What is “performance”? What is “live” in an era of media and technology? Is an iPod an instrument? What is a musical instrument? Is the phenomenological the ultimately knownable as a ‘concrete’ embodiment or emphatically abstract because it’s also ineffable and individual? Of course, most of these are questions and problems that to an extent stem from contemporary academic, technological, and information-based culture.
Some of these thoughts were floating through my head while reading Tom Machover’s post “On Future Performance” on the New York Times’s Opinionator blog. This was already back in January (!), so the buzz has evaporated (as with all good academic responses) but the ideas have not. Machover, a composer and creator at MIT, takes up the function, role, use, and meaning of musical instruments in modern music. About his first musical experiences playing solo cello, he recalls,
That’s when I started imagining a performance mode that would combine the physicality and intimacy of solo cello and the unhinged creativity of the recording studio. I was driven by the urge to bring this strange, enticing and intricate music filling my head out through my arms and fingers and into the world.
This follows his essay “My Cello” (in the collection Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, edited by Sherry Turkle in 2007), but captures the enigmatic yet entirely embodied and knowable feeling that the tactile experience of interfacing with a musical instrument (whether cello or laptop or microphone) might bring.
A newsclip about Machover’s 1996 “Brain Opera” is available at Vimeo. See also the fourth floor of the Haus der Musik: Das Klangmuseum in Vienna (or MIT Media Lab site) on “Brain Opera,” and find other links via the original post. If you’ve got the 20 minutes, Machover’s “ideas worth spreading” talk is very worth the watch: