Digital Audio + PDF Zine

With words from: Paul Abbott, Michael Speers, Dominic Coles, and Edward George
Digital Audio + PDF + Riso Printed Zine
Paul Abbott: Knees, Elbow Bag

There is a striking moment in “MILFORD GRAVES FULL MANTIS” in which Graves describes the origins of major and minor modes and their associated affective states. For Graves, the affective associations arise from the physical postures necessarily assumed by performers producing these sounds. These postures in turn affect the performer’s sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which responds by activating an affective or emotional state. For example: the physical posture assumed when singing a minor mode activates a response in the performer’s tear ducts. Our interpretation of minor modes as producing or representing sadness are, for Graves, the result of this physical posture assumed when singing; an emotional response to sound is the direct result of our nervous system reacting to the physical demands of performing said sound.

I keep thinking about this in relation to Paul Abbott’s Knees, Elbow Bag, and in particular the complex relationship he centers between a physical posture and the resultant sound. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: does the affective association result from the sound itself or do we produce said sounds with the unconscious knowledge that certain physical gestures will activate automatic affective responses in the performer’s nervous system? Take the drum set for instance: as a drummer produces sound, certain physical postures will routinely be assumed. These physical structures have musical associations, insofar as the resultant sounds situate the performer within a musical tradition – but perhaps the gestures themselves have other associations beyond the strictly musical? Perhaps a specific coordinated movement activates certain personal memories in the performer? Perhaps a movement relates the performer to another set of bodies engaged in similar types of movement beyond the musical context? Perhaps these movements catalyze a response in the nervous system which creates certain strange or surprising responses in the performer? To quote Anthony Braxton: in this way, performance allows us to understand “the reality of structure and what it poses to the dynamics of music – the understanding being that given structures will make certain things happen.” [1] This is true for both sounding structures and physical structures assumed in the act of sound production. They make things happen: sonically, affectively, culturally.

Knees, Elbow Bag explores the sonic and affective possibilities that inhere within a physical structure. It is, to borrow Brecht’s coinage, a Gestus Music – a music assembled from the physical postures assumed in performance and which seeks to make tangible the sonic, affective, cultural, and political valences of said posture.

[1] Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-reality of Creative Music: Interviews and Tour Notes, England 1985 (London: Quartet, 1988).


Paul Abbott - real and imaginary drums, synthetic sounds

Recorded at Pegs, Brussels, 2023


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June 28th 2024