This page outlines the process of making

Outside (2012) an installation and performance for three choreographed musicians built on a concept by Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, and developed in collaboration between The Six Tones1, the choreographer Marie Fahlin and sound artist Matt Wright. Please visit the installation here before continue reading.

The concept for Inside/Outside reflects an analysis of the choreography of gender in the performance of traditional Vietnamese music. In the working process, a strong interaction between qualitative analysis of video materials and artistic creation can be identified, where understandings of musical gesture as culturally situated but also as expressions of the subjectivity of the performers were both taken into account. This entails a gender analysis of how, in contemporary Vietnamese culture, traditional music has become a feature in TV shows, in which women perform in traditional dress and with specific movements that accompany the playing. The piece develops a critical perspective on this development by presenting three musicians in glass boxes dressed in queen costume from traditional theatre. The movements of the performers were choreographed to amplify and transform gendered stereotypes from traditional music performance in Vietnamese TV shows. This is where qualitative analysis of gesture first came into play. Inside/Outside was created from gesture materials identified through analytical procedures that become deeply integrated into the artistic process. But the making of the piece also involved a further reflection on its own making, which in turn fed into the further development of the piece.


In the making of Inside/Outside qualitative analysis constituted an important factor in the artistic process. In May 2012, The Six Tones and Marie Fahlin started coding video of traditional Vietnamese music performance in TV shows. The working sessions took place at the Electronic Music Studios (EMS) in Stockholm by using Hyper Research, a software for computer-aided qualitative analysis and resulted in a little catalogue of gesture types that in turn became the material for the choreography which was developed in workshops in August 2012. Obviously, the pre-understanding of the material of each member was very different. While Stefan and Marie, the two westerners taking part in the coding sessions, had little or no previous knowledge of this phenomenon, Trà My and I had been performing in such TV shows for many years. The selected videos contained some performances in which Trà My or I, or both of us, participated, but there were also many videos in which we did not take part. Hence, this time, we would not only create an analysis of our own performances. This entailed that most of the analysis would have to be carried out through third-person perspective observations. Further, the analysis was carried out at the very beginning of our collaboration with Marie Fahlin, and therefore, the negotiation of a joint understanding in the coding of the videos also became a way of defining the aims and means of the artistic project, as well as simply beginning to get to know each other. The process of making Inside/Outside surely emphasized how different the cultural understandings of gender issues were. Throughout the working period, Marie and Stefan were curiously trying to figure out what the core issues were and what could be the proper way to address them in artistic form in a Vietnamese context.


The second step in the creative process was to take the gesture types identified in the coding and develop individual choreographies from this material. This process was documented on video and, in tandem with the ongoing artistic work, was also subject to qualitative analysis. Some of the recordings of Inside/Outside that we analyzed were recorded by Vietnamese TV and we were kindly given the raw video material from multiple cameras. These recordings were made with handheld cameras and represented the piece more clearly than our own documentation since the audience would cover the boxes from the still cameras placed in the back of the room. But again our analysis was filtered through the production lense of a TV channel.

The data we collected from TV shows was produced for commercial use. All videos were recorded playback and did not have any intention to represent an actual performance of the music presented. We did not have access to documentation from when the audio was recorded. Had it been possible to obtain, such a material would have allowed us to make a more in-depth analysis of the impact of the producer in the video recording session, however, Trà My and I explained that in a typical recording session the producer would direct the movements continuously throughout the piece and the cameramen would let the performers know when they are in view so that they can smile to the camera.3

The different gestures that caught our interest we analyzed as communicative gesture, that emerged from extended and modified sound-producing or sound-facilitating gesture. We believe that the modification of these gestures is partially related to the fact that all the videos from TV shows that we analyzed were recorded playback. Hence, the movement was already decoupled from the sound production. The gendered aspects of these modifications are related to the decorative function of these extended movements.  It was striking for all of us how strongly gendered the gesture was in the performances and how these movement types would extend the playing related actions in ways that had no relation to sound production, or would even be contradictory to the intended sound. The gender analysis was also built on observation of the few male performers in the TV shows, whose behavior was strikingly different, and bore no traces of the gestures found in female performers. This observation gave at hand that the gesture types found in the coding sessions were inherently related to gender.4 We eventually arrived at the following master code list with six main codes being:

At a later stage, this analysis was further enhanced by a 1st person perspective, carried out in interview sessions with the three performers and the choreographer Marie Fahlin, as well as in coding sessions, analyzing the choreography in the first performances of Inside/Outside. This first-person perspective analysis was carried out after the premiere of the finished piece and was not intended to influence the artistic work. However, to our surprise, this new round of coding eventually sparked a further development of the piece as will be discussed more extensively below.

• extended sound producing gesture (See Video Example V2.1)

• de-coupled extended sound producing gesture (where the sound producing movement is both extended and also repeated without relation for instance to actual plucking of a string etc.) (See V2.2)

• extended preparation (See V2.3)

• rocking (rather a sound facilitating gesture) (See V2.4)

• smile to the camera (communicative gesture) (See V2.5)

• conducting (See V2.6)









A space between sound and movement

From gesture analysis to the creation of the choreography

A musical large-scale form was developed already in spring and was used in the first workshops as a basic material. It consisted of improvisations on two traditional Vietnamese songs, Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang and Vọng Cổ,5 first with đàn tranh and then with electronic materials added by Matt Wright. This draft form was further developed in the workshop and became the basic framework within which the finer details of the composition emerged. But, while the initial structure was defined by its musical materials and had a rather simple form in four sections, a more complex form emerged from the interaction between movement and sound. In November 2012, the work continued at the Kim Mã Theatre in Hanoi, where the first performances took place. Here, the interaction between choreography, instrumental performance and the electronic music was developed to a higher degree, while also the choreographies found their final shape. The final music was made in parallel with the choreography, sometimes defining the structure of the bodily movements but more often being drawn directly from the choreography.

In these workshops, it was clear that the one male performer, Stefan Östersjö, was not entirely acquainted with the body language of a Vietnamese woman. Learning to reproduce such movement sets became a necessary starting point. The first lesson in such behaviors was learning to control the traditional dress áo dài and also how to position the legs when seated. We see in video example V2.10 how Stefan reminds himself of having the wrong pose, and correcting his position, in the midst of playing. When looking back at the process of learning the choreography he notes: “trying to move like a woman in the choreographies made me very strongly aware of muscles I had never used. Already to rise and get seated like a woman hurts, you realize how our bodies are disciplined from early childhood towards this bodily behavior. My attempts to make my body move like a woman became for me an attempt to express sympathy with the many women performers I’ve come to know throughout the years I’ve been in Hanoi” (Östersjö, personal communication, 2017). We will see in the following sections how such experiences of bodily resistance and the decision to act against it, only constituted the beginning of a more extensive journey which would demand from all three performers to consider their gendered roles as musicians and as individuals in society.

In August 2012, with the above catalog of performance related movements as point of departure, the three performers and the choreographer continued the development of the piece in working sessions at the Inter Arts Center in Malmö. Here, Marie Fahlin would engage in a dialogue with each performer on their individual response to the selected gestures from TV shows. Marie clearly expressed that she did not want to create choreographies that she would teach to the three musicians. Instead, she wanted each performer to develop their own materials, through a dialogue with her:

The solo choreographies performed by Stefan and I display a close link between bodily movement and resulting sound. One example of the role of hand gesture and finger movement is found in a video with Marie and Stefan, working out some gestures from the fourth section of the piece, all drawn from a classical right hand arpeggio, which is distributed spatially around the body of the tỳ bà (see video V2.11a). Parts one and three are most closely linked to Vọng Cổ and Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang and to how the music has tended to be presented in performances in TV shows. Those are also the two sections that remain from the first draft version of the music. The two solo choreographies may serve as an example of the further interactions between music and movement.

Stefan’s solo was performed standing, holding the tỳ bà. He describes in a joint paper with Coessens, how “this is already in itself an awkward playing position: although visually powerful—holding the instrument in this way alludes to traditional paintings of women playing the lute—playing the instrument in this way is difficult because when held upright it has a constant tendency to fall out of one’s hands. But, most of all, the solo involved a constant turning movement and the musical material was shaped according to the speed and direction of the turns. It became very obvious how the footwork came to shape the musical form of the entire solo, and also how, in the first days of rehearsal, this physical movement totally outside the habitus of a classical performer turned Östersjö’s body into a space of resistance in the making of the piece” (Coessens & Östersjö, 2014, pp. 339-340). This resistance is clearly expressed in a video from the rehearsals in Hanoi (see V2.11b) in which Östersjö’s feet seem to allow for anything but gracious turns. But the footwork remained essential for the choreography, but also for the shaping of the music. Eventually, it became the defining feature of the entire section in which Coessens & Östersjö note how "winding up" and "releasing" the ballerina shaped the music in accordance with these movements and vice versa. Imperfections in the turning movement and the timing of when to start "unwinding" the mechanism immediately affected the ongoing music (ibid, 2014, p. 340).

Hence, the choreographies were not taught to the performers but rather drawn out of their bodily response to the collected movement sets from TV shows. Among the “extended sound producing gestures” identified in the coding were, for instance, elbow movements, particular to the plucking action on the đàn tranh. In the third section, these elbow movements became a fundamental material, wherein the choreography followed the actual behaviors you find in traditional music performance in TV shows more closely. Here, the performance of a traditional song, Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang, was synchronized through extensive rocking movements (see video example V2.8 for a representation of how the choreography looked in the finished piece and also how these gestures are rehearsed with Marie Fahlin in V2.9).

"This is what you have, improvise with the material and we will see… also what you choose to do. For me it is important, if you choose to do this thing, this is what you like or this what you feel comfortable with and then you do that and not the other things. And you have different ways of doing material. When you do for example this thing, that we talked about today, that you did today in a slightly different way to what you’ve done before, I trust that you know what you’re doing, I can’t teach you because it comes from you, and you do it" (see V2.7b workshop with Fahlin, 2012).

My solo choreography was drawn quite directly from the movements found in the dialogue between me and Marie. In the video documentation from rehearsals in the Kim Mã Theatre (see V2.12) Marie discusses the signification of these choreographic materials:

Another layer of sonic material in the performance was the audio in headphones which were presented by each of the glass boxes. For the premiere in 2012, we created audio tracks with music played on the instrument inside the box. After the premiere of the piece, we decided to make a further analysis of the work, looking at the choreographies working mainly from a first-person perspective. We had no intention for this analysis to inform further artistic work since we felt that the process was finished with the premiere in Nov 2012. However, the coding carried out in 2013 and 2014 created a more articulated understanding of the working process and also of the individual experiences of all three performers, both of the cultural context for traditional music in Vietnam as well as of the individual identity of each performer. This analysis gave us the idea of creating headphone tracks that would be based on the individual coding of video carried out by the three performers. The three performer made recordings where they gave personal accounts of how they had been socialized into male Swedish or female Vietnamese performers respectively and further, of their experiences of performing the piece. These recordings were eventually edited and processed into individual tape parts, still containing some elements of instrumental playing from ”inside” the box. The headphone tracks were presented for the first time in the video installation version of Inside/Outside which was commissioned by the museum of world cultures in Gothenburg in 2015.

The interaction with the electronics, performed by Matt Wright would tend towards a call and response like structure, where the choreography would at times excite sound on the instrument, followed by movement ”in the air” where the electronics would respond to and sonically enhance the ongoing choreography. Here, the performative skills of Matt Wright were an essential factor, and as the piece has toured, the extent to which the sections can be expanded and contracted, in response to the evolving choreography, but also to the response from the audience, has been striking:6

With the video installation version, the commentary on the headphones can at times be just as specific as was once the coding in the analytical sessions. When the second section ends, where rocking is combined with elbow movements and a plucking gesture taken from tỳ bà playing, I makes the following remark in the audio track (see V2.13):

The making of the headphone tracks summarized much of the individual experiences from the entire working process, as here in the opening lines in the headphone track by my box (see V2.14):

At this moment, I was trying to depict the difficulty facing a traditional performer, here by standing and turning around the instrument in ways that make it hard or even impossible to play. This in contrast to the otherwise typical expression of ease in traditional music performance. What you most of all learn in conservatory training is a series of movements that all express controlled elegance and how to smile when you perform in public.

My mother was a Tuồng actress. In traditional theatre, there are stereotypes for male and female behavior, just as for good and bad; virtuous and immoral; hero and villain and so on. Since I was a child, I have seen my mother embodying different characters on stage. But in Vietnamese society, there was no possibility for a girl to choose to perform differently. I was taught to always be a good girl according to the norms I learnt from my mother.

Crucially the structural elements of the electronics (by this I mean the clear sonic cues built into the ongoing compositional progress of the music) were performed/triggered in response to the musical "tempi" of the musicians. Conversely, the live processing followed the choreography, based on the notion of "turning movements": little cycles/loops of delay and spatialization that overlap in asymmetric patterns to create a dense web of sound from simple, often single notes on the instruments. Those simple sounds from the instruments were themselves often the result of a choreographic gesture, rather than the sole reason for it. Therefore, I tend to think chronologically when following the structural narrative of the music, but spatially when responding to the choreography and any resultant sounds this might suggest. This dialectical tension between chronological /spatial is analogous for me to the tension inherent in notions of "inside" and "outside" as if our agreed musical structure is an agreed inside, whilst the live processing is something deliberately outside our compositional agreement, something potentially risky. (Wright, personal communication, 2018)

You work with the relation between the arms and where you look, so it is like it is getting a bit tangled up within yourself, it’s like making a knot… situation, to confuse, to confuse the arts of choreography and music...Because what I feel and what is so interesting with this is that it becomes confusing, it’s very clear what you do, but confusing to look at, because we don’t know, “what is it about” when you’re just doing gesture. Is it about your emotional state, or is it about hearing the music through playing it or doing the gestures.


Coessens, K. & Östersjö, S. (2014). Habitus and the resistance of culture. In D. Crispin & B. Gilmore (Eds.), Artistic experimentation in music: An anthology (pp. 333-347). Leuven: University Press.


Östersjö, S. (2017). Thinking-through-music: On knowledge production, materiality, embodiment, and subjectivity in artistic research. In J. Impett (Ed.), Artistic research in music: Discipline and resistance—Artists and Researchers at the Orpheus Institute (pp. 88-107). Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Not only may the headphone tracks constitute a window for the audience towards the inside of the choreography in the piece but also, the making of these recordings constituted an endpoint in an inwards journey for the participating artists. For the two Vietnamese musicians, the learning process through the making of Inside/Outside also became a vehicle to intentionally address how they had been socialized into these gendered behaviors and to explore ways in which their bodies could also ”perform differently”. I discuss the critical dimension of the work in this reflection of my solo choreography (see V2.15):

Inside/Outside then, seeks to create a space in which individual voices can be articulated through body movement, initially for the two Vietnamese performers of the group. But also the piece wishes draws the viewer into a situation which dissolves the binary of public and private, through the play with inside and outside in the multiple reflections in the space, but also by allowing the viewer to enter into the private space articulated in the headphone tracks. But perhaps the reasons why audience members sometimes have described the performance situation as awkward, despite the visual attractiveness of the imagery, can be understood through the shift of audience role described by Ann Cooper Albright as "when the act of watching transforms into the act of witnessing" (1997, xxii).

Ngô Trà My strikes a similar note when reflecting on the project in 2018, with rather direct reference to a more aggressive choreography which can be seen in V2.16:

I applied several typical gestures from đàn tranh playing to a further disconnection from the typical sound-generating action. In my mind, I imagined this to be like going crazy over the situation in the glass box. [...] I first thought of this as just pretending to play, like in the opening. But then I felt that the critical stance was so much stronger here. I am not just "pretending to play" like in the playback recording for a TV shows but here I am mocking the whole situation with the disconnected hands and only one of them actually playing. The viewer's attention is drawn (I believe) to the hand that is not playing and, just as with TV shows with traditional music, they are watching the wrong thing.

Actually, I feel very upset about the situation of traditional music of today in Vietnam, where all aesthetic values are turned upside down,  and there’s no way to escape or change it. I want to find a different path, by breaking with it, to get out of the box, but I can’t. That's why I make these aggressive movements in the choreography, like breaking out through the glass. (Ngô, personal communication, 2018).