This text is a reflection. When one shines a light onto a mirror, light reflects and is geometrically thrown across the room onto another surface. On this opposite surface, an image of the mirror’s form is projected. The angle from which the light is thrown governs the distortion of the mirror’s original size and shape. The text “The Foregrounded Body: a mutation from executing musician to co-creating performer” attempts to approach a complex field and research project through a variety of angles. It mixes styles, moving freely from academic text to essay to autobiography. Images and videos are interlaced and juxtaposed. Not every path that revealed itself through the process of this research nor the process of writing this text could be followed. Some paths had to be excluded for the sake of clarity and length.1 This text is not an historical overview of music (for percussion or otherwise) that approaches the theatrical, nor does it attempt to provide a full image of all of the activity occurring within the field today. The ambition of this text is that through the exposure of a (my) personal artistic practice and philosophy an image, a reflection even, of a larger field could potentially come into focus.
When light is shone directly onto a mirror, the mirror is darkened as if not a reflective surface at all, but one that consumes light. The danger with such a text is that it will obscure the core of this research project, which investigates a performance practice that is bodily, live, and that as such, threatens to defy verbalization. This text is designed to accompany a collection of work for performer whose discipline begins in music, and more specifically in percussion. Each work is provided its own page for reflection under the section “Artistic Results”. The reader is encouraged to move freely between pages found on this website, allowing the artistic works to illuminate (and obscure) the text, and vice versa.
The title of this project includes two unstable terms. The first is “percussion”, a field that spans myriad cultures, genres, and histories. The use of the term percussion in this text refers to its appearance in the field of contemporary music as relates to the Western Classical tradition. The second term is “theatre”, which spans an equally wide range of possible meanings. The use of the term theatre in this texts refers firstly to the tradition of theatre in contemporary music known as instrumental theatre, and secondly, to a wide conception that defines theatre as any type of performance that features live performers in front of a live audience. The title may suggest that I view these two terms as somehow stable ends to a spectrum of possible artistic practices. This could be no further from the truth. These terms are in themselves unstable, and that is exactly what makes a fluid movement between them possible at all.
To understand a research project, which has distinct starting and ending points, one must consider some aspects of time: this research project was designed in December 2014 and reaches its conclusion in December 2018. Inside of this short period, an explosion in practices and research dedicated to a music that foregrounds the body has revealed that this type of work, once considered fringe,2 has become a fundamental feature of our field.3 This artistic research project is a sign of these times, and the trajectory of this project is a product of the discussions that have emerged within the field of contemporary music in the last decade.4
Like many research projects, this is one motivated by a certain perceived problem, a certain lack. The field of contemporary percussion, and in particular the percussion soloist, flourished at the exact moment that John Cage and Mauricio Kagel would reflect ideas associated with the ‘performative turn’ in the mid-20th century. This confluence of emerging practices meant that much of the percussionist’s canon is constituted of works that approach theatre and Performance Art, particularly with pieces that score for speaking, singing, gesturing, and moving percussionist. The solo percussionist’s canon appears to be as much one of experimental theatre as it is experimental music.5 However, in all of my studies to become a professional percussionist, I was never encouraged to address the theatrical elements imbedded in our field. For example, despite the plethora of works for singing or speaking percussionist, I never took a single voice lesson due to any demand articulated in a conservatory curriculum. This was the first problem. At the starting point of this project, I wanted to address what I saw as a gaping lack in skills that are demanded by our repertoire.
The second problem I perceived was that the structure of the recital form was keeping music that approaches theatre and Performance Art within the conventions of music presentation. I saw this convention of the recital, which is a concert consisting of a hand full of ten-minute pieces, as one that limits the possible theatrical elements this type of work could explore, in particular with the use of spatiality, technology, lighting, and scenography. I wanted to embrace a larger format that might reflect the scale of contemporary theatre and dance works, and I would do this through commissioning evening-length productions.
Through the course of the project, however, what was perceived as the most interesting problems to address began to change. Over the course of making new evening-length pieces, I became less interested in training skills in order to serve canonical works, and more interested in the body as the material of a morphing music performance practice. In the creation of the new pieces, I became less concerned with disrupting musical conventions for the aim of moving music towards other art forms and more concerned with the ways radical collaborative models between a composer and performer can serve artistic practices undergoing fundamental change and extension. Standing at the ending point of this project, I can see how its trajectory and motivations have been shaped by a changing discussion within the field of contemporary music, which has become steadily more concerned with the body in/as music and with a desire to dissolve hierarchies within music-making practices.6
But it’s important to remind ourselves that points in time, starting points and ending points, are nothing but an illusion. They are demarcations of a line that is relentlessly traveling through. What we call a point in time is a cross-section of so many comings and goings, of experiences, relationships, desires, and fears, that all we can manage to do is reduce it and suggest that this bite-size-sliver-in-time is a coherent something. For all practical purposes this project had a “starting point” in December 2014 and this text marks its “ending point” four years later. But I don’t experience these points to be solid structures that can contain the years of movement (the years that moved me to initiate the project, the years that will follow its “conclusion”). The momentum is difficult to stop and impossible to predict. And it’s hard to see while standing in the middle of it if I have “arrived” somewhere in particular, or if I’m still on my way, or if, just a while longer, I can find a home in between.