In this section, I focus on a particular discovery workshop with Kate Barnett that helped me to test the concept of becoming through a process of whole-bodied sounding. I brought with me to this session some thoughts about creating a whole-bodied, immersive experience of my voice. I wanted to experiment with ways I could remain open to omnidirectional multiple sensory inputs. Kate and I discussed the frustrations I was having with my voice ‘catching’, and what I felt was a false binary idea: that there is a chest voice and a head voice. I wanted to play with sensations of transitioning smoothly through the entire vocal range, as a whole-bodied experience, by allowing open-ended sound improvisations to emerge without any determinate direction.
With these ideas in mind, Kate led me through a number of activities that emphasised attuning-to whole-bodied sounding. Kate and I discussed the roundness of the body and how attuning-to this might be supported by working with an exercise ball. She also suggested attuning-to the breathing capacity of every cell in support of listening and producing movement and sonic phrases. We activated the BMC naval radiation movement pattern as described in Chapter Three. This supported a continual, whole-bodied process of expanding and condensing that helped me to effortlessly produce sound. A shift came for me when I began to focus on the sensation of the breath moving across my vocal folds equally on the in-breath and the out-breath.
We also exchanged touch in an activity that involved one person moving and sounding in response to three interspersed gestures of touch from the other. The following video (Moving Image 7) was recorded at the end of this two-hour workshop in May 2015. In this discovery workshop I am attempting to sound in a multi-directional way – without a conscious ‘front’. To help work with this idea I asked Kate to circle me while filming so that I was not aware from one moment to the next where the camera was.
Moving Image 7: Discovery Workshop – Whole Body Sounding
The footage above demonstrates an engagement with the forces of difference within the durational field of this performative event. In this discovery workshop, my attunement capacity has grown because I had been working in this way for nearly three years. The experience is whole-bodied, multi-sensory, omnidirectional, and sonically responsive. The connection between conceptual ideas and experience is central to being able to attune-to a more whole-bodied, immersive experience in this session. As Kate says, “there was quite a shift from when you arrived – to about half an hour into the workshop after working with the idea of the roundness of the body” (Kate, recorded dialogue 22/11/2015).
We also noted that two months earlier, I had participated in a five-day BMC professional development workshop with Alice Cummins. The focus in those workshops was on developmental movement and as Kate said, “once that shift occurred (in our session) all that developmental movement work you had done with Alice became so much more available in the rippling way you were moving” (Kate, recorded dialogue 22/11/2015). The whole-body sounding described in this discovery workshop laid the groundwork for the visceral (syn)aesthetic style I intended to use in my performance. What follows is a description of how this research eventually manifested in one of the vignettes in my April 2016 performance.
Vignette 8: I AM
In Vignette Eight, I perform the first fully formed song: I AM. The first line of this song, “I am, therefore I think”, is a direct inversion of the famous Cartesian formulation, “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes 1637). The lyrics, as included below, are representational on one level as a meditation on the relations between life and matter, and how the body as singer becomes song.
I am, therefore I think
I inhabit this place in time
Infuse this room with a lilting melody
I have four feet, planted upon the ground
Poised to hear sound
Rattle bones with overtones
Receive with ease a crystal frequency
Then breathe, breath meets word and word is heard
For I am singer, I am singer
I am song, I am song
Gliding between what cannot be seen
Taking it slow and letting it flow
Flesh and blood hold sway
Pulse on my lips, live fingertips
Wired, wired, wired, wired
Flesh and blood, hold sway
Don’t want to miss, vocal folds kiss
Don’t want to miss, vocal folds kiss
Don’t want to miss, vocal folds kiss (whispered)
Don’t want to miss, vocal folds kiss (whispered)
Ready to transmit – ow!
Read to transmit – ow!
On another level this text provides the poetic territory for me to embody the process of becoming singer, becoming song in real-time. The creative work in this vignette is not the song itself but is the song in performance (Moving Image 8).
Moving Image 8: Performance Vignette – I AM
From a performance perspective, the challenge is about how I perform the words of the song so that I might service a fully embodied experience. In performing this vignette, my intention is to use the utterance in Austin’s sense of the word to perform the words/musical phrases in a way that by their enunciation could “generate effects” (1975, p. 17). One way I try to achieve this is by how I approach the keyboard – from behind rather than from the usual position. This unfamiliar approach to the instrument disrupts usual perception and calls forth a new way of becoming. By approaching the keyboard in this way, I am attempting to make the boundaries between my body and the keyboard more porous. One audience member picks up on this by saying:
Audience Reflection, April 16 2016
The prolongation of the single sound you finished with on the keyboard as you rotated around your finger held on the key in order to get from inside to the circle to the outside to assume a conventional presentation position for song was not only clever but pinned a relationship between the human and the machine – complicated relationship, no doubt, one of interdependence, as everything was felt to be during the entire performance
Another person, although they were a little unsure, suggests that I wasn’t just representing something but that I was becoming something by saying:
Audience Reflection, April 16 2016
You became the sound you became the movement?
These audience reflections show that, for some, I was able to communicate an enacted sense of our immersive conditions and the process of becoming. This was achieved by the many hours I had spent working on attuning-to experience differently, but also in part by particular moments of insight in the lead up to my April 2016 performance event. For example, prior to the second performance, I had an encounter with Myfanwy Hunter, my music collaborator, that helped me to achieve this way of becoming in performance. Myfanwy and I played through the songs as a warm up. Kirsten von Bibra, my director, reflected that I seemed much more present when I was rehearsing the songs in isolation. She noticed there was something that was held when the songs were in the context of the whole performance – particularly the “I Am” song. She wondered how I might enact a more fully embodied performance.
I took some time to think this through. I reflected that when I play the keyboard I expect my hands to operate on automatic pilot, but sometimes automatic pilot does not kick-in. This is frustrating and unsettling because I notice there are gaps in conscious awareness around my keyboard playing. I notice too, that when I am attuning and identifying strongly with voice, I forget about hands. As a result, my hands tend to go rogue. I notice this makes me anxious which in turn shifts attentiveness away from voice. Kirsten strongly affirms these self-reflections. Kirsten wonders what would help me find a more grounded way of playing within the context of the whole performance. She asks, how can you stay present in each moment and include both voice and hands?
I suggest that I could closely attune-to the tips of my fingers. Myfanwy strongly affirms this as if I have found something significant. I remember observing how Myfanwy, as a string player, spends quite some time warming-up her hands and fingers before performance – shaking, massaging, wriggling them. I reflect on how I attend to my voice in the warm-ups with Kate, and how I attend to sensing into whole-body awareness but do not attend to the specificity of my fingers and hands. We discuss how perhaps the voice takes care of itself because I know it so well, and that perhaps I need to bring my attention more consciously to the tips of my fingers.
Myfanwy then speaks to me very quietly and makes a significant offer regarding how I might achieve this. She suggests it is about the quality of how my fingers touch the keys. She suggests I approach the keys as I would the clitoris gently, tenderly, and as if I were massaging the keys in a pleasure-seeking way that begins softly and then grows in intensity. She reminded me that the clitoris is a gateway to deeper, vaginal, and labial folds, a passage to the fecund region of the body that is the source of creativity. This resonates strongly for me because to awaken and consciously connect to this uterine flesh goes to the very heart of my work. It enacts a process of attuning-to visceral phenomena in service of artistic creativity.
I experiment by attuning-to the very point at which my fingers contact the keys, allowing this point of contact to be initiated from my deepest female anatomy. I discover the action is softer, smoother, and more aligned with what I am actually trying to communicate through the song. I am able to clearly sense the tip of my finger touching the single note on the keyboard and imaginatively sense that connection through clitoris, vagina, uterus, and naval, and simultaneously hold all of this in my awareness. The use of a sensory metaphor and attentiveness to the point of contact expands further as I include more and more in my awareness. I begin to sense how the larger forces of the fleshy materiality of my whole body and the electronic materiality of the whole of the keyboard are pushed together. I am then able to criss-cross between the visceral phenomena present in whole-bodied awareness and then back through the whole of the keyboard. This resulted in a larger, more connected, and grounded performance. This experience has resonances with the libidinal quality of wild Being that I discussed in Chapter Three, and the intertwining- the chiasm that I discussed in Chapter Four. It also reveals a process of becoming that operates in service of artistic creativity, and hence makes way for artistic expression to thrive.
Grosz recognises the importance of this libidinal quality of experience in the creative processes of becoming. For example, in Becoming Undone, Grosz uses Darwin’s theory of sexual selection to further develop her ontology of becoming. She describes how natural selection is disrupted by sexual selection. Sexual selection makes way for aesthetic factors that result in the manifestation of individual will, desire, or pleasure, and is “above all creative” (2011, p. 132). According to Grosz, Darwin “has suggested that sexual selection provides the artistic raw materials for song, dance, painting, sculpture, and architecture, or at least for the animal preconditions of these human arts” (p. 132).
By attuning-to experience in this way, I remain open to the libidinal forces of becoming that act in service of artistic creative expression. A conversation with Myfanwy afterwards affirmed that my performance had a different quality of attentiveness. I felt a moment of elation and gratitude toward her about this discovery. I was grateful too for Kirsten’s initial enquiry that was the catalyst for this discovery.
This experience has helped me to understand what Merleau-Ponty means by the “flesh of the world”. He explains this concept as follows:
… my body is made of the same flesh as the world (it is perceived), and moreover that this flesh of my body is shared by the world, the world reflects it, encroaches upon it and it encroaches upon the world (the felt [senti] at the same time the culmination of subjectivity and the culmination of materiality), they are in a relation of transgression or of overlapping – – This also means: my body is not only one perceived among others, it is the measurant of all, Nullpunkt of all the dimensions of the world. (1964/1968, p. 248)
Enacting this concept becomes possible through performance. What I discover through this process is that, as a performer, I need to augment my daily experience of the keyboard and bring it into a heightened sense of awareness. According to Zarrilli, the actor must attune-to a heightened form of every-day life. He refers to this as “the non-ordinary, extra-daily lived body” (2008, p. 661). If the performer is operating at virtuosic levels, argues Zarrilli, then this attunement requires a sophisticated modulation or oscillation between that which has been rehearsed and that which is created and brought forth within a live performance context. Whilst I am not arguing that I am operating at a virtuosic level, I am acknowledging that the attunement capacity I drew upon in this particular situation is operating at a heightened level because of the time I have spent learning to attune-to experience differently. In the next section I discuss how I have harnessed the forces of difference, manifested through gender, for creative expression.