Preface

The international conference on The Embodiment of Authority took place at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in September 2010. The international event was supported by the Sibelius Academy, particularly by its department of Doctoral Studies on Musical Performance and Research, the DocMus. The Sibelius Academy provided all venues, including a virtual venue for the present online forum. The publication of the contributions, both here and in a book, is principally supported by the Sibelius Academy. Our team of initiators, organizers, and editors wishes to express its gratitude to the persons responsible for the cooperation, especially to Dr. Mus Marcus Castrén, and PhD Anne Sivuoja, as well as to Dr. Mus Annika Konttori-Gustafsson, and Dr. Mus Gustav Djupsjöbacka, the President of the Academy.

The purpose of this online forum is to make the immense variety of approaches that astonished both active participants and visitors during the conference visible and audible. Emphasizing innovation rather than tradition, the conference was used as an open forum for different kinds of research on performance. The organizers trusted that enough coherence would be produced by the participants; each participant would select a collection of papers and presentations that would be most valid for her or his own work. Even some uncontrolled chaos was a premeditated choice in order to provide fruitful soil for unexpected inspiration: the participants were encouraged not to listen only to those papers and presentations that most clearly fit their own present interests.

In this online forum, the authors’ papers are still published in nearly unabridged form. Very little editorial polishing was possible at this stage. In the anthology we will publish those contributions that are best suitable for the printed book—an almost non-performative vehicle of communication. In the conference, performative elements were omnipresent. Transferring these performative elements to an online forum presented a technical challenge. Therefore, unquestionable formal criteria rather than the quality of the argument will determine whether a paper can be published only in the online forum or also in the anthology. Obviously, some authors are likely to provide updated versions of their contributions for the anthology.

For technical assistance in producing this forum, we wish to thank Dr. Mus Tuukka Ilomäki.

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“Performance’s only life is the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representation of representations [...].” [1]  Peggy Phelan’s statement from the early 1990s emphasizes the definitive ”live” quality of performance. Her argument, somewhat surprisingly, reflects Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s aesthetics, which emphasize the essential difference between performance-oriented arts (like music) and those naturally heading towards solid works of art (like most pictorial arts). [2] Her essentialist pessimism regarding the possibilities of documenting performances may dissatisfy those who have been developing methods of doing so (including the modern recording industry), and no doubt there is a portion of cultural criticism in Phelan’s argument; [3] one might think of Walter Benjamin and his often-cited criticism of technological reproduction. [4]  The loss of a ”live” character in modern societies is a problem with many dimensions; this is the broadest ”cultural” (and political) framework we can establish for performance studies. 

For nearly two centuries, academic music studies have been able to ignore Hegel’s ontology of the arts. While respecting the tradition of literary studies and history, we may assume, but also in light of the increasing orientation towards a musicology in the service of modern conservatories since the second part of the nineteenth-century, that the majority of distinguished music scholars have focused on music that produces everlasting works of art instead of accepting the challenge that Hegel gives and study music as and in performance. The great market for books on musicians has also been flooded with composer biographies of higher standards. Books on performers are often more popular, and they are rare. To sum up, in a culture of great collections and museums, where the market value of unique items of both old and new artwork resists economic crisis almost as well as rare metals, the permanent qualities of all art, combined with their singularity, have been, for good reasons, preferred over performative values and mechanically reproduced items (including recordings). It is unlikely, for example, that the price paid for a master tape of an Arturo Toscanini recording of a Sibelius symphony (or even a much weaker piece) will reach the same dimensions as the manuscript of the composition in question from the composer’s hand. 

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The main reason that three musicians and music scholars organized this interdisciplinary event on performance was not due to the revolutionary ignorance of traditional arguments regarding music research, but, rather, the belief in the possibility to learn from traditions and innovations in modern theatre studies, dance research, and avant-garde art research that focus on performance. The initiators of this conference also believe that music research can contribute to the progress of theatre, dance, and art studies. The idea of using performance research as the common denominator for providing an alternative to the present institutional situation, where most of the research done on these fields takes place within schools of music, theatre and literature, or art research, may well be illusory, and not even a reasonable goal. However, the conference on The Embodiment of Authority showed that individual projects can profit from the exchange of ideas and experience among colleagues within the common institutionally established fields. 

A more serious aspect of diversity that became visible during the conference was the function of regional traditions. Obviously, this is more relevant within the domain of institutional matters, degree programs, and the profile strategies of schools than in individual research. Even in English-speaking countries, terminological differences make communication a challenge when, for instance, the category of ”research in practice” or ”musicians’ research” or ”artistic research” is used. The matter does not become easier to communicate if we take into account German, French, Swedish, and Finnish alternatives. English may be used in many non-English speaking countries in the honest hope that it will solve the problem of terminological confusion. However, the meanings of the terms that individual authors introduce in English are not merely a matter of course, even for native speakers.

Performance-related studies are often initiated by performing artists interested in scholarly work, or by professional scholars with a performer’s background. In contrast, the artwork-related research in music, for instance, is for equal reasons favored by scholars with little experience in making music themselves. A new age of scholarship begins when both traditions are healthy and support each other. 

To be fair, this has happened a lot in the past, long before anyone spoke about a ”performative turn” in research—a concept used by Nicholas Cook for the late 1980s (when the oldest of the present editors wrote his dissertation) [5] and, above all, for the present, in his keynote paper which turned out to be part of a book project and, thus, unfortunately, cannot be published here. Dance, theatre, and music performances were often part of the argument in complex projects, above all if historical methods were used. Particularly in music, the simple notion of performance practices shows how deeply rooted the understanding of ”live” values in the art of music has been among professionals for many decades.

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Both the concept of ”live” and the diverse authorships surrounding the notions of “saving,” ”recording,” ”documenting” and ”representing” have recently been problematized within the versatile field of performance studies. In the current mediated world, it seems to be more and more relevant to ask how far the ephemeral moment of the ”present” actually reaches. How does one generate, define and redefine performance through the complex act of ”documenting”—through recording, replaying, observing, theorizing, writing and remembering? If the (hierarchical) difference between the ”original” and the ”representation” still casts a shadow on the study of performance, how and why does it have to be there? Whose interests does it serve?

Performance is a forum for social action, embodied interaction and shared authority. The conference inspired papers discussing authorial interactions among composers, performers, directors, actors, listeners/spectators and others involved in performance. In musical performance, for example, interaction operates on several different, yet overlapping, levels—the reciprocal encounter between the performers, the composer-performer interaction in rehearsal processes, and the multifaceted interlinkage of the composed voices in the score—which collectively constitute the interaction between the performers, the composer and the score.

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Recently, as the various acts and agencies surrounding the performance have become a target of scholarly interest, the complex split between theory and practice has been challenged, as have the dominance of the visual and the depolitization of the issues of gender, the body, sexuality, race, and ethics. Closely intertwined in these endeavors is the criticism of the idea of a singular, disembodied authorial ownership of the socio-material meanings surrounding performance. The Embodiment of Authority conference focused on performance through the analysis of multi-material research data (field notes and observation, audiovisual recordings, interviews, musical scores and stage scripts) and the application of interdisciplinary methods. Investigations reaching beyond the empirical/theoretical dualism were particularly welcome. After decades of individualism and ”diaspora,” an era of looking at ”best practices” together and making institutionalization possible is on the horizon. One day soon performance studies could become more than a heterogeneous field of individualism alongside the established mainstream. 

During the conference, the distinguished keynote speakers, Professor Della Pollock (University of North Carolina, United States), Professor Nicholas Cook (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom), and Professor Allen S. Weiss (New York University, United States), alluded to issues such as performance as critique, performance as a reproducing, representing, resisting, resolving processes of interaction, and the capacity of performances to multiply origins, confuse genres, valorize polyphony, and exacerbate conflicts and paradoxes. Professors Della Pollock and Allen S. Weiss have promised to publish their ideas in the book we are editing.

As a concrete act of confusing genres, The Embodiment of Authority conference even offered an arena for critical reflection on the performative qualities of scholarly and artistic writing about the arts. The sensuous experiences are assumed to generate ”somatic” approaches to writing and language in general; but how do the writers negotiate the changing relationship between knowledge, embodiment and authorial positions in these fleshy terms?

Halle an der Saale, Helsinki & Turku, May 2011

Tomi Mäkelä, Taina Riikonen, & Marjaana Virtanen

Notes

  1. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, London: Routledge 1993, 146. 
  2. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel’s Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art, transl. By T. M. Knox, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1975, 955 ad passim.   
  3. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, London: Routledge 1993, 146. 
  4. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, ed. by Michael Jennings, Thomas Y. Levin, and Brigid Doherty, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 2008.
  5. Tomi Mäkelä, Virtuosität und Werkcharakter. Eine analytische und theoretische Untersuchung zur Virtuosität in den Klavierkonzerten der Hochromantik, München and Salzburg, Katzbichler 1988.