At the seminar The Role of Culture in a Sustainable Society – Sustainability in Art and Cultural Projects, composer Casper Hernández Cordes did a workshop, and choreographer Kenneth Flak had the role of reflecting on the workshop. This started a really interesting discussion, that we would like to continue, this time in a ‘plugged’, online version, for everyone to join, commentate and share.
Casper: “Hi Kenneth, thanks a lot for a great collaboration / confrontation at the seminar on culture, art and sustainability. I felt we embarked on some really relevant issues, and I would like to invite you for a further development of some of the topics.
You said you liked the fact of a composer (me) choosing to only use gesture as a means of expression, as I did in the workshop/experiment. Usually I get the opposite reaction, people saying: “but what about sound??”. In fact my choice is based on the assumption that you can’t have sound without movement, so somehow movement is something more fundamental to human expression. At least, I have this idea, that non-artists are more comfortable in general using gesture as a means of expression than sound. What are your thoughts?”
Kenneth: “Hi Casper, I thoroughly enjoyed your intervention in the seminar, and, as you mentioned, a lot of it had to do with the use of compositional principles applied on different areas. Obviously, the principles you used in the seminar (mainly to do with mimicry, repetition and variation) are as fundamental to choreographic composition as they are to the organization of sound. For me as a kind of dual creature, working both as a choreographer and a composer, I am always looking for these kinds of principles that can be applied to both areas.
It is actually becoming more and more of a challenge for me finding principles that are exclusive to one domain. Right now I can’t really think of any. Obviously, dance probably has a stronger spatial component than sound, in the way that it moves around the space, but this is an advantage that has largely been obliterated by the development of music technology, with the advent of different surround sound formats. And of course, live music on actual instruments has always had this strong spatial component, especially when there are no microphones or cables around to hinder movement.
Of course, I totally agree with you that sound is impossible without movement, but then we still need to think a bit about what kind of movement we are dealing with: is it movement of the human body or for example the movement of your home stereo speakers that do what your computer tells it to? Both represent physical movement, but the difference in perception is enormous. When it comes to sound that is produced by the human body, there is absolutely no question that movement precedes sound, and then merges entirely with it for as long as the sound is produced. It is a very intimate connection, to the point where it becomes impossible to separate. And the really interesting thing (which was demonstrated very clearly in your workshop) was that even when the sound is absent, we tend to “fill in” sound where there is none. I think every dancer does this intuitively, “singing” the movement as s/he performs it, sometimes out loud. This was actually becoming a bit of a problem for me at some point, so I had to consciously unlearn it. It just didn’t look very good on stage, me hopping around providing my own soundtrack to the movement with various crappy sound effects, not even aware that I was doing it.
For the average non-artist I certainly think gesture is a slightly more comfortable area to explore than sound, but I think this depends very much on the kind of sound and movement we are talking about. I could easily picture non-artists happily whacking two sticks together, but once you ask them to use the voice things get much, much more difficult. Vocal sound abstracted from any meaning is a very tricky area for a lot of people (many artists included), somehow there are so many taboos, conventions and emotions connected with the use of the voice that most people are very careful about how they use it. This is, of course, also the case with movement. I think this is why it is important to start out with ways of moving that are socially acceptable, like the use of simple, pantomimic gestures. And even this is very difficult to deal with for people that have no training in contemporary dance or performance, as was evidenced in the seminar: there was this running commentary going, trying verbally to make sense of what was happening, what was expected of them.”