Duty

Symposium:


Presentation Title:

  • Duty

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Duty explores both sonic possibilities and human limits, harnessing the bodily convulsions produced by electric muscle stimulation to control seven performers in a work composed in one octave for fourteen handbells.

    A performative realization of a system where agency is dispersed across people, objects, and the environment, the work creates a distributed system where the artist executes pre-determined motor actions in the performers via electric muscle stimulation. A MIDI score composed by the artist triggers an electric muscle stimulation device which delivers electrical impulses to specific points on the performers arms via electrodes attached to their skin, causing their muscles to contract and forcing their limbs to shake bells, involuntarily, at varying speeds and velocity.

    “Duty” references both the movement of a bell and the enforced physical obligation of the performers. Expanding the potential of the human body, the performers’ unnatural jolts, contrasted with their involuntary execution of precise rhythms (often at fast speeds they would be unable to achieve of their own volition) combine to create a performance that is equally unpredictable and unnerving.

    The application of electric muscle stimulation to musical performance provides a novel way to explore the interface between technology and live performance, and raises interesting questions regarding the role of creative agency in the creation of music. The performers’ body as an input/output device literalizes certain aspects of musical performance, where musicians frequently describe feeling like conduits or transcribers of a creation that is not their own, and poses broader questions regarding what kind of agency is created in these distributed systems.

    The project extends previous applications of EMS technology, where the primary performative outcome of the work has been the induction of involuntary movement itself. Duty uses the induction of involuntary movement as process, in order to explore the way physical (and psychological constraint) can determine both a musical outcome and extend sonic possibilities.

    Underscoring the tension between control and freedom in performance, the work conveys the spirit and potential implications of Schoenberg’s (1911) claim that “art is born not of ‘I can’ but of ‘I must’” in an expanded field.

    For example, Daito Manabe’s (2010) Body Hack and Stelarc’s (1996) Ping Body
    Arnold Schoenberg. Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Shoenberg. Leonard Stein (Ed.) Berkeley: University of California press, (1984). p.365. (Original written in 1911)

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