Keeping The Hands In Play

(Photo: Gerrit Dou’s “A Woman Playing A Clavichord”, c. 1665)

“The musician, like the writer or speaker,
regularly confronts his conduct as performance or not.”

David Sudnow, Talk’s Body (1979), p. 65.

1.

Whenever I feel I’m disconnected from the musical because I’ve been looking at the screen and tinkering with parameters too much, I take out the keyboard and play. Play is my key concept because it’s the most generative way to get musical things done, or at least started. Why is this? I think it’s because when you play an instrument–regardless of your level of non-virtuosity–you open a visceral hands-mind-sound feedback loop with no end, only a direction: to move ever forward. When you play, you aren’t hiding from yourself, but revealing it. When you play, you submit to the constraints of what you can do/are doing right now. When you play, it’s a performance of both your physical being and emotional way of being.

It’s for these reasons that playing is the composer’s most valuable tool. Sure, there are contrapuntal, rhythmic, and harmonic ways to develop what you have later. But these means are processual, non-real time, and secondary to the main event, which is making up something in the real-time, ticking along moment. Playing an instrument is a way to find patterns inherent in its terrain, patterns whose sounds compel me to take notice and keep playing to extend the experience for a while. A while may be a minute of melodying, or an hour of chord exploring, but remember: record your play because play doesn’t care if you do. In sum, capture the carefree to reconnect with the beginning of what could be new music. 

2.

Whenever I feel I’m disconnected from the musical
because I’ve been looking at the screen
and tinkering with parameters too much,
I take out the keyboard and play.

Play is my key concept
because it’s the most generative way
to get musical things done,
or at least started.

Why is this?

I think it’s because when you play an instrument
–regardless of your level of non-virtuosity–
you open a visceral hands-mind-sound
feedback loop with no end,
only a direction:
to move ever forward.

When you play,
you aren’t hiding from yourself,
but revealing it.

When you play,
you submit to the constraints
of what you can do/are doing right now.

When you play,
it’s a performance
of both your physical being
and emotional way of being.

It’s for these reasons that playing
is the composer’s most valuable tool.

Sure, there are contrapuntal, rhythmic, and harmonic
ways to develop what you have later.

But these means are processual, non-real time,
and secondary to the main event,
which is making up something in the real-time,
ticking along moment.

Playing an instrument is a way to find patterns
inherent in its terrain,
patterns whose sounds compel me
to take notice
and keep playing
to extend the experience for a while.

A while may be a minute of melodying,
or an hour of chord exploring,
but remember:

record your play because play doesn’t care if you do.

In sum, capture the carefree
to reconnect with the beginning
of what could be new music. 

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