Monday, June 6, 2011

quick thoughts on jabes/yael/corbett

Remember this? Once upon a time, we decided to put together an orchestra to perform Sidney Corbett's violin concerto, Yael. Yesterday was the big day, and indeed, a day I will treasure for the rest of my life.

After speaking with the composer, spending time with Derrida, Jabes, and sitting in on rehearsals, I am completely inspired to write volumes on the concerto. But for now (in the wake of what will be remembered as an incredible eighteen hours), I will offer a few observations on Yael inspired by an essay by Derrida. Eccolo.

Derrida writes that the following is the "most persistant affirmation of the Livre des questions."

You are he who writes and is written.

At the heart of such a statement, exists--I believe--a dialectic: text and context, word and wordsmith engaging in a dynamic exchange of material and conception via performative practices. Sitting in Yael rehearsal yesterday, I couldn't help but reflect on Derrida's assertion and Jabes words.

You are he who writes and is written.

How might we utilize Derrida's literary criticism and Jabes' text to understand Corbett's musical language? On the broadest level, the connection, confusion, and conflation of author and subject implies a dialectic. However, in applying Jabes to Corbett, we might look to the very essence of musical performance itself. If one accepts the performing musician as he who writes, one can also accept his or her performance (and the hours of practice that precede it) as a force that writes the body in the process through which it is created.

What exactly do I mean by this?

Numerous and diverse cultural theorists & philosophers (Foucault, and more recently Butler and Leppert) have noted the dualistic, dialogic relationship between the physical body and its cultural conditioning. Music, Leppert tells us, functions as a technology for making docile the body. Through the performance of music and dance the body is written while it writes that which is performed.

Corbett seems to work with this concept of cycles and dialog on numerous levels. On a very basic, musical level, the concerto--belying Corbett's studies with Ligeti--is constructed in layered dialectics: each individual part forms textural layers, providing a unique voice that operates both independently and as a larger mechanism of conformity (the orchestra itself). In this sense, Corbett expresses a musical cycle of creation and recreation, but also a broader perspective on authorship and agency.

Indeed, to write and to be written hang on a conceptual scaffold bound to concepts of artistic authority (the author/subject duality). Expanding on this duality, Corbett utilizes a classical orchestra in a ostensibly post-modern way. Composed of individual parts, the orchestra is, metaphorically speaking, a chorus of soloists--individuated yet bound by tradition and musical structure. He creates a dialog between epistemologies: the modern and the post-modern converse, offering a relevant expression of the present human condition.

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