Solo performer with violin bow
This piece is about extended instrumental playing techniques, a trope of mid- to late 20th-Century Western classical music, and their theatricality. I made this by using a violin bow as a sword to perform a disciplined sword-demonstration routine. My choreography was devised from clips of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
This piece displays an element of childlike make-believe, like playing at sword-fighting in front of a mirror in my childhood bedroom. It is not an overly skilful performance but more like a dedicated amateur than a professional sword-handler or martial artist. I perform the piece myself rather than getting a professional sword-handler because I am a musician who is implicitly expected to play an instrument. This situation is like a professional symphony orchestra recording an album of pop songs in which they play the right notes but are unable to embody the drive, swing or image of the pop artist. In such a situation they are playing at being a pop artist.
The performance is comic and playful, even though I maintain a serious expression throughout. This is the behaviour of a classical concert soloist, who maintains a measured demeanour throughout a performance until the end, at which point they relax, signalling to the audience that they may also relax and applaud. The piece was rigorously rehearsed because I find a seemingly frivolous action executed with seriousness to be funny, highlighting the absurdity of concert performance rituals.
Sincerity is the key to this type of work, requiring the same rigour being applied to pretend sword-fighting as practising the violin for an important recital. All musical performance is a disciplined action of some kind, so these disciplined actions should not just be limited to operating musical instruments. After all, traditional performance techniques, from any musical tradition, are just aggregates of small decisions taken by many different people in the past. They are far from perfect, and highly contingent, so we need not be beholden to them.
4 July 2015, Weisslich, Hundred Years Gallery, London
28 July 2015, Del Rex, Berlin
2 October 2015, Selfridges, Birmingham
7 December 2015, Cherry Reds, Birmingham
30 April 2016, Nexus Art Cafe, Manchester
17 January 2018, Nonclassical, London
10 May 2018, IKLECTIK, London
17 June 2018, Pumphouse, Aldeburgh
29 September 2018, Hundred Years Gallery, London