The seeking and capturing of pitches are, to some degree, exercises in choice, yet at the same time, these choices are not entirely within the player’s control. At any point in any of these above processes, the instrument may behave unpredictably, placing the player in a position of negotiating contingency — whether to continue with an active process, or allow herself to be diverted toward a new process suggested by the material preferences of the violin. McLaughlin reflects that this persistent sense of contingency in The endless mobility of listening sets the practice ‘against a paradigm of control’ (Mira Benjamin, 2019), noting that
[...] rather than trying to ‘get’ anything, your job is to support what the instrument wants to do. This creates a levelling of agencies… you bow, hear something trying to emerge, adapt technique to accommodate that, let it come out, support it in coming out. (McLaughlin, 2015)
In the same vein, Benjamin can push back against the instrument’s material agency and decide, for example, that she is tired of hearing certain strong partials and instead wishes to support the emergence of other possibilities. Such a choice remains rooted in a fundamentally supportive perspective toward the instrument; in seeking something other than what Benjamin is currently hearing, she is acknowledging that there are components in the sound that she is not hearing, and thus chooses to support them over what is sounding. The seeking/capturing process leaves in its wake an emergent topology of this dynamic, between her choices (how she responded, what she prioritised, what she sought) and the material agency of the instrument. As before, this process can be likened to a ‘long-exposure image’ (Benjamin, 2019).
As Ben Spatz describes (in the context of Marcel Mauss):
Technique, here, involves a detailed and context-dependent negotiation between socially defined or symbolic meaning and the concrete possibilities offered by the material world. In this thick relationality, humanity attunes itself to its world. Technique for Mauss is not the domination or instrumental usage of the world but rather, in Deleuze’s terms, a kind of becoming-world. (2015: 31–32)
The becoming-world is the combined technique of composition and performance. Not a world-building composition passed onto an accommodating performance practice, but a technique that co-constructs the piece from potentials. Where The endless mobility of listening houses its virtualities as a cyclic structure that differentially activates lines of flight as agencies-in-formation intersect, In the unknown there is already a script for transcendence affords a more open-ended unfolding of possibilities, albeit bound by fixed structures.
The research and creation of In the unknown there is already a script for transcendence was, as before, based around workshopping techniques of composition and performance together. But while The endless mobility of listening drew from the core of Benjamin’s embodied knowledge of the violin, In the unknown... is only tangentially connected to conventional piano technique. Although Kanga had previously played a number of works with EBows, the focus here on delicate EBow movement, the somewhat fragile movement of preparations, and the unpredictability of the relationship between the two, required an extension and refinement of these techniques, forming a new corpus of embodied knowledge and knowledge of the instrument. Even more so than the violin work, In the unknown… demonstrates Helmut Lachenmann’s thesis that composition is a process of ‘building an instrument’ (2004: 3).
While workshopping the central EBow section of the work, McLaughlin was less focused on procedural strictness than on an attitude to listening and responding to this new instrument, which functioned much more in practice like Tudor’s electronic environments than a conventional piano. He used the metaphor of a water engineer, opening up channels to allow water to flow across to different reservoirs, to explain the role of the performer to Kanga.
Those little moments where you catch your transition from something to something else. I almost visualise it like water all in one place, then something opens and it flows to a different place. You get these moments of turbulence as the two things are happening. (McLaughlin, workshop transcription, 24 July 2018)
The unfolding structure of this section of the piece would emerge as a result of this method of engineering change, reacting to each result in turn. This shepherding of sound required a recalibration of Kanga’s training (and natural inclination) to be an active agent in the performance, where complex music is matched by corresponding physical agility. In this work, waiting for the EBow, the preparation, and the piano to interact after even a slight adjustment, and actively listening to these slow and minute changes, without touching the instrument, was a crucial technique. This illustrates a very particular version of Pickering’s mangle metaphor — rather than a constant dance of agency, the interactivity between agencies is brief and crucial, punctuating longer periods of observation of the material’s autonomous activity. This is a dance with minimal contact.
McLaughlin and Kanga also discussed the aesthetic decisions that dictate each interaction with the instrument. McLaughlin at one point sketched a hierarchy of target consonances between the two EBow/prepared strings, as a structural device to afford audible consistency of musical material across the piece:
Unisons and octaves are most desirable, fifths are fine, thirds are okay. The further you go in the harmonic series, the less desirable it is. (McLaughlin, workshop transcription, 24 July 2018)
However, many variations of these were found to be more appealing. A micro-interval between a unison and a semitone was a particular favourite of both McLaughlin and Kanga, with McLaughlin stating, ‘It looks like it’s a semitone different now but the beatings aren’t the same which means it’s not. It’s intense!’ McLaughlin’s eventual instruction for the ‘goal’ intervals was much more open than his earlier one. ‘Rather than judging it by a set of intervals, you’re going by feel' (McLaughlin, workshop transcription, 24 July 2018). The more open approach was appropriate for a short (12–15min) performance where there were fixed structural elements to the piece. However, in a longer performance where structure becomes emergent (rather than marked by set pieces), the intervals play a more important role in marking structure: longer installation-type performances are planned for the future.
The final flow of decisions in the freest (central) section was not dissimilar to Benjamin’s, with a similar variety of branching pathways, repeated but with new conditions each time. Kanga’s flow of decisions can be represented as follows (where the strong black line at the start indicates the route preferred by McLaughlin to generate more play and ambiguity at the section’s start).