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CHAPTER FIVE

INNER SIGHT ETUDES


ADILIA YIP AND CORNELIA ZAMBILA

I. The Method and “Scores” of Inner Sight Etudes


Performance acts as a starting point for the composition Inner Sight Etudes
(2016). This piece results from the joint efforts of the performer (Adilia
Yip) and the composer (Cornelia Zambila). It is fuelled by Yip’s research
on West African balafon performance practice, “Inventing New Marimba
Techniques from its African Heritage.” Yip, a classically trained marimba
performer, has commissioned Zambila, a contemporary composer and
violinist, to design an experimental work for marimba that reflects the
balafon music experience. By employing various paradoxical
compositional parameters (such as non–symbolic “scores” and sensorial
experience), Inner Sight Etudes presents an extension of the balafon oral
tradition and musical practice whilst simultaneously establishing a
particular compositional practice that breaks away from Western
conventions: for instance, the performance is also the compositional
process, and the co–creation of this piece (between the composer and the
performer) means that the performer no longer acts solely as an interpreter
of the composer’s music, but contributes to its composition as well.1
The process behind Inner Sight Etudes (comprising eleven movements)
involves general research and experimental investigation into the acts of
performing and composing. Research can be summarised in a four–step
pragmatic approach: first, by observing and comparing the performance
practices of Western Classical music and West African balafon music
which can be done, for example, via literature reading and a participant–
observation experience. Second, based on the aforementioned research, by

1
After a co-working period from July, 2015 to February, 2016, the full cycle was
premiered at the ARIA launch—Interrupting the City in Antwerp City on 4-6
March, 2016. The first three movements were premiered at the (Per)forming Art
Symposium at the University of Leeds on 20 September, 2015.
70 Chapter Five

the composer designing interactive compositional parameters and


mechanisms that investigate the performer’s performing experience and
help the performer reach certain musical goals. Third, by undergoing co–
working test sessions in order to “decode” the musical concepts from
composer to performer. Fourth, by the performer practising the
mechanisms (designed by the composer) and connecting all eleven
movements into one complete cycle.
As an experimental means of representing and investigating the oral
tradition of balafon practice, Inner Sight Etudes is an experimental “game
piece” that provides the performers with certain parameters that encourage a
focus on the internal experience of performance. This is done by eliminating
the senses that are commonly relied on, such as, eyesight for reading the
score and viewing the instrument. The conscious employment of eyesight
is prominent in marimba playing, mainly due to the construction of the
instrument; for instance, the spatial distance of the marimba’s wooden
keyboard incorporate a horizontal plane of two meters wide and the size of
each wooden bar increases from its high register to its low register;
moreover, consciously changing the striking position on one wooden bar
can produce different timbres.2 As such, eyesight is crucial if the
marimbist is to execute exact striking points on the instrument in
accordance with one’s general cognition. Nevertheless, when performing
music, the senses of hearing, physical awareness, and spatial awareness
are just as important.
With this in mind, the blindfolded experience creates an experimental
challenge to the marimbist’s performance. She is blindfolded in every
performance, rehearsal and collaborative session with the composer. Only
non–visual scores are used by the composer to communicate the music and
by the performer to internalize the music. As such, musical information is
communicated via the senses of hearing, physical awareness and spatial
awareness, as well as the use of various “scores” in each movement of
Inner Sight Etudes. These experiment parameters provide a means of
investigating the sensorial experience of performing itself. Below is an
outline of the eleven–movement cycle:
1. Walking towards the Shadow
2. Five Senses of Fire
3. Lullaby
4. Chorale I
5. Polyworld–Action and reaction duo

2
“Tuning the Marimba Bar and Resonator,” Jeff La Favre, accessed March 3,
2016, www.lafavre.us/tuning-marimba.htm.
Inner Sight Etudes 71

6. Move inside the Polyworld


7. Chorale II
8. Passacaglia–Remembering the lullaby
9. Touch the Face
10. Returning to the Cluster
11. Fading ghost

Despite the ambiguity of the above abstract concepts, the composer


and performer are nevertheless able to achieve mutual understanding
without the use of visually symbolic representation (such as traditional
Western Classical notation). Instead, the composer uses various “scores”
(that engage with senses other than sight) to guide the performer’s
imagination and creativity, and to outline structural forms for the
performer to improvise around. In other words, the performer fills in these
structures with her own “material” by following the composer’s set
mechanisms and rules for creating what can be described as “compositional
tensions.” In the first movement, “Walking towards the Shadow,” memory
and instant flash–back images encourage an improvisatory process based
on an extra–musical concept: through music, the performer describes the
adventure of approaching either a mystical or familiar shadow in four
steps. This movement is a narrative description of four sequential,
continuous scenarios like short movies. Contrastingly, the second
movement, “Five Senses of Fire,” sketches the short, disrupted, yet
consecutive nature of fire like a sequence of snapshots. These images and
mannerisms of fire are always kept in the performer’s mind, and change
abruptly without transitions and have no pre–set order. Hence, the
interaction with these two types of imagery results in changes in phrase
lengths and timbral articulations within the performer’s improvisations.
The short movies give rise to “unbroken” melodies under continuous
development, while the employment of snapshot–images stimulates short
musical fragments that are directionless.
Such abstract images and ideas are communicated via sensory
theatre—the senses are triggered through smelling herbs, touching the
textures of objects, feeling the warmth of candle fire, and so on. The
composer uses this as a method to recall the senses of fire and to stimulate
the performer’s improvisation. By means of various sensorial parameters,
such as smell, touch, pressure, temperature and visual imagery, these
senses lead to the automatic, involuntary imagination of musical sounds
and, later, transform into an intricate design of rhythm and pitch
channelled through the trained marimbist’s ingrained muscle memory of
performing on the marimba.
72 Chapter Five

Sound scores are employed in various movements of Inner Sight


Etudes and are used in a multitude of ways. The simple melody that
develops in the ending of the second movement, “Five Senses of Fire,”
acts as the “sound score” that is later recalled in movements three
(“Lullaby”), seven (“Chorale II”), eight (“Passacaglia”), and ten
(“Returning to the Cluster”). This type of “sound score” incorporates the
retrograde of an improvisatory melody that is generated in an impromptu
manner.
A “sound score” can also take the form of reacting to the performance
of a second marimbist. In the fifth movement, “Polyworld,” the second
marimbist’s improvisation acts as the “score” for the first marimbist, while
the first marimbist reacts instinctively to the improvisation of the second
marimbist. The movement comprises an “action–reaction” game between
two marimbists.
However, the roles of the first and second marimbist are reversed in
movement six, “Move inside the Polyworld.” In an opposite manner to
movement five, in movement six, the first marimbist performs sets of
physical patterns in the air for the second marimbist to imitate and perform
on their instrument. The first marimbist now takes the lead and her
physical actions can be described as a “movement score” for the second
marimbist. The task of locating five chords using six mallets in movement
four, “Chorale I,” also involves this “movement score.” However, in this
instance, the “movement score” incorporates proprioception (one’s sense
of bodily movement and position). Movement ten, “Returning to Cluster,”
also employs the “movement score” as the blindfolded performer senses
the horizontal distance of the keyboard, without the sense of sight, so that
the processes required for searching and locating the chords and notes
become the performance itself.
The final score comprises the “tactile score.” This is employed in in
movement nine, “Touch the Face.” It incorporates the sense of touching
the face of a person; the facial texture stimulates melodic fragments.

II. The Musical Structure


In the first two movements, “Walking to the Shadow” and “Five Senses of
Fire,” structures and constituent compositional “materials” are generated
by the performer’s spontaneous improvisations. They also incorporate
certain performance directions and sound effects suggested by the
composer, including the generation of overtones by striking different
positions of the wooden bars, employing tailor–made mallets for extended
sound effects and humming the resonant pitches of the marimba’s lower
Inner Sight Etudes 73

register. These improvisatory structures and materials recur consistently in


later movements: the simple melodic theme created in movement three
“Lullaby” reappears in movements eight “Passacaglia” and ten “Returning
to the Cluster.” Also, the hand strokes in movement two, “Five Senses,”
are transformed into the mallet strokes employed in movement three,
“Lullaby.” In a similar vein, the improvised dynamic contour in movement
four, “Chorale I,” is a recapitulation of that in movement one, “Walking
towards the Shadow.” Finally, the structural development in movement
five, “Polyworld,” recapitulates that of movement two “Five Senses.”

Fig. 5–1: graphical representation of the musical structure


74 Chapter Five

Onwards from the central point of movement five, the musical themes
from the first five movements recur as a mirror–like reflection (lateral
reflection) of the cycle’s second half (see figure 5–2). Also, the inner
experience of the first marimbist is magnified via another type of
“mirroring” (or “imitation”) by the second marimbist. In addition to these
mirror effects, the performance incorporates theatrical lighting that creates
shadows of the two performers to enhance this musical idea visually. 3

III. Individual Background


Individual Narrations from the Performer and the Composer
regarding their Personal Artistic Experiences
Inner Sight Etudes combines the marimbist’s experience of balafon music
practice (both participatory and observatory) with the composer’s
conceptual investigations into certain compositional process (such as
research into the sensorial experience of folk musicians and blind
musicians). Such investigations led to the composer’s experimental work
Inner Eye (2012–13), which investigated the internalization of music and
the use of non–visual scores. As such, Inner Sight Etudes presents a
collaboration that forms a new “ritual”4 between a composer and a
performer: while the performer adheres to the musical parameters set up
by the composer (form, structural and thematic designs), the performer in
this instance performs with the technical and musical knowledge of both
balafon music and the marimba, using her own personalized interpretation
and imagination to realise the music. What follows are the marimbist’s
and the composer’s commentaries about their collaboration, their
individual artistic experiences and investigations during the formation of
Inner Sight Etudes:

3
Thanks to Ricardo Lievano participates as second marimbist, Kris Depuydt for
the theatrical lighting design and KENISMAN for the visual projections.
4
Ritual is hereby defined as actions and behavior that are done in accordance with
social custom or normal protocol within a community. It is applied in this context
to describe the partnership and music practice between musicians. A ritual is also
understood as a performative structure consists of individual customized and
personalized processes that happen inside a society and a community. A ritual
manages to mirror between the inside (the inner-self of an individual, performer or
composer) and the outside (the society, or the audience).
Inner Sight Etudes 75

Adilia Yip: The Balafon Field Study


Being a Western–art–music performer of marimba and other percussion,
my encounter with the balafon oral music tradition has had a significant
impact on my artistic views. During the very first balafon workshop I
attended in Europe, given by Gert Kilian, a European balafon musician, I
was made aware of the obstacles of learning via oral transmission. Before
this experience, I was used to reading visual scores and had not considered
any possibilities beyond the symbolic representation of such visual scores.

Pattern A Pattern B

Melody

Ex. 5–1: song Sanata, patterns A and B, and melody.

To my surprise, it took almost one afternoon to grasp the full idea of


song Sanata, which contains two simple balafon patterns in 4/4 time for
four measures and the melody of the song played in single notes or octave
doubling. At first, I found physically adapting to the technicalities of the
balafon, when compared to the marimba I was used to, disconcerting. The
marimba is a well–tempered twelve–tone keyboard with a double row,
whereas the balafon is a pentatonic keyboard with a single row.5 In order
to elaborate my point: imagine playing on a vast keyboard that has the
white keys only, without the visual reference of the black keys in groups
of two and three keys.
The following videos of song Barica demonstrate the complex
polyrhythm of juxtaposing binary and ternary rhythmic patterns. It also

5
The balafon I played on during this field study is built by Youssouf Keita. This
instrument is tuned in pentatonic scale according to the Western temperament.
76 Chapter Five

gives an idea of the advanced bi–manual control “Two–hand coordination”


where the balafonist can improvise with one hand while the other hand
performs a repetitive short phrase. The first video comprises the song’s
melody and musical patterns; the second video is a complete version of the
song:
The melody and patterns of song Barica:
http://youtu.be/sFFMJQNsSL8
The complete video of song Barica performance:
http://youtu.be/55JiT8h7A3s

Ex. 5–2: Barica videos.6

A greater challenge was caused by the balafon oral practice itself.


During 2012–13, I travelled to Mali and Burkina Faso twice in order to
learn balafon music with local balafon musicians Yousouf Keita and
Kassoum Keita. According to balafon oral tradition, the teachers expect
their students to learn polyrhythms by listening to integrated rhythmic
layers and observing their physical coordination. These polyrhythmic
layers are approached as a whole and never dissected into independent
contrapuntal layers. This very technique is also present when my teacher
teaches his son new balafon patterns. He shows the balafon pattern’s hand
movements, and the whole process needs no verbal explanation.7

6
Adilia Yip, “Song Barica melody and patterns performed by Youssouf and
Kassoum Keita,” filmed January 2012, YouTube video, posted November 2013,
http://youtu.be/sFFMJQNsSL8.
Adilia Yip, “Song Barica performed by Youssouf and Kassoum Keita,” filmed
January 2012, YouTube video, posted November 2013,
http://youtu.be/55JiT8h7A3s.
7
It is not surprising to ethnomusicologists that during the teaching process of
African instruments, patterns of movement are imparted “physically” by the
teacher to the student. According to Kubik, a xylophonist in southern Cameroon
teaches by holding his student’s hands and imparting direct impulses to them until
the student has absorbed the movement pattern and stroke at the correct instant.
Gerard Kubik, “Pattern Perception and Recognition in African Music,” in The
Performing Arts: Music and Dance, vol. 10, ed. John Blacking & , Joann
Kealiinohomoku (UK: Mouton Publishers, 1979), 227. Koetting also wrote about
his experience with a Ghanaian who was asked to teach drum-playing to a group of
university students, which the students learnt and even performed the music largely
based on the physical movements required to produce the music. James Koetting,
“Analysis and Notation of West African Drum Ensemble Music,” in Selected
Reports in Ethnomusicology, vol. 1 (University of California, Los Angeles: UCLA
Ethnomusicology Publications, 1970), 119.
Inner Sight Etudes 77

Youssouf teaching a bi–manual technique (two–hand coordination)


in the song Fermante: http://youtu.be/5AsQn1iM3hE
Youssouf teaching his son balafon patterns in his workshop:
http://youtu.be/qAUw7ISZ6sw

Ex. 5–3: Youssouf’s teaching techniques.8

I felt that the technique-oriented subjects I studied in music


conservatories such as the solfège system, score reading, and music theory
could not provide all the necessary skills required for learning the balafon
repertoire in the traditional way. The transmission of musical materials—
rhythm and pitch—is done through numerous repeated demonstrations and
unlimited attempts and failures to learn the correct musical patterns. The
distinction between this and Western Classical music lies in the different
conceptualisations of music. In the oral tradition, music exists purely as
audible sound, and therefore patterns of physical movement become one
vehicle of communicating music. Although one listens with their ears
when performing with visual notation, when one reads with such notation,
music is translated into the form of notational signs (staff, note–heads, and
so on), which turns music into a finite, visible product that a performer can
depend on in rehearsals and concerts. This seems paradoxical: the musical
sound is perceived by interpreting visual images, but this visual notation is
not the music itself. Imagination, expression, hearing, emotional and
compositional processes, and, moreover, the sensory experiences
(synaesthesia and metaphysical thinking) are beyond the symbols on
paper. The balafon oral tradition has taught me that visual scores are
nothing more than symbolic representations, whereas music itself is
embodied in our movements and senses and that, most importantly, music
should always exist in its audible form. In the balafon oral tradition, the
patterns of physical movement become a vehicle for transmitting musical
knowledge.
This video shows a bird’s–eye–view of playing the balafon. It
demonstrates the horizontal pathways of movement. It is a
performance of the song Kebini: http://youtu.be/It3HQu1LP6A

Ex. 5–4: Kebini on balafon.9

8
Adilia Yip, “Song Famante: 2 ways coordination technique,” filmed January
2013, YouTube video, posted November 2013, http://youtu.be/5AsQn1iM3hE.
Adilia Yip, "Youssouf teaching his son balafon," filmed January 2013, YouTube
video, posted November 2013, http://youtu.be/qAUw7ISZ6sw.
78 Chapter Five

In order to distinguish between the sensory experiences of score


reading and oral transmission, and to explain the relevant cognitive
processes, I shall refer to my research on performance psychology.10 There
are three requisite cognitive skills identified in the mental representations
in musical performance: “goal imaging,”11 “motor production,”12 and
“self–monitoring.”13 During the first stage of “goal imaging,” a musician’s
perception of the sound is built from the visual cues of printed notation,
which is also present in sight–reading. However, when one learns music
by ear, it is stored in the memory without other forms of representation
except auditory information and sound–producing movements. Therefore,
instead of visual symbols prompting the mechanised recall of particular
fingering or other physical movement on an instrument, learning by ear
directly links physical movement to corresponding sound. In other words,
music is transcribed into the action needed for producing sound. From this
perspective, the transfer between “goal imaging” and sound production is
immediate (Woody and Lehmann, 2010).14 This leads to the following
query: if oral tradition were employed in the practice of Western Classical
music, how would this affect performance practice and subsequent music
production? In other words, what kind of Western Classical performances
can occur without using visual symbolic scores as the main medium of
communication?

9
Adilia Yip, “Song Kebini original version,” filmed January 2013, YouTube
video, posted November 2013, http://youtu.be/It3HQu1LP6A.
10
Adilia Yip, “Exploring the Embodied Music Practice of the West African
Balafon Culture: The Challenges and Potential to a Western Classical Marimba
Performer,” in Music+Practice 2 (2015), accessed 21 November, 2015,
http://www.musicandpractice.org/volume-2/challenges-potential-to-western-
classical-marimba-performer.
11
Andreas Lehmann and Anders Ericsson, “Research on expert performance and
deliberate practice: Implications for the education of amateur musicians and music
students,” in Psychomusicology 16 (1997): 40-58.
12
Robert Woody and Andreas Lehmann, “Student Musicians’ Ear-Playing Ability
as a Function of Vernacular Music Experiences,” in Journal of Research in Music
Education 58 (2010): 101-115.
13
Valerie Ross, “Music Learning and Performing: Applying Written and Oral
Strategies,” in Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 90 (2013): 970-878.
14
Woody and Lehmann, “Student Musicians,” 103–112.
Inner Sight Etudes 79

Cornelia Zambila: The Inner Eye Project15


Where is the music? This is a question I would like to start with because I
have the impression that music exists in very split ways in different
dimensions. Is music something in the composer’s mind, or written down
on the score? Is it something residing on the tip of a conductor’s baton? Is
music in the keys of the piano or does it exist in the perception of the
audience? Even though music is split into so many different dimensions,
both in the understanding of it and in the practice of it, can we
comprehend music as the space between these dimensions? In other
words, can we comprehend it as a medium for communication and the
exchange of emotion?
As both a composer and a performer, I am engaged in a sort of cognitive
dissonance between the two dimensions of composition and performance. I
used to write visual scores that are restricted to my emotional processes.
Comparatively, these scores inhibited the performers’ emotional expression.
Therefore, I searched for a new compositional process that would “free” me
from these creative boundaries and that would allow music to truly come
from the performer. In other words, a process that would allow the
performer to engage more closely with the music and take advantage of
the notion that they are not forced to engage with a means of performance
that is not in line with their way of existing (via senses). In this way,
composition can become an authentic medium for the performer’s
expression.
I encountered two types of musicians: blind musicians and folk
musicians. In order to immerse myself in their musical world, I
collaborated with them as a performer and observed their rehearsal
processes as well as their creative and performative processes. As part of
my research into composition, I interviewed several blind musicians in
order to find out about their methods for internalizing their repertoire and
how they accessed visual scores. In order to engage with their perspective,
I put myself “in their shoes” and organised the project Inner Eye,16 which
15
Cornelia Zambila, “Inner Sight Etudes Research Presentation,” filmed 2015,
Vimeo video, posted February 2016, https://vimeo.com/155170648.
16
The first experimentation took place at the project “Inner Eye” in Den Haag in
2012-13. I asked composers to write new works that I could learn and perform
without using my eyes. The whole process took 7 months, counted from the
moment the composers joined the group till the first concert. Out of ten
preliminary concepts, I worked with two audio scores, one tactile score and two
cases of mixed sensory inputs; however, the mentally-composed score and the
remote skype performance were unsuccessful. Others turned out to be exact
notated music, game pieces and instruction-based works. The working processes
80 Chapter Five

involves experimental composers composing original works for me to


perform on a violin as if I were blind.
These two types of musicians (blind musicians and folk musicians)
have several things in common which provide a means of transforming a
compositional process from a fixed visually–notated principle to a more
dynamic “performance composition” (or “performative compositional”
approach). The most significantly common techniques that are observed in
both blind musicians and folk musicians are the extensive use of memory
and the highly multi–sensorial approach to learning music. In other words,
the learning takes place in a unity of motoric, tactile and aural senses. For
instance, to ask a folk musician, who plays a bowed–string instrument, to
change the bowing directions of a tune they have just learned can result in
music of a noticeably different sonic quality. During my time working
with blind and folk musicians, I was unable to use the visual scores that I
was familiar with writing; instead, I had to learn how to compose using the
aforementioned “performative–compositional” approach.
Through “performance–composition,” music is approached as a holistic
reality rather than as being dissected into the aforementioned musical
dimensions (the score, the conductor’s baton, and so on). It is a
compositional process that engages more closely with the performer’s
method for internalising music. Therefore, the performer is given the
chance to express authentically their own artistic presence; they are not
only an interpreter, but also as a composer. The “score” in here is not a
reference of a past, fixed, notated compositional process; rather, it triggers
a dynamic perpetual compositional process which is in the process of
“becoming” during the actual performance. From a technical point of
view, this entails a balance between the musical inputs of the composer
and the performer. The information that the “score” gives should not
suffocate the performer’s expression too much, but it should also not be so
“free” that the composer’s intentions are unclear. This is a “score” which
is empty of my catharsis as composer, but reserves space for that of the
performer and the audience. It presents the search for a new “ritual”
between the composer, the performer and the audience in which the
performer does not simply execute a translation of the visually–notated
music written by the composer, but participates in a “game piece” that
brings his/her own emotion into the performance so that it can collaborate
with the emotion of the composer.
The project Inner Sight Etudes is largely based on the knowledge I
obtained from Inner Eye. It also brings new insights into my research in

constitute traceable linear process of improvement, trial and error reconstructions,


and re-adapting newer concepts.
Inner Sight Etudes 81

general. What follows is information regarding some of the compositions


in Inner Eye:
Petra Strahovnik (Slovenia) created a piece for violin and live
electronics which was visually notated in detail. I had to learn this by ear
and make sure the sense of sight did not affect my learning process. I
learned this 20–25-minute work, note by note, with the help of the
composer who also vocalised the particular sonic effects she wanted. The
learning and performing processes were done in such a way that I had no
visual images of the piece apart from my own imaginary visual
representations which are unavoidable.
Similar to Strahovnik, Juan Albarracín (Argentina) employed a type of
audio “score” but obtained different results from Strahovnik. Albarracín
composed an abstract six–phrase melody that he has employed in most of
his tonal compositions. Although it is a short melody, the constantly
changing tonal structure and the unusual metric placement of rhythmic
figures made the learning process quite difficult. However, interestingly,
as he sang the melody to me, I found out that I had also internalized the
emotion of the composer’s voice in my violin playing. Surprisingly, I
could still remember 95% of his melody when we were re–using it in a
project two years later.
Aurelie Lierman (Belgium) changed her compositional approach and
processes more than a few times. However, the prevalent elements of her
processes included translating the human voice into articulations on the
violin and reacting to parts of her field recordings from her research trips
to Africa. The final “score” involved an interaction of live analogue
electronics based on pre–composed materials and rules.
Lastly, Momoko Noguchi (Japan) employed a tactile “score.” We
negotiated the guidelines of this score and decided that we would devise a
set of rules that determined my reactions to the sensation of brush when it
moved across my skin. We searched for the most direct and obvious
synesthetic translations that would be understood by the audience.
After two years of developing my compositional process in the
aforementioned direction of “game pieces,” I devised a suitable way of
composing in this manner. Since 2015, I have collaborated with the
marimbist and researcher Adilia Yip in the formation of Inner Sight
Etudes wherein we combined our artistic experiences and practices. I am
interested in balafon music practice, particularly the following (which can
also be applied to my own research area): first, music as an embodied
action, as a series of sounds and movement in a gestural unity; second,
82 Chapter Five

music as an aural tradition;17 third, the notion that transposition and other
means of altering the score (such as rhythm and improvisation) are triggered
by multi–sensorial representations rather than purely auditory principles.
Finally, and most importantly, I am interested in the notion that music is a
communal process that allows performers to relate and interact directly with
each other without the added barrier of a visually–notated score.

Compositional Processes
Inner Sight Etudes consists of multifaceted compositional processes that
all point to a central concept: composition is created in the “now”—
improvisation is the crucial compositional process containing transitory
movements and imagination on the part of the performer. The composition
lives in its performance and, likewise, the performance is an ever–
changing composition. According to Benson, the nature of improvisation
is transitory; the existence of these improvisations is genetic, historical and
changing; however, they endure in this manner and so prove that
composition and performance each have a continuing identity.18

From musical energeia (activity) grows an ergon (product)—but an ergon


that still remains within the play of musical energeia, and from which it
cannot be disconnected… What comes into being in musical energeia is
something that composer, performer, and listener all have a hand in
creating.19

In addition to this, the transitory nature of the performer’s


improvisation is fuelled by the fact that she is blindfolded and in a
darkened room during the performance. When blindfolded, the performer
has to identify the instrument in the dark and fulfil the rules set by the
composer during the performance (crucially not before). As such, the
blindfolded performer presents the processes of improvisation and
creativity directly to the audience. The performer’s role in Inner Sight
Etudes—as a paradoxical practice—is to fulfil as many musical
possibilities during the performance instead of delivering a specific pre-
planned sound. Such an approach means that the composer has to find
methods and mechanisms to guide the development of the performer’s
17
The aural tradition involves a fixed visually-notated score, the employment of
long-term memory and a more multi-sensorial representation when compared to
the symbolic notated score.
18
Benson, Bruce, The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of
Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 125-6.
19
ibid.
Inner Sight Etudes 83

processes. For instance, to distinguish between the extra–musical concepts


of “shadows” and “fire,” the composer advised the performer to observe
short films and photos pertaining to these concepts. The composer also
recorded six melodies that gradually increase in level of difficulty in terms
of the technical control of the spatial exploration of the keyboard. This
process developed the muscle memory and the aural and spatio–motor
senses required for performing this cycle’s melodies.
Therefore, as the improvisatory–compositional process is closely
connected to the bodily sensation of the performer, Inner Sight Etudes
reflects an embodied physical performance technique. When eyesight is
prohibited, the performer improvises music by naturally performing the
embodied movement patterns of playing on the marimba and balafon.
Each of the major scales, chromatic scales and pentatonic scales on the
marimba constitute specific physical movement patterns; similarly, the
polyrhythm of the balafon is embedded in the physical bi–manual
coordination of the performer’s body.
Another process involved is “cenesthesis” where the performer’s
senses, experience, imagination, memory and emotion are turned into
music during the performance.20 As a result of imagining and
remembering abstract extra–musical concepts and other multi–sensorial
experience like facial shapes, the performer synaesthetically transforms
senses into pitch materials and sonic effects.
The composition presents a new performance/compositional “ritual”—
a practice that redefines the roles of the composer and the performer. As
Benson points out, “musical energeia is something that composer,
performer and listener all have a hand in creating.”21 Despite of the
structural forms created by the composer, the composition is imbued with
the personal and embodied musical experience of the performer. As the
composition becomes the performance itself, the boundaries between the
composer and the performer are blurred.

The Blindfolded Experience—A Burden or a Help


to the Performance?
Inner Sight Etudes can be viewed as a series of short exercises (or studies)
that help improve engagement with various senses (other than that of

20
According to Broeckx, turning the experience, imagery of scenarios and
emotions into musical creations is named as cenaesthesis, distinguished from the
broader definition of synaesthesis of inter-changing of sensations (Jan L Broeckx,
Muziek, ratio en affect, (Antwerp: Peeters, 1985).
21
Benson, The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, 125-6.
84 Chapter Five

sight) in general performance technique. Forbidding the performer to use


their sense of sight is an unconventional method that reveals a technical
“weaknesses” in employing other senses. However, it allows the performer
to strengthen their other senses when performing. The performer’s aural
skills will improve because, once sight is removed, hearing proves to be
the most reliable means of engaging with the instrument. This can be
compared with the well–developed hearing ability of visually–impaired
people who have gained profound hearing over the years without eyesight
because it is their major sensorial connection to the world. As such, the
blindfold becomes a means of helping the performer to increase their aural
sensitivity of the delicate timbres of the marimba, as well as triggering
intuitive timbral explorations.
Another barrier during the blindfolded process is spatial awareness and
the ability of physically locating the required notes and the standing
position at the keyboard. As such, through practice of this technique, the
performer could eventually improve her spatial awareness and receive
training in ideokinesis (ideo–thought, kinesis–movement)22 of playing
marimba, a technique emphasized in percussion performance technique in
general. The empirical research of Broughton and Stevens report the use of
kinaesthetic imagery (imagery of movement) in performance preparation
by both professional and student percussionists where the professional
players possess a higher level of such technique. Percussion performance
involves overt and spatial movement where the performer is not in tactile,
or direct visual contact with the instruments. Movement imagery is
anecdotally reported to be important in developing expertise.23 The
movement plane of a percussionist is defined by the position of the drums
which is changeable and not restricted to fixed planes.24Also,
percussionists are aware of various types of movement patterns occurring
between their limbs and their instruments; an example would be the
homologous strike and the homolateral strike.25 Hence, Inner Sight Etudes
22
For more information, see: Gordon Stout, Ideo-Kinetics: A Workbook for
Marimba Technique, (New Jersey: Keyboard Percussion Publications, 1990).
23
Mary Broughton and Catherine Stevens, “Physical Movement and Imagery in
Professional and Undergraduate Student Solo Marimba Practice,” in International
Symposium on Performance Science 2009, ed. Aaron Williamon, Sharman Pretty,
and Ralph Buck, (Utrecht: European Association of Conservatoires (AEC), 2009),
532.
24
This can be compared with performing wind instruments where the performers
are in closer tactile contact with their instruments. Their physical movements are
defined by the fixed planes of the keys and the mouthpiece.
25
Homologous Strike occurs when both upper limbs (or, in the case of drummers,
both lower limbs) strike the instrument in unison; and Homolateral Strike occurs
Inner Sight Etudes 85

reminded us about the abilities hidden in our kinaesthesis, in other words


the inner sight that Inner Sight Etudes is named after: the mental
representation of the bodily movement together with internal auditory
imagery.
In general, musicians were surprised by the exponential technical
development of the blindfolded performance. One example of this takes
place in the fourth movement “Chorale I”: the performer faced difficulties
in controlling six mallets in the first rehearsal, but daily practice increased
the performer’s tactile sensibility in her hand muscles and developed her
spatial awareness (in particular, the vibration transmitted through the shaft
of the mallet when produced by the mallet head hitting the marimba). This
process demonstrated that awareness of one’s body can be developed
considerably well through practice without the aid of vision. It also
demonstrated that visual signals become less important when one’s
sensation of tactile signals intensify.

Conclusion: Feedback from the Audience


As a concluding remark, Inner Sight Etudes provokes social and
psychological interactions with the audience. Due to the blindfold, there is
a certain kind of hierarchy set between the performer and the audience in
the beginning: the audience can leave the performance without the
performer noticing. However, from the reactions of the audience, we
observe that the blindfold and improvisatory process have aroused
opposite effects: the audience seem to be more engaged with the
blindfolded performance. They are curious about what the performer can
do without eyesight and so concentrate on the development of the
performance and the performer’s processes of searching and improvising.
More than feeling impressed by the technical skills and musicality of
Inner Sight Etudes, most audiences appreciate the possibilities of
performing with other senses above that of sight because it presents an
alternative kind of virtuosity beyond conventional Western Classical
music practice. This is despite there being some moments where the
performer has struggled to maintain contact with the instrument. In such
instances, the performer continues to rely on her internal senses to perform
the music. This reveals the enormous ability of the inner senses involved
in performing on the marimba. This reminds the audience of their

when strikes from the left and right sides are decisively differentiated from each
other. Andrew Warshaw, “Locomotion-Encoded Musical Patterns: An
Evolutionary Legacy,” paper presented at Music and Evolutionary Thought
Conference, Durham, June 2007.
86 Chapter Five

ownership of the same innate ability and encourages them to explore it.
Also, the audience’s emotion is triggered when the performer tries to
narrate her imaginative world in the improvisations and connect to the
outside world; an apt example of this is when she synchronizes with a
second performing marimbist by depicting the mannerism of their face.
In Inner Sight Etudes, both processes of forming and performing are
presented to the audience. During its creative process, the authors sought
innovative compositional processes and a place for non–visual scores in
Western musical practice: the performer developed her knowledge of
Western contemporary music by studying and employing balafon
performance techniques (such as embodied movement patterns and
sensorial experience), whilst the composer resumed her investigation into
the “performance–composition” and developing the aural and mental
internalization of music during learning processes. Together with these
concrete research frameworks, Inner Sight Etudes is designed to advance
in each upcoming performance. Importantly, it demonstrates how forming
and performing are two operating factors that feed each other and intensify
though an iterative process.