Defining and Positioning Gesture

A consideration of bodily communication was essential following the composition of Portals as my intentions for the medium shifted, altering the intended function of the imagery (Sullivan, 1984).

The depiction of a hand within the context of a video score served to prompt and cajole the performer into replicating seen movements on a chosen instrument to create a musical performance. It could be argued that the physical movements represented in the video score for Portals may be considered as ‘genuine gestures’ (Godøy & Leman, 2010, p. 5) as they attempted to communicate meaning and expression. However, the hand shapes and gestures in Syncretism were not intended to encourage any sort of replication, nor to communicate any emotional or linguistic meaning through the shapes themselves (Rubidge, 2010; McCormack, 2014). Both Étude and Apprentice made direct attempts to communicate particular instrumental information through hand shapes and gestures associated with instrumental techniques. Cunningham summarises his working process in which he divorced the movement of the body from music and plot:

Syncretism was the first piece in which the movement of a hand created material devoid of an intention to communicate linguistic meaning: video captured simple physical movements which were amplified through editing, looping and repetition to advertise the presence of video editing processes. As these images made no attempt to adhere to any social or cultural systems of bodily communication I did not consider them as gestures but as recognisable images to be manipulated (Argyle, 1988; Godøy & Leman, 2010; Ben-Tal, 2012). Linguistic or emotional meaning may of course be assigned to the hand shapes used in Syncretism but they would be devoid of context. Narrative was not created through the communicative potential of the hand but through repetition of visual images, shifting attention away from the hand itself by amplifying the physicality of video:
‘The rendering process goes beyond reproduction, bringing the choreographic elements into a new state or condition; the film/filmmaker enters into an intense dialogue with the subject matter so that the point where the dance begins and ends becomes redundant, the film itself becomes dance-like’ (Brannigan, 2011, p. 127).
Following Syncretism and the use of bodily movement my interests became more focussed on using interventional video editing techniques to establish rhythm. I continued to use images of the hand but wanted to create rhythm in the visual domain through video editing to explore cross-modal perception and non-cochlear sound, first with Étude and later with Apprentice.

Disembodied Hands

Rather than composing videos using abstract imagery, which may have aligned the work more closely with visual music (Evans, 1992; Evans, 2005; Ox & Keefer, 2008; Garro, 2011), I wanted to continue to compose using imagery of the hand and align myself with aspects of dancefilm, video art, music and visual music.

Using imagery of disembodied hands raised an issue related to lived experience and bodily awareness through associations which emerge from representational imagery (Piché, 2003): as the viewer observes a hand a psychological construction relating to an unseen body may develop (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). Merleau-Ponty’s (1962) account of anosognosia and the phantom limb demonstrates how even though an appendage has been severed its continued physical existence can manifest as a third person causality, described as ‘a long, cold snake’ (Lhermitte, 1939, as cited in Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 88). Essentially, mimetic images of the hand may provide a viewer with more value than was intended. Additionally, a viewer may consider the hands to be communicating a linguistic meaning, perhaps as a type of sign language. To a degree this was true of Étude and Apprentice, through the representation of musical instruments, but caused an issue for Syncretism as the piece was constructed to bring attention to the video medium itself, rather than communicate linguistic meaning.

In Beckett’s one-mouth play Not I, a disembodied mouth is rendered by a spotlight in a dark theatre and unleashes a relentless stream of soliloquy which loops on and around itself, performed to exact and precise instruction (Pettifer, n.d; Lezard, 2009). The reduction of the body to the mouth silently reinforces a lack of identity within the character and the apparent inability to refer to the self in the first person (Pettifer, n.d; Laws, 1996). Beckett was successful in focusing attention not on to the absent body but towards the intensity and form of the frenetic speech, as for Beckett ‘it is the shape that matters’ (Gontarski, 1985, as cited in Laws, 1996, p. 35).

Consideration of the projection scale for each piece was vital as I wanted the hands to be unnaturally and unfamiliarly large. In his discussion of the phantom limb Merleau-Ponty (1962) observes that the patient considers the phantom limb to be enormous after amputation but that it shrinks into the stump ‘as the patient consents to accept his mutilation’ (Lhermitte, 1939, as cited in Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 88). My intention for Syncretism was to present the possibilities for movement within the hand through which the techniques of video editing would become apparent, rather than attempting to create a kinesthetic empathy, while Étude and Apprentice worked with representations of hands engaged in musical practice (Wilkins, 2014).
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