Soonest Mended

Collaborative platform on arts, literature, and thought

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Music Performance?

By Keir GoGwilt, editor

Much time has expired since the wooden stage was the most important arena for music performance. To cope with this development we need new thinking, new information—in addition to preserving the best of our instrumental traditions. In plain words, this implies that the Master instrumentalist has to give away some of his/her hegemony over the student, and share it with other specialists.

-“Bowing Gesture Analysis—For Whom, Why, and How?” http://www.knutsacoustics.com/files/guettler-gestures-viennatalk2010.pdf

Guettler plays his variations on Greensleeves:

The above quoted article was written by the acoustician, Knut Guettler, who was also the principal bassist of the Oslo Philharmonic and professor of double bass at the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague. Guettler here suggests that musicians should acknowledge the relation of performance to other disciplines such as acoustics. The “hegemony” of the “Master instrumentalist…over the student” refers to the organization of conservatory studios around individual teachers.

Guettler indicates that musicians would benefit from working collaboratively out of several disciplines. These studies are necessary not just to innovate, but also to preserve “the best of our instrumental traditions.” Guettler’s statement is at once conservative and experimental, advocating that we stay close to the “text” of the performer (i.e. his/her physical, material movements), while also expanding and utilizing the overlap between performance and other fields of study.

In his article, Guettler reviews research done on the merits of circular bowing motions. An illustration of this motion can be seen from the very beginning of this video of Jascha Heifetz playing Debussy:

.

At each bow change, the bow diverts from a path parallel to the bridge.

As explained by Guettler, Leopold Auer (Heifetz’s teacher) advocated this motion in opposition to historical treatises on bow technique, which dictate that the bow is always kept parallel to the bridge. Guettler gives the justification for this circular motion in physical terms: using the circular motion helps the instrumentalist to control the acceleration of the bow and string, making it easier to create a minimal amount of noise during bow changes.

Guettler, operating from the field of acoustics, is able to develop a formal/structural (rather than mimetic or expressive) reading of the performing body. This is analogous to the manner in which Lacan reads the purloined letter of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story: the letter is the operant mechanism of the empty signifier, changing the behavior of its possessor without ever revealing its signified content. The motion of Heifetz’s bow is precise in its function; it operates in such a manner as to resist the lexicon of signifiers that have become increasingly prevalent with the continuing reification of musical interpretation (https://soonestmended.com/2014/01/06/the-ideology-of-performer-as-interpreter/).

Contributing to this reification of interpretation is the unchallenged belief—partly due to the exaggerated canonization of a Romantic repertoire—in a retrospectively constructed Romantic ideology of self-expression. I say “retrospectively constructed” because many of the composers, performers, and pedagogues that we consider as belonging to the Romantic era were in fact quite clinical and discerning in their descriptions of expression.

To return to Guettler’s statement:

Much time has expired since the wooden stage was the most important arena for music performance. To cope with this development we need new thinking, new information—in addition to preserving the best of our instrumental traditions. In plain words, this implies that the Master instrumentalist has to give away some of his/her hegemony over the student, and share it with other specialists.

If Guettler’s sensibilities as an acoustician and a musician were realized, the political and economic organization of musical practice and education might look very different. Conservatories, teachers, and students would be tasked with actively seeking out interdisciplinary partnerships—a musical critical discourse would leave the cloistered studio to inhabit an open, social, and collaborative space.

I have a series of questions I would like to open up for discussion:

-What should we make of Guettler’s above quoted statement?

-How might we adapt his research in critical and historical terms?

-Why is a performer’s education generally trusted to individual teachers rather than to an ever-expanding body of critical research?

-What are the relevant disciplines to draw from in order to begin building a performer’s discourse? (We have already seen the relation of performance to acoustics and semiotic theory.)

-How might these disciplines in turn benefit from the tacit knowledge of the craftsman/performer?

-Is it possible to formulate a hermeneutics of performance that does not take self-expression as its central task?

Citations:

Guettler, Knut. “Bowing Gesture Analysis—For Whom, Why, and How?” http://www.knutsacoustics.com/files/guettler-gestures-viennatalk2010.pdf

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

Advertisements

About kgogwilt

I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and grew up in New York City. As a violinist I am concerned with re-orienting current notions of technique and interpretation in music performance, drawing from fields such as critical theory and acoustics. http://kgogwilt.com/

One comment on “An Interdisciplinary Approach to Music Performance?

  1. Pingback: Performer-Composer Dialogues in Contemporary Music, or, Writing Music is Hard (Part I) | Soonest Mended

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on February 20, 2014 by in Keir GoGwilt, Music and tagged , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: