V. From executing to co-creating


A shift is happening in the relationship between the composer and the performer. The performer wishes to be a bigger part of the generative process in new work. And they are demanding credit for their contributions. Increasingly performers even ask for authorial crediting for their ideas. Many performers wish for their subjectivity to be reflected in the works they are a part of commissioning and creating. And they wish to collapse the boundaries between the composer and the performer. Much like the shift in relation to the instrument, the shift in relation to the composer is causing a mutation in how the performer views her artistic practice. The executing musician can now become a co-creating performer.


The relation to the composer is a major component for what constitutes a performer’s artistic practice. The performer who primarily works with scores may consider herself an interpreter or a musical executor. The performer that adopts collaborative practices involving workshops and meetings with the composer at the later stages of the compositional process may consider herself an adviser that in some small or large way puts their unique imprint on the outcome of the piece. The advising process may include details of notation, the generation of material through improvisation, and other matters. The performer who co-creates with the composer in close collaboration, may consider consider herself to be a deviser1 of musical works. A performer can also move fluidly between these collaborative practices, either between projects, or even within a single project, especially one with a long duration or an extended gestation period. (See fig. 1)


It is the performer who co-creates through devising methods that most radically challenges her artistic practice and the skills and dispositions upon which it is built. Co-creating demands a musician who is willing and able to share the compositional and generative process with the composer. Depending on the type of work made, it may demand that the performer venture into fields far beyond music and her instrument. In work that looks towards theatre and performativity, the performer may find herself building scenography, making costumes, working as a videographer or as a writer. Everything can happen. In my own practice I experience a devising collaborative practice to be a radical rethinking of what a performer is and can be. It encapsulates a philosophy of the performer as an artist of “all-of-the-above”, incorporating performance as well as composition, creation, research, experimentation, and an ever-expanding tendency towards new skills and dispositions.


The following is an article written on devising practices as reflected in this research project. It was published in the VIS Nordic Journal for Artistic Research, Issue 0. It has been slightly altered for the purposes of this reflective text.


The performer as deviser (see fig. 1)

The performer as deviser is the performer as co-creator or co-composer. Within the world of contemporary music, the performer as deviser is the most radical practice a performer can assume as it presents the widest range of possibilities regarding what a performer can be and how a performer can contribute to a new musical piece. The word “devise”2 in this context refers to strategies used in theatre and live arts originating in the 1950's and 1960’s, most notably in the model of theatre known as devised theatre (Heddon & Milling, 2005, p. 1 - 3). Devised theatre is a generative practice in which the traditional method of creating theatre, which begins with a script and relies on a hierarchy lead by a director, is replaced with a flat structure in which all theatre practitioners contribute to the creation of a new work, including the actors, scenographers, technicians, and others (Oddey, 1996, p. 4). No matter the medium, devised creations are usually made in a non-hierarchical, collective, and collaborative structure. Devised creations are usually made "from scratch", and each phase of the generative process usually involves all participating artists regardless of the artist's expertise. In devised composition, the hierarchy between the performer and composer is dissolved, allowing both parties to contribute to creative and practical decision making. Devising usually results in co-authored works. In some cases, the composer also performs on stage alongside the performer. Devising most distinctly raises the question of authorship, and it is within this form of collaboration that the performer and the composer may enter into negotiations considering authorial credit and the division of financial reward.

The following outline of tendencies in devising draws on examples from devised theatre as a parallel employed to illustrate possible practices of a deviser performer. Like advisory collaboration, devising presents manifold processes and results that are often idiosyncratic to the artists involved. It is therefore useful to the reader to conceptualize devising as a spectrum in itself, with the potential that specific processes are left unrepresented within this account.

In devising, the role of the performer differs to that of more traditional compositional collaborative roles in a number of key ways. Many of these differences are grounded in the fact that the performer is integrated into the generative process as a co-creator. The devising performer thus shares with the composer the decision-making process inherent to creating a new piece. These creative and practical decisions are usually made with performer and the composer working at the same time in the same space.3 The immediacy of the devising process thus creates a bypass whereby the score is not necessarily required as tool for communicating musical ideas from the composer to the performer. Quite simply, in devised creation there is no object such as a score with which a performer interfaces, but rather the critical interaction occurs between the performer and another artistic subject. This differs to more separated collaborative models whereby most artistic decisions are ultimately made and drafted at the composer’s desk. The diminished significance of the score emphasizes the performer's relation to the composer and to the process of creation as critical relations that form a performer's subjectivity. 

In addition to enhancing the relation to the composer, the devised process' displacement of the score as the performer's starting point for realizing a musical piece also offsets interpretation of a score as the primary activity of a performer. In devised composition it's even possible that the score may never be created at all. Very often, if the composition is written down it is done so primarily for the purpose of preserving the composition for future performance, rather than to communicate instructions to a performer for the first time. This act of writing-down can also happen long after the performance has happened. Theatre director Simon McBurney says the following about the notion of a script or text as a step in a devising process,

“Most of the time a theatrical production is constructed in the following order: writing, rehearsal, performance and, sometimes, translation... In our creations, the process is... reversed...[it] becomes rehearsal-performance-translation-writing.” (Cavendish, 2015).


The score's loss of significance in both the generative and rehearsal processes as described in McBurney's statement is in part due to the tendency that devising often collapse the acts of creating and the act of rehearsing so that both occur at once. In this collapsed process, the material may be developed through improvisation, game playing, and other contingent methods, potentially making it feasible for the performer to create and rehearse almost simultaneously. This means that the allocation of a performers time can be radically shifted from that of more separate collaborative models whereby the majority of the performer's time is spent alone rehearsing a completed score. This potential reallocation of time away from private rehearsing can further emphasize the performer's relation to the composer, as well as to the act of creation.

Devising very often requires large spans of time to create new work. It's not necessarily that devising requires more time when compared to more separated collaborative models, it's that many devising processes require more time with the composer and performer working together in a shared space. As discussed above, the collapsed process that includes both creating and rehearsing often requires that both the composer and performer be present throughout the entire process. Acquiring the time and resources necessary for an extended devising period is not always possible. It could even be said that such a concept runs antithetical to the typical rehearsal process in contemporary music, which can span a mere handful of days (Walshe, 2016). However, the investment of time into devising not only serves the work, but can also deepen relations between collaborators. As devised theatre practitioner Alexandra Desaulniers suggests, it's not just time living with a piece, it's also time living with each other,

“...we accepted that a three or even six-week rehearsal process would simply not suffice to create this show, and agreed to live with the work, and each other, for six months instead.” (Desaulniers, 2012).

Devising and co-creating also shifts the performer's relation to the notion of responsibility, meaning who in a collaboration is responsible for what and when. Devised creation creates a situation for everyone to be “in it together” in a “joint tenancy” (Meill & Littleton, 2004, p. 14). This notion relies on all participants taking responsibility and ownership for the entire piece and its process, including its reception, rather than each party taking care for only their personal and specialized work. For example, in devised creation the notion of a composer or performer “blaming” the other for the failed reception of a piece is simply not possible (Aslan & Lloyd, 2016). Simply put, the group rises and falls together.

For the performer, the demand of taking on more responsibility requires not only courage and generosity but often also new skills and dispositions. In devised creation the performer is not only an instrumentalist but also a contributor to a shared concept. This expanded responsibility again shifts the performer’s development of ‘voice’ from the instrument or score towards the act of creating from scratch. This requires not only instrumental skills but critical and creative thinking aided by research and risk taking. The performer who engages with this method of working may also experience the generative process itself as a training ground for their expanding artistic practice. Desaulniers reflects on the notion of expanding practices with the following perspective,

“As both creator and performer, the role of actor in devised theatre requires more than learning lines and inhabiting a previously established character...[it] was up to our ensemble to maintain structure...Even design elements were not off-limits for discussion...” (Desaulniers, 2012).

In a devising practice, the performer can also be a co-author, composer, improviser, researcher, designer, specialist, beginner, and, forever, so on. In this way, the performer as deviser is the most radical collaborative model in its rethinking of what a performer can be and how a performer can engage in the genesis of a new work. It suggests that creating and co-authoring can also constitute a performance practice.

As performers increasingly insist on existing in flattened hierarchies that displace old value systems, they risk undergoing a transformation of artistic self that can result in altogether unimagined forms. As performers put themselves on more equal footing with their composer-collaborators and/or as they displace their instrument as the core of their artistic practice, fundamental systems are being shook. It’s not possible to predict every form that these processes of metamorphosis may yield. It’s not yet possible (it may never be possible) to articulate if new disciplines are actually emerging, or if possibly transdisciplinary practices can continue to sit unstable in the in-between spaces, or if they will begin to slip back into the standardized categories of the major art forms, or if all of this is a sign that musicians are simply abandoning the proverbial ship in search of another field entirely. Certainly it can be said that all of the above is possible and extremely likely.

IV. Preparation & Training; or, What becomes of “practicing”?


The musician’s craft demands that the musician prepare. Sound quality, imagination, technique, and learning scores all require the steady, daily act of practice. But when a mutation has occurred where the instrument and even “music” have more or less evaporated from a musician’s practice, what becomes of the practice of practicing? Following this line of thinking, performer-researcher Jessica Aszodi asks in her text, “Undisciplined Music”, “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)?” (2017). I strongly agree with Aszodi’s line of questioning and although the goal is not necessarily to become actors or dancers, it is still critical and possible to develop one’s skills and dispositions as an expanded performer. However, to do this our image of “practice” must take radically varied forms.


One step on our way to approaching this question around practice is to recognize the distinction between preparation and training, though these two terms are not mutually exclusive; training can appear as preparation and preparation can appear as training. However, there may be a slightly different quality to these two types of work depending on their use. From my perspective, training is a focused and contained activity, whereas preparation can appear as a more open-ended set of approaches for developing a performance practice. When this project began I sought to locate what types of skills a musician must “master” to specialize in and execute experimental music theatre and subsequently what types of activities would prepare the musician (me) for this type of performance.1 Over the course of this project, my understanding of training and preparation was radically altered and any ambition of providing a singular, stable, and coherent method for a musician, including myself, was replaced with a more nuanced approach that must be fit to the purpose of individual practices and pieces. The importance of recognising the difference between these two notions of training and preparation, and ultimately privileging concepts of preparation, opened up the notion of “practice” in my musician’s mind to include any number of activities aimed at readying one’s self for creative processes and performance.


I see training as the act of acquiring distinct skills through regular activity across a sustained period of time. For example, university educations are designed to train young people for a future life in music and other fields. Training can also take the form of workshops, classes, and lessons which are focused on specific skill development. Though training can include self-teaching, it is normally an activity that is contracted out, like when a pupil seeks guidance from an expert in a field. Though training often takes the form of classes and lessons, training activities can also be found imbedded in the act of creating new work. This is illustrated when training is lead by the director or leader of a project, for example in the case of theatre directors Konstantin Stanislavsky and Michael Chekhov, who used rehearsal time as an opportunity to train their actors. In these two examples, as well as others, teaching and directing often became “almost indistinguishable activities” (Murray & Keefe, 2007, pg. 122). In the example of a project leader training his or her performers, training often ceases to be a neutral act. Training then becomes a path leading towards specific aesthetic goals and values. In these cases, the training method and “the very aesthetic of training rigour can be seen to comprise a significant component of the art work (Matthews, 2011, pg. 31).”


I see preparation, on the other hand, as the act of readying one’s self for a specific creative process or performance. Preparation does not necessarily involve the acquisition of distinct skills or techniques and may rather include activities designed to cultivate an artist’s disposition within the creative process or performance. Preparation suggests a more open-ended set of possibilities than training, at least in the view of how training was unpacked above. Preparation can include research activities such as reading texts, seeing artistic work, attending lectures, and holding discussions. It can also include workshops, classes, and lessons, that provide specific knowledge, approaches, and skills for a particular work. Preparation can also take more oblique forms such as meditation practices, lifestyle habits, and group formation activities including administrative and logistical tasks, as well as sharing meals and other socializing. Preparation can be conceived as something undergone in a focused, contained period of time, or as something accumulated over a longer duration, even over a lifetime. In this sense, just about anything can be considered preparation as long as the activity is done with the intention of cultivating a particular work or is retrospectively reflected upon as providing such creative input.


My intention in what follows is not to offer a methodology that any other artist could use, nor is it to deny that a method could possibly exist. Every practice is unique and every practice reveals the methods it requires for cultivation. What I can offer are my reflections on several years working closely with this type of performance and to share my struggles and solutions for the development of skills. Though not exclusively the case, much of this work has been self-taught and/or acquired through the process of creating new work. What I have found as a possible method of “practice” in my own work lies in the oscillation between preparation and training.


When this research project was designed, I thought it would be possible to locate and articulate a method for developing extra-percussive skills. I believed this was necessary for both my own practice as well as for the development of percussion pedagogies. But as the project progressed and as I became more experienced in extended performance, I recognized that my initial hypothesis and research motivation did not adequately recognize the nuanced nature of cultivating an extended performance practice. Some skills can be learned, but others are not skills at all and are rather dispositions (openness, flexibility, risk-taking, generosity) that need to be nurtured through creative work. Some skills can be “contracted out” by engaging with skilled practitioners for lessons and workshops, while others require “learning by doing”.  At the start I believed that there was a pressing need for percussionists to finally take account for the extra-percussive skills our repertoire demands. For example, although pieces for speaking percussionist by Vinko Globokar, Georges Aperghis, and Frederic Rzewski are firmly rooted in the solo percussionist’s canon, I was never encouraged in my studies to develop the instrument of my voice despite it appearing as much or more often than some “core” percussion instruments within solo repertoire. I felt the next step in our art form would be to “master” these skills. Mastery, of course, is at the core of classical music training, and I simply assumed that this approach and value system could extend to expanded performance practices. However, over the course of this process I have become increasingly sceptical of such a method and of such a goal. I became increasingly suspicious of the concept of a musician, and in particularly myself, becoming a performer with notions of “mastery” embedded through one singular, coherent, or consistent approach. In my mind, “mastery” implies a closed-loop system wherein lies a distinct moment that one can recognize that the work is “done”.  Mastery would not only never be possible, reaching towards it seems unproductive. Instead of notions of mastery, it became more productive to think of practicing:  to practice, rather than master, skills and dispositions that serve an extended performance practice.


Works that venture so far beyond music that the audience may begin to wonder what genre or art form the performance and performer ascribe to are complex to realize. Across my development as a percussionist and indeed across the three years of this research I have struggled to find a reliable method through which I could begin to cover the basics of the skills one may require to faithfully and freely execute pieces such as this. Perhaps because of its relation to a musical practice, training the voice was and has been a useful and natural methodology to develop a consistent and trusted physical-theatrical “instrument”. However, when it comes to a question of theatre and developing skills that include character development and advanced body-based techniques, I have struggled to find a coherent method for this type of work, especially when theatrical training methods are so manifold and so specific, each designed with not only a unique strategy but also occasionally attached to unique aesthetic goals (Murray & Keefe, 2007).2 One reason for the difficulty in developing a stable or coherent method is that as a performer of other people’s work, one cannot always predict what types of skills will be demanded. The “performative” and “theatrical” in music emerges in such diverse forms that there is simply no “catch-all” method (at least that I have found) that can cover the myriad demands that this type of work requires. When the work created is constantly seeking to work against the grain, it can seem that there is no clear set of pre-existing methods. The process of developing new skills becomes one of inventing and experimentation, and can demand a strategy of assemblage that includes a wide range of approaches to training and preparation.  It continues to seem to me that this type of work does not demand a specific set of skills that are pre-ordained, but rather a performer with a flexible approach to preparation and training. And the way to preparing for this work can be just as experimental as the work itself.


As the research began to focus more acutely on the creation of new works that engage my body, I recognized that one of the primary places for training and developing was in the process of collaboration. In the collaborative process, we allowed the trajectory of creating the new works to push the performance materials towards whatever new skills were needed. We actively chose to remain open to new stage demands rather than forcing the work to stay within the bounds of skills I and my collaborators already firmly grasped. With each new work created, there was a sense of accumulation, a sense that new skills cultivated during the generative process were building upon each other. New works meant new skills. In the process of creating the body of work that builds this project, my earlier understanding that training and preparation occur outside of the generative process was contradicted and I began to view the act of creating as a fundamental training ground for becoming a stronger performer. From a performer’s point of view, especially that of a classical musician, this method feels at times dubious and unreliable. I come from a tradition based on practicing towards perfection, not improvising and acquiring during the rehearsal process. However, my slow release of these traditional views and methods allowed a suppler and more pliant performance practice, one where methods for creation and rehearsal could be improvised and invented, one where creating and practicing could become one and the same. Instead of conceptualizing my practice as one based on “mastery”, what seems more appropriate is a practice based on a “slow, daily extension and modification dispositions and abilities” (Murray & Keefe, 2007, pg. 120), in particular through the process of creating new work.


My experience here feels like a full reversal of the conservatory training model that follows the timeline of training then making; developing the works develops my skills. New pieces show what skills are required, and they may not be ones that can be found in a typical workshop or masterclass. Once the material is available it is possible to work with the camera or a specialist to improve and develop the material further. It is also possible to seek coaching after the piece is made or even after it has been performed many times to develop new entry points into the material and new understandings of the stage craft demanded by the work. It is a lifetime of practicing, which is exactly how we experience the concept of practice in relation to our instrument. At the core of all of these works, and at the core of all performance, is a need to develop an awareness of the body, timing, the relation to space and objects, and presence. This is a process that is undergone across a life-long practice that includes training, preparing, performing, and creating new work.

I. Flattening hierarchies 


In the article “Rethinking the performer: Towards a Devising Performance Practice” (2018), I argue that the performer’s relation to the composer is a primary element constituting her artistic practice. That is to say, the relation, the proximity even, that the performer has to the composer is as consequential to the musician’s artistic practice as her instrument is. This is quite obvious in a way. If one primarily plays pieces by dead composers, the proximity between the composer and the performer is so distant that the music-making process inevitably becomes one of interpretation. If one primarily plays music written in close collaboration with a (living) composer, the musician’s practice will become one built on some degree of collaboration. In my own practice I have experienced this shift towards a collaborative practice as a fundamental shift in how I view myself as an artist. My skills as a percussionist are just one part of the full picture of my approach to music making. My philosophy and practice of collaboration has taken more and more presence and emphasis within my daily work. The negotiation between artistic subjects and the collective nurturing of an artistic idea moves to the foreground, and the instrument becomes a method of working rather than the artistic aim. Because I primarily collaborate with composers and other co-creating musicians, I have experienced a blending of the skills associated with making and doing. I am beginning to compose and contribute to the conceptual frames that build a work, and the composers are increasingly performing alongside me. In other words, a mutation is occurring on both sides of the old dichotomy of performer and composer. We are both in a moment of flux and our practices are no longer singular. We are troubling the old definitions of musician and composer.1


Despite the collaborative work the relation to the instrument still remains a critical element constituting many musician’s practice as well as my own. The label of “percussionist” or “pianist” still carries much meaning. And yet it appears today that these labels are losing their grip on the musicians that apply them. Today, one is just as likely to see a pianist playing the piano as the pianist playing objects or machines.2 Traditional instruments are being traded in for low-fi technologies and objects that were previously quarantined to the world of percussion. This decoupling of the musician from their instrument brings consequences for how we can understand the contemporary music performer today. It is no longer the case that one is just a cellist. Rather one may choose to identify oneself as a contemporary musician or new music performer in general. What we are witnessing here is clearly a mutation from an instrument-focused musical practice to practices that are more inclusive to a range of instrumental objects, stage practices, and technologies. A musician’s performance practice can extend in any number of ways, and indeed I predict the horizons will continue to morph as all that constitutes performance becomes increasingly available to the once instrumental specialist.


In this project, one of the main methods for approaching what could be understood as the “essence” of my personal extended performance practice was to start the creation of new works with no instrument at all. Instead, each project would begin with the idea that the body would be the primary material, where this conception of “body” could include the use of my voice for both singing and speaking.  The work sought to locate what I already have as a performer and to work out (or in) from there. There was no desire to make me a dancer nor an actor, but rather to play with a body that is already imprinted with years of musical training and yet is also a body with a particular potential for performative extension.3


The format of the pieces was intentionally left open. I wanted to allow space for the work to become anything from a traditional concert work that incorporates physical or theatrical elements, to experimental music theatre, to installations, or to other media such as film. It was always assumed that the work made would be contextualized within the field of music, as I was always working with composers. The choice to work with composers was a conscious one as the project was concerned with identifying streams of practices that could be traced back to music traditions that extended from pioneers such as Mauricio Kagel, John Cage, and Dieter Schnebel. However, the choice of starting without an instrument, and the fact that several of the works remained without an instrument through their completion would destabilize my identity as a musician (both in terms of understanding my own artistic identity and for the audience who views the work). Without the instrument the work would also test, challenge, and expose the limitations of my skills on stage.


Without any instrument at the center of the work, not only did my relation to instrumentality become destabilized, but also my relationship to the notion of making sound as the foundation of a musical practice. This is not to say, however, that musical thinking and instrumental thinking are not employed, even without an instrument. For example, the body occasionally emerged as my instrument, but also much of the performance movement was built upon musical structures and thinking, such as concepts of counterpoint, synchronicity, and breath. This type of performance, without the instrument and without sound at the center of the work, again4 revealed that sound is but one possible activity that could build the total content of a music. The consequences of this is that I have begun to identify my practice as that of performance in general. My practice becomes not only a sounding or instrumental one, but also a performance practice in the sense that the body is leant to the stage for its concrete presence and for the spectator’s contemplation within a musical work (Lehmann, 2006, pg. 135).


To give an example from my research practice, in Institute for Post-Human Performance Practice, the content of the piece is 1) a cardboard installation built by Trond Reinholdtsen and myself, 2) a 35-minute “mockumentary" film starring myself and Reinholdtsen, and 3) live musical performance. The live performance of the score created by Reinholdtsen draws clear lines to a heritage of theatrical music that engages the musician through speaking and small moments of contained and simple acting. However, the film and installation show few traces of traditional musical performance practice except that the theme of the total work is firmly rooted in the world of contemporary music.  That is to say, though I am rarely performing as a musician on stage, I am always performing the role of a musician, a role that is “in reality” one I play. Though the piece relies on my actual knowledge as a percussionist and a musician, it almost does not use that knowledge as such within the work. My work in this piece is that of designer, visual artist, videographer, writer, actor, narrator, co-director, performer. The process of creating the work created an expanded practice that ventures far beyond the purview of the traditional musician.  However, it must be noted that the fact that I actually am a percussionist does, I believe, provide the work an additional dimension of “meaning”, much in the same way that a dimension of meaning is added when an actual pianist performs 4’33” (1952).


In another case, in How to Fight, created by Carolyn Chen in collaboration with myself, the content of the piece is built via 1) lecture-style texts spoken directly to an audience, 2) movements based on martial arts traditions as well as naïve, childlike gestures of play and pedestrian movements, 3) two-part song. This work is not formulated in relation to the idea of music or its history as such. That is to say that the situation of music is not the grounds for the theatrical situation, which is a contrast to the case of Institute for Post-Human Performance Practice. This, in combination with the fact that two-thirds of the performance content is not directly “percussive”, causes my identity as a performer to become confused. Instead, the stage movement and two-part song become the primary material with which we are engaged.


In both of these cases, and in most of the works created for this project, the hierarchy of elements that builds what is generally understood to be ‘the music’ is flattened. These works, as well as a host of other works identified as belonging to the New Discipline (Washe, 2016) or works inspired by the likes of Simon Steen-Andersen, displace notions of sound and the instrument as the foundation of music performance. These works place traditional notions of music on equal footing with performance elements such as movement, body, spatiality, visual media, light, and technology. This flattening in the hierarchy of elements not only has major consequences for what we understand music to be, but also for what we understand the music performer to be. The consequences echo the course of development as outlined by Hans-Thies Lehmann in his analysis of the emergence of postdramatic theatre as the consequence of a rupture in the hierarchical standing of the dramatic text in theatre. Lehmann identifies that this rupture where the text is no longer the basis of much postdramatic theatre has consequentially lead to the mutation of the ‘actor’ (whose task is to deliver text) into that of the ‘performer’ (whose task is to offer her concrete presence on stage) (2006, pg. 56 - 57). The rupture of the hierarchy in music that displaces sound and the instrument as the core of the musician’s practice has catalysed the mutation of the ‘musician’ into the ‘performer’. 

III. Music performance on a continuum from non-acting to acting


My experience of “theatrical” music is that the demands made on the performer exists on a continuum. Not all theatrical pieces are equally theatrical, nor do they all work with the same theatrical elements in the same way. Not all, in fact very little, performative or theatrical music demands that the musician become an actor or a dancer. More often, the body of the musician is offered as a concrete presence, or as an extended musical material. Historically, for example in the work of Kagel and Schnebel, the musician is presented as theatrical simply by highlighting the fact that the concert situation is also a type of theatre. In this way, the musician hardly has to change their practice at all, and rather the context for reading a musical performance is what is changed. However, despite the musician’s performance material staying largely the same to that of non-theatrical music, the experience of performing work that highlights music as theatrical is all together different that performing work that takes this fact for granted. The change has to do with where the meaning emerges in the work and the performer’s relation to that emergence. In a piece such as Kagel’s Atem (1970), the wind player is performing standard new music gestures on their instrument, but they are read in relation to the performer’s perceived old age and deteriorating skill sets. The musician understands the meaning of the piece lies as much or more within the perceived character she plays as the sounding material.


Regardless of how it happens, the emergence of the body demands a different type of performance awareness from the musician. In Formalist Theatre (1987), Michael Kirby outlines a continuum of acting to non-acting that includes differentiated “stages” lying between these two acting extremes. His continuum is valuable because it sheds light on the “vast terrain ‘below’ classical acting” (Lehmann, 2006, pg. 135). That is to say, the many ways one can appear on stage before the complexity of actual acting skills are required. And it is, in my opinion, within the vast terrain ‘below’ that the theatrical music performer thrives. This terrain builds on a musician’s pre-existing stage crafts, and by shifts in emphasis that highlight the performer’s body, they become another kind of performer. However, as a work demands a clear move towards classical acting, the effective realization of the work requires a performer that is technically trained or at least naturally gifted to manage the demands of this type of performance.  Kirby’s continuum is also useful when applied to music because it suggests the collapse of the false dichotomy between works of “absolute” music and those that are considered “theatrical”. Everything lies on a spectrum. Kirby’s continuum trades in either/or for a series of gradual differences, differences that express the nuance of artistic practices.


At the extremes of acting and non-acting Kirby defines acting as an active activity “to feign, to stimulate, to represent, to impersonate” and explains non-acting as when a performer is on stage while being “nobody or nothing other than themselves” and as not pretending to be in “a time or space different from that of the spectator” (1987, pg. 3). The difference between acting and non-acting has to do with notions of fiction where acting implies a type of fiction imposed on the real situation of the live performance and where non-acting draws its material directly from the real performance situation. As an example of non-acting, Kirby points to the Happening. Kirby’s continuum spans these two extremes with five separate categories. The first three stages describe a type of acting where any amount of simulation, representation, and impersonation is not created by the performer herself, but is rather read or imposed on the performer by the spectator. The last two stages involve the actor actively creating a representation. Kirby remarks that it is not simply what a work demands of the performer but also “the perceived relationship between the performer and what is being created that can be crucial in the definition of acting. Even abstract movements may be personified and made into a type of character through the performer’s attitude. If the actor seems to indicate “I am this thing” rather than merely “I am doing these movements,” we accept him or her as the “thing”: the performer is acting” (1987, pg. 8; emphasis added).


To illustrate: in an often performed work by Mark Applebaum entitled Aphasia (2010), the performer is instructed to execute an array of hand gestures that reference figurative gestures that could be related to story telling. These gestures include “picking an apple”, “turning a key”, and “zipping a coat”. However, in Applebaum’s piece, all of these gestures are decoupled from storytelling or character and therefore the performer is “doing these movements” rather than becoming a character who is actually creating a fiction. Some works are less clear in the divide between “doing” and “being” and Kirby’s continuum offers some tools for thinking through the performer’s experience of these two ends of a spectrum.


The first stage of the continuum is what Kirby calls ‘Nonmatrixed Performing’, or a type of performance where there is no acting at all. He cites that some (but not all) dance pieces fit this type of performance. In another example he describes an assistant that is visible on stage but is ignored by the audience as being outside the focus of the action. This non-acting stage of performance is perhaps the most “at home” for the music performer. Though we are on stage and are thus engaged in a performing-art, performing on an instrument does not require acting at all, but simply to be on stage executing instrumental tasks with a certain stage presence that relates to the awareness that an audience is present.


The next stage is ‘Symbolized matrix’, which refers to a type of performance where the actor is performing actions that are read as symbols. The example Kirby gives is an actor performing a limp as the character Oedipus. But rather than acting the limp, a cane is shoved down the actor’s trousers and thus the cane creates the labored movement of a limp on behalf of the actor. In this case, the actor is not “feigning” a limp, but is executing an action which is then read by the spectator as limping.


The next stage is ‘Received Acting’ or acting that is not done by the performer but that is received by the audience’s reading of the situation that the performer is in. Kirby uses examples of how costuming can change how a performer is perceived and how through the spectator’s perception the performer is then transformed into an actor no matter how ordinary their behavior is on stage. Kirby offers the examples of ‘extras’ playing cards. These extras do nothing but play cards, they recite no lines, and yet they are perceived by the spectator due to the situation they are in and the clothing they are wearing to be actors.


These first three stages of the continuum depict situations where a performer is not actively acting but is rather perceived to be acting. These are perhaps the stages that most directly relate to music performance that venture towards the theatrical. This can occur in music where the objects a performer uses are interpreted as theatrical, such as in What Noises Remain when I perform with a paper boat, or when gestural actions are performed with the same execution style as instrumental music but are disconnected from the instrument and thus read as “extramusical”, such as in Black Box Music (2012) by Steen-Andersen.  Australian Composer Matthew Shlomowitz describes the situations offered above as situations where the performer is not a character, “but rather facelessly enacts content”, to become what he calls an “automaton” (2016). He argues that this approach is a strategy that plays to the performers strengths while “simultaneously expanding into the non-musical”. In another approach entirely, the performer can enact what Kirby calls “Received Acting” when the context of the performed action creates a sense of theatre. This can be the case in staged concerts where musicians are essentially only performing on their instruments but where the staged situation and/or costuming causes them to be perceived as acting.


In the following two phases, we enter what Kirby deems “active acting” where the performer herself creates a simulation, representation, or impersonation. In what Kirby calls ‘Simple Acting’, the performer does something physical or emotional (that is to say, not necessary both physical and emotional at the same time) that involves pretense, such as putting on an imaginary jacket, or making a statement as “herself” but with an emphasized emotional tone. Kirby explains that simple acting is so subtle that it can even occur in everyday situations where a person behaves like they are “on stage”, often because the person recognizes they are being watched and therefore may project or underline physical or emotional elements for the sake of the audience. An example of this is how a university lecturer may behave as if they are “on stage” by playing to emotional tones or physicality within the lecture space.


In a musical context, this range of performance may be associated with pieces that incorporate text or physical movement in isolation but that lack an emotional element or a clear sense of character beyond the “real” of the performer herself. This could include text pieces that involve storytelling or narration. Bonnie Whiting describes the percussionist in pieces such as Toucher (1973) by Vinko Globokar and To the Earth (1985) by Frederic Rzewski to be acts of narration rather than acts of developed character that the percussionist embodies (Whiting, 2014).1 This area of performance could also involve texts that are created and delivered from the specific subjectivity of the performer, that is to say the performer is actually performing “herself”, as is the case for much of the text spoken in How to Fight. Gesturally, parts of No Say No Way incorporate gestures that are designed to convey a story, that, through their development establish a representation, but that do not necessarily demand an emotional embodiment by the performer.


In the final stage of his continuum, Kirby defines complex acting as that which occurs when more and more elements, both physical and emotional, are incorporated into a pretense. In other words, when a fiction is created through the combination of physical and emotional semiotic signs, such as the use of movement and text. As Hans-Thies Lehmann put it, “Only when fiction is added can we speak of ‘complex acting’, acting in the normal sense of the word” (2006, pg. 135).


Pieces that call for complex acting include pieces such as The Schick Machine (2009) by Paul Dresher, performed by Steven Schick, where he performs a sort of “mad scientist”, and No Say No Way by Francois Sarhan, which, although the piece is mostly constructed of actions that are delivered in a matter-of-fact fashion, demands an element of character development, a complex set of stage movement and spatial awareness, elements of comic timing and audience interaction, as well the delivery of texts and actions in combination. Of the pieces within this research, No Say No Way is the most complex in its demands for the performer. And for this reason, it is my belief that this piece in particular requires a certain type of performer with natural gifts or an extensive performance practice that includes a wide range of stage crafts.


Hans-Thies Lehmann posits that “[‘Complex Acting’] applies to the ‘actor’ while the ‘performer’ moves mainly between ‘non-acting’ and ‘simple acting’” (2006, pg. 135). And it is here that I make the argument that the most successful pieces for musician-performer also move in the regions before complex acting within Kirby’s continuum. Rather than working towards developing as actors, the productive way to build on a musician’s strengths is to develop as performers.  Within my own practice and observations, I experience that the musician as performer thrives “when ‘liveness’ comes to the fore” and highlights “the provocative presence of the human being rather than the embodiment of the figure” (Lehmann, 2006, pg. 135). The performer insists that their material is not just sound that can be heard through headphones, but is also a live, bodily expression that can be seen and felt. Notions of fiction and representation are not necessary for the musician to take radical steps beyond a purely sounding performance practice. It can be as simple as embracing the fact that the concert is a theatrical, live, and bodily situation.


Not all of these categories as described by Michael Kirby lay smoothly as an analogy to the demands on the contemporary music performer, and it may be that we are missing a category along the continuum that better describes the musician’s theatrical range on stage. It’s also important to note that pieces can move in and out of these categories, regardless of if a piece has a short or long duration. Regardless of how neatly Kirby’s full continuum lays across music practices, the break down of performance range ‘below’ normal acting is useful as this is the area that most musicians will begin to approach a theatrical performance practice. Not all of these layers of ‘acting’ demand the same type of preparation and training for the musician and indeed having the ability to locate what ‘type’ of skills are demanded in a piece can assist a musician in their process and method when preparing a piece. It allows us to understand what type of training may need to be contracted out, for example through coaching or direction. This breakdown also helps us reflect on what we in music mean when we describe a performer’s work as “theatrical”. It is an imprecise word, and in fact the space in which a musician-performer can move within the continuum that is “theatre” is very large. In an attempted avoidance with the word “theatre”, which carries many connotations and histories of its own, some have adopted the word “performative”, though this term is equally as slippery as theatre.2 In my own use of the term, I refer to a music that is constructed of performative elements such as the live performer body, the live spectator body, and the unique space in which a performance occurs. The performative in music thus emphasizes elements such as the body, the interpersonal, the unsounding, ritual, site-specificity, or otherwise extra-musical content that is difficult or impossible to record in notation or recordings. The performative is that which can only emerge in the performance situation. Regardless of the terminology chosen to describe and understand a huge field of performance practices in music, the task for the performer is to begin to recognize what types of skills and activities are necessary for building their practice and how they can best be cultivated.

II. A body practice emerges


“[My music] needs a body.” - Simon Steen-Andersen (Gottschalk, 2016, pg. 78)


The music-making body and its possible emergence in musical composition and performance is increasingly appearing as a major theme within musical discourses and practices. Jennifer Walshe’s manifesto The New Discipline (2016) articulates the emergence of the body by stating that this type of music is not “music theatre” but a music that acknowledges that musicians have bodies and that those bodies are a part of the music. She rejects associations to genres of “music theatre” and instead insists that The New Discipline is music. She then twists perspectives to another formulation, one I strongly agree with, and proposes that what is at stake is not whether this type of work is music theatre but rather to proclaim that “all music is theatre”. Theatre scholar Alan Read describes “theatre” as “an expressive practice that involves an audience through the medium of images at the centre of which is the human body.” He continues that this expressive practice includes “performative” forms from dance to death rites” and is “the only practice that foregrounds the body in this way.” (Read, 1993, pg. 10) If we chose to agree with Read’s definition and subsequent claims, it is then natural to relate musical practices to theatre when in search of a foregrounded music-making body.

In Why Theater? or a Series of Uninvited Guests (2016), composer Steven Takasugi explains that the moment music departs from so-called absolute music, or as Takasugi put it, “music for headphones”, the body of the performer comes into focus. This bodily view of theatre is useful as it allows for musical works that are perhaps less clearly aligned with the practices and aesthetics of The New Discipline, or instrumental theatre, or Performance Art, to move freely along a spectrum of possibilities. With as wide a scope as Read and Takasugi cast, it is possible to think through the theatrical medium as a strategy for locating the music-making body. It is not necessarily that every piece is Theatre as such (whatever that may mean) but that the musical pieces use theatrical elements for the purpose of foregrounding the human body. This project is built of works that attempt to do just that.  It is built of works for performer that involves an audience and at the center of which is the human body. Each piece’s relation to notions of theatre shifts along a continuum where some works are explicitly narrative, even built on fiction, and while others rather focus on the concrete presence of the performer. To answer Takasugi’s question, “Why theatre?”: because I am drawn to a music performance practice that simply cannot survive in headphones, where the music-making body is foregrounded, where lies the possibility to zoom in and out on the physical reality of the body, on the performer’s relation to the space and audience, on the physical limitations of the performer, and on the vitality and fragility of the live performance situation. In this sense, the music that I am drawn to, and the music that builds the core of this research, privileges liveness and the living body over sound as such. Sound becomes a secondary focus to the primary investigation of the physicality of music performance.

Tracing the body

It goes without saying that the music-making body was always present. Performers come to their instrument with idiosyncrasies in physicality, energy, and gesture that create what we call “stage presence”. And though we intuitively understand that the music-making body is required for music making (by humans, at least), until recently music had largely ignored this physical reality within its discourses. Physicality and body movement have historically been seen as the by-product of the musical performance, not the focus of the art form as such. Like the history of the body in western philosophy, a philosophy that Elizabeth Grosz has describes as “somatophobic” (1994, pg. 5), Western classical music has largely remained perplexed by the appearance, meaning, and experience of the body. The emphasis on the visual domain of the performance and the mechanical waste of the musicians’ bodily movements trouble old notions of music as primarily being constituted of sound. However, this is changing rapidly in the 21st century. Recent scholarship increasingly looks at aspects of embodiment as a way of understanding the performer’s phenomenal experiences1 as well as the appearance of movement and the body in compositional practices.2 The body has become so present in contemporary music it begs that we quote body historian Mark Jenner in saying that it seems that we are now “living in somatic times.” (Jenner, 1999, pg. 143)

Several scholars and composers have begun to frame “categories” for how the body emerges in contemporary music.  I will elucidate some of these approaches in the section that follows. However, it must be noted that these categories are not meant to represent reality or to feign that such cleanliness between them could ever actually exist. These categories are offered as a tool for thinking, as a method for understanding the nuances of an emerging practice. The music-making body can be pointed to in a multitude of ways: via choreographic actions that are coupled and decoupled from a sounding result, via hyper-virtuosity, via obstacles that make smooth performance difficult or impossible, or through extremes in volume, duration, or intensity that reveal the fragility of the performance situation or the physical exhaustion of the performer.3 What follows is an outline of some of these categorical frames as they specifically emerged within this research project.4


The entangled body


The unique entanglement between the musician and the instrument is the first site out of which the body emerges. The physical act of playing an instrument is itself a body-practice. It is in an extreme disciplining of the body to activate an external musical object. Increasingly, composers are exploiting this hyper-trained body and the musician’s physicality to great effect. Simon Steen-Andersen focuses heavily on the instrumental action and mechanical excess of instrumentality, tracing a lineage to similar strategies as employed by Lachenmann (Craenen, 2014, pg. 222), but extending this instrumental excess to produce compositions via choreographic strategies. Within this project I was interested in removing the instrument from the proverbial equation in order to identify in what ways the body emerges while retaining an instrumental sensibility. I wanted to see what would happen if the musician is “stripped” of her performance tool and what this move would reveal and do to the performer body. With my instrument often displaced from the center of the pieces and/or the generative process, I wanted to see in what ways my uniquely imprinted body/mind as a highly trained musician would nonetheless remain.

The body as instrument

The most obvious way the body can be underlined in a percussionist’s practice is by employing the body as an instrument in itself. The body must be the oldest musical instrument humankind has ever known, whether it is activated via clapping, stomping, snapping, or the use of the voice. “Body percussion” has a relatively long tradition in the percussion repertoire that includes pieces such as Vinko Globokar’s ?Corporel (1985), Robin Hoffman’s Ansprache (2000), and Francois Sarhan’s Homework (2008).5


Within this project the body emerges as an instrument in No Say No Way (Sarhan) and in Blaha Lujza Tér (Jutterström). Both of these composers have dedicated much of their recent work to exploring the body as an instrument, though certainly not with the same aim as the other. In the case of Jutterström’s work the body appears as an extension of both compositional and choreographic thinking. That is to say, Jutterström explores the notion that the body that moves also makes sounds, and vice versa. Any body that moves is thus producing potential musical material. Following action notation strategies that the likes of Lachenmann have pioneered, Jutterström allows a physical gesture, such as a circle performed by the hand on the flat surface of the ground, to yield its sonic result. In addition, Jutterström points to the body as an instrument through snapping, flicking, and various vocal techniques. At the core of Blaha Lujza Tér, however, is an exploration of spatiality and how a work is experienced differently if it is heard at a great distance from the audience or at a close proximity to that audience. This matter of the body is something separate than the notion of the body as instrument, a topic which I will return to below.

Sarhan, on the other hand, uses the body rather as a method for making theatrical music. In No Say No Way, the body produces semiotic signs to convey meanings that serve a narrative. These signs often include simple hand gestures, shakes of the head, and occasional facial expressions which are notated through action notation. In addition to these theatrical, non-sounding elements, the body is conceptualized in Sarhan’s work as a translated drumset: the feet, legs, thighs, stomach, chest, and head build a full register of sounds to be struck by the performer’s hands. Much of the music written for this instrument is built of repetitive gestures and is often groove based. Within No Say No Way, the climax of the piece is a ten-minute euphoric dance entitled Die Lärmtrompeten des Nichts (The Noise Trumpets of Nothingness), which manages to combine narrative uses of the body (which serve the larger context of No Say No Way) and an instrumentalization of the body similar to his older work, Homework. The result is a choreographic music piece where the body is both moving like a dancer, and performed on like an instrument.  In work where the body is the instrument in itself, the performer undergoes a double of both having and being a body: having a body that can be used for a specific purpose, and being a body that is undergoing a transformation of potentialities.

Physical Gestures and Actions

No Say No Way is a perfect segue into another way the body has emerged within this research project, that of physical gesture and actions. Actions can be gestures which are notated with musical notation, video score, or as a text score. These types of actions are akin to those actions employed by John Cage in works such as Song Books (1970) and Water Walk (1959). Actions can be simple gestures with the body or they may incorporate objects. They may be sounding or silent, but in actions, sound is often secondary to the physical event. This notion of actions as music has been taken up by many current composers including Matthew Shlomowitz, Natacha Diels, Jessie Marino, Mark Applebaum, Neo Hülcker, and many others. Actions can also be events which span longer stretches of time. This is the case in What Noises Remain (Swendsen/Torrence), where the body emerges through extended events that require anywhere from two to five minutes. The events performed in What Noises Remain often create a visual image through the body’s relation to the instrument or via choreographic situations in dialogue with the instrument. This was the case, for example, when the rope is used as an implement to play the instrument, but that is also increasingly entangling the performer. Through this progressive restriction of the rope around the body a type of narrative material is conveyed at the same time as the sounding result on the drum if affected.

For the performer performing actions, the execution is not unlike the execution of playing an instrument. After all, learning an instrument is fundamentally a training of the body. It is a training of the wrists, fingers, arms, mouths, and legs to execute precise tasks. The type of body training and execution that physical gestures require, then, is not totally foreign to the instrumentalist. Matthew Shlomowitz calls this type of music theatre one that evokes the performer as an “automaton” (2016), a performer that executes actions independent of their unique subjectivity. For the performer, the complexity of action-based music emerges when the actions are totally divorced from sounding material, musical material, and an instrumental relation. In these cases, it can seem that the only remnants of a musical practice within these pieces is the fact that musicians are performing them.6 This fact fundamentally troubles the notion of what a musician “is” as a performer. And it throws into question how the work should be read and critiqued. These types of actions move the musician even further away from music and more firmly towards the realm of a general performance practice. In the case of the works created for this research, What Noises Remain, Etudes to become a deer, No Say No Way, How to Fight, Institute for Post-Human Performance Practice all engage the performer(s) in actions that seem almost devoid of musical skills, execution, and references. However, very often these actions, though seemingly divorced from music, are treated and even conceived as music, containing breath, musicality, and a logic of musical languages.

The body moving in space

The body in space is not new to composition. Spatialized sound and explorations into perception and phenomenology have all been done for the service of both so-called “absolute” music and explicitly “theatrical” music. The body moving in space has been used in this project first as a method to “open” the stage, to explore the potential of thinking with the room in created the work and to “free” the percussionist from the traditional and stationary percussion set-up. Spatiality offers a possible reconsideration of how the stage can be used in music performance as it moves towards theatre and performance, whether this is done for narrative aims or for examining the nature of the bodily co-presence of performer and spectator.

Within this project the performance space was very often used to create a theatrical situation. No Say No Way unfolds within a simple lecture scenography that creates a situation in which the piece takes place. This situation also creates a poetics of proximity between the performer and the instrument, the triangle, which emphasizes the character’s expression of reticence and hesitation. Similarly, in What Noises Remain, the space is used primarily to express the distance the performer has to the instrument in an effort to communicate underlying themes of freedom and captivity. On the other hand, some pieces within this project have explored the performance space primarily for the acoustic situation and the bodily situation that proximity between the performer and the audience reveals. In Blaha Lujza Tér the same ten-minute work is performed twice, once at a great distance from the audience and once at a very close proximity to the audience. It is a simple exercise that exposes aspects of aural perception, but it is an exercise that is made complex due to the bodily co-presence of the performer and the spectators. In another example, Tom Johnson’s Nine Bells plays with the performance space for acoustic aims, as well as with the intention of exposing how the body moving in space produces musical sound. He does this in space by underlining the sound of the steps taken in order for the performer to reach the nine bells that are suspended in the room. The sound of her steps emerge as a musical material. This use of the performance space is not explicitly narrative, but rather opens up the performance situation to a larger choreographic and dramaturgical dimension.

Exhaustion and athleticism

Endurance is a common theme in performance art, and it seems to also be emerging as a common theme or strategy in contemporary music. There seems to be a renewed interest in long duration pieces and conceptions of the “Event”, which can include a sense of saturation that can approach exhaustion, either physically or mentally.7 Within this project many of the pieces either sought or inadvertently achieved a physical athleticism to the point of exhaustion. This is the case in Nine Bells, which has been described as a solo for “athletic percussionist”; in No Say No Way, which climaxes with an ecstatic dance with so much energy that the performer and the entire piece literally collapse; in What Noises Remain which meets its dramatic climax with the performer throwing her body at the bass drum again and again, seemingly collapsing into it unrelenting; in How to Fight, which has any number of play “fight scenes” that incorporate basic aikido movements and the delivery of rapid text, a combination that consistently leaves both performers breathless; or in Institute for Post-Human Performance Institute, where the percussion solo ends with a long accelerando that literally states in the score, “Repeat until fainting or almost fainting”. In all of these examples, a point of physical exhaustion is sought after and attained.


The effect of exhaustion to reveal the body is obvious. The struggle is real, it’s visceral. There is no possibility of acting or pretending. It can be heard in the panting breath and in the increasingly clumsy steps around the stage. Where musical mastery is so often about feigning effortlessness, these pieces actively seek to show the physical labor of performance. Sound Touch by Wojtek Blecharz is a piece that at its core engages with the audience body and the relation between performer and spectator. But due to its limited audience capacity (four at a time) the piece is always performed across several hours, physically and mentally exhausting the performer. The body of work listed above has revealed a certain tendency in my artistic practice that is built on an excess of energy and even risk of collapse.


The voice as a fifth limb


The voice is perhaps the most developed extension in the percussion practice that expands the art form towards theatre and other stage arts.  The voice is an extension of the body and one that the percussion-performer has readily accessed. The percussion repertoire is stacked with pieces from Georges Aperghis, Vinko Globokar, Fredrik Rzewski, and so many others where percussionists are asked to perform their instruments in more or less “traditional” ways but where they are simultaneously asked to speak, sing, act, or narrate. Across the course of this research project, I spent much of my training energy on the development of the voice, either through private lessons or singing courses. The musical voice is a natural extension to the musicality of percussion, and indeed it was relatively simple to work on developing the voice as it follows a similar method and trajectory to learning a percussion instrument or a piece of music. My interest in the voice in this project was less about becoming a singer or an actor, but rather about the voice pointing once again to the unique body of the performer. Instead of considering the voice as separate from a body practice I see it as the fifth limb of the percussionist.


The body as concept

In some cases, the body is engaged within a musical practice via the concept of the body rather than the use of actual bodies.  Within this project in particular, the notion of the body in transition was a common approach to a conceptual body in music performance. Etudes to become a deer is a piece that speculates on the possibility of deer musicianship (how do would they listen, do they consider their sounds musical?), and seeks out a transformational process where a human body can become deer via physical and sonic imitation. Institute for Post-Human Performance Practice speculates on the musician-body in a time of artificial intelligence and robotics. Institute for Post-Human Performance Practice is a multi-media work that includes a 35-minute “mockumentary” where the performers, Trond Reinholdtsen and myself, “perform” body alteration surgeries in search of a music performer who has increased musical ability through physical enhancement and reduced risk of failure through improved brain capacity. We attach “arms” to my body, extend my limbs, and even give our consciousness over to Artificial Intelligence (AI++). The piece is not looking at the body as musical or gestural material as such, but is rather looking at the concept of the musician’s body as a grounds for making new musical work. The body emerges as both a thematic and a method for creating.  In these two cases, the music-making body is brought under investigation through the conceptual lens of transformation.

The audience body

Recently, there has been an increased interest in the audience body and the spectator’s physical experience of music.8 Sound Touch is such a work that brings the audience in close physical contact with the performer and emphasizes the spectator’s physical experience of listening. Sound Touch appears to be, for all intents and purposes, a typical percussion piece. It includes a wide range of percussion instruments, all of which are performed in a more or less normative fashion. However, the core of the piece and focus of the percussionist’s role is not to perform on these instruments, but rather to give them away to an untrained audience to perform themselves. In this way, the piece can be understood as a quintet rather than a percussion solo. The percussionist’s primary task then, is in the relation with the audience member, and specifically in the task of showing through physical touch in what ways the spectator can engage with the instrument objects and each other. In parts of the piece, instruments such as planks, cymbals, and vibrating devises are placed on the audience’s bodies and played by the percussionist. All of the material in Sound Touch was developed to activate the listener’s body. All of the material was created specifically for the listener’s physical perspective. The audience body as a focus in music practice, I believe, is an inevitable result of ongoing research and practices that privilege the live body, an entity which emerges through the co-presence of the performer and the spectator.

The body remains


Through this process of reflection, it is clear that the body can and does emerge out of an immense array of possibilities. Though the themes, aesthetics, and goals of every project were wildly different, the body remains as a “home” out of which these theatrical and performative pieces were generated and performed. Though it would seem it is now time to finally settle on a way of talking about and gathering all of these tendencies under one “roof”, the task of labelling these diverse practices as “one” remains difficult if not impossible. It is questionable what use there is in creating new labels for talking about this type of music other than the fact that labels help us organize a stubborn, chaotic, and ever-emerging discourse. Adopting labels such as theatre into describing this work, as I have done, is also a complex matter. Theatre carries a long and cumbersome history of its own, with institutions, artists, and traditions that both do and do not relate easily to contemporary music practices. However, like music, theatre is itself a difficult concept to pin down. Like any major art form, theatre is constantly in flux, morphing with other practices, and spanning a massive spectrum of both doing and making. For now, at this point of my understanding of this work, I will settle with the term of theatre, and specifically Alan Read’s open conception of it that foregrounds the body.9 With such an open reading of the term, theatre then is not and cannot be singular. Using the term theatre in relation to music does not have to imply the use of fiction or narrative, nor point to the humor of Mauricio Kagel. This open conception of theatre allows a certain complexity to remain, a complexity which was always there and that will always be there as long as music is performed in front of live audiences. Any attempt to untangle these weeds will only oversimplify the richness of the foregrounded body in performance and the spectrum from which it emerges.

The Foregrounded Body: a mutation from executing musician to co-creating performer

A metamorphosis


Something is happening to the instrumentalist. A shift is coming. A shift is upon us. A mutation is underway. A metamorphosis. It’s difficult to recognize ourselves sometimes. To recognize myself sometimes. Feet are growing where fins once were. Changes at the cellular level are happening, and the form of this performer-being is defying defining.


The process of undergoing a metamorphosis is one of small, incremental changes that over time forces the transitioning performer to question her relation to her original art form, her starting point, and may also beg that the performer align with a new art form altogether, or to reimagine what it means to be a (music) performer. In a metamorphosis a being undergoes a transformation after their birth, after they had already stabilized into a recognizable structure. In these in-between phases there is a sense of awkwardness, a sense of not quite fitting in one’s own shoes, in one’s own body. It’s not always clear where the ending point is, or if there is an ending point. And though the forms on either end of the metamorphosis process are often radically different, it is in fact made of the very same stuff, the very same being that once had a radically different appearance. The incremental changes are done at a cellular level, and the result is, over time, a whole but totally altered form.


For the instrumentalist undergoing metamorphosis, there is a difference between a practice that mutates from within and practice that mutates through the adding on of other art forms. In one case, the practice undergoes change by emphasizing latent characteristics. In the other, an altered image is built through assemblage. The difference is the same parallel to the terms “multidisciplinary” and “transdisciplinary”. In multidisciplinary work, multiple disciplines meet and collide, though they retain the contours of each of their original forms. In a transdisciplinary work, disciplines grow out of a single discipline and show characteristics from other practices, disciplines, and discourses. Through this growing “from the inside to the outside” (Craenen, 2016), through an expansion from the center, an art form fundamentally alters. Paul Craenen gives the following example to describe the difference between multi-, inter- and trans- disciplinary work: a cellist who collaborates with a dancer and is influenced by the dancer’s movements is working in an interdisciplinary way. There is an intersection of practices. On the other hand, a cellist who recognizes her own instrumental movements as a performance material is working in a transdisciplinary way. The cellist’s practice is growing out of itself towards other practices. From the inside out.


I see the work building this artistic research project as attempts (with varying results and success) to mutate a practice from the inside to the outside. Rather than imposing theatrical and performative elements onto a percussion practice, it seeks to emphasize what was already latent within it.  This project is not a celebration nor propaganda for transdisciplinarity. This project simply seeks to nurture an internally initiated process of transition. It is a movement from “here” to “there”, starting with percussion and ending somewhere yet undefined. This movement emphasizes the performer body to create a space of possibility through which my artistic practice could approach other art forms such as theatre and even performance art. However, through its process of mutation, my practice would nonetheless show signs of its starting point in instrumental music performance.


Metamorphosis is a metaphor that points to the body: the instability of the body, the body’s ability to change, the body’s ability to assume another frame for being in and relating to the world. In hybrid and transitioning bodies one is read as being something other. Read as being a fish then read as being a land creature. And in the point between, when the fins and the legs are both growing out of the same holes, we have a creature in the middle of something, and then the question is, how long can we stay here? Can we let this ambiguous practice become what it wants, or will we force it one way or another along the archaic dividing lines between art forms? (Have I arrived somewhere? Or am I still on my way?)

On the imprinted body


In Michel Bernard’s essay, On the Use of the Concept of Modernity and its Perverse Effects in Dance (2014) he states, “It is undeniable that such technical training marks the bodies of the dancers who subject themselves to it, shaping them and predisposing them to certain motor configurations” (pg. 72). After twenty years of training, percussion is forever imprinted on me. But of course it’s not just the body that has become shaped, or that has gone out of shape, like a wheel gone out of kilter—I am/have a body. All of it, all of me is marked by these years of training, by the innumerable pieces I have played, the people I have worked with, the artistic work I have seen and heard, by the academy, my teachers, my parents, society. It’s simply not possible to walk away from this percussion-body, to paraphrase Judith Butler, like it’s an outfit I can hang in my closet to wear again on some other day (Butler, 2011, pg. xi).


I am/have this percussion-body. The repetition of my training “orients the body in some ways rather than others”, and through this orientation the body itself takes shape through its contact with particular objects (Ahmed, 2006, p. 54 - 57). My body “bends and directs itself to the form and mechanics of an instrument” (Craenen, 2014, p. 105). This “sedimented history”1 orients my performance practice in particular ways. My practice orients towards sound and listening in a way that is unique in comparison to a performer whose “starting point” is not music. My practice is oriented towards objects through sonic exploration. When the body becomes detached from these objects, as has been one method in this project, I become disoriented. There is a sensation of not knowing which way to turn to get to where I was going. This disorientation is followed by the process of finding my bearings once again, a process that is filled with both internal resistances and desires.


The question is not what to do with this percussion-body, or to seek a practice without an instrument or a practice in another field with another history. My percussion-body is imprinted forever. This body desires a transition through a process of metamorphosis brought on by a shift in emphasis: a shift towards a renewed awareness of the physical performance situation. Throughout this project, the imprinted body consistently emerged as the threshold through which my understanding of my musical practice could transform into other types of performance expression. It is via the body that I could dissolve false claims of medium specificity in music performance. The body would become a space of possibility through which my musical practice could become other. The body would also remind me, again and again, of where I come from and the musical training that forever marks my practice.


This project is not about turning against a lifetime in music and instrumental training, but simply about creating the conditions for a more ambiguous music practice: where sound is but a strand in a braided performance practice, where the instrument becomes but one element in relation to an artistic identity, and where what we understand training to be shifts from the acquisition of external skills to a slow process of extension in existing dispositions and abilities.

Ditching the instrument: how method becomes practice – a process of metamorphosis, Part I


This project is made of a collection of work for percussionist without an instrument, or percussionist with her instrument at arm’s length.  The idea was not to develop a practice of performing without an instrument, the idea was to displace the emphasis on the instrumental object in search of a performative1 and theatrical performance practice. This search attempted to reflect older traditions from Kagel, Cage, and Schnebel, and also looked towards contemporary uses of the performative and theatrical in music performance. My collaborators and I started the process of creating new work with the idea of no instrument and then waited to see what would happen. If the instrument returned, so be it, but instead of creating instrument-focused work, we would instead look towards the body.


Beginning the process without the instrument in focus was a strategy to investigate the status of the body in music, such as the body in dialogue with the performance space, as well as with the audience, scenography, and technology.  But with each piece created where the instrument is absent or in the background I experienced a slight change at the cellular level of my performance practice. I increasingly stopped viewing my musical performance practice primarily as an instrumental one. Though much of the work continued to relate to the instrument, specifically by questioning the instrumental relation to the performer, the instrument instead would increasingly become but one element in a music performance practice. What was designed as a method for conducting research very quickly became an artistic practice based on the body. What was taken up as a strategy to answer an artistic research question transformed into not only an element of the artistic results but the artistic practice itself.

A reflection on What Noises Remain


“Space enough have I in such a prison.” (1.2.491-492)

“…set me free.” (Epilogue. 20)

-          - Shakespeare, The Tempest


Freedom and confinement are major themes in Shakespeare’s iconic and often reimagined play, The Tempest. Every character experiences a sensation of captivity and the desire to be free. Caliban wishes to be freed from the rock he is chained to, Prospero wishes to be freed from the island he has been exiled to, Ariel wishes to be freed from Prospero’s spell. Occasionally the experience of confinement is enjoyed, as is the case with Miranda and Ferdinand when they are trapped in the experience of love for the other.


Peter Swendsen and my reimagining of The Tempest is told through a solo percussionist/performer, objects, video, and recorded sounds behaves like a reflection on my artistic process as I depart from my instrument and search for an extended performance practice. The starting point of the piece, we thought, would expand on our first collaboration, nothing that is not there and the nothing that is (2009), for solo bass drum and electronics, and be an exploration into creating place, weather patterns, and ecology through sound. We thought we would expand this exploration with notions of narrative as inspired by the play and delivered via technology, staging, and objects. But increasingly my own experience of freedom and confinement (also confinement in freedom and freedom in confinement) were emerging as major areas of personal exploration within my project, and not only modes of reinterpreting Shakespeare’s play. What resulted was a musical work that equally expressed a reflection on my research. The bass drum, which acts as a microcosm for the island in the play, increasingly began to represent the “island” that confines me in my own artistic life. Many of the gestures relating to the instrument involved images of confinement, including literal ropes that bound me to the bass drum. During what we call the “Dream” episode (which reflects Prospero’s ability to charm his captives into sleep through Ariel’s music.) I walk around and around the bass drum, obsessed in my trajectory, seemingly free to move as I please, and yet bound by an unspeakable gravitational pull that binds me to the drum. This extended episode seeks to express the liminal state within which my artistic practice develops. It seeks to be an in-between state, that is neither here nor there, revealing the tension that lies in the indecision between leaving and staying, and the confusion in feeling a certain powerlessness while in confinement, and feeling another powerlessness when “free”.


What is enacted in the piece was also experienced in performing the work itself. The moment I left the drum, I felt my “powers” as a performer slip away. It would be my task across this research project to find my “center” in performance with or without my instrumental objects. And indeed, across the research project I experienced that my ability to be at peace on stage without my instrument strengthen. But the experience of entrapment and freedom within my practice remains a complex intertwining. 


On the choreographic dimension


The idea of percussion as a bodily, dance-like practice is perhaps one of the oldest understandings of percussion performance, whose visual and physical characteristics are often placed much further into the foreground of a musical work than is the case for many other instruments. This visual nature of the percussionist does not always point to typical understandings of theatre, though physical gesture and visuality are certainly theatrical elements imbedded in the art from. In some cases, it may be more productive to think of works employing choreographic strategies. The choreographic presents itself in a uniquely musical connotation when the physical relation to the instrument is retained and employed as a compositional strategy. This is clearly articulated in much of the work of Simon Steen-Andersen, for example in his series, Study for String Instrument. This differs from much of the new work created in this project where the idea of no instrument was the starting point. But a bodily practice that expresses itself via a choreographic dimension within an instrumental practice emerged as a fruitful and important starting point for locating the body. This approach would be an important point of reflection as I questioned the relation between the body and the instrument in my own practice.


In Spring 2017, I took a detour of sorts in search of another entry point into the emergence of the body that does not reflect instrumental theatre or explicitly theatrical music pieces. I observed that much of the work I was making was not always pointing to the body in a theatrical sense, but rather in one that reflects traditions from performance or even dance. I decided to look towards some of the oldest percussion solos ever written in search of a body that is not a semiotic body in performance, but that is a choreographed music-making body. The pieces explored during this detour were made at the height of modernism, Zyklus (1959) by Karlheinz Stockhausen and The King of Denmark (1964) by Morton Feldman. This detour then lead to a rethinking of Nine Bells (1978) by Tom Johnson, and a new work by Bethany Younge entitled Yappy Pace (2017).

What occurs in John Cage’s 4’33” (1952), is as much an exercise in extending listening as it is, through the performer’s silence, the involuntary appearance of the performer’s body. This appearance of the performer body (and also the silent spectators’ body) is what can be understood as concrete physical presence (Craenen, 2014, pg. 52). This performer body, despite of and even because of its refusal to perform, remains entangled with the piano and forever visible. John Cage is a critical player in what we now consider the performative turn in music that took place in the mid-20th century. John Cage was clearly aware of the theatrical potential of music and of the inevitability that sound could entangle with visuality.1

Looking away from performative music such as 4’33” or the early works of Kagel such a Sur Scene (1959/60), I have always understood that modernism in music equated to the desire to render the performer’s body invisible. In this ideology, the performer should instead work in hiding, selflessly giving her energy for the activation of abstract sonic structures. But after further reflection it seems that I either misunderstood modernism, or modernism failed to keep our performer body in the closet. I discovered that if we accept that 4’33” rendered the body involuntarily visible, then these early percussion solos take an even more radical step - they reveal and exploit a choreographic dimension which, I argue, is latent within any music practice.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, perhaps the 1960’s most notorious mascot for pure absolute music, titled his percussion solo Zyklus, meaning ‘cycle’, which describes the physical path that the percussionist takes around her set up. In my own version I begin at the drums and move counter-clockwise to the vibraphone then to the marimba and finally back to the drums. (“In the end is my beginning”, T.S. Eliot).2 Stockhausen structurally composes his music for the choreographic goal of moving the percussionist in a circle across the duration of his piece. So much for absolute music.


In 1964, Morton Feldman writes his solo The King of Denmark, for percussionist performing without sticks or mallets, instead leaving only the fingers, hands, and arms to activate her instruments. Unlike the case of Zyklus, Morton Feldman is not explicitly composing with a choreographic strategy, but rather by leaving the set-up totally undecided (an anomaly in light of other percussion solos from the 1960’s, like Zyklus or Interier I (1966) by Helmut Lachenmann, which provide a set-up diagram for the percussionist) he implies the possibility of the percussionist taking a choreographic strategy in her interpretation. He thus, inconspicuously (and perhaps even without any intention), draws attention to the excess and opportunity of the body in two different ways: the flesh as activator of instruments and the instrumental setup as a potentially choreographic situation. In my own version for this concert I chose to make a version inside of Stockhausen’s Zyklus set-up. The idea was to establish a new physical relation to the set-up that was designed by Stockhausen as a specific choreographic space.  


In 1978, Tom Johnson makes his process piece Nine Bells, a fifty five-minute solo for nine suspended bells and one walking, spinning, running percussionist. The bells are spread at a great distance, rendering the sound of the performers steps and breath a demarcation of both time and space. Thus we understand that body excess becomes music if we create the conditions for it. Tom Johnson’s piece creates an elongation of the body’s entanglement with its instrument. As Paul Craenen puts it in Composing Under the Skin: The Music-making Body at the Composer’s Desk (2014), the instrument is not only seen as an extension of the body but also that the performing body “becomes audible and visible as something that bends and directs itself to the form and mechanics of an instrument” (pg. 105). In Craenen’s argument, the body of the musician is different than that of an actor or a dancer because of this entanglement (pg. 94). I will add that this is true whether the instrument is present or not, whether it is near or far.


After this work on older pieces from the canon, I collaborated with composer Bethany Younge and percussionist Bonnie Whiting on a new piece for duo entitled Yappy Pace (2017). Younge’s 20-minute duo is what happens when a tongue twister (“She sells seashells by the seashore.”) and the classic body-contorting game of dots, Twister,3 are combined with percussion toys. Eleven objects are stretched across the stage with roughly half a meter between them. Rather than putting the instruments at a range that would make them logistically simple for the performers to reach, they are intentionally spread at a distance that creates a choreographic piece through arm gestures and spatial relation between the two performers. The piece is structured so that the two percussionists begin on their knees very near each other, literally handing instruments to one another in a kind of arm tangling to and fro. As the piece progresses to the second major section the percussionists have slowly moved to a great distance from each other where this movement towards or away from the other always caused by the need to reach an instrument. In this way the choreographic situation is imbedded in the instrumentation and the development of the score’s musical material. Fittingly, the final section is more like a wreckless tumble, a situation of grab-and-go, rather than the neat near-and-far game the previous two sections had explored. Both performers clamber to reach their instrument, crawling over each other with their bodies outstretched in their journeys to the required instrument. Between each major sections are tongue twister duets that play with idioms and clichés of the English language. The result is a work that plays with proximity and entanglement of bodies and voices.


These works point to an entry into the theatrical, the bodily, that is not based on fiction at all, but is rather based on the fact that the body is in motion and therefore in a state of becoming on stage. These works provided another vantage point for thinking through the history of the art form of percussion and its relation the body. The body was always-already visible and was always-already a material that was being employed for non-sonorous aims. Thinking choreographically has become a major focus point within my practice and in my understanding of the music-making body on stage, with or without the instrument. It has also become a strategy for creating new work for musician-performer. The physical relation to the instrument is an entanglement that can be untied and retied again and again, and through this choreographic imagination we may find new musical materials and structures.


Long durations, how method becomes practice – a process of metamorphosis, Part II


As a method to approach the theatrical in musical performance, I suggested at the outset of this project to create new work that reflects the duration and frames of typical theatre and dance pieces, namely that of the evening-length production. Before this project there were a few evening-length theatrical pieces for solo percussionist/performer within the canon, namely Parcours (1976) by Georges Aperghis and Nine Bells (1978) by Tom Johnson. In general, however, the percussion canon is built of solo works abiding to the recital form and ranging from eight to fifteen minutes in length. I argue that this format of the recital, with its collection of disparate pieces, limits the types of theatrical elements that can be employed in the work, such as a generous use of space, scenography, staging, light, and technology.  I wanted to forgo the recital form and instead commission long-form pieces that could explore exactly those elements. I wanted to reimagine the performance situation so that a musical work can occur in a unique space that is designed specifically for that piece. This does not mean that the new work made always have elaborate scenographies, costumes or technology, or that they are site-specific. It does mean however, that the space that they are performed is imprinted with a single work, rather than a grab-bag of ten-minute solos that must then imprint and reprint themselves on an otherwise “neutral” concert hall.


Due to the proportions, the long durations would also occasionally put such an emphasis on the theatrical that the primacy of music would occasionally be blurred, to a point of being forgotten; there would be no reprieve from theatricality via an extroverted solo composed by Iannis Xenakis - confirming to the audience that I am (still) a percussionist. Although everything I do on stage is rooted in an extended music performance practice, the duration would, in some cases, tip the scale for how the work could be read, thus leaving the spectator to question: is this still a percussion piece at all? Is it still a musical piece? Is she still performing as a musician? When the form as well as the content of the work move away from received histories of traditional classical music and established forms of presentation, it can unsettle notions about what constitutes a musical work and a musician’s performance practice.


The consequence of this method of exploring the theatrical in solo music performance is that I now view my practice as including a body of works that behave like productions. I now prefer to generate new work that is “stand-alone”, or are designed specifically for a larger context. The scale of these models opens up the performance space and how it could possibly be used, creating grounds for performance content that can be theatrical and performative, and with or without an instrument at the center of the material. From here, I see myself continuing to commission and co-create large-scale, stand-alone works.

A reconsideration of the term “post-instrumental”


That which we of late have been calling “post-instrumental” (Stene, 2014) behaves less like the end of the instrument in the performer’s practice, and more like an increased awareness of the instrument and its influence over the performer’s body and sensibility. This so-called “rupture” of the instrument in musical thinking, that which we call “post”, mustn’t be understood as music without an instrument where the rupture equates a kind of death meaning that we are “finished” with instruments and their historical weight. This “post” mustn’t be understood as an “end-point”. It is simply an experience of “after” that arises when one has been made aware of something that was once taken for granted and taken as “given”. This experience of “after” is what happens when we remember that we have bodies, that they are imprinted with the instruments we have individually bent ourselves towards for years and collectively over centuries. And through this renewed consciousness, the realisation comes that these ideas were, in fact, never given, and that we must rethink the relation to the instrument.


I reject any mythology around the end of the instrument and instrumental thinking. And indeed, through deliberately encouraging my collaborators to start with the idea of no instrument, I viewed it as a method that might reveal my imprinted body/mind and the relation to an instrumental practice that extends towards performance. What resulted are a range of pieces that relate to the instrument while simultaneously seeking out a foregrounded body. In some pieces the instrument is a mere trace, a memory, an after thought (Etudes to become a deer and How to Fight) while in others the piece literally enacts the representation of my walking away from my instrument (What Noises Remain and No Say No Way) or even giving it away to the audience (Sound Touch).


This work is not post-instrumental in the sense that I have moved “beyond” my instrument. Just as the “post” in post-internet art does not mean art without the internet, but rather it means art “after” the dawning of the internet (in other words, it is art self-consciously aware of the internet). Much of the work in this project is hyper-instrumental in the sense that it is self-consciously aware of a unique bodily relation to the instrument. This is not music without instrument. Even when it is absent, the instrument haunts the work. What is at stake in post-instrumental music is not the end of the instrument but rather in questioning what constitutes an instrument and what constitutes the musician’s relation to it. It is not a rupture but a decision to reinterpret what an instrument is and how it relates to a musical practice.

On the body as a threshold


There are myriad ways a percussionist can develop a practice in theatrical music performance. Percussionists such as Bonnie Whiting focus on the voice as the site of extension. Amund Sørlie Sveen focuses on the lecture as a format for creating and directing political works where percussion and music is a mode for communication. Ensembles such as Speak Percussion look to their relation with technology and instrument building as a way of creating expansive performative pieces.1 For me, the place that I consistently return to is the body. Whether it is the body moving in space or seeking a physical exhaustion, the body is the locus of the performative and theatrical situation within my work.


Through the emphasis on the body my practice has the potential to transform into performance that is both musical and other. The body then, is not a border between music and not-music, but rather is a threshold through which music performance can transition into something musical as well as something other. Erika Fischer-Lichte in her seminal text The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics (2008) unfolds the difference between a border and a threshold as follows. Fischer-Lichte’s border ‘evokes the law’ (ibid.). Borders are guarded and their crossing is sanctioned. Thresholds on the other hand evoke the occult and magical transformation. Where borders are designed to prevent crossing, thresholds, which can take the shape of a window or a doorway, invite such a crossover (pg. 204 -205). Borders have an either/or nature to them. Once one has crossed a border, one is no longer in a place they once were. (Once the border to Mexico is crossed, one is no longer in the United States.)  Thresholds are a liminal space where anything is possible. The theory of borders would suggest that once one has begun working theatrically one is no longer “in” music.2 Thresholds on the other hand imply a gradual gradation and transformation of practices. With a threshold one can remain in two places at once, in a liminal space where change is unpredictable.


The consequence of entering a liminal space of transformation that the threshold represents is that identities are similarly thrown into question. This process does not go without some discomfort. The identities marking artistic practices are built on citations: the repetition of what I say to myself and about myself, and also what others have said before me. When I have to write it down in black and white, the structure of my identity seems to be stuck standing on a point in time, at a crossroads where all citations collide and combine to create the multifaceted structure called “I”, “me”, and “my practice”. Though identity may seem fixed when read off a sheet of paper, the nature of identity is always in movement. We know about a thing based on where it came from to get “here” and its potential and desire to move “there” (Ahmed, 2006). In artistic practices, we must recognize where one begins and in what direction one desires to go. Identity lies in the particular direction of movement from a particular starting point. Knowing the starting point is crucial to understanding how an identity shifts, and it also facilitates an understanding of which borders and thresholds may be encountered along the way. In my own practice, I insist on my work existing within music, not least because my collaborators are composers and because I am a professionally trained musician, but also because the work often finds its meaning through its relation to the art form and history of music.

In the failed argument of absolute music, music is pure sonic structures that do not relate to the outside world, and in particular not to that which is ocular. The performer, then, is “seen” as a medium that activates abstract sonic structures via instrumental objects. In this view of music, the body (among other possible things) becomes a border that must not be crossed in order to maintain the dogma that music is pure sound. However, in the view that music performance was always-already a theatrical expression (Walshe, 2016), the body becomes a threshold or a “space of possibility” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, pg. 205) whose appearance allows a transformative process of both artistic practices and experiences. The body provides a liminal space of possibilities that make the activities constituting a performance practice blurry, ambiguous, and hybrid. The body is (actually) seen, the body carries signs, the body carries meaning. These bodily emergences nurture innumerable practices that defy the clean labeling that borders wish to evoke. For example, in a piece such as No Say No Way the body can appear as a “character” one moment, as an instrument the next moment, and then as the activator of percussion instruments/objects in the next – all within a single piece. This type of work thus opens the possibility that the performer’s practice can remain ambiguous. And it is through the threshold of the body that I begin to locate a space, a field, in which I can amble about, moving in and through, touching various points along a graduating scale of practices in my movement from “here” to “there”.

On technique and mastery: a reflection on Blaha Lujza Tér and Etudes to become a deer


What started out as a project about developing skills becomes a project about developing imagination and creation. What has moved away from a craft project moves towards an artistic project. I am not, as I originally thought, concerned with making my practice more “virtuosic” through the mastery of techniques, I am interested in making artistic experiences. What seems important at this moment in musical history is not which techniques people use but rather what questions are being asked that create the grounds for artistic experiences. That is not to say that technique doesn’t matter. It matters a lot. It’s just that technique no longer has a single image. It is multifaceted and unstable. It is no longer universal or unified. It is no longer valid to make works for the purpose of displaying virtuosic techniques, rather the technique must serve an artistic question and an artistic process.

At moments during this project I have been left with the sense that the things I am doing onstage could be done by just about anybody, regardless of their background or training. In a conversation with Johan Jutterström I was challenged on this notion; he insisted that if I go back and listen and watch what I am actually doing, especially in his piece Blaha Lujza Tér (2016), a 25-minute solo where my tasks are essentially limited to rubbing the floor of a room in a circle with my bare hand and occasionally snapping and pointing, I would be convinced that not just “anyone” could perform these pieces, regardless of if any recognisable technique is being used.

Even if these pieces potentially could be performed by “anyone” (with an inclination to be on stage), this isn’t to suggest that notions of quality are totally absent. Dancer & choreographer Xavier Le Roy tells the following story about Jerome Bel’s 2001 dance piece The Show Must Go On. He says:

“...the show must go on, [is] structured around pop songs whose choruses provide the direction for the movements [that the dancers do]: for instance, in [David Bowie’s] Let’s Dance, they dance, with [Lionel Richie’s] Ballerina Girl, they dance like ballerinas, and in [Real 2 Reel’s] I Like to Move It, they move something while smiling to show their enjoyment, and so on. The piece features about twenty participants who, for most of the time, are strung out in a line across the stage. At the end of the show, there are moments when they are more or less static: for the chorus of [The Police’s Every breath you take], I’ll be Watching You, they just face the audience and look at them without moving. Sometimes some members of the audience think “I can do that too” and come up on the stage to join the line. I remember at one performance, someone went up on stage and joined the line as it watched the public, but you could see immediately that the interloper didn’t have “the technique” that the others were using, that they had created for themselves. This example shows that it isn’t at all just spontaneous and “simple”, it isn’t just ordinary movements that everyone does; they need to be executed in a particular way” (Manchev, Le Roy & Cramer, 2014, pg. 123).

This reminds me of the piece made in collaboration with Neo Hülcker, Etudes to become a deer. Of the five etudes, my favourite one is what we came to call “The Deer Call Competition”. In this etude a YouTube video from a traditional German hunting and deer call competition is projected onto a large screen upstage.  On the video are a dozen or so German men and women dressed to the nines in traditional forest-green hunting gear. One by one, the competitors walk up to the microphone, each with their deer call instrument of choice (usually a telescope-like tube made of plastic or a hollow animal horn). Each competitor calls and barks through their horns for a table of judges who subsequently give their scores. The most convincing call wins.

For most of this etude, Neo and I sit at the edges of the screen, extending the line of seated competitors waiting for their turn at the microphone. At the host’s beckoning of a specific competitor, I stand and walk center stage to perform “alongside” him. Standing in front of the screen, I then perform the deer call in perfect unison with the competitor, copying with conscious precision every small honk and glissando’d sigh. At the close of my (our) performance, I leave the stage and allow Neo to follow suit and perform center stage “alongside” another competitor.

At the close of the section Neo and I proceed to improvise through the deer call instruments, “musicalizing” them in a nature typical to contemporary music (as indeed these objects could easily have been found in any new music piece in the way various birdcalls have been employed for decades).  The musicalization of the deer calls climaxes with a horrid if not impassioned rendition of Johannes Brahms’ “Dein Blaues Auge”, with both Neo and I belting with an unwarranted romantic optimism through the telescoping green tubes.

The gesture of this etude is simple and easy to follow, and through its concrete display Neo throws into light the peculiarity of the notion of technique and virtuosity in relation to concepts of music performance. At once, this etude performs a double: first, the sonic materials of the deer-call competition are attached to another context and thus musicalized, and two, the musician’s virtuosity, in particular the notion of the music competition, is revealed as being totally detached from any discernable artistic expression. Our mimicking of the deer-call competitors’ performances underlines the danger of worshipping virtuosity: that precision for precision’s sake often renders only a convincing copy.

By two removals, starting with a barking deer, then passing through the competitors’ impression of the deer, and ending with Neo and I onstage copying the competitors, notions of technique and virtuosity, and their relation to music are thrown into confusion. The removals reveal that context is everything in judging the purpose of technique and mastery.  Neo and I practiced a lot to deliver this section of performed precision. But that doesn’t mean that we spent significant time preparing for this moment. Approaching this sonic material of the deer calls is a natural process given our training as musicians. We are oriented towards sound, and thus we are oriented towards these objects even though they are associated with hunting and gaming. Though the starting point is different, both Neo and I and the deer-call competitors have highly developed sonic practices, which is then easily translated into the performative situation of Etudes to become a deer.

It can’t be mastery for mastery’s sake. Rather it must be that skilled execution, no matter what those skills may be or how much time they require in their cultivation, are implemented for the purpose of creating an artistic experience.  Though we aren’t experts in deer-calling, we are developing as experts in performing. It isn’t amateur performance, even if it seems like “anyone” could do it. Precision is as present as ever.

On/in an open field


“We have become accustomed to identifying contemporary dance with the right to do anything an artist might conceive of. Contemporary dance is basically a field of freedom whose cartography has been signed by the inspiration of those, and only those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to tread its path” (Charmatz & Launay, 2011, pg. 3).


So begins Franz Anton Cramer’s foreword to Boris Charmatz and Isabelle Launay’s book on “almost everything” contemporary dance, Undertraining: On a Contemporary Dance (2011). As a contemporary percussionist, there is something particularly resonant about this opening statement. Does a quick translation, a quick trading of practices lead us to a future that can take into account the diversity of practices and methods of contemporary music making? How about this transposition to contemporary music:


“We have become accustomed to identifying contemporary music with the right do anything an artist might conceive of. Contemporary music is basically a field of freedom whose cartography has been signed by the inspiration of those, and only those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to tread its path.”


What relief! What incredible oxygen entering the lungs to imagine a contemporary music practice where this freedom is so thoroughly felt that it could be printed at the front of a book! What assured confidence that there would need no further qualification to utter this exuberance! As I have travelled through my own practice searching for a way to understand and explain how the diversity of pieces I and my peers make and perform, I found myself, in my own mind at least, trapped in a need to explain myself out of a discipline-oriented lock box, a Houdini-esque suspended cage, wishing for a key to miraculously materialize in my hands. Despite contemporary music practices taking as many forms as the imagination can create or discover there has been a, perhaps self-imposed, need to reckon with the weight of classical music’s historical practices and discourses. But the work I was a part of creating and my developing performance practice resisted the notions of specialization and expertise associated with “pure” art forms. They insisted on entering a field of freedom, where either/or is collapsed into the idea of “as well as” (Fischer-Lichte, 2006, pg. 204). It’s not either music or theatre, it is both music as well as theatre, as well as this and as well as that. Instead of forcing myself into clean categories that would never withstand the pressure I wish to let this work move freely within a space of possibility. And through its gentle meandering I can begin to reflect anew on some of the primary questions posed by this research project:


What does the musician become when the hierarchy of music is flattened, where sound and instrumental thinking are no longer privileged at the top of the hierarchy? After a generation of ground-breaking work from Mauricio Kagel, Dieter Schnebel, and many others, where is the theatrical and the performative in music today? Where is it going? How does it shape, alter, constitute (my) artistic practice? It seems to be going somewhere that demands the musician take on a different understanding and relation to the instrument and therefore a different relation to the body. This new relation calls for new ways of making and doing, in other words, a new kind of artistic practice.


But what does this all mean for the field of contemporary music? What is at stake for music when musicians, the loyal soldiers of the art form, are also questioning what makes music, “music”? When musicians are questioning and then reinterpreting the very relationships that historically made them “musicians”, namely their relationship to their instrument and to the composer? If the 1960’s opened up the field for what could express itself as “music”, then we are certainly in a time when the notion of the “musician” is opening up to myriad possible expressions and practices. To address again one of the original questions from this research: what is new music theatre and today’s contemporary music field demanding of the musician? Simply put: it demands a performer.


I see my artistic practice as a sign of these changing times in contemporary music, in the musician’s relation to their instruments and to the hierarchies that structure classical music. I am part of a community of musicians who urge for an extended practice beyond their instrument, an object that has nearly lost all relevance and urgency in a time of easily accessed technology and a renewed interest in the performativity of objects and bodies. These musicians urge for the collapse in the hierarchy between composer and performer – not in the collapse of expertise as expertise provide rich starting points in a movement from “here” to “there”, but in the collapse of the politics of music that keeps the musician and composer working in separate times and in separate spaces. This community of musicians advocates for their subjectivity to be present in the creation of new work and yearns for collaborative structures that reflect the society we wish to live in. These musicians push for the dissolution of archaic borders between art forms and to reimagine them as permeable structures, built for slippage and excess. They see a future practice that is “as well as”, rather than one that defines itself through exclusions and the strategies offered by “either/or”. They see artistic practices that exist on a continuum and that are built of gradual transitions and gradations. They seek “ambiguous, boundary-ignoring, inclusive, collective, and interpersonal” practices that can finally serve the open field we find ourselves standing in (Torrence, 2018).

Searching the limits, a reflection on No Say No Way & How to Fight


The only piece in the project that I would argue demands a performance nearing Michael Kirby’s definition of complex acting is No Say No Way. No Say No Way was the first piece created in this research project. When François Sarhan and I set out making it we wanted to see how far we could push me as a performer. How far could we go without an instrument? How far could we get using just actions and fragments of text? How far could we go with a humble scenography and staging? How far we could go with very little scored material?


No Say No Way pushed, and eventually helped delineate, the bounds of my abilities performing outside of purely instrumental music. The piece requires that I carry the stage like an actor while keeping musical strategies underneath the structures and episodes of the piece. It required that I think about time more like a dancer might, via breath and momentum, where time is felt bodily as well as sonically.  The elements of clowning that build much of the humor of the piece as well as the tragic-comic pathos are extremely challenging as a non-trained actor, and not elements with which I ever entirely came to grips. It became blatantly clear to me that some theatrical music pieces are designed for someone with extensive training in theatrical arts, or for someone who is not only courageous on stage but also naturally gifted in acting. As Kagel had also warned, through this work I became suspicious of music pieces that threaten to turn a good musician into a bad actor (Halle, 2006).


No Say No Way provided the necessary challenges that would reveal in what ways the notion of ‘theatre’ may need to be repositioned in my project and in the subsequent pieces made. Following the challenges of this piece in regards to its demands for acting, I became interested in making work that create theatre from the “real”; that is to say pieces without a character to develop but rather where I perform as “myself” or as a “faceless” performer (Shlomowitz, 2016). For example, the subsequent piece made with Carolyn Chen, How to Fight uses personal texts that can be delivered as “myself”, rather than as a character. However, despite playing “myself” in How to Fight, there are still elements of acting, or “playing up” similar to what Kirby calls ‘Simple Acting’. I recognized through the process of No Say No Way and How to Fight that I am not drawn to becoming an actor, but rather drawn to a type of performance that admits and harnesses the fact that I am a person with a subjectivity and a person with a body that is imprinted with musicality. With No Say No Way as the first piece created in this research, I have ventured through the gamut of Kirby’s spectrum spanning non-matrixed performance to complex acting. No Say No Way confirmed that complex acting is truly what the name suggests, complex. It is an art form in itself and should be given the respect and seriousness of training that it deserves and requires.

Co-creating and devising: how method becomes practice – a process of metamorphosis, Part III 


When I designed this project I planned to make at least four new evening-length works with a range of international composers. In order to maintain some semblance of control over the research question, methods, and approach I asked that each composer make the work with me present in the room with them. In other words, I asked them to collapse the old production model that keeps the performer and composer separate, working at different times and in different spaces. We would somehow make the work together. This was a conscious choice in order to preserve the integrity of the research question. The experiences that flowed from this choice would forever alter my artistic practice and the work created. I would transition from having a collaborative practice as an interpreter/adviser to composers, to collaborating so closely that notions of authorship were occasional problematized. I now consider co-creating a fundamental feature of my my artistic practice. This development collapses the hierarchy between composer and performer and makes a transition in this traditional relationship towards new models of collaboration.


The following is from an article written on devising practices as reflected in this research project. It was published in the VIS Nordic Journal for Artistic Research, Issue 0. It has been slightly altered for the purposes of this reflective text.


I commissioned composers who would have normally engaged a performer as an executor or advisor and requested that we devise the work instead. This request was outlined with the suggestion that each piece be made in-the-room, on-the-floor, in close contact with each other, even if this would require a long period of time. The performance elements were created with both parties present during the entire process. In several cases the multi-media components of the pieces such as video, playback, costume, and scenography were created together, though much of the video and audio editing was done by either the composer or myself separately. The inherited hierarchical labels of composer and interpreter were thus voided and the work was made together. We each carried into the collaboration our backgrounds as performer and/or composer, but we let the piece be made, and in many cases performed, by everyone. We did not privilege our educated roles as grounds for authority in decision making during the generative process. As a performer this meant engaging both my "inner eye", a well developed perspective that regards aspects of personal execution in performance, and my "outer eye", a developing perspective that co-creates the piece as a whole.

However, despite an attempt to allow creative equality afforded by choosing a devising process, my role as 'performer' in the collaborative processes varied widely during the creation of the pieces. The roles I assumed usually reflected the relationship to the composer, the type of material being handled, and the phase in the project. On occasions I could feel like a voyeur peering into the mind and practice of the composer, seemingly watching over their shoulder as they compose in real time; occasionally I felt like an adviser to the composer, complementing, expanding, and facilitating as they tested their ideas; on other occasions I felt like my body and artistic tendencies were the literal material being thrown around like oil on canvas, whereby my specific artistic practice becomes the material of the work; on other occasions I felt truly as a co-creator who built an entire piece as an equal contributor, often through improvisational strategies and even composition. All of these dynamics occurred, at times simultaneously, and all within the frame of a single piece.

In each piece I credit the composer with the starting concept, though it is up to debate whether to credit them for musical composition. Very often the practice of 'composition' manifested as the process of ordering major events, not in the sense of creating materials but in the sense of deciding what goes where and when within the total structure of the piece. This process of ordering was often done by the composer, but it was also occasionally shared between us. The process of creating the piece’s materials and internal logic was often created in an improvisational, contingent, and collaborative manner.

Through the process of co-creating, it became valuable and even inevitable to remove the separation not only between who composes but also who performs. In many of the pieces created in a devised method, the composer ultimately performs on stage and/or creates another entity with which I perform, such as video or audio playback. This emergence felt like a natural result of creating the work together in the same room and in a method that allows every person to contribute in any way, regardless of expertise.

To a varying degree, I assumed ownership and/or authorship of each piece. This language was always a negotiation between the specific collaborators participating in the specific projects. The language used for ascribing credit established in writing how each person contributed, and therefore what each person owns or authors. Furthermore, this act of crediting affords what each person can claim as constituting the grounds of their artistic practice. In the process of deciding the language of authorship, my collaborators and I have occasionally opted out of using the labels 'composer' or 'performer', instead settling for 'creators' of the project. This choice opens up the possibility that every person can influence any and every aspect of the piece, regardless of their expertise. It has personally become important to take credit for my contributions in collaboration. If I was part of making the piece, I feel it’s fair and just to state that fact with clarity. The negotiation of ownership and authorship has, in my experience, been a welcome discussion, however, in most cases it has remained a delicate topic to navigate. My collaborators and I have settled on formulations of credit such as “Created by (composer) in collaboration with Jennifer Torrence”, or “Created by (composer) for and with Jennifer Torrence”, or “Created by (composer) and Jennifer Torrence”. In some cases, the question of reimagining the language of authorship in a contemporary music piece was too radical, and, despite using devising methods, the authorship remained in a more traditional model that credits the composer and erases the performer’s contribution almost entirely.

Though the creative process and result may generally be shared, this does not mean that financial remuneration in the form of the commission was shared. Some institutions and funding bodies have the flexibility to award authorship to both the composer and performer, where other bodies are less flexible in this way, and less flexible to retroactively reflect how a creative process develops across the course of creating new work. When the collaborative process becomes co- creative the challenge is largely up to the artists involved to share credit and financial rewards in an appropriate and mutually agreed manner. In several cases, the composer offered to split the commission with me. We found agreements that felt fair to both parties, whether that was a 50/50 split, or some other arrangement. When a shared commission fee did not seem right for a particular project or did not emerge out of a shared dialogue, it was important for me as the 'performer' to insist that my credits be explicitly noted in scores and documents. This gesture of taking collaborative credit felt necessary to honour the spirit of how the pieces were made as well as to give recognition to my expanding artistic practice as a performer.

Things to consider


Knees slightly bent?

Focus: long vision vs. short vision vs. wide vision vs. coning

Breathing through the nose vs. breathing through the mouth

Losing control vs. performing losing control

The energetic levels: sending and receiving

The center at the chest vs. the center at the pelvis

Going slower

The ground

Going slow even when things are going fast (support)

Creating presence by creating details

The sensation of the body

On an oscillating practice of preparation and training


Walking as training


Nine Bells (1978) is a work for one percussionist and nine suspended bells. Across one hour, the performer walks, spins, and runs in nine different patterns, each coinciding with a specific bell. Technically, the piece requires very little musical training. Basic score reading and the ability to hold a mallet is all that is required. In fact, there is no reason that a percussionist must perform this work, though it does involve percussion instruments. The composer, Tom Johnson, was the main performer of this piece for years. Rather than the playing of instruments, the primary material for the performer is the act of walking. The piece unfolds as a series of walking patterns that carry the performer to the instrument that she will strike. Across the piece, the sound of the steps taken en route to each bell emerge as a musical material in dialogue with the resonant bell strikes. Nine Bells, which appears to have a certain material simplicity, is rife with the complexity of walking.

Walking is famously one of the most difficult things to do on stage. It is an activity that one does without thinking about it, and it’s an activity a performer can feel is within their reach without much further training. But the moment the mind focuses on walking, one recognizes the complexity of how the body weight shifts, how balance is maintained, how the bones and joints click together to keep us precariously upright. With so few materials making up the piece, the walking would have to be carefully done, so as to avoid unconsciously imbuing the aforementioned act with unintended meanings. 


In 2017, I performed Nine Bells without any formal training into the movement vocabulary of the piece, but simply let my 30+ years of walking through the world be my guide. What I found from viewing the documentation of this performance, however, is that walking on stage is never as simple as it is in the real world. When the steps are tied to musical coordination it is easy for them to become labored and heavy. In this performance there is the sensation that I am “counting” through my steps, rather than following a line of trajectory as I travel through the space. The result of this execution is not one where the walking becomes a major musical and performative material, but where it remains simply a way of getting to the next bell at the right time. Logistics of navigation take over the lines created by the body moving in space. It becomes a march in time rather than lines in space.


For a performance in 2018, however, I sought out the guidance of professional dancers to provide some strategies for rethinking walking. Walking has been an activity I have performed on stage throughout this project, but it would not be until this revisit of Nine Bells that I would go deeply into this common performance material. From a coaching with dancer Pernille Bønkan I would work with the notion of walking the lines on the floor that each pattern creates, rather than thinking of walking to or from a bell. To develop this, I literally taped the ground with the lines marking the walking patterns and walked along them, giving my full attention to the sensation of my feet on the floor as they traversed the piece’s walking paths. In addition to orienting my mind to my feet instead of the bells, this also provided a focus I could rely upon in performance: when my mind wandered throughout the long duration and countless repetitions, I could return to the sensation of walking, and the sensation of my feet in contact with the floor. Bønkan and I also worked with shifting the focus of my momentum from my hand and the tip of my mallet as it reaches for a bell to my pelvic floor. This would provide a grounded-ness to the body that could help with dizziness and balance. Even as I am reaching to strike a bell, keeping my weight in the pelvic floor allows the body to stay in focus, rather than moving the focus to the object struck while in motion. In a workshop with dancer and choreographer Maya Caroll we discussed the nature of walking not as a sequence where each step is a singular action (that then could be counted as 1, 2, 1, 2, and so on), but rather that walking includes a complex coordination of sockets, bones, joints, and weight transfer that creates a much more complex internal “rhythm” within each footfall. Focusing the attention to small details inside the walking motion gives the body a sense of stability and power, especially at slow tempi.


Walking is something we know how to do. It can be tempting to think that no further training is necessary or possible. But actions such as walking, are also things that we never take time to think about. We just do them. The fresh scrutiny of stage lights reveals how little we truly understand.


Watching as preparation


In 2017, Neo Hülcker approached me with the concept of becoming deer as the basis for a new piece for two performers. Hülcker’s work has dealt with animal bodies and the transition of bodies into other forms in the last years, as well as work that comes in close contact with the spectator body.1 Hülcker’s work calls into question the body’s relation to sound (how does a body listen? How does it relate to sound?), and also how bodies are made through movement. Preparing for working on this piece about deer was very simple: we had to train to become deer. Neo and I started this process by watching videos of deer in various situations, both natural and urban, then copying their movement qualities and behavior. We then worked heavily with the camera to evaluate our imitations. This material was then developed into what became the final work. The process of imitation was self-taught, but the method for developing our performance materials and execution exhibited an easily discernible method.


Sharing time as preparation


When it comes to the collaborative process, there is nothing more fruitful than sharing meals, coffees, ideas, and time together. The formation of the group is the critical element to a successful or unsuccessful collaboration. This process can be a profound and precious experience to undergo with another person. It is about friendship and trust nourishing the creative process, which more easily emerges through shared experience. With the possibility of trust and a shared vision, the performers involved have a foundation from which to explore extended practices and radical models of collaboration. It may sound obvious as the reader considers this text, but there is nothing more important to be found in this entire reflection. It is my belief that this investment in collaborative partners is the core element that makes risk taking and the expansion of dispositions in collaboration possible at all.


Training as preparation


How to Fight is an example of a piece that clearly called for the contracting out of distinct skills for both the development and execution of the work. How to Fight is a piece for two performers that centers on the theme of interpersonal conflict. Carolyn Chen and I agreed some months before creating the piece that we would work with the musical material of two-part song and movement inspired by martial arts traditions as an entry into the theme of conflict. These materials would provide the tête-a-tête expression that a piece on conflict demands. In the year leading up to How to Fight I had been working heavily with both my speaking and singing voice through lessons and workshops. From this training I could bring to our collaborative table approaches to vocal warm-ups and exercises to develop the execution of the two-part songs. Similarly, during that year, I had been taking classes in tai chi and aikido, martial arts forms in which Chen was already very experienced. We utilized movement from Tai Chi and Aikido to experiment with highly physical movements, momentums, and energy in relation to the theme of conflict. Our cumulative existing knowledges in both voice and martial arts was sufficient so that the development of the work could progress effectively and safely.


This training in martial arts traditions is an example of how a specific work can demand a specific approach to training. This is not to suggest that this training does not also positively effect the thinking and execution around other pieces, that it does not leave “residues” imprinted on the body for future work (Spatz, 2015, pg. 36), but rather it is to say that the application of this training is less concrete in other works that do not explicitly call for martial arts movement materials. But without that training, this piece’s genesis and performance would not be impossible.


Research as preparation


In 2017, Trond Reinholdtsen proposed a concept for a new large work that would focus on the notion of post-humanism in relation to music. At this point in our collaboration, I knew little if anything on this topic that was sweeping through the art scene as both a productive material for creating work as a well as a threat to all fields in the “humanities”. In order to prepare for the Institute for Post-Human Performance Practice it required that I urgently catch up on the topic. It required old fashioned research. If I were to contribute to the creation of the piece, and therefore the ways I would be engaged as a performer, it would be necessary that I know the material of the theme as intimately as possible, as intimately as my composer-collaborator. Reinholdtsen and I performed this preparatory research via activities such as watching the series Black Mirror, viewing academic lectures, and reading texts by preeminent philosophers such as Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway.2 We read histories of concepts such as transhumanism and explored the latest technologies published in science magazines and journals. All of this work would appear directly or obliquely through the development of the work. The research would feed our discussions and open paths of thinking that would ultimately shape the final artistic result. In short, we had to “do our research”. This was the only way we could enter the room as equals in a co-creative process.

The result of knowing the material and then entering the room as equals would cause huge personal growth in the types of artistic activities I could engage with and how I would interact with Reinholdtsen.  By engaging hands-on with the thematic material, I was able to take up Reinholdtsen’s invitation to work directly with the scenography, videography, and the construction of the documentary material.  Suddenly, a piece that was challenging my performative practice was also expanding my creative practice in general. I was now engaging as co-creator with materials far beyond that of sound and performance. And it is my argument that this was possible through, 1) the generosity of Reinholdtsen in the collaborative process, and 2) my own investment taken at the outset of the project to engage with the piece’s theme. The result of both would create a sense of confidence and possibility through out the process of creating the work.