Stripping bare the sounding body: on sonic emergence
Political violence strips bare the social body, the better to place the stethoscope and track the life beneath the skin.
Leslie F. Manigat
The performer/instrument assemblage is a war zone. It is a battlefield, a topography – an ordinal space that conditions events which emerge from the nature of its relations, points of contiguity and colligation. It is a conglomerate macro-system that breaks down into structurally coupled sub-systems – elements or parameters – defined as such through their integration into the assemblage. These subsystems interpenetrate and form environments for one another – a given technique employs a corresponding regime of intensities and reductions among elements. Networks of couplings emerge as open ended constellations of possible connections, manipulated via constraints or envelopes, which may be more or less compatible with the unity of a given technique. I often sketch out contrapuntal exercises between isolated elements of sound production – a trio for the jaw, lips and tongue (because a saxophonist is already an ensemble). Formerly autonomic elements of sound production are thus given a causal agency all their own; their independence is problematized, they actualize their own potentials of complexity via their own modes of description. If political violence is characterized by some attempt to destabilize a given power structure – to push the system away from a particular formation of power relations in order to reveal new attractors – placing structurally coupled elements in continuous variation of intensity is rather like “placing the stethoscope” to map points of attraction within the assemblage.
Since John Cage emerged from an anechoic chamber in 1951, the apparent inter-dependence between composition and sound in western musical discourse was severed and made possible a composition beyond music, or music composition as expanded practice. Composition does not need sound and sound certainly does not need composition – composition’s principle endeavor is to domesticate sound. It is out of a deep respect for sound’s capacities to affect that I renounce direct control and choose to work with the contiguous relationship between movement and vibration. This is my understanding of what the medium of notation demands of us: because the psychic and social are operatively closed systems, any communication between them enters into a precarious situation, suffering an oblique displacement when translated from one system to the other. Much like Morton Feldman’s acknowledgment and use of the inherent inconsistencies of performance (intonation, rhythmic accuracy etc.) to enrich the work, I would speculate that the oblique relations characteristic of communication can be used to increase affective capacities. From composition to notation to performance, information passes not only from the psychic to the social, but also from second order observation (our capacities to structure, i.e. to compose) to first order observation (our capacities to navigate structure, i.e. to perform). I tend to express intensities relationally within thresholds established by the performer. As a kind of compensation for the fallibility of musical communication, I look for novel places where second order observation may yield to first order observation (of course this is nothing new, every tradition assigns different roles and responsibilities for observations of the first and second orders). My scores are thus activity-oriented and not result-oriented: the work itself is always just on the other side of the sound. By transferring our faculties of observation from the sounding result to its corresponding activity, sound is set askew from the subtractive biases of observation. The relationship of movement to sound is problematized; they are either thought of as unified, their differences minimized, or the asymmetry of the distinction is irritated. I am working towards a situation in which one has a tendency to become more aware of the ways that sound and the world effectuate one another. This awareness may open a space for affect, as we experience sound with our own bodies, as this kinetic empathy “causes a stir deep in bodily layers” (Siegfried Kracauer).
If music affects snakes, it is not on account of the spiritual notions it offers them, but because snakes are long and coil their length upon the earth, because their bodies touch the earth at almost every point; and because the musical vibrations which are communicated to the earth affect them like a very subtle, very long massage; and I propose to treat the spectators like the snakecharmer's subjects and conduct them by means of their organisms to an apprehension of the subtlest notions.