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Einar Torfi Einarsson - text

Negative Dynamics I(a/b): exegesis [2011]

This piece explores several theoretical strata involving a specific approach to the performer’s physicality. It invents possibly a new dimension in music/notation and proposes a certain rotation/inversion or even an eversion regarding performance (the body without an image). Also, a complex relation between linearity and nonlinearity is explored. 


Movement of silence, the positive negativity, instability-silence

In the development of silent-objects in some of my earlier pieces I explored physical/performance activities that would result in extremities of dynamics: from the very soft to the point of imperceptibility. My experience regarding these investigations was that performers somehow took the wrong approach to these activities, or at least made me realize that I possibly meant something else by them. They wanted to deliver the sound instead of delivering the silence. But it was also I who took a wrong approach, namely because I too was delivering sounds; I had a sound in mind, I was sound-based and my notation confirmed that. This called for a deregulation of senses (Rimbaud).[1] Now, this became a difficult situation: how is it possible to have a performed silence, an intensified silence, and importantly, without any theatricality and other gimmicks. Moreover, how can there be an action not moving towards sound, i.e. not sound based (as an end result), but instead a movement towards silence, or better, movement of silence rather than of sound, where sound has an altogether different position and function. For me, this necessarily stipulates different means of arriving, or a different path of reaching out (or in), a different aim/effort in the performance control of the sound/silence couple that is opposite from usual (silence-production instead of sound-production). This is what constitutes the concept of negative dynamics. An eversion, so that silences slide into sounds rather than sounds disappear into silence, or better, something of an opposite movement towards the zero. This radically changes our notion of dynamics, of the loud and soft, crescendo and diminuendo – thus I introduce the negative parameter, my catalyst, the – f. But, what does this parameter stand for, what does it communicate? Foremost, it has a strong relation to physicality and that is my first conclusion: I am now quite firmly physicality-based: as sounds fall below zero one clearly falls into the physical. So, what, in terms of physicality, does this parameter signify? It communicates several things. First it must be noted that this 'negative’ is not a mere opposition or negation, it is a “positive negativity which simultaneously suspends and incises, rather than cancels and preserves, every form of synthetic unity”.[2]Second, it communicates a certain 'over-attention’ regarding normal instrumental/bodily activities, e.g. the depression/release actions. In the realm of negative dynamics these actions are equally important; they equally require great effort to remain silent. In the case of this piece for violin (but it can also apply to other instruments) this applies for both hands, i.e. for the left hand as fingers make contact with, and disconnect from, strings, and for the bow as it makes contact/disconnection with strings. Because of the 'over-attention’ the space between the string’s contact point and the full-depression point opens up, receives degrees, becomes bi-directional, and becomes equally important as the fingerboard space. Furthermore, the actions will, at some point, reach a critical point where silence is most vulnerable, when the possibility for emerging sound is high. And logically sounds do emerge, but as a secondary consequence, because of the instability of the silence and not because a sound should present itself at that moment. Consequently, the sounds that appear are unintentional, unplanned or accidental sounds. The notation emphasizes this point as it does not notate sounds, instead it notates physical actions ideally within movement of silence.

Microscopic movements, stipulation/isolation of effort, the body without an image

The materials of the piece are the physical movements as they encounter the instrument. Thus, the micro-movements of the fingers contacting the strings (as well as the vicinity of the string) and depressing the string (as well as the release action) are treated within a particular movement space or frame, meaning they are granted a similar frame as a glissandi is granted a pitch frame (with upper/lower limits). Here, the amount of time to release the string is of equivalent importance as it is to depress it. Figure 1 demonstrates these frames for the left-hand fingers, where the lower limit indicates the fully depressed string while the upper limit indicates the contact point of the string.


The bow movements are treated in a similar microscopic way but as they are the main source of friction (and therefore a high risk sound generator) the effort to remain silent increases, particularly when the bow-hairs are pressed further down upon the strings while other movements (lengthwise or crosswise) are active. This forces a certain continuous adjustment of speed in regard to different movements (depress/release & lengthwise/crosswise) as they aim for the initial instruction: ‘as slow as silent’. This means that the performer’s ‘freedom’ or interpretation in regard to the score consists of slowing down certain movements when appropriate. Here I must come back to the idea of isolation of effort. The piece exists in the effort or the struggle to remain silent despite the actions which are to be executed, a stipulation which is doomed to fail at some point, but nevertheless, where violation is futile and forbidden. Hence, rather a stipulation/isolation of struggle, or a certain “being-separated”[3], and a notational/performance effort having traces of Evan Johnson’s notational impossibilities. Furthermore, this effort receives different intensity levels in relation to speed, as actions in all 3-dimensional directions (up/down, in/out, left/right) are put differently under the stress of duration, both within the piece and between the two versions of the piece (version a is 30 seconds while version b is 30 minutes, both following the same score). Likewise, actions are forced towards the extremities of slowness/smallness in order to maintain the aforementioned stipulation (the attractor: silence), but simultaneously forced towards acceleration to fulfil or comply with the durational restrictions (the repellor: movement). Here I spot again behaviour of nonlinear dynamics: an unstable attractor-origin that both attracts (slowness) and repels (acceleration); thus creating a limit cycle. This nonlinear behaviour, which the performer is engaged with, forms a strange relationship with the linearity of the global physical movements, which are very linear indeed, i.e. the linear lengthwise movements from the outer limits of the instrument to the middle. They modulate each other. But this linearity is only perceived visually and does not trigger forward implications/projections because of the instability of the silence/sound and because of the nonlinearity of the silence/sound/physicality effort-space. As a result, the heaviest impact of the performance is physical, but of a physical-complex kind where physical effort is, perceptually and executively, the most identifiable factor. But, I must stress one point regarding this physicality, because just as I evert the sound/silence direction I invert the physical energy momentum as well, meaning that I activate an intensive physicality instead of an extensive one. More precisely, although the physical movements extend into space or onto an instrument, here they are folded in on themselves because of their infinitesimally small/slow movements/adjustments, which capsize their direction. Resultantly, they move inwards (or the focus of the performer does so), become intensive, and what is more, they perform a shift from the tactile (outside the body) into the physiological/flesh (inside the body), entering the realm of sensory receptors found in muscles, tendons and ligaments – the proprioceptive area. The performer is thus forced into the realm of what Brian Massumi calls “the body without an image”.

“…the body without an image can be understood even more immediately as an effect of proprioception, defined as the sensibility proper to the muscles and ligaments as opposed to tactile sensibility (which is “exteroceptive”) and visceral sensibility (which is “interoceptive”)” ... “Proprioception folds tactility into the body, envelopes the skin’s contact with the external world in a dimension of medium depth: between epidermis and viscera … As infolding, the faculty of proprioception operates as a corporeal transformer of tactility into quasi corporeality … Its vectors are perspectives of the flesh”.[4]

It is this 'medium depth’ space that opens up in this kind of physicality and where the strange relations between linearity and nonlinearity endure, or rather “the realm of pure relationality”.[5] This is an opening of a rim where connections are made and as such a meeting-point-space, which is asubjective ... non-objective ... where the infolded limits of the body meet the mind’s externalized responses and where both rejoin the quasi corporeal and the event”.[6] Its temporality is one of suspense and contingency.

[1] Rimbaud (1986), Collected Poems

[2] Brassier (2010), 147

[3] Laruelle (2010)

[4] Massumi (2002), 58-59

[5] Ibid., 60

[6] Ibid., 59