Études: Small Objects / Small Gestures (2020)

Andrea Parkins: "Sonic Spaces for the Stray”: (Dif)Fusing Dis-location in Sound Installation and Performance


During the Covid-19 lockdown of spring 2020, and in advance of my midterm evaluation, I created a lot of documentation of experimental studio practice.  Among the elements that I generated was a series of 13 short videos, in which I improvise with objects, working with just a minimum of sound processing. These are “lockdown” videos: they are rough in their presentation, fragmentary, improvisatory, soloistic, and expose the fact that they were made on Zoom, probably with no one else around. Taken together, I think that some or all of them can be experienced as a singular piece or set of études that address small gestures in correspondence with the small objects I've been working with as instruments, which serve as associative references toward my autoethnography.  


I think of this series of videos as a discrete work. However, if they are études, it has been important for me to consider to what end: that is, what am I studying in this context, and what am I trying to get "better" at?  


It may be that these pieces address or exemplify a starting point for an exploration of  “scale". I also see them in relation to Tim Ingold's discussion of "correspondence", specifically, regarding what is happening between an instrumentalist and his/her materials.9  In these videos I've homed in on the performative interaction between my contingent gestures, the objects, and the microphone on my laptop, through which I'm processing sound. At the same time, I am keeping in mind possibilities for extending or expanding the reach of the smaller, more intimate gestures that are necessary to employ with these objects—and of the materials that I am working with—into much more spatially and dynamically expansive performances and fixed-media compositions. 


In relation to this, I consider the work of visual artist Lygia Clark. She works with small objects (matchboxes) and with aintimacy of materials that somehow imagines/implies what these objects/materials could be if expanded into a huge scale. 


Here’s an image of Clark’s Matchbox Structures: 



Clark's work with multiples—the accumulation or repetition of similar, and in this case, small modular objects—builds up structures to form a single consolidated work. It's easy to imagine Matchbox Structures as both tiny and enormous at the same time.   


For the video études, I intended to "stack up" a substantial number of very short pieces to create a larger compositional structure made up of small interchangeable modules. Like Clark's humble matchboxes, the objects that I worked with are fragile, replaceable or even disposable: such as Post-it notes, piles of tissue paper, packing tape, and heaps of little stones. With these "instruments" I recorded not only "small sounds," but also, through the use of my software instrument, sounds that imply a much more expansive sweep of gesture, and which potentially have more impact in terms of dynamics and density.


I've included nine of the original thirteen Small Objects / Small Gestures études on this page. They form an open score for a composer/performer to follow.


One video can be selected, or several, or all of them may be played in any order or simultaneously. The composer/performer has the choice to play the videos only once, or they may be looped. 

© Andrea Parkins / Norwegian Academy of Music

Small Objects / Small Gestures