Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 13 (Round IV) "In the trenches": performance studies edition

Another day with almost no time left free for the blog. But here's some quality bibliographic data, anyway:

The discipline of performance studies, which takes off from linguistics, anthropology, drama theory, kinesics, and folklore, has been a hugely valuable influence on my own thinking about the analysis of music, both as scholar and as performer. I had the great good fortune to have my first ever folklore training by a 7000-level course in performance studies, taught by my mentor (and Outside Reader) Dick Bauman, one of the giants in the field--it helped, of course, that he was a musician himself, and a no-bullshit guy trained in Texas.

It was an absolute revelation: the recognition that there was an entire discipline dedicated to the analysis of performance, to the kinds of layered understandings--they called them "intertextualities"--which I had intuited as a musician since I was 11 years old. Ever since that time, and maybe before, I had been watching musicians who were absolute virtuosos, not only at the technical mechanics of music, but also the expressive palettes and symbolic choices that made one performance transcendent and another distant. I had learned, intuitively and inarticulately, that of course the time of day of the performance mattered; of course the makeup of the audience, and their response or lack thereof; of course the specific texts mattered, but of course so did the way you played (or played with) them; if course how you stood, dressed, or gestured mattered. I didn't know why these things mattered, or how to understand the procedural and perceptual models upon which they were based, or how to articulate the reasons for the seemingly-arbitrary but nevertheless powerfully-expressive choices great performers made on stage, but I knew, instinctively, that this was where the heart of truly great performances lay. I knew that Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Big Bill Broonzy, Frank Zappa, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Charles Ives, Kate Bush (performances or compositions-about-performance by all of whom were subjected to detailed analyses in my dissertation) were doing something powerfully magnetic and psychologically moving, beyond and addition to the notes, and that this was why these performances were so riveting.

Dick Bauman, and the discipline of performance studies as he taught, gave me the tools. I knew, from Day 01 in that 7000 "Introduction to Performance Studies" seminar--largely populated by folklorists; I was the only music major in the room--that this discipline was going to make sense to me, not only as a scholar but as a performer myself, and it was like the sun coming up: I realized, pretty much from that very first day, that I wasn't going to have to invent an entire methodology and analytical perspective in order to do what I wanted to do with Miles, Fela, Broonzy, FZ, Screamin' Jay, Ives, Kate; that I wasn't going to have to re-invent the wheel; that this discipline--which in 1992 had mostly been applied to theater, storytelling, ritual, and other folk performance, not to music--was going to make it possible for me to write my dissertation.

I find it enlightening, and humbling, to recognize that almost all the texts in the following note, sent to an overseas colleague who is particularly interested in tools for analyzing the interaction of music and movement, are texts I first encountered in that 1992 seminar.

Here are a few authors and sources which I have found especially useful in thinking about the expressive relationships between movement and meaning. Many of them come out of either performance studies (drama theory) and/or cultural anthropology. It may very well be that you know these authors already:

Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology. A classic text, by an avant-garde director and trained anthropologist, about how many expressive forms (including "theater", but also conversation, mime, dance, etc) take on layers of communicative meaning in the heightened perceptual spaces of performance. There are other texts by Schechner, but this is the classic explication of his theory.

Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance. Another very important figure in the analysis of expressive arts, and especially ritual, as communicative tools. Trained as an anthropologist, his early fieldwork was on African traditional ritual, but he became very interested in the semiotics--construction of shared meanings--which rituals of many sorts employed.

Maya Deren, a dancer not trained formally as an anthropologist, did some very valuable film/documentary work in Haiti, about how dance, music, and so forth worked together in vodun ritual to create meaning. It was released as Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti and was very influential.

Jan Mukarovsky, a theater and literary critic, was a very strong influence on Prague School linguistics, which moved beyond the simple technical analysis of texts as prose to develop a set of tools that permitted analysis of texts as sources for semiotic analysis of performance. Very influential upon my own teachers in folklore, especially Richard Bauman (see below) and Henry Glassie. The classic text (1978) is Structure, Sign, and Function: Selected Essays.

Richard Bauman, the outside Reader for my dissertation and a great hero, was a major figure in the performance-centered analysis of folk-tale and narrrative. Good examples of his approach to "intertextuality" (e.g., looking at the multiple "texts" of a folklore performance--words, inflection, gesture, facial expression, movement, etc--and how they overlap and reinforce or contradict one another) are in the classic Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative.

Erving Goffman's concept of "frame analysis" (e.g., learning to interpret performances' meaning not only by analysis of their "texts"--e.g., words, music, movements, gesture--but also of the "frames" or communicative perspectives in which these texts are presented) was very influential--and very helpful for me, in thinking about performance as ritual. The classic text is The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, but the earlier Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior is shorter and well worth a read.

The journal TDR-The Drama Review has a lot of analysis using these tools and can provide good models. It is true that they are focused upon theater, but the breadth of methods and critical perspectives their authors bring to bear is very high and provides lots of ideas for analysis of other kinds of performance. I am attaching a pdf of an article I did for TDR, quite some time ago, on Miles Davis and performance semiotics--this is an early version of a later (and better) chapter in my dissertation, but the attached will give a little sense of ways I was at that time employing semiotics and performance studies in my own work.
Thank you, Dick Bauman. Thank you for your great teaching; you opened doors for me.


Kim said...

Thanks for the annotated bib.

Christopher said...

Just one of the services we provide :-)