Physicality

This being my last week in the States, I’ve been busy enough visiting assorted family and friends that I likely won’t have a chance to see again until June. Suffice it to say that music hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of my attention. My own musical efforts have been limited to some half-assed screwing around on violin and guitar (two instruments that I don’t have access to in Berlin and usually don’t miss with the AA’s Bosendorfer in my living room).

After the typical near-obsessive urge to use these instruments to compose music begins to give way, I found myself just noodling around in a purely physical way, much as one might twiddle their thumbs to pass the time. Oddly, while notes and rhythms were surely produced, these were strangely ancillary to the physical experience of playing. Some impressions:

- Our normal process of learning seems to proceed by making the unfamiliar into something familiar and understood. But perhaps it is just as useful to occasionally take something familiar and find a way to make it unfamiliar all over again (cf. my previous post).

– Most of us learn music at the physical level before these physical gestures and habits are given any musical justification. At some early point, this physical input becomes tied to the musical output, and we tend to view both elements as inextricably linked. For most of us, the physical element in music is strictly a means to an end, and not something obvious to indulge in itself as distinct from music-making.

– The violin is a ridiculously high-precision instrument, and as such can’t be modified a great deal with any degree of success unless one jettisons the sound box entirely. Now consider the guitar: a much less sophisticated instrument in construction than the violin, but the looser acoustic requirements make possible a whole galaxy of designs that would be unthinkable on the violin. Like Coq au Vin or some similar delicacy, the modern violin is a fine-tuned affair. The guitar is more like a hamburger; a simple format with room for endless variation.

– At the eleventh hour, my skills at the violin now at their most meager, I quite unintentionally discover a knack for playing sub tones on the violin, an extended technique I had become convinced was a fiction. Now that I can barely play, why is it at this moment that I should finally be able to produce a nice solid sub tone? Might it even be because I have fallen out of touch with the instrument on a physical level?

– The bulleted list surely ought to be an acceptable format for delivering academic papers.

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