Skip to content

this is a performance about you, not its maker

for three to ten acoustic instruments in an indoor concert music venue (2017)

Premiere: Katie Porter (bass clarinet), Nomi Epstein (piano), Erik Carlson (violin), and Colin Tucker (cello), Experimental Listening and Music Sessions,  Third Life, Boston, MA, August 6, 2017



ELMS (excerpt)


Null Point


About the piece:

this is a performance about you, not its maker entangles melody within its material preconditions: instrument and audience. The piece’s point of departure is the nineteenth-century aesthetic project of melodic lyricism. This project depends upon silent, immobile listeners hearing instrumentalists’ sequences of “pure” pitches as transparent vessels for subjective interiority. The present work complicates this transaction, submerging melodic metaphysics into their material preconditions: instruments as well as and bodies of performers and listeners alike.

Performers trace melodic fragments within quiet, fragile instrumental tessituras, filtering melodic content through the materiality of their instruments and bodies. The melodic materials’ unfolding in time is mediated by real-time ambient sounds of the audience. Each performer traces a specific, invented category of real-time ambient sounds, whose occurrence determines the music’s unfolding; durations are established in numbers of (each performer’s chosen category of) ambient sounds. Melody becomes entwined with and marked by the material fragility of instrument and embodied performer and audience.

This shift fundamentally alters performers’ and listeners’ attention in performance. Performers, rather than commandeering the instrument, audience, and performance space on behalf of subjective interiority, as in the customary art music practice of suppressing the materiality of the instrument and performer’s body for the sake of melodic “expression,” instead cultivate unusually heightened attention to the total material circumstances of concert performance. Parallel to this, the work reveals the strained, embodied performativity of the supposedly passive act of listening. The piece both hyperbolizes and short-circuits the fantasy of the completely silent audience: the extreme quiet encourages all bodies in the space to attempt to be as quiet as possible; at the same time, performers’ extreme quiet and extended durations open space for ambient sound, making manifest the impossibility of listeners transcending embodiment via the metaphysics of melody.

The title paraphrases on-screen text in a shot from George Landow’s 1970 film Remedial Reading Comprehension.