Comparison of Soundist and Gesturist approaches of 'throwing gesture'
Violin teachers will have different opinions about expressive and dancing body movements in musical performance. I agree that extended movement and acting might be disturbing for the sound production. I address this issue on several occasions in my project. A more thorough analysis of playing technique (sound) vs. expressive gesture (movement) is carried out in section V3 concerning the case study Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
In my workshops and concerts with Don Quichotte, described in V1, I do push the limits of proper sound production and set the acting body as the key factor in the interpretation of the musical score. What impact does this strategy have on the communication of the narrative?
In the following video example (Vid. 1) I compare two contrasting approaches to body movement. On the one hand, Gesturists assimilate the physical action of throwing and the mean expression through expressive body movements; on the other hand, Soundists rely on the sonic realization of the score.
Vid. 1 A comparison of two different approaches.
We have seen a short video clip with two very different orchestras. Although the music is the same ('Sancho punished'), hearing such a different rendition can make you wonder how the same notation can generate such different readings.
By using my experimental and voluntarily caricatured dichotomy of Soundist and Gesturist performance, I highlight these differences. The juxtaposition is enhanced by creative editing where I deliberately use caricature and prejudice. The following commentary builds on the method of irony employed in the video editing.
The old-fashioned-looking video is of course a Soundist orchestra. I understand this approach as representative of a typical concert-event in 20th century mainstream style (Gilmore, 1993; Haynes, 2007). The audience comes to hear music, which is situated in a specific environment, the concert hall. The concert-event proceeds like a customised ritual. The music happens to be a Telemann suite. The audience might or might not know, what the piece is 'about'. It really does not matter; we are in the (C)age of 'absolute music' (Cage, 1991) . It might enhance the musical aesthetic experience, but it is not crucial to know that the energetic accents and vigorous runs are intended to depict Don Quichotte’s attack on the Windmills or the throwing of Sancho into the air.
The Soundist orchestra will have rehearsed the Telemann in close connection to the concert-event. In the rehearsal, the conductor will have focused on sound quality, uniformity of articulation, dynamics, and bowings. The piece will mainly have been chosen because of the programming board’s strategy of variety - the baroque piece with its sound world complements the rest of the program, perhaps Mozart, Britten, and a short contemporary piece.
Depiction of the particular actions in the story may initially have informed the sound production, but will remain cursory, and will probably have been abandoned in the last rehearsals. The fate of Don Quichotte is an optional reference in the process of interpretation-finding.
The Gesturist group is an ensemble, not an orchestra. The orchestra has roots in hierarchical organisational thinking, while an ensemble could be seen as a group of independent and equal members (Spitzer & Zaslaw, 2004). The Gesturist ensemble also performs in the frame of the concert hall tradition, but the music is conceptualized differently.
First, the decision to play Telemann’s Don Quichotte may be related specifically to how the piece refers to the narrative from Don Quichotte. The rehearsals may initially have proceeded in a way similar to those of the Soundist orchestra, by negotiating the sound production with a reference to the depicted actions. The Gesturist ensemble though will not have abandoned the images and actions of the story; they will have entered a process of translating them into equivalent body movements.
The Gesturist ensemble is fond of body movements. If one of the technical goals of the Soundist orchestra is to avoid unnecessary movements, the Gesturist ensemble makes body movements an integral part of their performance. Sound producing movements are merged with or drawn from movements that depict actions such as horse riding, sword fighting, throwing, jumping, and sighing. And all these actions remain a crucial platform for the musical interaction in performance.
Body movements and physical action can be seen as a pivotal difference between the Soundist orchestra and the Gesturist ensemble. The Soundist representation of physical actions in the story of Don Quichotte remains implicit and peripheral. The final product is auditory.
The final product of the Gesturist ensemble is a mixture of sound and movement. Performance is understood less in terms of ritual and contemplation, and more in terms of theatre and communication. Audition, vision and communication are blended together.
The Soundist performers focus on the final auditory product: a musical work by Telemann, where gestures and actions are encoded (but not explicit) in the expressive features of melody, harmony, rhythm, and tone colour. The Gesturist orchestra transcends the Telemann score, with the aim of enacting the pre-compositional stage in which the composer conceived of the gestures. If the Soundist orchestra performs 'Telemann’s work' according to how musical gestures are implied in the score, the Gesturist orchestra performs the gestures that Telemann attempts to capture in his notation.
Note 1 John Cage video