The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

March 27, 2012

Aesthetics of improvisation -

Intermissions, Interruptions, and Digressions in Performance

At the Sunday talk/video/dance given by Foofwa at the 92nd St. Y, he
talked about the relationship between complex choreography and inter-
ruptions in his piece based on Cage, THiRtEEn. We talked about this later
and I related the discussion to my own improvisation work, as well as
performances I'd done in Second Life, with other musicians, and so forth.
I began to think of a taxonomy of interruptions, realizing that I was
heading into muddy hermeneutics at the least, as well as splitting
epistemologies and fractured phenomenologies. I revived the idea of the
'fissure,' a break in the midst of A and A, which doesn't change the
entity; the split remains, temporary or permanent, as a glitch, but not -
as in negation, an ontological process.

So we begin with a choreography (which may also be a musical score,
theatrical text, etc.) which is absolute in the sense that the real is
absolute; it forms a foreground and background structure which the
performer follows to the best of hir abilities, without break, with a
sense of inhabiting the piece which is almost unconscious, and with a
repertoire of technique that, hopefully, can be taken for granted - a form
of tacit knowledge that allows the piece to flow smoothly, from beginning
to end. Think of this absolute choreography as an impossibility, as the
performer adjusts hirself throughout the presentation: nothing is or can
be perfect, because no choreography operates as natural law, and
interpretation is part of the very atmosphere of any performance.

We are talking about human performance here, not machine or program
performance, where choreographies may repeat themselves endlessly without
error, or with the repetition of the same error growing either linearly or
exponentially. Let us think, without error.

There is always the question, or the state, of the freedom of the
performer, who has agreed, often under contract and capital, to perform
and rehearse a piece, for perhaps a set amount of time, with various
riders attached, for example drowning as an act of God.

What can happen? Here we enter into the phenomenologies, the taxonomies,
of behavior in relation to structure: the coupling is always a loose coup-

The performer may repeat or elide a section or sections of the choreo-
graphy, This may be the result of forgetting the section or sections; it
may be a conscious decision; it may be the result of an other cue; it may
be the result of muscle strain or other sense of injury. It may also occur
as a result of play. All of these situations imply different intentions,
different intentionalities: forgetting can also connect to a suturing, for
example, so that the performer does not know s/he has elided something -
s/he remains within the aegis of the dance, inhabiting the dance, in spite
of (perhaps) the consciousness, from outside, of something amiss - as if
there were differing hermeneutics and strata of the same choreography:
someone performing, someone reading, someone watching. A sense of injury
or strain tends to foreground the body; if the pain is minor, the
performer may attempt to circumscribe it, detour 'around' the section, as
if the detour _were_ the section. If the pain is major, the performer may
slip into a phenomenology of the body, backgrounding the choreography
which is then only an inscription under erasure (a differend; the
choreography is no longer speaking, no longer in control, no longer _in_

The performer may make a conscious decision not to do the section or
sections, or to repeat them, or transform them according to any number of
semiotic operations. This may come out of an inhabitation of the dance,
leading hir elsewhere/elsewise; it may come out of a sense of play, as if
the dance were temporarily objectified, thrown for a loop, thrown out of
kilter; it may come out of a sense of play in which the dance is forgotten
and the section becomes the horizon itself.

The forgetting of the section may be a conscious forgetting, as the per-
former does something else, or nothing at all: the performer might rest,
might decide to rest; the performer's body might 'seem' to rest or decide
to rest. The daily, the everyday, is foregrounded; the performer has an
itch, wants to rest, needs to go to the bathroom; has a sense of the
giggles; remembers a recent argument or sex; starts laughing; is furious
at hirself; and so forth.

For the audience, the conscious forgetting, the everyday, may well be part
of the performance: did s/he forget hir lines or is this part of the
choreography, the score? Is this Brecht, Pirandello, their descendents? Is
this revolutionary theater, Occupy?

It may simply be everyday, a relationship or communality among people -
performers, choreographers, audience, within or beneath the problematic
sign of capital. For the performer, there may _never_ be a return to the
choreography; for the audience, there is a mixed hermeneutics paralleling
that between the virtual and the real, always these entanglements, which
are on the increase, as reality is augmented and the virtual is mixed: as
programming becomes absolutist on one hand, and the hack and play on the

The performer may elide a section and jump to another section, rupturing
the time and continuity of the piece, suturing the same as a fissure
reveals cracks in the midst of substance, the same and the glitch. The
glitch is already a recovery. Think of the recovery in relation to
communality: the action of one performer affects the others, but not in
the sense of choreography - in the sense of choreography's absence,
everyone covering up, everyone filling in the gaps - or not, for something
is always there to be shown, even the performers asleep, giving up,
deciding it wasn't worthwhile to continue in any case.

What about this? - the decision that it's _not worthwhile to continue._
Here is the audience and its/their expectations - their choreography,
their role/s, and there are the performers carrying a sense of exhaustion,
ennui, the uselessness of it all, bodies still present, perhaps milling
about. So there continues to be an occurrence, and everyone perhaps is
still present, so something is going on, there is a doing or doings.

This is where it might be of interest, thinking through what's worthwhile
in a deeper or more veered-off sense: is it worthwhile to continue if the
choreography physically hurts the performer? Becomes so complex that it
seems ridiculous to follow? Takes up so much of hir time that hir other
life or lives are backgrounded or eliminated for a period of time? But
then there is capital, agreements have been made.

Let the agreements perhaps stand _from the very beginning,_ so as Foofwa
indicated, there is no danger of being fired, eliminated from the
performance, and so forth. The situation becomes one of trust: the
performer is hired, that's all there is to it, and what s/he does is
already acceptable, already in-process, presented, presentable. Of course
there are limits, s/he might abscond... So the ceiling is set sufficiently
high that it disappears, just as soccer for example, as rule-laden as it
is, becomes a dance of improvisation and strategy, a continuance, based on
the trust that players will do their best. (We know where that leads us,
but that's another story, not here. So perhaps a bad example.)

Think of this in terms of taksim, a string breaks, the oud cracks, the
performer is exhausted; in terms of free jazz, a conversation emerges with
the horns, is carried out in song, then words, then leaving the perfor-
mance altogether. And in dance: as if we're in this together, as if a time
and a space were being built - rather, inhabited - a form of temporary
dwelling called an event.

-- I'd say this relates to scripts, roles, and hacks in everyday life,
relates to everyday games (counting footsteps, avoiding sidewalk cracks,
and the like), relates to economies of attention (not just capital, not
just intention). So we might think of loosely-coupled choreographies as a
form of the everyday, or a local Occupy, with its own rules that might (or
might not) be up for negotiation. And negotiation might be up for negotia-
tion as well; such might or might not be the content.

Where all of this goes - is towards an increasing fragmentation between
script, code, program, choreography, and capital on any number of hands,
and play, freedom, decision, hacking, laughter, on any other number of
hands. The category of category is problematized, as are cybernetic
control systems (on any level); what we might be seeing down the road are
varieties of presencing in which the image is what you might see and might
have, and maybe not even that. So in the long run we might look towards a
phenomenology of the imaginary, as the imaginary, in the world, replaces
the obdurate of the real-inert. Beneath both are the regimes of slaughter
and extinction, so that the imaginary is also a dream-screen of the
fractured image, a moment of solace where thinking and the freedom of
thinking are permitted. At this point, we might not be able to reasonably
hope for anything more; humankind is at the verge of the verge, so to
speak/dance, and will probably remain there, as the very real population
of the planet continues to increase somewhat exponentially. So the hope is
that the imaginary is also a back-door to a better future - there's a
utopian impulse in all of this, which may of course be subverted...

[Thanks to Foofa d'Imobilite, Azure Carter, Edward Henkel, and the 92nd
Street Y.]

VR Improvised

Anything is possible in the virtual.
Inscription is absolutely cut off from the real.
Inscription cannot be sutured into the real.
The virtual is disposable.
The structure of the virtual is substitution.
Substitution implies creation and annihilation.
0 may be substituted for 1.
1 may be substituted for 0.
The formula of the virtual is [any][any].
The formula of the real is [1][1].
The real is sutured to the annihilation of inscription.
The real de-; the virtual in-.
Nothing is possible in the real.
Suffering is ontology; the virtual Occupies epistemology.
The real is neither here nor there.
The virtual is multiple.
The real is extruded from the real; the real intrudes on the real.
The virtual divides infinitely; the real divides perversely.
Neither the real divides the virtual nor the virtual divides the real.
The ontology of number is practico-inert.
The ontology of the virtual is imaginary.
We know that the real and the virtual are imaginary.
We know that the imaginary inhabits abjection.
We know that abjection inhabits the imaginary.
Abjection inhabits the real insofar as the imaginary.
The virtual expels abjection; abjection is beyond the Pale.
The Pale is its own configuration.
The Pale confines the real.
Everything and nothing are possible in the Pale.
The Pale is beyond the Pale; there is no interior.
The real is multiple by virtue of the virtual.
The virtual is fractured by the real.
The virtual takes all the time in the world.
The real takes none of it.
The virtual takes all the space in the world.
The real takes none of it.
The Pale rides the back of the real; the real fucks the Pale.
And in the virtual? Anything is possible in the virtual.

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