Some time ago, I coined the term "instrumentism" to describe a method of working that engaged environments, circumstance, materials, and actions. Originally conceived of as a body of guidelines and a selection of illustrative examples for help in generating sound composition and sound scores, I found it easily adaptable to all manner of performing and experimentation. The fact that "instrument" is retained in "instrumentism" allows me a certain feeling of irony as I present work in this genre.
"Instrument," the epitome of craftsmanship and the focus for the hope of virtuosity is imposed on place, non-musical matter and materials, rudimentary activity and the multiplicity of circumstance and arrangement. Tone, timbre, pitch, range, and musical system usually associated with and "preset" in the body of the musical instrument are defining categories that are searched for, out in the world, for criteria to satisfy in a conceptual space, each aspect that in its turn characterizes the qualities of an "instrument."
By making the world of material, circumstance and activity the instrument, we also must explode the expectations of a standardized sense of beauty; we must not search too diligently in our world for qualities that merely mimic the long labored over refinements that give us a sonorous violin tone, or the frequency of a tuba- indeed, we need not impose the stricture of "sound" on the criteria we investigate. We may wish the conception of pitch and tone be used as sequence, or speed, depending on what we find while pursuing our satisfaction with openness and sincerity in the world at large. But let us look at the two palettes we have at our disposal. One is "instrument" as a concept, the other is "everything else." The "presets" of each instrument are what give it its character for us. These presets are a compilation of decisions, choices, and artificial organizations of information. The body of the instrument and what it represents is a manifestation of a musical system in which it has an established place and function. It is a fabricated relic from a world that does not truly exist, a world we are given a model of experience to experience, but we are not given real experience. Because, its laws and rules are arbitrary, and based on aesthetic appreciations that are not individual, or our own. The materials in the world of music do not behave as they would if they occurred naturally. A plank of wood may be flipped from face to face, over a surface where we find it, its length giving a duration in space when flipped end over end, its width will display another duration and distance when the plank is flipped in that direction.
This is not an arbitrary construction or circumstance, it is an existent one. The wooden plank has a width and length, the surface on which we flip it has texture, density, give and resistance as it interacts with the plank. Yes, sound is manifest here, percussive, and phrasing, as the plank is flipped along its length, and then differently, along its width. And visually, we see the direct result of what I would call two instrumental aspect or categories being satisfactorily filled. But if you take the violin, also made of wood, and rest it on the ground and think what to do with it, all we can do is go to try to find a violinist. Because the wood has been cultivated, castrated and bound into a form that in the world of materials is arbitrary and unreal. To manifest its nature, it must be tuned to satisfy an extremely narrow and inflexible demand, and performed on with touch and a system, which is completely prescribed. This is not the innate way of materials and the world. Materials and the world have life.
Music does not. Music is a castration of materials that are forced to mimic behaviors from ephemeral and immaterial dreams of human creators. And human creation is appropriation and vanity. Then the question arises. Why use the conception of instrument and even music theory to approach the world of conditions? Why not pursue entirely unconnected means of research and description to organize the palette of "everything else?" It is simple. The division of qualities, the categories is a completely valuable and legitimate means of focusing attention, and they are aspects that we would arrive at separately though perhaps giving them other names. The problem is not with categories and divisions- it is the shaping of these categories into conventions. Let us look at the human voice as an example. The human voice can generate pitch. It is an amazing thing that it can do.
But the pitch that it makes is not the squiggle on a piece of music paper. That squiggle is a voice prison. It is not a pitch, or a voice. By forcing the voice to correspond to squiggles on a page, or, "notes," we deny the possibility of that voice finding its own "system" once, twice, or a thousand times- a system for each utterance that would distinguish one individual performance of the voice from another. Let me state my own belief. The human voice has three natural notes, no matter of range or other conditions.
There is a singer's highest note, which is the highest note he/she can sing at any given time, which I call "Hest," there is the singer's Lowest note, which is the lowest note he/she can sing at any given time, which I call "Lest," and then there is the middle note, a very fat and wide note comprised of all the pitches between Hest and Lest, which I call "Midst."
Every person has this set of notes. Two people singing their highest and lowest notes are in automatic and natural harmony- the harmony of their different vocal ranges. The wide Midst note also allows for an expansive and infinitely complex array of harmonic combinations and multiple harmonic and natural relationships to occur. And to determine "pitch" from this wide middle note, we have infinite possibilities for imagination AND NATURAL systemization. I would begin with a simple Midst note display, manifest basically as a glissando of the entire note, from just below Hest to just above Lest. Then, Lest and Hest are sung as stationary pitches, while Midst would appear to be in continuous pitch movement. Dramatic. But this has been a long digression for perhaps a small amount of meat. So, let me redirect. I touched on something that is very important to me. That is, variation.
Difference, from moment to moment, from test to test, from one time to another. The thought of "system" to go with every utterance or manifestation of art is for me an exciting one. Every occurrence is after all unique, and deserves to have its own description in the book of events. You could call it documentation in addition to score. But, if it is unique for each occurrence, why not call the occurrence itself the score, and be done with the writing? The act itself becomes the act of composition, reflection, ordering at the precise moment of creation, inseparable from making- but lets dispense with the word "creation" too, in regards to us. Humans do not create. They can act. We cannot create what is already here. I struggled for long trying to define for myself then, the moment of acting, behaving and investigating, looking, interacting as I defined it, as a kind of art making or doing, though, not creating. It occurred to me that what I wanted to achieve was not a higher state of perception or awareness, which would be characterized by an elevated state of the intellect, but rather, a lower one. Lower Consciousness would be the state that most successfully allows for the greatest variation, the widest expression of newness, and the most liberal set of coexisting oppositions imaginable. But like the states of higher consciousness as we have seen them described in our world, Lower Consciousness is not without its conditions and disciplines. And Lower Consciousness is joined to Instrumentism as a state by which Instrumentism may be practiced. The Lower Consciousness, when you are in it, allows for no learning. Learning is a trap that narrows variation.
While if we learn something, we may avoid something that is in error, we also will repeat something because we learned it. If it is successful, than we do it repeatedly. But of course, while this seems to eliminate error, It also eliminates many other possible correct ways and things, and destroys the potentials of variation. So, we do, but we do without taking notice. We avoid the learning of success. We do not try to succeed. It should make no more difference than failure. And also, memory must be defeated.
Memory and learning together doom us to paths without distinction. Learning makes us approach new things in an old or previous way, while memory reminds us of what has worked and been successful, and dooms us to repetition. Moreover, we should not know we are on a path. Each time we act, it is the first time. The outcome of our action is unknown, because we won't remember. Everything is new, at every moment. Music does not belong to instruments; art does not belong to the conventions of its generation by humans.
Instrumentism is an expression of approaching materials, actions and circumstance in a simple, rudimentary way that has in it no presumption of success, no drive to conform to an aesthetic of arbitrary and fabricated "beauty." Instrumentism looks to satisfy criteria; it seems formal and cold. But with a lowered consciousness, we may find ourselves much closer to a direct relationship to our world and its ample and endless variation as occurring in nature and material, and circumstance through time. The intellect aside, we have direct and unbiased relations with things. In this, the Lower Consciousness has in it a spiritual quality. It participates with you in the essence of things. And more than anything else, it is the essence of things to which we aspire when performing artistry in a rudimentary way. The reduction of outlook, the reduced retention and simplicity of technique all assure us that we are closer to a direct relationship with substance and action. There is an authentic quality in the immediate, in the spontaneous. There is no time for hesitation in it, and action begins and ends without self-consciousness or vanity. The quality, call it spirit, that is embodied like a ghost through all materials is shared by all things in a state of mindlessness, a state very close to thingness, the thingness of the world allowed to act as itself, the wood, as wood, the stone as a stone, and not carved into appearances and orchestral instrumentations, and superimposed on that, a fantasy world of sound and art that is false. All the world is music and art, in its very manifestation. Art and music must be a form of research, where we play these things, without carving them into things they are not, and where we forget, and do not learn, because the Spiritual is not a manifestation of the mind, but of the body of materials that compose the world, and we must look at existence as composition, spontaneously generated in the moment. Maybe if we can do this, we will become closer to the spirit of life, of living art and a direct and personal understanding that indeed, less is always more, and lower is higher.
performer / Mobius Artists Group-School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA /