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Embodiment in Electronic Music Performance

Thesis
Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the
Degree of
Master of Arts
in Composition
Mils College, 2010
by
Holly Herndon

Approved by:

__________________
James Fei
Director of Thesis

__________________
Fred Frith
Head, Music Department

_____________________
Sandra C. Greer
Provost and Dean of the Faculty

Reading Committee:

_______________________
Maggi Payne

_______________________
Les Stuck

Contents

Introduction

The Definition and Philosophical Ideas Surrounding Embodiment

and Performance
The Voice as Illustration of Embodied Performance

17

My Work as Embodied Performance

21

Conclusion

28

Appendix

29

Bibliography

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Introduction
This thesis explores how the electronically processed voice in music performance
may illustrate an understanding of electronic music performance as an embodied
experience. For the purposes of this thesis it is important to explain the difference
between the body and embodiment, and to make clear that by embodiment, I am not
simply referring to corporeality. Inspired by the definition of embodiment taken from
Katherine Hayles book, How We Became Post Human, I will attempt to discover what is
at the heart of an embodied performance. She states that embodiment may be defined
through two polarities; one is a polarity that unfolds an interplay between the body as
cultural construct and the experiences of embodiment that individual people within a
culture feel and articulate and the other polarity can be understood as a dance between
inscribing and incorporating practices.1 This definition offers embodiment as situated
experience dependent on history and environment, unique to individuals within a
collective which is carried out through symbolic incorporation and recorded through
inscription. I would like to expand upon her definition by stating that an individuals
understanding of embodiment is dependent on the time and space in which he or she is
situated, time meaning place in history and personal journey, and space meaning
environment, culture, and situation. My expansion of the definition of embodiment
coincides with Hayles ideal, which imagines a "version of the posthuman that embraces
the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of
Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
193.
1

unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as
a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material
world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival.2
Through accepting the finitude of the current human condition, Hayles allows room for
a continuum of generations and individuals to evolve with their own ideas of
embodiment, specific to their own situations. In my work, technology in music is not
about replacing my human body; it is about incorporating my body and understanding
where my unique physical body fits in the complex technical world in which it is situated.
In order to elucidate my idea of embodiment in electronic music performance, I
will use the processed voice illustratively. I will argue that the voice, the original
instrument and the first instrument to be widely mediated through technology, illustrates
a continuum between the external and the internal of the body as a clear example of a
gestalt unity of mind and body. I will make a distinction between the live and recorded
voice in terms of embodiment through the comparison of inscription and incorporation. I
will also argue that the processed voice is an extension of the natural voice. Regardless of
how masked the original instrument may be, the intent of the singer is recognized.
Although the sound may be heard as an autonomous instrument, it remains an embodied
extension from its origins. I will express my belief that all live electronic music
performance is embodied, and that ideas of embodiment are always evolving.

Ibid.
6

The Definition and Philosophical Ideas Surrounding Embodiment and


Performance
There are two main parts to Hayles definition of embodiment. I would like to
look at each part. The first part deals with cultural constructs and individual
experiences within a culture. Immediately she formulates embodiment as something that
varies for each individual and their specific reality, which is always changing depending
on the situation and moment. I will mention later, in respect to the work of Donna
Haraway, why it is important that these constructs and experiences are allowed to evolve,
or in other words, that the definition of embodiment be allowed to evolve. This part of the
definition stresses the difference between the corporeal body and embodiment, the latter
being an abstract cultural and social construct varying with each individual. This is an
elastic understanding of embodiment, which has the flexibility to change with its
environment.
The second part of her definition, and the most relevant to my discussion of
performance, deals with the movement between inscribing and incorporating practices.
The dance, as Hayles calls it, between inscribing and incorporating practices,
inscription being less embodied than incorporation, is what I perceive creates a difference
between recording and live performance. There is by no means any hierarchy between the
two practices, they are simply different ways in which embodiment is codified into a
culture. An incorporating practice (is) an action that is encoded into bodily memory by

repeated performances until it becomes habitual.3 A symbolic movement such as the


wave of a hand versus a symbol drawn on paper to represent a waving hand are examples
given for the two forms. This highlights again the difference between stasis and flux in
time and space, in that the inscribed practice may not be altered after it is inscribed
without becoming something entirely new. If it is assumed that mind and body are one, as
will be explored in this essay, and all music produced by human thought or intent is
embodied, then why the distinction between live and recorded music? The distinction lies
in the performers being situated in the same time and space as the audience (whether
virtual space or actual space). With audio being a physical medium this idea is a little
less clear, because the audio waves are traveling in real time from a recording to reach the
listener. However, the act of music being made is no longer reacting to its surroundings
and is therefore inscribed and not incorporated. With regard to live performance, Hayles
writes:
Because incorporating practices are always performative and instantiated they
necessarily contain improvisational elements that are context specific... In contrast
to inscription, which can be transported from context to context once it has been
performed, incorporation can never be cut entirely free from its context.4
It is the context of a performance, or its placement in time and environment, that makes
it embodied, or incorporated.

Ibid, 199.

Ibid. 200.
8

It is not uncommon to come across an article or conversation in which electronic


music performance is portrayed as a disembodied experience for both the performer and
listener. In some circles it is considered common knowledge that acoustic musical
performances, with direct mechanical energy translated into sound, are experienced as
embodied performance, while electronic performances, with often minimal physical
gesturing, manifesting in foreign or alien sounds, are widely considered disembodied. In
Human Bodies, Computer Music, Bob Ostertag writes about issues of the human body in
computer music:
I think most musicians working with electronics are probably not very satisfied
with the state of electronic music today, and the crucial missing element is the
body. Many of us have been trying to solve this problem for years but we have
been notoriously unsuccessful at it. How to get ones body into art that is as
technologically mediated as electronic music, with so much technology between
your physical body and the final outcome, is a thorny problem.5
There are two parts of this statement that I would like to dissect. First of all, there is the
issue of defining technology. It appears that he is referring to digital or electronic
technology, and not the technology of concert hall architecture or language, which would
perhaps be considered less problematic. Yet at their inception these were profound
transitory technologies in their own right. Technology by definition is the systematic
approach to an art,6 which has been evolving since cognition. However, for the purposes
Bob Ostertag, Human Bodies, Computer Music, Leonardo Music Journal Vol. 12
(2002): 11-14.
5

Miriam Webster Online, 6 May 2010, <http://www.merriam-webster.com>.


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of this essay, when referring to technology, it will be within the context of the challenges
posed by new technologies today, such as electronic and digital technology from the past
fifty years. This is an important distinction when discussing the evolution of embodied
understanding, as what one generation may consider disruptive or unnatural levels of
technological mediation, the next may consider an incorporated given. Secondly this
statement recognizes a mind/body duality which I do not acknowledge, and will clarify
later in this paper. For Ostertag, a successful performance relies on the identifiable
bodily movement of the performer.7 I do not believe that this element is essential for
embodied performance. In the same essay, Ostertag writes that a generation younger than
his enjoys the machine-like qualities of technologically crafted music in a way that his
generation never will. Perhaps as ideas of embodiment evolve, younger generations
experience embodiment in different ways than Ostertag.
Katherine Hayles discusses the multitude of thinkers who see technology as
disembodying on a wider philosophical scale. It is not difficult to find pronouncements
supporting an ideology of disembodiment in cultural theory, no less than in cybernetics.
She continues to reference Baudrillard who writes, The human body, our body, seems
superfluous in its proper expanse, in the complexity and the multiplicity of its organs, of
its tissue and functions, because today everything is concentrated in the brains and the
genetic code, which alone sum up the operational definition of being.8 It is almost as if
the body is considered to no longer be sufficient, or there is a fear that it will become so.

Ostertag, 11.

Hayles, 192.
10

With artists such as Stelarc, a performance artist concerned with augmenting the
capability of the human body, announcing THE BODY IS OBSOLETE,9 it is no
wonder that people are concerned with the future of human/machine interaction. Stelarcs
concerns are that the body is not modular enough, or well enough equipped to handle
extreme flows of information. Allison Muri disagrees in a colorful essay that questions,
what kind of logic has given rise to this equation of technology with disembodied
consciousness and superfluous bodies?10 In this essay she traces the impact of human
excrement on the globe as a means of establishing the unavoidable reality that we all still
inhabit bodies. In doing so, Muri establishes that there are theoretical misconceptions
about technology, and counters them with thoughts on a physical reality which has not
been superseded by technological advancements and theory run amok. Instead of being
concerned with the obsolescence of the body with a desire to preserve an existing idea of
embodiment, I am interested in understanding how society may progress with a new
understanding in a life mediated by technology. This understanding would be tied to its
situational context, and is allowed to evolve as that context evolves.
To continue with the mind body unity, I look to Merleau-Pontys writing on
phenomenology. He writes,
the psycho-physical event can no longer be conceived after the model of cartesian
physiology and as the juxtaposition of a process itself and a cogitatio. The union

Stelarc, Stelarc Home Page, 5 April 2010, <http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/obsolete/


obsolete.html>.
9

Allison Muri, Of Shit and the Soul: Tropes of Cybernetic Disembodiment in


Contemporary Culture, Body & Society 9.3 (2003): 75.
10

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of soul and body is not an amalgamation between two mutually external terms,
subject and object, brought about by arbitrary decree. It is enacted at every instant
in the movement of existence.11
Therefore any thought that is manifested in a physical gesture, is embodied. This idea is
by no means new, and has been theorized by the likes of Heidegger over one hundred
years ago. Heidegger considered a workmans tools, and concluded that in the mind of
the worker, the intent was to create with the tools, and thus was not concerned with the
distinction between tool and hand. At that moment the tool became part of the body. To
take it to the root, the very thought itself is embodied. In a recent experiment published in
the Public Library of Science, cognitive scientist Anthony Chemero at Franklin &
Marshall College writes, The person and the various parts of their brain and the mouse
and the monitor are so tightly intertwined that theyre just one thing. The tool isnt
separate from you. Its part of you.12 If this has been accepted by cognitive scientists,
then why is it still problematic to experience a performance where there is little
movement, if that movement is so highly mediated the audience cannot conceive of any
direct correlation? Surely the problem is not in whether the performance or sound created
is embodied, but rather how much theater is involved in musical performance. If there is
no longer a mind/body duality, then any musical performance created live, even if only
through cognition, carries with it an embodied sound. The mental processes involved in

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (Routledge & Kegan Paul,


1962) 102.
11

Brandon Keim, Your Computer Really Is a Part of You WIRED, 9 March 2010,
<http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/03/heidegger-tools/> (20 April 2010).
12

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deciding how and why to produce sound situated in a specific space and time should be
enough to justify embodiment. An obvious example of this idea would be Alvin Luciers
piece, Music For Solo Performer. This piece solely uses brainwave activity to instigate
speaker-coupled percussive instruments. Brandon LaBelle writes of this piece,
Luciers work, in its obsession with physical phenomena, winds its way inevitably
toward a heightened consideration of individual presence...What these works and
many others, offer is the opportunity for anyone to experience, through a process
that could be referred to as musical, auditory events as immediate and ever
present. And further, to explore ones own presence as situated within various
spaces or environments and their conditions: in this regard the aural is used to
investigate and discover how one occupies space and in turn, how one is
implicated within auditory space and events...In this way, Luciers work may
point toward a bridging of the external world with states of awareness on the part
of the listener or participant as an internal experience, and further, a staging of
subjectivity and its position within the world.13
Although there is very little physical body movement involved in this piece, and the
sounds created are mediated by technological processes, this piece is a wonderful
example of embodied musical performance. Granted that the actual sound sources are
acoustic and the process is made clear for the audience, this piece clearly illustrates that
all activity within the body, including that of the brain, is embodied. The heightened
consideration of individual presence of which Labelle writes, draws attention to the
Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (The Continuum
International Publishing Group Int., 2006) 127-128.
13

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performance as situated in time and space as a highly individualized perceptual


experience. It amplifies the processes occurring in each individual in the performance
event, making the performance paradoxically both unique and universal. It isnt the
human mechanical motion that connects with the audience, it is that the audience shares
time and space with the body of the performer.
Merleau-Ponty continues to discuss ideas of spatiality, or bodies within
environments, which he refers to as body schema. Psychologists often say that body
schema is dynamic...indeed its spatiality is not, like that of external objects, or like that of
spacial sensations, a spatiality of position, but a spatiality of situation.14 With this
statement Merleau-Ponty makes the distinction between position and situation; situation
is conditional to time and space (environment) and position is simply placement. The
body schema is finally a way of stating that my body is in-the-world.15 This is an
important distinction that recalls Hayles emphasis on the finitude of the human body. It
is a dynamic understanding of the body which is always changing in accordance with the
environment in which it is situated. It is also important to understand technology as being
dynamic in time and space. Hayles writes, Technology is not merely a medium to
represent thoughts that already exist but is itself capable of dynamic interactions
producing the thoughts it describes.16
Why is the issue of embodiment in electronic music performance so important?
For me it represents an opportunity for a progression of thought and understanding,
14

Merleau-Ponty, 114-115.

15

Ibid. 114.

16

Hayles, 217.
14

casting away nostalgic approaches toward technology and human integration and instead
attempting to understand this relationship as already integrated. Francis Dyson draws on
Mark Hansens work to argue a shift from the conception of the posthuman as an entity to
a field of relations.17 Hansen predicts the extinction of inscription as we embrace
technologies as inherently integrated, stating that [in this context cognition is] not the
operation of disembodied logical operations but of massively distributed nervous
systems.18 Expanding on Hansens argument that human nervous systems will adapt to
learn in an emergent way, Dyson insists on shifting from mind/body dualism into
Hansens concept of an integrative mindbody. Dyson includes all cognitive energy
under the umbrella of embodiment, and also discusses the potential for a symbiotic
evolution both of technology and of humans through technology. This optimistic vision of
the possibilities unleashed by accepting technologies as integrated and embodied has
important implications for electronic performance, which is currently challenged by
stereotypes of disembodiment that burden, rather than advance, the medium. To quote
Sartre, The intellectual is someone who...claims to question both received truths and the
accepted behavior inspired by them.19 I strongly believe in generating an intellectual
climate fertile for such possibilities and am skeptical of barriers to progression.
Donna Haraway sees the dichotomy between mind and body, man and machine as
blurred, and celebrates their integration in the form of the cyborg. This cyborg offers to

17

Dyson, 159.

Mark Hansen, Embodying Technesis: Technology Beyond Writing (University of


Michigan Press, 2000) 73.
18

19

Franco Berardi, The Soul at Work (MIT Press, 2009) 33.


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her the opportunity to challenge social and cultural structures, bringing me back to the
first part of Hayles definition of embodiment. Haraway writes of her Cyborg, So my
cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities
which progressive people might explore as one part of needed political work.20 I see
Haraways cyborg as liberating, allowing race, gender, and class to exist on a continuum
where people may formulate and find new paradigms within which to exist. Haraway
writes:
The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be
responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible
for boundaries; we are they. Up till now (once upon a time), female embodiment
seemed to be given, organic, necessary; and female embodiment seemed to
mean skill in mothering and its metaphoric extensions. Only by being out of
place could we take intense pleasure in machines, and then with excuses that
this was organic activity after all, appropriate to females. Cyborgs might consider
more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment.
Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical
breadth and depth.21
From this text I cannot help relating constrictive gender roles regarding embodiment with
constrictive ideas of what an embodied performance might be. Once one is able to
disregard said constructed boundaries, such as the idea that acoustic performance using
Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in
the Late Twentieth Century (Routledge, 1991)
20

21

Ibid.
16

physical movement is more embodied than laptop performance using a finger, or that
female embodiment means skill in mothering, can there be enough space created for new
configurations of thought. It is critically important that certain assumptions or stereotypes
are questioned, addressing core elements and affording the flexibility to encourage, not
foreclose, alternate configurations of thought and experience.
Much work has been done to add gestural and performative movements to
electronic music, whether it be with sensors or MIDI controllers, and many developers
are still focusing on physical movement to bring the body back into electronics. As we
saw with the Lucier piece, one does not necessarily need movement to create a sense of
embodied performance. One needs to simply address the issue of creating an experience
where the audience realizes that the performer is sharing that moment with them, that
they are inhabiting the same time and space, and that the environment in which they are
situated has some effect on the music performed. Irrespective of the steps necessary to
satisfy individual concerns about this issue, I would hope that a consensus can be reached
on the grave importance of addressing perceived truths and their consequent histories and
behaviorisms.

The Voice as Illustration of Embodied Performance


In order to illustrate clearly my idea of embodiment in technologically enhanced
or created sounds, I chose the processed voice. The voice has been at the forefront of
technological mediation, and is also the first instrument that humans learn to use. Its

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continuum of internal to external negates the mind body divide, and is also an instrument
that most people can relate to in some way. David Toop says of the voice:
Voice is the sonic instrument with which we begin as humansbeginning as an
intricate folding of inner and outer, ear, lungs, throat, skull, and mouth, abstract
thought and physical projection, biology and consciousness, breath and listening
and which develops as the articulation of impulsion, feeling, word, speech,
paraliguistic noise, even musicality, resonating in time, mind and the air of open
space.
Throughout the 20th century, the voice was a prime site for the redefinition of the
body in relation to the machine age, particularly during a rapidly developing era
of disembodying technologies such as wireless telegraphy, radio, telephone,
cinema, television, the tape recorder, electronic amplification and the microphone.
Temporal shift, spatial displacement and the physical absence of the vocalizing
agent, both implicit and explicit in such communicative extensions of the body,
suggest a disintegration of the image of the body as a symbol of unity.22
The voice has been a guinea pig for a variety of technologies. Growing up in a time of
telephones, I was able to place body with voice and connect with loved ones around the
world. Having grown up with the technology, there was no disintegration of the image
of the body as a symbol of unity as Toop suggests, I understood the voice to represent
the body as a whole. Francis Dyson writes,

David Toop, Sound Body: The Ghost of a Program, Leonardo Music Journal Vol. 15,
(2005): 29.
22

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As the first attribute to become disembodied through the electronic transmission,


the voice has anchored all other transmissions...The importance of the voice in
this respect cannot be underestimated. Why was it, for instance, that even though
telephony radically disassociated the voice from the body and the speaker from
their geographic presence, somehow, culturally, a persons denuded telephonic
voice came to speak for their whole being?23
The telephone is a wonderful example of a technology first used on the voice, which over
time developed from disembodied voice in the classical sense, to embodied incorporation
with the power to give the listener the experience of actually being with the person on the
end of the line. Although it has taken decades for the telephone to assimilate into a
familiar bodily experience, it has transitioned successfully. I remember long pubescent
telephone marathons, pressing the receiver as close to my cheek as possible, as if to
become closer to the person on the other end. The voice already evinces an abstract
understanding of self and embodiment, and is therefore illustrative to my point. I do
however believe that the voice may be used as a metaphor for all musical performance,
whether acoustic or electronic.
One of the main arguments of posthumanism is that there is no longer a divide
between mind and body, or the internal and external. The voice clearly illustrates the
continuum between the internal and external as air travels from within the lungs and
passes through the larynx and lips to become sound. There is internal and external
activity in all music making, whether it is an internal muscle flexing to push a controller

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Dyson, 8-9.
19

or string or air passing through a trumpet. With the voice however, one does not need to
understand another level of mechanics to understand how muscle activity is manifesting
into a sound, making it fertile territory as an illustration of embodiment.
The voice is also useful for the discussion of intent in performance. Studies have
shown that when a subject understands the intent of an action, they are much more
responsive to that action. It is likely that part of the musical experience is the embodied
perception of the performers intentions.24 When a vocalist stands on a stage and creates
input for the microphone, and something, regardless of how removed from the original
sound, is released from another location in the concert setting, research suggests that the
audience is still aware of some degree of intent on behalf of the vocalist, as I will now
clarify by citing this quote from Greg Corness.
Recent research in psychology has begun to explore the function of a class of
neurons referred to as mirror neurons. Classical mirror neurons are a set of
neurons in the pre-motor region of the brain that fire both when performing a
goal-oriented action and when observing the same action performed by another.
These findings imply that there is a pre-cognitive physical reaction to the sight of
an action that provides the viewer with an understanding of the performers
action. A key to the functioning of these neurons is that the action must be
perceived as goal oriented, although it is not necessary to observe the goal.25

Greg Corness, The Musical Experience through the Lens of Embodiment, Leonardo
Music Journal Vol. 18 (2008): 23.
24

25

Ibid.
20

I believe that, in this instance, the fact that it is unnecessary to observe the goal is parallel
to not understanding how a certain sound manifests from a perceived input. One may not
understand the electro-mechanical process involved, but an empathy is established.
Personally when I see a finger moving on a laptop, I also understand an intent and
empathize. For illustrative purposes, however, I prefer to look at the use of the voice as a
clear physical gesture that most people understand. This research would suggest that
witnessing a voice interact with electronics, whether distorted beyond recognition or
simply rounded out by, say, a reverb effect in a concert hall, allows the audience to
understand the act of incorporation through a gesture they may relate to their own bodies.
Perhaps using the human voice, as I will explain I did in my own piece 195, amplifies
this empathy and allows the audience an easy access point.

My Work as Embodied Performance


In approaching my work, 195, my initial goal was to create a piece, which
referenced early vocal music, for its purity of vocal style and tonal harmonies, and more
abrasive electronic noise. The piece involved six female vocalists in total: two altos, two
mezzo-sopranos, and two sopranos, holding microphones whose inputs were all being
processed and spatialized through my computer. It was written in eight short sections.
The first section was a conversation between soft feedback and subtle light vocal
harmonies, each dynamically and timbrally mirroring the other. Section two introduced
early vocal choral styles with minimal FM synthesis highlights. The third section used
rhythmic panning of electronics to bath the audience in sound, while the vocals

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percussively punched through the texture with a combination of chords and extended
vocal techniques. Section four consecutively introduced each sopranos soft whispers
spatialized to appear from behind the audience. The fifth section began without
amplification, with the singers holding their microphones to their sides. As the section
developed, the singers would alternate between amplified and unamplified. While they
were amplified, I would move their voices between the front and the back pairs of
speakers, creating movement and contrast. At the end of section five the vocalists used
extended techniques, including guttural breaths and vocal fry, while being processed to
create a rhythmic and electronic effect in surround. Section six was similar to section
three with slight variation. Section seven reintroduced the early vocal music elements,
and included a descant soprano part. Section eight was similar to section one, yet in
reverse, ending the piece with a soft soprano exchange with light feedback.
As a performer in an early vocal music ensemble, I reveled in the tonal quality
created when our voices, devoid of vibrato, were able to meld together as one voice. The
connection that this vocal timbre created with the other performers was an incredibly
immersive experience for me as a performer. I empathize with the vocalists when
listening to early music because I understand the experience of blending among the
performers. This is a similar immersive feeling I have when listening to enveloping
electronics which through panning and multi-channel spatialization can create a tangible
physical affect. That both musical palettes resonate with me in such a physical way led
me to further explore similarities and differences in the performative material. It was
clear to me from the beginning that the human voice, both processed and unprocessed,

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with respect to expression, weight, and physicality, is equal to electronically produced


music. I didnt see the voice as a way to bring in the audience to engage with my
electronics; I saw them as having a symbiotic relationship, each pushing and pulling at
the audience. The voice creates a certain empathy with the audience, showing intent of
purpose and revealing a personal physical instrument. The acoustic component of the
piece exposes the personal voices of the singers, which is then expanded as the voices
begin to travel around the four speakers spread throughout the concert hall. Through the
use of spatialization and light reverberation effects I was able to allow the voices to travel
around the room and touch the audience in an intimate manner. At one point the audience
hears whispers coming from the back of the auditorium, with the singers intensely
occupying the space. The transition between acoustic, dynamically amplified and
immersive surround created a linear portrayal of how the voice may be extended through
technology. It was my intention to first present something familiar, and then
incrementally extend to a more abstracted, yet inherently connected combination. This
illustrated that some technologies, which theoretically are just as disembodying as others,
may be perceived as less so through familiarity. Being amplified from the front of the
house, and seeing a singer perform, draws a direct connection between those two sound
sources. As soon as the voice is placed behind the audience, although the same electronic
and mechanical process occurs, the connection is abstracted one degree further. Although
perhaps less obviously intimate, the electronics were used in a similar way. The rushing
sweeps of the panned FM synthesis washed over the audience and enveloped them in

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their texture. The steady beat of a low frequency oscillator pulsated through the collective
body.
In the time leading up to my preparation for 195, I was developing an as yet
unrealized piece using two sub-woofers that was intended to create a sexual experience
for the audience. The idea was to completely remove my body as performer, only
focusing on electronics, and to program the sound in such a way as to incite a physical
reaction from the listeners. Although this piece was never realized and was much less
effective in the mock-up stage than expected, I still believe that after much development
it would be possible to incite a physical reaction. Whether that reaction would be
perceived as sexual is hard to predict. However, I did realize that this approach was too
abstract to effectively express my intent, and instead of completely removing the
performers body from my process, I needed to include the performers body to further
explore my ideas. This led me to choose to write for a group of vocalists, whose bodies,
along with my own would be situated in the moment of the performance. This brings me
back to Merleau-Pontys body schema, drawing attention to how bodies exist in a specific
time and place, or situation. The temperature of the room, the lighting, stage fright, and
audience are examples of elements that immediately affect the vocalists as bodies
performing in a shared environment. Through having bodies on stage, I hoped to create
an empathetic connection with the audience.
As I began to delve further into ideas of embodiment in performance I began to
write exploratory elements into the piece. I used spatialization as a way to draw attention
to what is understood as embodied sound in vocal performance. In the middle section the

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singers start out singing without amplification. Together, they raise the microphones and
suddenly the sound is both localized and removed. The audience sees their mouths open
yet hears a sound coming from behind. This is then repeated with the sound appearing
from the front. This was not meant to disorient the audience; it was simply meant to
explore the effects of spatialization and amplification on perception. This section
concludes with harsh metallic processing accompanied by synthesized electronics. The
timbre of the processed voices was similar to that of the synthesized electronic FM stabs,
in effect presenting the voices on par with the electronics. The heavily processed vocals
only appear for a moment, strategically placed at the end of the partially amplified
spatialized section to show fluidity between the unprocessed acoustic voice and
processed amplified voice. By using sparse, yet rhythmic writing, the audience was well
aware that the sounds were coming from the singers mouths, and that they had been
transformed from their natural state. The audience could see the singer breath into the
microphone and hear an electronically altered version come out in surround, as an
extension of the original sound.
I would like to briefly compare my role as laptop performer and the roles of the
singers in terms of embodiment. The electronics were set up in a way that I could launch
a scene in Ableton, which would send a MIDI note to each clip, triggering a patternstorage Max/MSP preset for spatialization. This simple set up afforded me the freedom to
conduct and play at the same time. The score was tightly written, and there was little
room for improvisation, although there were a few moments when the possibility to
improvise was coded into the system. Even though I was merely pressing a button on my

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laptop, I believe that the audience felt that I was engaged in the same time and space as
they were, amplified through my gestural conducting. There was room for error, and all
triggers occurred live. My right hand, the hand performing the electronics, was following
my left hand, the conducting hand, with the same urgency as the vocalists. We were all
working together as one cohesive unit. My conducting arm benefitted my laptop
performance arm, and visa versa. This brings me to my first argument: reconsidering the
mind/body duality. My position as conductor meant that my cognitive process was
translated into a motion that did not directly create sounds mechanically, however I
believe the audience understood this motion as a mental and physical process which kept
the pace of the ensemble and to which the laptop was also tied. I was seen as an integral
aspect of the performance itself.
Even though the parameters had been pre-determined in the Ableton system,
some sound generation and all triggering mechanisms were performed live. FM synthesis
was generating most of the audio live, and there was very little sampled material.
Although both material sources melded seamlessly and I had no objection to using just
one or the other, I liked the idea of mixing both together. A sample played live in
comparison with a trigger of live FM synthesis may sound identical, and the process of
playing it may even be identical, suggesting that each scenario is a live performance in
the fact that it requires my trigger to launch the sound. If something happens within the
time space that I am situated, the triggering will be altered and the performance
consequently changed. The performance is an act of incorporation, in that it is reacting to
that environment. The samples, although inscribed, become incorporated into practice as

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soon as they are used as a performative tool. I recently began inscribing this piece for
fixed media, and the process is extremely different. I am able to pick and choose each
second and mix and match the best takes. Once this process is completed it is
unchangeable. I can re-mix it, however this would be a separate work from the original,
and a new work would emerge as a new variation. The inscribed action is static and fixed,
whereas with each performance of the piece, there is inevitable flux. I am also recording
each vocalist separately, which is an entirely different performance experience for both
the vocalist and the conductor.
There is also the idea of intention behind a performance. From the perspective of
the audience I can only speculate that they understood intent from the singers vocal
energy, my movements as conductor, and the laptop interaction; all synchronized, focused
energy moving toward a common goal. Had there been a way for me to conduct without
using my hand, I would have done so. Would that have taken away from the performative
aspect of the piece? Perhaps. The piece would have been no less embodied however, with
all the performers reacting and beating together in synthesis. This brings me to realize
that in my future performative work, I will concentrate on giving the audience the
sensation that I am sharing the same time and space with them, and that my work is goal
oriented. I will not be concerned with what my body is doing, as it could range from full
body expression to minute gesture. When possible I hope to build in a reaction to my
environment in a natural way, taking into consideration environmental aspects such as the
acoustics, unpredictable mood, or audience.

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Conclusion
In this thesis I have discussed issues of embodiment in electronic music
performance. In doing so, I used the definition of embodiment put forward by Katherine
Hayles in her groundbreaking book, How We Became Posthuman. In my work, I applied
this definition to electronic music performance using the voice as an illustrative
instrument. The voice highlights a mind body continuum, which I used as an argument
against disembodiment in electronic music. I also discussed the difference between
inscription and incorporation, as parallel to recording and performance. Embodiment was
further discussed through reference to scientific studies showing that witnessing intent,
even without knowledge of outcome, can be enough for an audience to empathize with a
performer. This was all tied together by my desire to fully understand what makes a
performance embodied, in order to address the issue in my personal work. In conclusion,
I believe that to effectively address this issue further, one must challenge perceived
constructs to clear pathways for alternate configurations of thought and experience.

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Appendix

Accompanying DVD:
Video Documentation of 195 by Holly Herndon
Filmed by Svetlana Voronina
Audio Documentation of 195 by Holly Herndon
Room Recording by Mathew Hettich
Score Documentation of 195 by Holly Herndon

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