This article was posted on 20 Jun 2012, and is filed under e-Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1.

Performing touch: Intersensoriality as creative practice in the body/instrument relation

Imogene Newland


Abstract: This article examines a practice-led approach to recent theoretical conceptions of touch in which the author posits the body/instrument relation as a tactile and sensuous interaction mediated by the boundary of the skin (Merleau-Ponty 1964; Connor 2004a; Schroeder 2009). Beginning with a discussion of Steven Connor’s notion of intersensoriality – as well as Alva Noë’s conception of ‘enactment’ and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ‘reciprocity of intention’ between bodies – the ‘palpability’ of music spectatorship is explored (Connor 2004b; Noë 2002; Merleau-Ponty 1945). Using Antonio Damasio’s theory of ‘somatic mapping’, the author proposes an ‘erotics’ of musical experience based on sympathetic neural and physiological impulses produced in the body of the spectator as a result of listening to and watching music performance (Damasio 2003; Bataille 1957; Rebelo 2006). Using the case study of the author’s recent collaborative film short ‘PLAY’ (Newland, McIvor & Bird 2009), the ontological instability of musical experience as a form of ‘creative becoming’ is explored as a further form of arousal via sensual stimulation (Heidegger 1927; Csikszentmihalyi 1975; Deleuze 1968). Drawing upon Roger Caillois’ theory of ‘play’ and exploring the methodological approach of ‘embodied improvisation’, touch is proposed as central to body/instrument interaction where interior and exterior sensate experience become seamlessly intertwined (Caillois 1958).

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Imogene Newland is a British artist, pianist, choreographer, director and creator of original contemporary performance. Originally trained as a pianist, Imogene became interested in the overlap between gesture-based research in the fields of music performance and choreography in 2003. She has subsequently formed a series of practice-led works that address the intimate and intensely physical relation between music and the body. Imogene has an MA with distinction in choreography from Dartington College of Arts and a Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music in piano performance. Imogene has recently completed her interdisciplinary practice-led Ph.D. ‘The piano and the female body: The erotic, the seductive and the transgressive’ at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast. She has presented her original performance works at, amongst others, the  Arnolfini, Bristol, the Klankkleur Festival, Amsterdam and Ars Electronica, Linz.

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