While waiting for Sancho to fall
Is there a limit to gestural representation in a musical performance? Will I find some of the embodied interpretations in my Don Quichotte study too exaggerated? Would I admit that we throw Sancho just a bit 'too high' in the context of a concert situation?
Performing the Don Quichotte suite, to put it simply, is great fun. There is so much humour in Telemann’s musical translation of Cervantes' stories. The trajectory of musical representation of humorous moments in a scored composition passes through three stages. The first level, conveyed through reading, is the abstract, graphical or structural, representation in the score. The second level, when the score is operated through playing, is the sonic representation. On the third level, enacted through bodily gesture, the first two levels attain social meaning through interactions between the performers, the performance, and the audience in the moment of performance.
The humorous event captured in the notation can be conceived as, and limited to, the reading only, when none of the comical features represented in the notation translate into the levels of sound and gesture (see Telemann’s notation of Lilliput and Giants in his piece for two violins Gulliver travels). The joke remains intelligible only on the page, in the act of reading the score.
But most of the humorous situations (gestures) can be recognized throughout the entire trajectory from the notation to the performance. As in the throwing gesture, its graphic form in the notation triggers a possible sonic image. As soon as the bodies engage in the realization of the throwing gesture, there will be a gestural interaction between the players, emancipating the gesture from its graphical and sonic fixity into the contingency of the moment in performance.
So, again, is there a limit of gestural representation in a musical performance?
In a Gesturist strategy, the aesthetic or stylistic constraints derived from the applied performance practice tend to be transcended by the living interaction between the performers. We are not merely realising the ascending scale figure as a crescendo culminating on the top note. The sounding features of the throwing gesture (its dynamics and articulation) happen as a consequence of the coordinated physical activity between the players enacting the story. We grab the blanket, throw Sancho upward; we feel him bouncing back, so we throw him again and again, higher and higher…
The following video example shows the highest flight ever of Sancho. The guardians of fidelity to the score and classical sound production will be alarmed. And it is true, in this occasion we abandon the metrical indications in the score as well as the traditional principles of sound production. Bjarte Eike’s Baroksolistene launch Sancho on a flight that may only make sense due to the coordinated throwing gestures of the whole ensemble, making the illusion of the flight real and intelligible.
Vid. 1 'While waiting for Sancho to fall...'
If humour is sometimes only revealed in a reading of the score, this extreme flight in vid. 1 makes sense only in a performance, and I should even point out, only in this very performance, as the flight, always improvised in the moment of performance, will never turn out the same way next time.
A Soundist conceives the lifting and throwing actions as sonic objects. The closer the result matches the idea, the better the evaluation of the performance. The sonic idea is a constant ideal the performance tries – but never completely succeeds – to emulate.
Rather than constructing and emulating some preconceived sonic model, the Gesturist will instead enact the physical action of the narrative anew in every rehearsal or concert situation. The throw can be longer, the sword attack fiercer, a sigh deeper, all depending on the interaction between the players.
For both the Soundist and the Gesturist, no performance is alike. While the Soundist constructs the interpretation in terms of sonic ideas and the rehearsal process aims at their realisation, the performance will present a more fixed musical product compared to that of a Gesturist. The rehearsal process of the Gesturist orchestra explores the plurality of possible outcomes arising in the embodied interaction, where the performance might be understood as an open event of exploration that is shared with the audience.