativity, 29:1, p. 82-95, DOI: 10.1080/14626268.2017.1419978

[15] ibid.


[16] ibid.


[17] Thinking Resonance (I) – Listening to Inner Voices and Sonic Possible Worlds: An Interview with Salomé Voegelin. http://sonicfield.org/listening-to-inner-voices-and-sonic-possible-worlds-an-interview-with-salome-voegelin/