Wheels within Wheels participant, singer Kjetil Almenning taking part in an exercise devised to explore and bleed boundaries that define the relationships between space, time, music/sound, and spoken word/language; between hearing, remembering, describing, dreaming, and elaborating. The short interview (which took part after Kjetil has listened to the audio extract featuring piano, voice, and percussion sounds and which has been edited to remove extended periods of silence) formed part of a day-long ritual, devised as an exercise for exploring relationships between hearing, performance, and the body.

Extract from an ASMR audio sketch, created using vocal sounds. This was disseminated via head phones to each musician individually, in order to induce a hyper-relaxed physical state from (or into) which to play. This audio, and other similar ASMR tracks, was used during workshops as part of the research undertaken for this project.

Jostein Gundersen, "Welcome Speech": the act of investigation as a means of evolving pitch and rhythmic contours. Think of how the contours of an Italian opera aria mirror those of the Italian language, then imagine this welcome speech turned into a melody or a song. 


Alwynne Pritchard


A work of art is a strange tool, an alien implement. We make strange tools to investigate ourselves.1


Medieval Sources

When the Wheels within Wheels project began in 2015, my first instinct was to attempt somehow to get into the minds of the people who made the music we were working with – to understand (or at least imagine) something of how they interacted and what life might have been like for them more than five hundred years ago. What struck me most, was how the lives of monks at the time were defined by the amount of music they had to memorise and sing each day. It must surely have shaped how their brains worked and how they saw and imagined the world around them. Every aspect of their lives was part of a ritual in dedication to God, in which (it occurred to me) there was very little distinction between "onstage" and off. It was not so much the music itself that interested me then, as the relationship between memory and performance, as well as our own attempt within the project if not to reconstruct the past, at least to construct bridges to it. Like Giovanni Battista PiranesiCarceri d'Invezione etchings or the constructions of M.C. Escher, it was the impossibility of this construction that interested and delighted me, rather than any desire to establish any definite perspectives or discover any particular artefacts. Nevertheless, not all stories are equally compelling or useful, not all constructs connect us with equal strength or integrity to the past (present or future). Like both Piransi and Escher, precision of intention and integrity of design were important to me in this research. Using established criteria alongside newly defined ones, within which the musicians could take a kind of "comprovisation" approach, was an important tool.


As well as taking medieval music, memory, and visualisation as its starting point, my final presentation for Mouvance II: Intonation also made use of two texts which I came across in the course of my research in Anna Maria Busse BergerMedieval Music and the Art of Memory:


The hand...locates the lowest place... on the tip of the thumb; then the places move down, continue through the middle of the hand on all four fingers; then move to the top of the small finger and continue counterclockwise in spiral motion. The highest step... is placed on the back of the middle finger because there is no room left on the inside.2 



If a man has a house to build, his hand does not rush, hastily, into the very doing: the work is first measured out with his heart’s inward plumb-line, and the inner man marks out a series of steps beforehand, according to a definite plan; his heart’s hand shapes the whole body before his body’s hand does so, and his building is a plan before it is an actuality... Let the mind’s inner compass circumscribe the whole area of the subject matter in advance. Let a definite plan predetermine the area in which the pen will make its way or where it will fix its Gibraltar. Ever circumspect, assemble the whole work in the stronghold of your mind, and let it be first in the mind before it is in words. When a plan has sorted out the subject in the secret places of your mind, then let Poetry come to clothe your material with words.3

Mind, Body, and Music

What we perceive to be our cultural inheritance, our perception of who we are in relation to what has come before, shifts according to the stories we tell about the past, the present, and the future. For musicians, the performative act is tied up with ideas and stories about interpretation, interaction (with the audience as well as with other musicians), and aesthetics. These stories, in turn, shape the institutions within which musicians function, within which they develop and share their craft. 


The act of storytelling is, then, political as well as cultural, shaping the largest institutional frameworks as well as the most personal and creative interactions. Shifts in narrative perspective spark questions and conflicts, produce forces and counter-forces that stoke the fires of our psychological, emotional, and even physical beings. Narratives are dynamic forces that drive our concepts and experiences of space and time, past, present, and future. In this respect, they are bound up with our experience of vitality, as defined by Daniel Stern as "a product of the mind’s integration of many internal and external events, as a subjective experience, and as a phenomenal reality".4 According to Stern, forms of vitality are psychological, subjective phenomena that emerge from "the encounter with dynamic events and must have a basis in physical action and traceable mental operations".


We use words – create stories – to express our physical and emotional experiences, but also to shape and reshape them. Our fear of something (in the mind) will determine how we approach it (in the body). Likewise, embodied psychological and emotional (as well as physical) experiences (from the past), determine how we respond both physically and emotionally to stimuli (in the present) and even how we create and imagine (the future). So narratives, stories – beliefs – shape our bodies but are also shaped by them. 


As forms of vitality are subjective phenomena, they arise from how the mind processes dynamic experience from any source ("real" or imagined). The experience contains an inferred, subjectively felt force that is experienced as acting "behind" or "within" the event and throughout its course.5


Central, then, to the investigations I undertook with the musicians for Mouvance II: Intonation was the relationship between memory, visualisation, the body – and sound. It began ("once upon a time...") with a desire to find out what would happen if a musician’s relationship to her body was (in manner of speaking) turned on its head: if, instead of being at the service of good sound production (which is a cultural story in itself), the body became a tool for investigation, of which sound would be merely a kind of by-product. Lakoff and Johnson propose a relationship between mind and body drawn from recent developments in cognitive science which were key to my research:


The evidence from cognitive science shows that classical faculty psychology is wrong. There is no such fully autonomous faculty of reason separate from and independent of bodily capacities such as perception and movement. The evidence supports, instead, an evolutionary view, in which reason uses and grows out of such bodily capacities. The result is a radically different view of what reason is and therefore of what a human being is (...)

These findings of cognitive science are profoundly disquieting in two respects. First, they tell us that human reason is a form of animal reason, a reason inextricably tied to our bodies and the peculiarities of our brains. Second, these results tell us that our bodies, brains, and interactions with our environment provide the mostly unconscious basis for our everyday metaphysics, that is, our sense of what is real.6


I imagined the first sound – first cry, perhaps! – ever uttered by a human being as a response to, an expression of her environment; an expression of a particular sense of space and time, of fear, exhilaration, sadness, or joy. The story I tell myself also goes that this sound, this song, is the seed from which music – our definition of what constitutes music – has evolved. Like a kind of feedback loop, this first sound has perpetuated itself, developed and expanded through reiteration and repetition. It determines how we experience (physically as well as emotionally) the world around us – how we see it, feel it and express it. But it also plays in role in how we continue to develop and construct it – how and why we create the public and private spaces, modes of interaction, and institutions that we do. We sing about the world as we see it and create the world as we sing it. In the beginning was not the word, but a primordial noise from which the rise and fall, the push and pull, the tension and release of words, of language and of songs, music and other aestheticised sound and noise evolved. These songs, these musics are not only inherited from the past but also determine how we experience the present and imagine the future. 


Making up stories is one thing; attachment to them as truth or fact is another. The further we go back in history (musical or otherwise), the more brittle are the foundations of our stories, the more subject they are to the unpredictability of memory and of storytelling itself. This fragility, this instability is something we experience physically, too. Disorienting the physical senses – the body – disorients the mind. Conversely, when something we believe to be true is revealed to be false – when one of our stories is blown – we (momentarily at least) feel ourselves physically falling into the abyss of the unknown. Mind and body cannot be prized apart.


An embodied concept is a neural structure that is actually part of, or makes use of, the sensorimotor system of our brains. Much of conceptual inference is, therefore, sensorimotor inference.7


This disorientation is an interesting and powerful tool for me, and something I set out to develop with the musicians during the course of my research. Investigating strategies for remembering – or more specifically, forgetting – attempting (and failing) to enact or re-enact, reconstructing and thereby discovering approaches to interaction and performance were at the heart of the work we undertook as part of Wheels within Wheels. 

Our attachment to – belief in – the validity or importance of stories, of the institutions, the structures and methods that have evolved from them can be addressed through the body of the musician. The powerfully held beliefs by most musicians that they are defined by their ability to achieve a "good" sound "quality", by their willingness to be at the service of the composer or adhere as closely as possible to the score – all these beliefs and many more make powerful and highly constraining demands on their bodies. They become tools for reiterating other people’s or established songs – extant categories – rather than a means for discovering new ones, for proposing alternate experiences – perceptions – of space, of time, of being and of interaction. This is not to dismiss established musical practices, only to propose that the definition of music, and what it is to be a musician could be broadened with rich and exciting consequences, if more strategies were put in place to investigate further the links between mind and body: to invent new stories and create new categories, and to explore their relationships with and impacts upon our physical beings:


Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings, our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience! They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience. It is part of what our bodies and brains are constantly engaged in. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, "get beyond" our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that.(...)

What we call concepts are neural structures that allow us to mentally characterize our categories and reason about them."8

Working Methods

A musician’s most important tool is her hearing. With very few exceptions, musicians depend on having highly developed aural skills and strategies for using them in order to make music. Making a sonic object that sounds good is a big part of what most music is all about, regardless of what one’s definition of good might be. In many different musical genres, musicians must learn to jump through hoops in order to meet the demands made upon them in their attempt to produce these objects. Of course, this can be an exhilarating experience for both them and the audience, but technical skill – virtuosity – is easily fixated upon as an indicator of quality and value – as the end in itself rather than the means to an end that may in fact have been long forgotten. As an exception to this, a few musicians (the deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie being perhaps the most well-known example) use vibration rather sound itself to guide and shape their experience and performance of music. The internet phenomenon known as ASMR (Associated Sensory Meridian Response) also uses very quiet sounds as a way of stimulating a specific physical response (that shiver down the spine or rising of hair on the back of the neck) that is independent of any aesthetic assessments we might make. Sound massage also uses physical stimulation through vibration or, much like ASMR, through the use of very quiet sounds. 



In order to foreground the physicality of sound in my own research, I created a number of different ASMR audio scores to induce a state of extreme relaxation from which the musicians were asked to investigate means of producing sounds; to discover what kinds of contours, fragments (what one might even call musical phrases) emerge from the body in this state. However, if the story of music cannot begin without an intake of breath – before the first cry! – then my own research would likewise start with the human voice. 


Reading music is of course very different from playing, singing, or speaking from memory. More different still, is attempting to play, sing, or speak something you are trying to remember, or struggling to find a way of articulating anything at all. When working with the human voice, the line between speaking and singing can become blurred through the act of remembering, forgetting, constructing, and re-constructing. Working most closely with recorder player Jostein Gundersen, we together developed a kind of "comprovisation" approach, in which certain broad criteria such as the overall subject, content, and direction of a spoken paragraph (a welcome speech to be delivered at the beginnning of the Mouvance II: Intonation performance) were first established. With the use of an ASMR audio score, a state of extreme physical relaxation was induced in the speaker, before he was asked to "allow the paragraph to emerge" from his physical state, without disrupting it – finding alternative words when those that most immediately occurred felt too "jagged" (either in the mouth or in the mind) and allowing the pacing at which a sentence was "put together" to be determined entirely by his physical state. 


This process broke the intentionality of, for example, a sentence well remembered or articulated, into a series of fragments – navigations or investigations – whose pitch contours and temporal divisions and subdivisions contain a specific kind of musicality. The phrasing that emerges is a musical embodiment of this investigation, this act of remembering and reconstructing. It is a phrasing that emerges from a failure to follow established contours. It is a phrasing in which the musician’s body is at the service of nothing but itself. From failure, rather than from an established idea of excellence, of execution, can emerge new, strange, and potentially exciting musical ideas, phrases, or constructs in which the musician’s body has a very different role to play:


Failure is one of art’s most important channels of investigation, something that would make no sense at all if artists were simply technologists, if they were just makers.9


In order further to explore this relationship between mind, body, and music, research was also undertaken with the musicians wearing ear plugs and ear protectors to reduce (although not eliminate altogether) their hearing of one another, as well as to internalise the experience of their own sound. Working with audio scores disseminated through in-ear head phones also helped to blur the line between the acts of performing and of listening. Audio scores, I define as any kind of audio information, be it text-based instructive or poetic, or more abstract sonic information (such as ASMR audio) that provides the musician with directions of some kind or another (however intentionally oblique or even confusing those might be). In the context of Wheels within Wheels these were always disseminated via in-ear head phones, so that each musician could have their own audio score, much as they would normally have their own sheet music. 

A short extract from a workshop with Wheels within Wheels participant Ingvill Holter, in which she is investigating the impact of using both The Empty Body audio score and tactile stimulation as vocal initiators. The intention of the exercise was to investigate (within the context of the hypnotic effect of the audio score) the relationships between touch, muscle responses in the fingers, hands, and arms, how these impacted on the muscles controlling the diaphragm and other internal muscles and how these in turn effected air flow, the pace of speech, vocal intonation, and use of the lips and tongue.

Use of Text

Working with the human voice is interesting not only because the lines between body, vocal sounds (at their most basic), speech, song, and music can be traced, diverted, instigated, and re-enacted, but also because the meanings of words themselves, the stories they tell, inform how we experience time and space. For this reason, I incorporated not only interviews and discussions with the musicians into my research (and the final performance) but also included written texts from various sources. One of the books central to my research was Anne Maria Busse BergerMedieval Music and the Art of Memory (University of California Press, 2005) from which I presented (with some small omissions) the following extract (from pages 2–3):


How was Notre Dame polyphony conceived? Was there such a thing as a final version of a composition? Can we really talk about composers? Was the composing done in writing or in the mind? Did a person who added a new text to preexisting music, or who borrowed from such music in any form, have the original text and melody written in front of him, or did he know the piece by heart?


This text was presented in conjunction with fragments of the poetic text about thoughts (2013), by performance artist Kurt Johannessen:


Thoughts move about inside the thought bag.

Many thoughts try to reach the thought bag's surface.

This is a popular place to be because it offers such a good view.

Many of the thoughts have been there for a long time while others have arrived recently.

Most thoughts move to the surface by themselves.


These two texts, although very different, nevertheless both present organised sound within the context of spoken language. For any listener familiar enough with English (Norwegian, although used in the video example below, was not used during this section of the final performance d), this brings an immediacy to the process of assimilating the texts that allowed me to approach both of them in a more abstract way, setting the Busse Berger as a kind of irregular clock that punctuates and distorts the musical time laid out by the musicians, and giving the Johannessen the function of a kind of pendulum, sweeping across the musical time and space. 


Ingvill Holter and Kjetil Almenning (voices) testing integration of Busse Berger text extract with Wheels within Wheels musicians Anna Danilevskaïa, Jostein Gundersen, Hans Lub, and Hans Knut Sveen.


The processes of investigation outlined above are not only a means to an end. The sounds that emerge – as a kind of by-product – have a quality of intimacy, fragility, and mobility that is compelling in itself. The investigations create sketched melodic lines and a kind of broken phrasing that I find engaging and fresh. Sharing these processes with an audience is something that requires not only skill and confidence from the musicians but also a redefinition of the relationship between performer and audience. For this reason, I called my final presentation, Mouvance II: Intonation, an Act of Observance, rather than a Concert or Performance. Likewise, the people attending the event, sharing in these vulnerable processes of investigation were for me Co-presents rather than Audience. Framing a musician centre stage for such an act of investigation would be to place it entirely out of context. For this reason; I chose to present my final research not in a lecture theatre or concert hall but at T-Michael, a well-known tailor and clothing shop in Bergen, with those attending surrounded by soft fabrics, beautifully cut clothes and elegantly presented paraphernalia from the tailor's trade. A celebration of the human body. Split into two levels, the layout of the shop allowed us to divide the space into four, each section with its own "solo" or "close-up" musician, while the remaining musicians could be heard (and in some cases seen) at a lesser or greater perspective. The physical modularity and mobility of the space, the possibility for multiple sonic and visual perspectives, with the four small audience groups linked by shared video material, was ideal. Although the audience/co-presents did not move, the musicians did, so that each musician was able to share some part of their investigations with everyone present. All those who attended heard some version of the whole, while each of the four groups experienced it from a different perspective. Most of the video sections of the event also made use of countdown timecodes, a device which not only created visual pillars in the space (i.e. the same numbers viewed simultaneously in more than one place) but were also intended to create a feeling of unfolding or even inevitability (zero = The End). The final video, however, consisted of a timecode of ascending numbers which continued running long after the audience/co-presents had left the space and was intended as a way of enveloping them and their departure within the process, the acts of investigation of Mouvance II.  

Because ones listening as a musician is compromised or at the very least informed by the presence of an audio score, they present an interesting challenge for musicians, as well as creating a specific and unusual relationship between performer (who is now also audience to her own audio score) and public. Conducting research using audio scores with eyes closed also allowed for internally visualised spaces, textures and colours that connect inner and (imagined) outer spaces. Space becomes impossible to measure in objective terms and thus (musical) time, too, is measured differently. This opening up of imagined, internally visualised, or physically internalised spaces and textures was also explored by incorporating touch into the process of creating sonic (vocal) contours, so that the relationships between internal muscular responses (to the objects touched) and sound production could be explored as an approach to evolving previously unembodied – unimagined – musical phrase contours. 


Although it was not something that I explored very thoroughly in Mouvance II: Intonation, I also made a tentative start working with what I termed "visual memory scores", in which strategies for activating the visual memory, that is specifically how we remember what we seewere used to create domains of (visually) remembered (or forgotten) material to be investigated by the musicians. 

Wheels within Wheels final performance Mouvance II: Intonation at T-Michael, Bergen.

Exercise for a visual memory score, using the points at which the outlines of two hands intersect to create nodes of visual focus. As the eye moves at random from one node to another, the musician collates or "harvests" visual information about the musical notation with her peripheral vision (which must at all times be focussed on the red nodes). When playing without the score, it is then the eyes’ journey from one node to another, and the musical notational information seen peripherally, that is recalled and used as a guide (or score). 

The Empty Body audio score, combining spoken word text and ASMR-inspired musical sound. This audio score was used at various points during the research, disseminated directly to each musician through headphones in order to induce a hyper-relaxed physical state from (or into) which to play/speak/perform (most often with eyes closed to internalise the experience further). It was also used during the filming of one of the segments used in the final Intonation performance.

Ingvill Holter and Kjetil Almenning (voices) testing integration of Busse Berger and Johannessen text extracts with Wheels within Wheels musicians Anna Danilevskaïa, Jostein Gundersen, Hans Lub, and Hans Knut Sveen.

Wheels within Wheels performance at Christiekonferansen 2018, demonstrating the powerful contrast in performance modes between Jostein Gundersen, delivering his "Welcome Speech" and Ingvill Holter, performing with touch as a vocal initiator (both immersed in states induced by the audio scores to which they are listening), as contrasted with Alwynne Pritchard (voice) and Hans Knut Sveen (pump organ), whose modes are more interactive, demonstrative and, in a conventional sense, performative. The live-electronic audio environment is created and performed by Ruben Sverre Gjertsen.