Being a Player: Embodied Agency in Player Piano

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This presentation explores the nature and extent of embodied performer agency, particularly as manifested through the interaction of body and instrument in the space of performance. The artistic research project discussed, Player Piano, used the process of developing a new, collaboratively devised performance as a lens through which to scrutinise these matters. The process involved examining, in a playful and creative way, the instrumentalist’s body as more than a vehicle for realising pre-formed, explicitly cognitised intentions; it exposed its significant agency, modified through years of practice and disciplined in relation to instruments, by the nature of a training, by other (non-musical) embodied experience, by social and cultural experience, by the specific demands of repertoire, and by the need to negotiate improvisational moments.

The discussion draws upon Helena De Preester’s work on the “layered” body in performance (2007), De Preester with Tsakiris on forms of bodily extension versus incorporation (2009), Erika Fischer-Lichte’s notion of radical presence (2012), and the insights and limits of recent empirical studies of musical gesture. This feeds a consideration of how Player Piano exposes the multiplicity of the body in piano performance: the social body, the body as explicitly remediated, the situational and contextual body, and the dynamic between body image and body schema. Video examples are drawn from the piece “Touch and Go”, developed collaboratively with composer Roger Marsh for Player Piano. Here, through the process of practice, I generated an additional, semi-choreographed, semi-improvised layer of gestural enaction which foregrounds the kinds of bodily engagement already in process in playing the piece. The presentation examines how the everyday practice of the piano performer was directed so as to produce both new self-awareness of the body at the instrument and also new ways to creatively engage with that awareness, as material for performance.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2020
EventBody and Corporeality in 20th and 21st Century Music - Online/ Centre for Gender Studies University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Graz, Austria
Duration: 5 Nov 20206 Nov 2020


ConferenceBody and Corporeality in 20th and 21st Century Music
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