Book Review

Listening for Heterophony

Book Review of Fumi Okiji, Jazz As Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018)

Fumi Okiji, Jazz As Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018). Link to the Stanford University Press website.

A key insight from Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov” is what Andrew Benjamin has termed “iterative reworking.” A story is a “plural event,” each retelling both augmentative and constituted by it; the nature of the event is that “it will resist any possible complete self-presentation.” […] The retellings, the “working through,” cannot satisfy all that the story is but rather keeps open the work as a temporally dispersed happening. New versions of the story repeat what has already been given but do so in a way that retains each teller’s own perspectival and material quirks.

(Okiji 2018, 68)

Fumi Okiji’s book Jazz As Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited argues for a type of listening that shifts attention away from the internal logic of the jazz solo to the soloist’s dialogue with other interpretations of the melody—interpretations by other performers and by the same performer in the past. Such a heterophonic listening focuses on how the soloist participates in a tradition while at the same time presenting this tradition through a distinct set of experiences.

As an example of heterophonic listening, Jazz As Critique refers to Jaki Byard’s piano solo on “Fables of Faubus” from The Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy (Cornell 1964). Byard playfully alludes to “Yankee Doodle” (7:32), before transitioning to a blues motive (8:20) followed by a phrase from Chopin’s Funeral March (8:26). Bassist Charles Mingus takes up the blues motive (8:42) while Byard continues to solo in a contrasting modal style. The other musicians, including Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, begin playing the blues motive along with Mingus, eventually convincing Byard to join them. These simultaneous performances of the same melody, with subtle variations added by each performer, are an example of heterophony—though Okiji also refers to a type of heterophony dispersed across time and between generations of musicians.

Okiji quotes Vijay Iyer: “[The] story dwells not just in one solo at a time, but also in a single note, and equally in an entire lifetime of improvisations. In short, the story is revealed not as a simple linear narrative, but also as a fractured, exploded one” (8). Like Iyer, Okiji invites us to attend to the individual note and a lifetime of experiences. Like Walter Benjamin’s storyteller, the jazz soloist tells a familiar story, performing a familiar tune in a way that reflects his or her own musical abilities. The heterophonic listener concentrates on the tension between these two moments: participation in the community and the unique perspective of the individual performer.

Jazz As Critique enacts such a heterophonic listening. Okiji invites the reader to listen along with her as she engages with Theodor Adorno’s essays on jazz alongside texts by Fred Moten, Hortense Spillers, Nahum Chandler, and Saidiya Hartman. Despite the fact that Adorno wrote dismissively of jazz as a tool of the culture industry (more on that below), Okiji takes his philosophy along paths that even he could not foresee. Like Benjamin’s storyteller, Okiji recounts familiar narratives and debates, but does so in a way that illuminates these topics in profound new ways.

The introductory chapter outlines the book’s main claim—that jazz is “capable of contributing a model of praxis that shows a gathering constituted by the play, the wrestling and cooperation, of disparate parts” (6). Elsewhere Okiji refers to this model as an “empathetic mode of sociality,” one in which “the parties involved approach or adapt to each other in a manner that supports the retention of their particularities” (73). In other words, jazz serves as a code of conduct for social interaction that encourages mutual respect for one another’s differences.

This mutual respect for difference provides the groundwork for Okiji’s discussion of black expression and identity. She writes: “Blackness is a mode of existence in which the disjuncture between the reality of one’s everyday living and the ways one is understood by society at large is so pronounced that the former must be considered an impossibility or a lie in order to preserve the latter” (5). Black expression cannot help but communicate this disjuncture between lived experience and society’s oppressive imaginings of blackness. As a critical form of black expression, jazz combats these harmful imaginings and society’s silence vis-à-vis black experience.

Chapter One presents a cogent critique of Adorno’s essays “On Jazz” and “Perennial Fashion—Jazz,” which were published in 1936 and 1953, respectively. For Adorno, jazz is a commodity that by adhering to the laws of the market fails to achieve the critical distance necessary for creative autonomy. Okiji finds fault with Adorno for deliberately failing to take into account black experience in his writings on jazz. Okiji writes: “An African American perspective is not so much written into the periphery of Adorno’s narrative of modernity as placed outside it. It is safe to assume that Adorno considered the black experience wholly inconsequential to the narrative of the modern on which his culture critique rested” (24). Adorno excludes black experience from “bourgeois” subjectivity and his narrative of the demise of the individual in late capitalism.

Chapter Two elaborates on the concept of double consciousness, taking as its basis Nahum Chandler’s interpretation of what W.E.B. Du Bois refers to as the experience of “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (quoted in Okiji 2018, 32). Chapter Three reflects on the ineffability of blackness and the virtue of humility and becoming “susceptible to the music” (65). Chapter Four further develops the connection between the jazz soloist, Walter Benjamin’s storyteller, and heterophony. The Postscript contemplates the “inadequacy and indispensability” of jazz records. While being an invaluable pedagogical tool and an important source for documenting jazz history, jazz records only imperfectly capture the process of jazz performance—what Okiji refers to as the music’s “partiality, the imperfection and incompletion, the idea of a work in progress… [how the] musicians work on and through pieces made up of layer upon layer of prior contributions” (89).

Jazz As Critique ends with an outstanding example of heterophonic listening: the image of Ralph Ellison’s invisible man fulfilling his wish to hear five recordings of Louis Armstrong performing “Black and Blue” all at once. In doing so, Okiji reiterates her point how heterophonic listening makes possible a type of empathy in which “a subject can show affinity with others… without the fear of domination or subsumption. There is a yielding by both parties, but an empathetic or even intimate distance foregrounds their relations” (73). A future study by Okiji might explore further types of black musical expression beyond jazz. Jazz As Critique serves as an invaluable resource for thinking about the types of listening and conversations that need to take place in order to confront today’s outstanding racial injustice and inequalities.

Album Review

The Kirill Gerstein Moment

Album Review of Thomas Adès: In Seven Days (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra)

Gerstein, Kirill. Thomas Adès: In Seven Days. Recorded with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Adès, March 2019. Myrios Classics MYR027, 2020. CD.

The Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein has established himself as one of the leading pianists of the present. His new album, Thomas Adès: In Seven Days, shows Gerstein at the height of his achievements, as he joins forces with the British composer and performer Thomas Adès—with whom he has been collaborating for nearly a decade. In an interview with Tom Service included in the album booklet, Gerstein states that Adès’s music “refracts, like a prism,” previous traditions of pianist-composers from Chopin to Liszt to Busoni. This idea of Adès’s music as both “bending” and presenting tradition from a different perspective is evident throughout the album. Ultimately, what strikes me most about this album is how Gerstein is able to smooth over the historical discontinuities of Adès’s music—how Adès pushes his historical models to their breaking point—and place these compositions squarely within the canon of piano virtuoso music of Liszt, Busoni, Prokofiev, and Gershwin.

Kirill Gerstein performs Thomas Adès’s Mazurkas

The album Thomas Adès: In Seven Days begins with a two-piano arrangement of Concert Paraphrase on “Powder Her Face,” performed here by Gerstein and Adès. Adès’s concert paraphrase—a virtuoso genre that dates back to the nineteenth century—is based on his 1995 chamber opera Powder Her Face, which tells the real-life story of Margaret Campbell, the Duchess of Argyll, whose 1963 divorce trial was the subject of much media attention. The opera begins with a musical quotation of a tango by Carlos Gardel, and the tango style pervades the first and fourth movements of the concert paraphrase. Adès’s concert paraphrase, originally composed in 2009 for solo piano, is much more “operatic” in this two-piano version, which features the two performers in musical dialogue like characters in an opera. In the third movement, based on the opera’s Scene Four (Aria “Fancy Being Rich!”), the layering of polyrhythms is enough to make your head spin. The music staggers and lurches forward frantically, before finally settling into a musical quotation of Schubert’s song “Death and the Maiden.”

The following Berceuse (French for “cradle” or lullaby) is taken from Adès’s more recent opera, The Exterminating Angel, and was arranged by the composer as a solo piano work for Gerstein. In the context of the opera, the Berceuse accompanies the two lovers, Eduardo and Beatriz, as they go into a closet and kill themselves. The solo piano arrangement conjures up the floating sonorities of Debussy’s prelude The Sunken Cathedral. The Mazurkas, also recorded here, were composed for Chopin’s bicentenary in 2010. A Polish folk dance in triple meter, the mazurka was already popular in Parisian high society by the time Chopin composed his examples between 1825 and 1849. Adès draws on many of the standard features found in Chopin’s mazurkas: the contrast between quick, lively sections and melancholic ones; dotted rhythms on the first beat (a characteristic of mazurkas in general); and, the use of modes and chromaticism. Yet just as important are the ways that Adès subverts his historical model: the asymmetrical groupings of two’s and three’s in No. 2 and the extreme registers of No. 3.

The album concludes with Adès’s In Seven Days, described by the composer as a work for “piano and orchestra with moving image.” Although the work was initially conceived to be performed with a video installation by Tal Rosner, it is now frequently performed as a stand-alone piece, as is the case here. Based on the Biblical story of Creation, Adès’s In Seven Days invites comparison with Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, one of the most impressive multimedia compositions of the late eighteenth century. Haydn’s oratorio begins with an instrumental introduction depicting chaos (“The Representation of Chaos”). When the chorus enters several minutes later with the text “And God said: Let there be Light, and there was Light,” the second appearance of the word “light” is highlighted by means of a fortissimo chord in the major mode accompanied by full orchestra. The moment was so surprising to Haydn’s first audience that he had to stop the music for several minutes before resuming.

Although there is no similar moment in In Seven Days, Adès also emphasizes the shift from chaos to light through timbre and instrumentation. Adès depicts the chaos through the strings, which repeat a motive that modulates aimlessly. Shortly before the first entrance of the piano, the brass play a massive crescendo leading up to a dissonant chord—this is the shift to light. The piano in this work seems to comment on the events, akin to the chorus in Haydn’s oratorio. In my interpretation of the work, In Seven Days is an extended meditation on the act of creation as the introduction and development of very basic materials—in this case musical materials. As Adès states: “The story is set as a set of variations, reflecting the two-part structure of the story: Days 1, 2, and 3 are complemented by Days 4, 5, 6. In Day 7 the Theme is presented in its simplest form.” Although Adès waits until the end to present the theme in its simplest form, the basic material—both a sequence of tones and harmonies—is apparent throughout.

In conclusion, this album is an engaging and thoughtful follow-up to Adès Conducts Adès, an album that includes Gerstein’s electrifying performance of Adès’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. With these two albums following Gerstein’s The Gershwin Moment and Busoni Piano Concerto, I cannot help but make the connection between Adès, Gershwin, and Busoni. Like Busoni, Adès is poised on the cusp between tradition and a break with the past. Like Gershwin, Adès draws on popular and familiar musical styles, transforming them in novel and exciting ways that adhere to audience expectations in the modern concert hall. Kudos to Gerstein and Myrios Classics for encouraging the listener to make such connections.

Book Review

Musicology, Performance Studies, and Performing Antiquity

Book Review of Samuel N. Dorf, Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018)

Samuel N. Dorf, Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Link to the Oxford University Press website.

Performance studies is unsettled, open, discursive, and multiple in its methods, themes, objects of study, and persons. It is a field without fences. It is “inter” […]. Being “inter” is exploring the liminal—participating in an ongoing workshop.

Richard Schechner quoted in Dorf 2018, 105

In his book Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890-1930, Samuel Dorf argues that performance studies has a great deal to offer musicology in terms of understanding musical performance. Performance studies enables us to shift attention away from the problematic notion of historical authenticity (performing musical works as they actually were) toward the motivations, fantasies, and desires underlying performance practices. Drawing on Diana Taylor’s consideration of the historical aspects of performance with regard to the archive and repertoire, Dorf makes a distinction between performances “primarily informed by the archive” (i.e. by artifacts found in the archive) and performances “drawn primarily from the repertoire” (the embodied knowledge and practice of actually living performers). Ideally, performances of the past are based on both the archive and repertoire, though not necessarily. Performing Antiquity also identifies some “unsuccessful” performances of the past—for example, Maurice Emmanuel’s opera Salamine, which remained too dutiful to Emmaneul’s archival research and not sufficiently attuned to existing performance practices at the Paris Opéra. Moreover, Dorf refers to Rebecca Schneider’s study of Civil War re-enactors, who “engage in this activity as a way of accessing what they feel the documentary evidence upon which they rely misses—that is, live experience” (quoted in Dorf 2018, 10). While “reperformances” are guided by archival materials, re-enactments seek to convey the live experience that documentary evidence often lacks.This leads Dorf to also consider the high stakes of historical performance—how the use and abuse of history may cause harm to others.

Listen to a recording of Gabriel Fauré’s arrangement of a second-century BCE hymn dedicated to Apollo. The working relationship between archaeologist and music scholar Théodore Reinach and Fauré is one of the many collaborations between scholars and performers discussed in Dorf’s Performing Antiquity. Read more about this “Hymn to Apollo” on the RIPM website here.

Performing Antiquity investigates the collaboration between scholars (musicologists, archeologists) and performers of ancient Greek music and dance in Paris in the 1890s and early decades of the twentieth century, with an additional chapter on the first modern Delphic Festival in Greece in 1927. Dorf’s main claim is that performance was a key feature of late nineteenth-century scholarship on antiquity, antiquity referring to “a modern imagined Greek past” (7). These “performances” of antiquity depended on reciprocity: “the performers gain[ed] new insight into their craft while learning new techniques or repertoire, and the scholars gain[ed] an opportunity to bring theory into experimental practice; that is, they [had] a chance to see/hear/experience what they [had] studied and imagined” (2). For example, archeologist and music scholar Théodore Reinach sought out the composer Gabriel Fauré to realize a modern accompaniment of an ancient Greek hymn recently discovered in Delphi.

It is particularly effective how Performing Antiquity highlights the role of technology, especially of photography, in the scholarship and performance of antiquity in the late nineteenth century. In the early days of musicology in France, musicologists like Pierre Aubry or the Benedictines at Solesmes relied on photography to document musical notation. Similarly, archaeologists used photographs to stage their archaeological findings, and performers depended on photography to document past performances. Yet, as Dorf points out, photographs are never simply empirical tools of documentation, nor are they neutral. He writes: “photographs are simultaneously scientific tools and works of art. Photography makes visible […] imagination and fantasy” (14). Like many of the other performance strategies described in the book, photography was a means of visualizing a desired fantasy of the past.

Each chapter in the book features a different case study involving the collaboration between scholars and performers of antiquity. Chapter 2 details the working relationship of archaeologist and music scholar Théodore Reinach with Gabriel Fauré. After discovering a second-century BCE hymn dedicated to Apollo in Delphi, Reinach asked Fauré to compose a modern instrumental accompaniment to the original melody. Chapter 3 describes the pseudo-Greek musical and dance performance that occurred in the Parisian home of Natalie Clifford Barney in the early 1900s. Chapter 4 examines a 1929 production of Maurice Emmanuel’s opera Salamine, with a libretto by Théodore Reinach and choreography by Nicola Guerra based on Aeschylus’s The Persians. Chapter 5 investigates the re-enactment of ancient Greek rites at the first modern Delphic Festival in 1927, founded by dancer Eva Palmer Sikelianos and her husband, the poet Angehlos Sikelianos.

The concluding chapter offers a creative response to the calls by Suzanne Cusick and William Cheng for a reparative musicology—that is, a musicology “that accepts all kinds of scholarship (and performance), that can be personal, intimate, and even political, but also does some of the work of mending, repairing, and reconciling” (4). Reparative musicology moves in the opposite direction of a “paranoid mode of reading,” which values the uncovering of hidden meanings that readers are supposedly not able to find for themselves. Paranoid reading sets up a power hierarchy between the scholar and reader. In contrast, the reparative mode of reading seeks new contexts “for meaning to flourish that are not necessarily predicated on authenticity or truth but rather desire, play, and, yes, love” (154). By focusing less on who “got it right” and more on the motivations and desires underlying historical performances, Dorf effectively demonstrates such a reparative musicology. However, my only criticism of this book is that the discussion of a reparative musicology focuses too narrowly on the discipline and may distract readers from the book’s broader appeal.

A second aspect that I found particularly effective about this book was Dorf’s consideration of archival work as ethnographic (“autoethnographic”). Dorf stresses how archival research is more than passive observation: “the archival experiences are critical components of the performance of writing and thinking and of living this project. As a scholar in an archive I participate in the stories I tell” (17, my emphasis). For example, by taking photos on a smartphone, Dorf participates in the stories he tells. Performing Antiquity is filled with lively and engaging observations about archival experiences and research trips that make it immensely enjoyable and insightful to read. Dorf’s autoethnographic mode of writing is also related to the types of primary sources that he consults. In addition to more traditional sources like musical scores, librettos, and films, he also refers to fragmentary evidence scattered across private collections, including photographs, diaries, letters, and “anecdotes told thirdhand” (18).

In conclusion, Performing Antiquity leaves the reader with a much greater knowledge of and appreciation for the different ways that scholars and performers imagined the ancient Greek past during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The book’s significance extends far beyond the consideration of Greek antiquity. It urges readers to examine the ways that they perform their own research, desires, and fantasies—no matter what the time period is. Furthermore, Performing Antiquity encourages scholars to engage in performance and collaborate with fellow scholars and performers, but it also serves as a cautionary tale for how these relationships may cross boundaries and do harm—an example being the relationship between archaeologist and art historian Salamon Reinach, writer and patron Natalie Clifford Barney, and the dancers Régina Badet and Liane de Pougy. Though intended primarily for musicologists and dance scholars, Performing Antiquity appeals to a much broader audience of readers in the humanities and sciences.

Conference Playlist Research

Dramaturgy of Sound: Bauhaus, Music, Technology

(This blog post is an introduction to the music and sound of the Bauhaus, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Please refer to the accompanying playlist on Apple Music and Spotify. I presented on this material at the international symposium “Bauhaus Beyond Borders: Exploring the Legacy in the 21st Century,” held at Northwestern University in April 2019. Many thanks to Prof. Ingrid Zeller for her outstanding help in organizing this symposium.)

Mladen Ovadija describes the dramaturgy of sound as theatrical performances that incorporate sound “not only as supporting music or incidental noise but also as an autonomous stage-building material” (Ovadija 2013, 4). Ovadija’s use of the word dramaturgy focuses on the theatrical event as a “live process” involving “moving bodies” and the “weaving together” of “kinetic masses of stage objects, changing lights, colors, voices, noises, sounds, and silences” (4). This understanding of the dramaturgy of sound is at the core of the Bauhaus—the school of art founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919 to combine art, design, and architecture. According to Bauhaus scholar Melissa Trimingham, theater simultaneously served as an “embodied realization of the formal thinking in the Bauhaus” and a “communal, festive performance… the manifestation and realization of a revolutionized, utopian society” (Trimingham 2016, 106-7). Even though there was no independent music course at the Bauhaus, music and sound played a key role in creating the communal space of the Bauhaus and exhibiting the school’s technological innovations to the public.

Oskar Schlemmer, Figurines in Space, Study for the Triadic Ballet (1924), gouache, ink, and cut-and-pasted gelatin silver prints on black paper

An early example of the Bauhaus theater is Oskar Schlemmer’s The Triadic Ballet, which featured elaborate geometric costumes that shaped the dancers’ gestures and movements. Schlemmer, who became the official director of the Bauhaus theater in 1924, staged several versions of this work, each with a different musical accompaniment. When Triadic Ballet was premiered in Stuttgart in 1922, Schlemmer used an assortment of eighteenth-century and contemporary classical music, including Haydn, Mozart, and Debussy. Unsatisfied with the outcome, Schlemmer approached Paul Hindemith, with whom he had collaborated on several projects and who was experimenting with mechanical pianos at the time. Schlemmer and Hindemith worked together to synchronize the dancers’ movements with a mechanical organ. Although no score or recording exists of Hindemith’s music for Triadic Ballet—the paper rolls were lost—a reconstruction of his Toccata for Mechanical Piano (1926) gives us a general impression of what the Triadic Ballet music may have sounded like.

While the early Bauhaus theater of Oskar Schlemmer incorporated mechanical instruments, the subsequent theatrical experimentation of László Moholy-Nagy turned to sound in a much broader sense. Thomas Patteson writes of Moholy-Nagy’s unconventional use of the phonograph as a media instrument—instead of treating the phonograph as a means of reproducing existing sounds, Moholy-Nagy created new sounds through direct inscription on the wax disc (Patteson 2015, 88). In his 1924 essay “Theater, Circus, Variety,” Moholy-Nagy envisions a “Theater of Totality,” a fully immersive multimedia experience in which the stage design, lighting, and sound are placed on an equal level with the written word and actor’s physical presence. He writes: “sound waves issuing from unexpected sources—for example, a speaking or singing lamp, loudspeakers under the seats or beneath the floor of the auditorium, the use of new amplifying systems—will raise the audience’s acoustic surprise-threshold” (Moholy-Nagy 2001, 24). Here is a reconstructed segment from Moholy-Nagy’s sound experiment Sound ABC (1932), which was produced by inscribing visual patterns directly onto optical sound film—another example of a media instrument:

Music and Bauhaus as a Communal Space

In addition to the use of music and sound in theatrical contexts, a number of the Bauhaus artists played musical instruments. Lyonel Feininger enjoyed practicing Bach fugues on the piano in his free time, as did Paul Klee the Mozart violin sonatas. A significant composer and pedagogue in the new music community at the time, Ferruccio Busoni’s Five Short Pieces for the Cultivation of Polyphonic Playing were premiered at a concert during the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition. The fifth piece, marked “Adagio,” is based on a theme from Mozart’s Magic Flute and features the polyphonic style that Feininger and Klee enjoyed so much.

Music was an essential component of the Bauhaus parties, and the Bauhaus band often played into the early hours of the morning. The band’s repertory consisted mostly of jazz dance music, which as Jonathan Wipplinger states was “at the center of Weimar culture” and signaled modernity (Wipplinger 2017, 3). A prominent jazz artist in Germany at the time was the African American pianist and bandleader Sam Wooding, who performed with his eleven-man orchestra at the Admiralspalast in Berlin.

In the early days of the Bauhaus, Johannes Itten wrote a treatise on color theory incorporating the music of Josef Matthias Hauer. Hauer, who developed a method of twelve-tone composition independently of Schoenberg, remained an influence on Bauhaus artists for many years.

Stefan Wolpe is an outstanding figure in the musical legacy of the Bauhaus movement. Wolpe participated in the Preliminary Course of Itten and Klee, collaborated with Schlemmer, and attended many of the Bauhaus lectures. Sonata No. 1, Stehende Musik features strong gestural motions, which are in keeping with the mechanical music then popular at the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus Concerts

At the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition, Walter Gropius curated a number of contemporary music concerts to showcase the Bauhaus’s commitment to the latest artistic trends (Trimingham 216, 107). Hermann Scherchen conducted Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale and Krenek’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, and there were also performances of Hindemith’s Das Marienleben and Busoni’s Five Short Pieces.

Concert programming for the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition (Bauhauswoche), reproduced from Clement Jewitt (2000, 7)

In addition to these concerts, Clement Jewitt refers to performances by guest artists and Leipzig Conservatory students in 1930, including an appearance by the American composer Henry Cowell—the latter of whom “presented his ‘mechanic motion’ with elbows and fists as an action” (quoted in Jewitt 2000, 8).

From the innovative use of sound and mechanical music in the Bauhaus theater to the concerts at the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition, music was at the heart of the Bauhaus. Although there was no independent music course, music and sound helped to create a communal space for Bauhaus artists and communicate their innovative ideas to the public.

Further Reading

Jewitt, Clement. “Music at the Bauhaus, 1919-1933.” Tempo 213 (2000): 5-11.

Koss, Juliet. “Bauhaus Theater of Human Dolls.” The Art Bulletin 85, no. 4 (2003): 724-745.

Maholy-Nagy, László. “Theater, Circus, Variety.” In Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, ed. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, 16-26. New York: Norton, 2001.

Monchick, Alexandra. “Paul Hindemith and the Cinematic Imagination.” The Musical Quarterly 95, no. 4 (2012): 510-548.

Ovadija, Mladen. Dramaturgy of Sound in the Avant-Garde and Postdramatic Theatre. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013.

Patteson, Thomas. Instruments for New Music: Sound, Technology, and Modernism. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016.

Trimingham, Melissa. “Gesamtkunstwerk, Gestaltung, and the Bauhaus stage.” In The Total Work of Art: Foundations, Articulations, Inspirations, edited by David Imhoof, Margaret Eleanor Menninger, and Anthony J. Steinhoff, 95-114. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016.

Wipplinger, Jonathan O. The Jazz Republic: Music, Race, and American Culture in Weinar Germany. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017.

Music Cognition

A Music Cognition Experiment Revisited Ten Years Later

Handshape and Orientation in the Expressive Gestures of the Conductor’s Left Hand

It’s been nearly ten years since I submitted my senior thesis for the Music Cognition major at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music. At the time, I was interested in becoming a conductor. From my training as a conductor with Fred Ockwell and Victor Yampolsky, I learned that the right hand is strict in terms of showing the beat pattern of the music. In contrast, the left hand is much freer. In addition to indicating cues, entrances, articulation, and timbre, it may be used to correct balancing and intonation issues. Given this greater degree of freedom, how do conductors learn to use their left hand? From my observation of experienced conductors, it seemed that each conductor has a small repertoire of expressive gestures in his/her left (i.e. non-dominant) hand. This observation led me to the next question: Do conductors share expressive gestures in common? If so, do these expressive gestures adhere to a basic set of rules and features?

Around the time that I first began thinking about these questions, I was enrolled in an independent study with Dr. Richard Ashley. Aware of my interest in conducting, he recommended Penny Boyes Braem and Thüring Bräm’s article “A Pilot Study of the Expressive Gestures Used by Classical Orchestra Conductors” (2000). In this groundbreaking study, Boyes Braem and Bräm examine video samples of many different conductors and find that conductors share a basic “repertoire of non-dominant hand gestures” (151). Further, these gestures consistently make use of a small set of handshapes:

Figure 1: Limited set of handshapes, image from Boyes Braem and Bräm (2000, 150).

Excited by Boyes Braem and Bräm’s findings, I decided to set up my own experiment to test their limited set of handshapes. More specifically, my aim was to find out if by altering the handshape of a given gesture, this would affect the gesture’s intended meaning. Also, what would happen if I changed the gesture’s orientation (i.e. which direction the palm is facing)? As I put it at the time, the experiment’s goal was to investigate whether handshape or orientation is the “meaning-bearing component” of expressive gestures–whether a change in handshape or orientation is more likely to affect the gesture’s meaning.

In my study, participating musicians (23 in total) were given a specific musical context (e.g., decrescendo, pay attention, play out, fix the intonation, hacking sound, sustain the sound) and asked to rate an experimentally altered expressive gesture on how well it conveyed the given context. (A high score meant that the gesture conveyed the given context.) In addition to the gesture’s handshape, I also manipulated its orientation. I found that handshape changes resulted in the lowest scores, thereby determining that the handshape is the most important component in terms of a gesture’s ability to convey the intended meaning. I also confirmed the basic set of handshapes found by Boyes Braem and Bräm, comparing it with handshapes that I created using the American Sign Language finger spelling alphabet. In conclusion, I found that handshape is the component most likely to influence a gesture’s meaning.

See here for a link to the abstract of my Music Cognition senior thesis “Handshape and Orientation in the Expressive Gesture of the Musical Conductor’s Nondominant Hand.”