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14th December, 2022

Player Piano: agency in collaborative performance making

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Event Details

14th December, 2022
17:00 - 18:30
Room AG09, College building

This presentation is concerned with the relationship between composers, performers and instruments, and the complex ways in which these creative agencies feed into performance, creating forms of musical identity.

Matters of collaboration have been subjected to increasing levels of scrutiny in recent years, and in the musical context this has led to a number of useful studies of the ways in which composers and performers work together.

Nevertheless, I will argue that despite some significant exceptions, more attention is generally still paid to composers than the creative contribution of performers.

Additionally, the material agency of the instrument deserves greater consideration: beyond the notion of ‘instrumentality’, the ‘thing power’ of the instrument (to appropriate Jane Bennett’s term), as physical object, sound source and cultural agent, often plays a significant role in the development of new musical materials through collaborative processes of making; more so than is generally acknowledged.

The paper concentrates on aspects of a recent large-scale multimedia performance project, ‘Player Piano’, devised and performed myself, but developed in collaboration with four composers – Edward Jessen, Annea Lockwood, Roger Marsh, and Paul Whitty – a theatre maker (Teresa Brayshaw), and a film-maker (Wendy Kirkup).

Versions of individual pieces from the performance were later developed specifically for film, working with another filmmaker, Minyung Im, to create a series of ‘piano films’.

I will focus on examples from these collaborations, which operated in strikingly different ways despite, the similarity of the brief.

Exploring the creative processes at work here helps to expose some of the very different ways in which the distributed, collaborative, and resistant relationships between performer, composer, and instrumental context contribute to the production of a musical subject-in-process.

Judith Butler’s work on performativity and embodiment, still used relatively little in the field of musical performance, is drawn into a consideration of the dynamic interaction of agency and subjection that is brought into play in this work.

About the speaker

Catherine Laws is Professor of Music at the University of York and a Senior Artistic Research Fellow at the Orpheus Institute, Ghent.

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