Embodying the eight note figure as a 'sword attack'



The main motif consists of two eighth note leaps connected by sixteenth notes in stepwise patterns (Ex. 1). The graphical appearance of the opening does not necessarily evoke sword fighting. This structure could function in many different contexts. It could represent a dance, i.e. the Allemande (if we add a typical Allemande upbeat) with its easy going and 'cool' character. One could also perform it as a passionate slow sonata movement, imagining 'Largo' as the tempo indication. If this motif opens an opera aria, the text will guide us towards the affect and the appropriate bow articulation. A desperate ‘crudo!’ exclamation underlying the two eight notes will ask for quite a different bow action to the amorous whisper ‘caro’.


Ex. 1 Windmills motive in Telemann’s Don Quichotte, ‘Son attaque des moulins à vent’, bar 1, (17??).


It is Telemann’s title 'His Attack on Windmills' [1] that guides the imagination towards sword fighting, quite a contrast to the swingy Allemande, passionate Largo, or amorous ‘caro’ aria. Possibly, the hateful ‘crudo’ exclamation will get closest to the sword fighting energy, but will still differ in the articulation[2]. So let’s grab a sword! En garde!

The image of a sword fight will influence the sound production with corresponding articulation and dynamics. Cut short and harshly accented, the eighth notes represent the ringing of the swords. The sixteenth note figures swing the sword towards a new clash with a forceful crescendo (Ex. 2).


Ex. 2 In order to enhance the imagery of sword fighting, the sonic features of accentuation and dynamics are exaggerated.


To achieve the desired sonic effect, the bow arm must move swiftly and vigorously, in order to produce a short and accentuated articulation. These extreme sound-producing movements are employed to achieve a forceful sound, representing sword fighting.

Judging by the visual appearance of the sound producing movements, the distinction between the Soundist and the Gesturist strategies of sword fighting might not be obvious, although their method is diametrically different. Are the energetic movements of the bow assimilating a sword action (the Gesturist strategy), or are the movements precisely controlled and calculated to produce the forceful sound suggested by this imagery (Soundist)?

Furthermore, the Soundist, who efficiently economizes the kinetic effort, might achieve a greater fighting quality of the sound than the vehemently moving Gesturist. Thus, meeting the requirements of a sonic analogy of sword fighting, the Soundist might evoke the physicality of gestures without being bodily involved in the fight [3].


Ex. 3 An imagery of intensive clashes of swords, expressed in exaggerated dynamics and accents, will necessary employ extended sound producing movements, even though the Soundist will still aim to achieve the most efficient sound production.


Vid. 1 The sword attack figure realised in a Soundist strategy.



Having acknowledged that the Soundist can create an impressive representation of sword fighting in sound, the question is: what can I contribute as a Gesturist? What are the advantages (and limitations) of assimilating the sword action itself rather than producing a corresponding sound?

While exploring the Gesturist strategy, I experimented with incorporating some aspects of sword fighting. The crucial feature of a successful sword attack is timing – the moment of surprise. The movement of the bow (sword) must be unexpected, an abrupt impulse without deliberation. Such a timing strategy will have an implication on the relation between the body movements and the rhythmical structure.

The rhythmical structure in the score is manifested in the sound producing movements of a performer (Clarke & Davidson, 1998). The significance of the singular kinetic event is recognized against the background of a regular pulse. The deviations from the regularity are perceived as gestural patterns (Repp, 2001). While the Soundist deviates from the regularity by using sonic hierarchies, i.e. articulation and dynamic contrast, the Gesturist shapes the hierarchical structure of gestural patterns through body movement: 'tossing' the weight; sustaining the accumulated energy; reaching inertia and letting the weight either bounce to the floor or initiate a new impulse.

I am at this point tempted to claim that the Gesturist epitomizes the embodied reading of a musical score. And in the domain of the Don Quichotte study (V1), this may appear plausible. But in the light of the following studies in the Vivaldi section (V3), such conclusions will prove premature. The Soundist’s sonic representation of the timing is not just an abstract calculation, or rather, not unrelated to the extra-musical source to which the sound refers. All expressive deviations from the pulse are realized and controlled by the muscular memory of the playing apparatus. Thus the Soundist and Gesturist strategies are obviously both embodied, although they apply a different procedure in the interpretation of the score.

The challenge for the Soundist is to amplify the properties of sound into gesture, while the Gesturist must find a way to channel the mimetic gestures into the instrument, and thereby transform them into sound.


Ex. 4 A Gesturist may enact the clashes of swords in body movement, which will influence the timing.


Ex. 4 illustrates two vigorous clashing movements of the sword (thin lines) followed by a brief moment of inertia (the thick line). In this sustained tension of stillness in-between the sword action, the body freezes, momentarily suspending the continuity of the regular pulse, creating an illusion that the next attack can come abruptly, as if out of nowhere.


Vid. 2 The sword attack figure realised with a Gesturist strategy.








Back to video essay V1b






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