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Composing under the Skin

Composing under the Skin: The Music-making Body at the Composer’s Desk

Paul Craenen
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    Composing under the Skin
    Book Description:

    A revealing study of the physical presence of the musician in musical performance. Fingers slipping over guitar strings, the tap of a bow against the body of a cello, a pianist humming along to the music: contemporary composers often work with parasitic, non-conventional sounds such as these. Are they to be perceived as musical elements or do they shift attention to the physical effort of music-making, contact between a body and an instrument? Composer Paul Craenen explores ways in which the musician’s body is revealed in musical performance. He leads us from Cage, Lachenmann, Kagel and their contemporaries to a discussion of how today's generation of young composers is writing a body paradigm into composition itself. Micro-temporal physical gestures and instrumental timbre provide the key to unveiling the physical presence of both a musician and a ‘composing body’. The author's concept of ‘intercorporeality’, along with the idea of an alternating linear and non-linear relationship of the composing body to time, casts new light on the relationship between musicians, composers, and music consumers.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-153-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 7-12)

    In the late 1990s, as a budding, autodidact composer, I packed my bags for a composition course led by the German composer Helmut Lachenmann in a village near Avignon in the south of France. My suitcase was full of ideas and unfinished sketches, as well as a short guitar solo. This piece made use of the parasitic sound you sometimes hear when a guitarist changes the position or fingering of their left hand quickly and their fingers make involuntary contact with a string (it sounds as though the fingers were “slipping”). The notation of this sound and rehearsals with the...

  2. Chapter I Music from Here and There
    (pp. 13-44)

    There is no better time to start researching the body performing music than the moment just before the concert begins. The listeners and performers have taken their places, the auditorium lights have been dimmed, and the murmurs of the audience have faded away. All gazes are directed at the stage; on the stage itself eyes meet, instruments are brought into position, fingers are placed on the keys. The senses are collectively sharpened, with no other signal needed than anticipation of the music. The moment just before the first notes sound out has a fascinating power. It is important to specify...

  3. Chapter II The Body Resounds
    (pp. 45-94)

    Let us begin this second chapter as we began the first: in the concentrated silence just before the concert begins. A pianist has sat down at her instrument; she opens the fall, places a score on the music rack, switches on a chronometer, and closes the fall. Then she sits still for thirty seconds with her hands in her lap, watching the score and chronometer. Next she opens the fall again and repeats her initial actions: starting the chronometer, turning the page, closing the fall and then sitting motionless, this time for more than two minutes. The whole sequence is...

  4. Chapter III Composed Instruments
    (pp. 95-198)

    In the first chapter, we described the appearance of a musical spacehereandthereas a disappearance of the transparency of performance, a phenomenon through which the performancesituationbecomes audible. In the second chapter, we explored the performing body that presents itself as an obvious theme in this audible situation of performance. However, the historic examples we have discussed have shown that a direct thematisation of the body performing music is no simple matter. The theatricalisation of human voice production inHallelujah(Mauricio Kagel) andMaulwerke(Dieter Schnebel) led us to distinguish the corporeality of musical experience from...

  5. Chapter IV The Composed Body
    (pp. 199-271)

    The main ambitions of this book are not to provide an exhaustive description or history of the music-making body. What ultimately matters most is the question with which we began our investigation: what is the status and potential of the performing body in a contemporary compositional practice? The slipperiness and complexity of the body theme forced me to approach it in the previous chapters by circuitous routes. Rather than aiming to present a linear argument, I tried to shed light on the performing body from new perspectives each time.

    Chapter 1 introduced the body theme by means of several semantic...