THOUGHTS ON body as technology
by Viola Yip
As an artist, I have been interested in creating new self-built instruments and developing sound performances at the intersection of composition, performance, improvisation and sound art, exploring various relationships between media, materiality and space through performative musical bodies.
Musical bodies always play a significant role in my artistic work. Beyond the traditional notion of techniques and executions, they serve as an intersectional working-in-progress for various artistic concepts:
(1) Body as a site for intermediality and transmediality.
My work was first motivated by thinking about the capacity of musically-trained bodies beyond traditional instruments and sounds. In my solo work Bulbble, I developed an instrument, which is made of self-built capacitive sensors, arduino, relays and lightbulbs. The instrument allows my body to perform the interplay between lights, shadows, and the sounds of relays through touching and tapping, moving around my capacitive sensors.
I like to consider light and sound as transmedial musical counterpoints. Conceptualizing light as music demands us to perceive music multimodally with all our senses and bodily affects, which also allows us to experience music in its fullness that lies beyond sonic materiality.
(2) Body as an interface for composing-performing feedback loop.
My piece Lazy Studies consists of a modified dining turntable that is used as a performative device for creating feedback between a microphone and three speakers. Through my body as the central point of sensory reception, I compose and perform simultaneously by turning the table, changing the relationship between the speakers and the microphone, feeling the tactile vibrations on my hand and body and listening to the sonic quality of the feedback in the particular acoustics of different spaces, and observing how these elements change my bodily perception of the space. Those intra-actions form a feedback loop of composing and performing, which has become very central to my musical practice.
(3) Body as navigator for exploring human-machine relationships and the listening to non-human affordances.
Building musical instruments offers a blank canvas for design and composition; one that can deliberately decide the functionality and the behaviors of the machines, as well as how the performing body engages it that causes the musical results. As the builder, the composer and the performer for my work, my body plays multiple roles simultaneously in designing, prototyping, testing, playing and constructing compositional materials. Meanwhile, I search for interesting relationships between human, objects and machines that can be amplified and articulated in the musical results.
Paying close attention to the non-human affordances and agencies cannot be oversighted in working with non-human objects that forms an instrumental environment. For example, in Bulbble, electromagnetic interferences cause a different type of sound and light due to the close proximity of relays. In my Lazy Studies, the sonic quality of the feedback depends largely on the placements, the sizes and the materials of the speakers, and how those relate to the microphone and to the materiality of the surrounding space. Bringing these inherited and agential relationships between objects to the foreground greatly shape the way I perform, highlighting the interlacing relationships between my body and my instruments.
Building instruments for my own body and others’ has allowed me to revisit the concept of technology. By thinking about the human-machine relationships in building my musical instruments, I am also keen to conceptualize “human bodies as technology”. On one hand, it highlights the technological aspect of human bodies, through which we expand our capacity in music making. On the other hand, this conceptualization dismantles the boundary between the human and the machine, and acknowledges its fluidity in a cybernetic approach to listening and music making. I like to ask how framing musical bodies in different frameworks could allow an alternative musical creativity, expanding and challenging the contemporary musical practices of our time.
For the videos of the performances, please visit violayip.com.