£10 or more
For this piece, I am asking improvisers and listeners to focus on one element of the way that I make music; they will be using my body in musical action as a dynamic score. I have written a guide to influence and direct my performance on vibraphone; phrases that will suggest what to play. The other performers are given descriptions of seven discrete physical states or poses that my body takes up while improvising. Each pose is assigned a guiding statement for the performer. When the performer observes the pose in me, they will improvise using the their guiding statement until they register another movement or they feel that musically they should move on or improvise independently.
Richard Olatunde Baker – percussion Liran Donin – bass Robert Mitchell – piano Rachel Mussson – saxophones Corey Mwamba – vibraphone
Leicester, May 2017: presentation at Midlands3Cities Research Festival (solo) Bucharest, June 2017: part of “21st Century Jazz - from tradition to the avant-garde" Artist in Residence” series (solo) London, June 2017: headline at LUME Festival (quintet)
Basis for the work
In more advanced studies of Western chamber instrumental performance, gesture is seen as important; in her work with pianists, Alexandra Pierce hoped to help them develop their expression of musical imagination using gestures. But discussions around the body in improvised music performance cause tensions, especially since they usually use fixed ideas around musical technique; Australian musician and theorist Bruce Johnson locates these fixed ideas within Modernist critical discourse. Critique of musicians such as Keith Jarrett and Thelonious Monk show how a musician’s bodily gestures can be interpreted as excessive, or only for visual effect (Jarrett); or, in Monk’s case, lacking proficiency, either wilfully or unintentionally.
The piece rejects these ideas. As a solo work as well as in live performance with others, the body takes the position as a “store” of information for the other performers – it is an essential, skilled, dynamic text. When I play, my body is involved fully in the process of making music; and the music I make is rooted in a practice of jazz. My body and the vibraphone are the limits and agents of my musical eloquence and imagination.
As the designer and performer of the piece, how the performing body is listened to is an ethical issue. I risk the body being viewed as spectacle instead of process, thus supplanting the music that I intend to create; and if this is not handled carefully for me, then I risk emotional pain to myself. There is the risk of the performing body being misinterpreted as a sign of primitivism or lack of civilisation. As Susan McClary and Robert Walser argue,
"Those who have accepted such theories have often embraced African and African-American musics as sites where the body still may be experienced as primordial, untouched by the restrictions of culture. Yet although such attitudes may sometimes contribute to cross-over and to promoting the appreciation of black music, the cost is enormous. For in such accounts, the mind and culture still remain the exclusive property of Eurocentric discourse, while the dancing body is romanticized as what is left over when the burdens of reason and civilization have been flung away. The binary opposition of mind and body that governs the condemnation of black music remains in force; even when the terms are inverted, they are always ready to flip back into their more usual positions."
Johnson has posited that jazz is “stored” in the performer; and that jazz is an aurally based music. Although I agree that the music I make has what Johnson described as "a necessary somatic component", I also think that the performer’s aesthetic partly resides, is informed by, and is continuously processed in the listener, who can also be the performer(s) of music – and while improvising, necessarily includes the performer(s). If this is the case, then what the listener pays attention to in music and how the listener pays attention to music is as important to the process of generating that music. The limits of making music in a social situation are not just located within a performer; those limits rely on a collective “paying attention” from the people inside the situation.
Elsdon, Peter, ‘Listening in the Gaze: The Body in Keith Jarrett’s Solo Piano Improvisations’, in Music and Gesture, ed. by Anthony Gritten and Elaine King (Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 192–207
Feurzeig, David, ‘The Right Mistakes: Confronting the “Old Question” of Thelonious Monk’s Chops’, Jazz Perspectives, 5 (2011), 29–59 https://doi.org/10.1080/17494060.2011.590679
Givan, Benjamin, ‘Thelonious Monk’s Pianism’, Journal of Musicology, 26 (2009), 404–42 https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2009.26.3.404
Johnson, Bruce, ‘Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: Problems of Jazz Discourse’, Popular Music, 12 (1993), 1 https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143000005316
Mwamba, Corey, ‘Dance/Music’, 2014 http://www.coreymwamba.co.uk/rambles/1406693544
———, ‘Is the First Thing’, 2013 http://www.coreymwamba.co.uk/rambles/1386494518
Pierce, Alexandra, Deepening Musical Performance: The Theory and Practice of Embodied Interpretation (Bloomington, Ind.; Chesham: Indiana University Press ; Combined Academic [distributor, 2008])