Thursday, March 13, 2008

Life goes on--and going on!

OK, this is not good! It has been too long. Too busy, too much stuff going on. I see my last post was October (!). In late October my son had a perforated appendicitis, and the episode included my first ambulance ride, spending Halloween in a hospital, followed by not-so-easy recovery at home. My 4 year old son was a trouper, who called his very small incision "WOOF" because he didn't know the word 'wound'. It completely stopped my life most of November.

At the moment I am working on mastering my new solo album; I had finished Vitessimo, my first work for bowing sensor Augmented Violin, developed at IRCAM. The picture above is my version, called the Augmented Violin Glove, fitted with lace glove so I am completely wireless. Visit for details. In the course of it, I have been rethinking about bowing a lot, and the relationship between functional movements (bowing) and expressive movements (such as conductor's arm). Is expressive movement really necessary for the audience to 'see'? to understand music? My answer is a 'conditional' NO. Would audience need to SEE the expressive arm movement to 'understand' music? Then how do you explain Karl Böhm's miniscule batton movements generating gigantic sound out of Berlin Philharmonic? Got to go, but not finishing the thought... To be continued...

2 comments: said...

If we consider musical expression as a function of movement there is no fundamental difference between bowing and conductor's arm movement. Only difference is in the level of indirection such that bowing directly articulates the friction between the bow and strings while there is no direct articulation capacity possible between the conductor's arm and the orchestra. So there may be some differences in developing intentional repertoires of physical gestures between the conductor's arm movement and bowing to account for the variations in causal chains in sound production. I will still say that both are functional movements and even, in music expressive movement is functional movement. Other class of movement has been identified as "ancillary" by Marcelo Wanderlay who analyzed the effect on sounds when accompanied by some subordinate gestures that do not have direct relationship for making sounds. Examples are like saxophone player's head motion.
In my experience, listening to CD and attending to actual performance are two different listening experiences. Of course the differences are in social and spatial context. But more for the visual presence of the kinesthetic energy in a live stage brings about quite different listening experience not because it changes my way of listening, it gives more ways to glimpse at the performance intelligence. I get that also when I listen to CD, but only through the imagery.
For the same token, if a performer brings out exaggerated theatrical movement to overly "express", or to be deliberately "expressive", my listening would be disturbed at the moment the performance intelligence and sound are disintegrated by unintended messages. I hope this ties back to state, in music expressive movements are functional movements.

By the way, I did not mean to be rude by not signing my name in my last comment. This is Insook. I will sign it now and on.

- insook

Mari Kimura said...

As a violin player who spent a good part of my life moving and training my right arm to do the correct thing so that I get the sound I want, I can pretty much say that the bow arm for violinist is exclusively functional. However, I had written to Frédéric Bevilacqua at IRCAM, the creator of the Augmented Violin that one very important exception among the all-functional bowing movement maybe the movement immediately BEFORE and AFTER the actual bowing, i.e. the moments after the bow hair had left vibrating the string. There are "preparation" and the "after-care" movements that violinist would make, which is consistent with the musical context, WITHOUT making a sound, and these gestures, aren't functional per se, making no sounds but is extremely important so that the correct functional bowing 'sound making' bowing movements can be made. I am trying to refine my patches (MSP) so that combined with the sound input, I could isolate and identify these 'residual" movements that are coherent with musical expression at hand.

As for the conductor's arm, I have seen computerized tracking and conducting systems that maybe functionally competent, but musically uninspiring and ending up looking -- and therefore sounding, given the 'real-life' performance element you mentioned-- amateurish. Having played in an orchestra as a student, under such legends as Bernstein and the Russian giant Guennadi Rojdestvenski, conducting is to me, a quite mystical art. Both conductors were very precise, would miss nothing during the rehearsal constantly giving beats and conducting. Then at the concert --- I played with both of them in the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra --- both conductors basically disappeared from us, or so it felt at least to me. Bernstein wasn't even there when I looked up; he was bending backwards almost away from the podium with his fluffy hair falling nicely to his profile. Rogdestvenski, conducting Shostakovich, hardly gave any beat in the quite rhythmic symphony. WE, the orchestra, were put in charge to count and keep the beats. I felt like he was using his hands almost like a mime, just expressing the quality of the passage or a phrase to us, but the functional job were up to the players and not to the conductor. Of course, these are the prime examples ever in my life, and most conductors will give beats, will conduct during the concert as well as in the rehearsal. But having these experiences taught me that conductor's job is not only to be functional, but to inspire, and control musical express with their being, completely unrelated to their functional movements.