This piece is about how composers manipulate performers through the music they write. It was conceived as an initial exploration into how I could ‘perform the compositional act’, using the logic of the figure of the composer physically imposing their will on an instrumentalist, with the composer’s intention being sacrosanct, as described by Adam Harper:
“The performance of classical music is generally ruled by The Composer’s Intention, whether s/he’s alive or dead. Especially if s/he’s alive and on the same continent, though, all agency is turned over to her/him if possible.” (Harper, 2009)
I wanted to test the procedure of directly affecting the actions of a performer onstage. I achieved this by devising a series of actions for myself that would interfere with, and eventually ruin, an otherwise conventional musical performance by a bass clarinettist. By doing this I performed the character of a controlling composer and their power over musical performers, especially when they are still alive and present to tell an instrumentalist exactly how they want the music to be played.
My movements are devised from Patrick Swayze’s hand movements in the famous ‘clay pot’ scene from the film Ghost (1990), where he cheekily destroys a pot being thrown by Demi Moore whilst trying to assist her. The scene is famous and often parodied. It is a relaxed and funny scene and as such was a playful and humorous way of devising the performance. The bass clarinettist plays arpeggios from Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers, 1965), which is the song accompanying this scene. I ‘read’ Swayze’s hands as a score, mapping his hand movements onto the hands of the bass clarinettist, akin to the way that musical notation tells a musician where to put their hands in order to produce sound on an instrument. This act of reading is not made explicit in the performance because the scene from the film is not shown. My reading of the hand movements takes place prior to the performance, and the timings for performing these actions are delivered to me via an earpiece whilst I am onstage. Pre-recorded audio instructions tell me where to put my hands. I could have chosen to improvise my actions, but in this early stage of the project I was primarily concerned with ‘reading’, and so chose to remain faithful to the scene. This also gave the piece a more concentrated atmosphere, keeping my attention focussed on performing the correct actions, rather than deliberately trying to elicit laughter from the audience. People familiar with the film may intuit this act of reading.
27 November 2014, Birmingham Conservatoire
25 January 2019, Birmingham Conservatoire
20 March 2019, Nonclassical, London
28 May 2019, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester