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Flow

Feature

We expect both spontaneity and super-human levels of preparation from musicians. Violinist Hugo Ticciati explores the elusive ‘now’ of performance.

‘The paradox of performance is that we must strive to unlearn what we know, to lose ourselves, to go with the flow’

As I walk out onto the stage, violin in hand, an intoxicating energy surges through every fibre of my body – a cocktail of excitement, nerves, openness and vulnerability… I become acutely aware of my physical body, my breathing, an enveloping aura of sensibility.

Participating in the ebb and flow of a melody, both I and my listeners should experience a moment in time that distils past and future into the singularity of the sounding present. Creating the conditions in which everyone can lose themselves in this ‘now’ is the supreme challenge facing all performers. In a multitude of intertwining, overlapping and repeating processes, I spend hours isolating the individual elements of a piece. Then, from single notes, to phrases, to movements, to whole works, I work to understand countless relationships, developing an awareness of how each particular moment in a piece is crucially connected to every other.

It’s a play of consequences – a matter of conceiving of the work as a whole, with all its parts related. But there are two provisos. A piece of music is a complex living entity, so our understanding will always remain provisional. Allow it to harden, and the piece will die. Second, having internalised the consequential nature of particular parts of a piece, we must then unlearn what we know. For me, this is one of the most exhilarating paradoxes of performance. After all the hours of practice, study and analysis, I’m required to lose myself in the instant until all that remains is the flow of the music.

Hugo Ticciati.

© Christopher Hästbacka

There’ s a very a similar process at work for the listener. Consider for a moment the distinction drawn by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy between ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’. For Nancy, ‘listening’ is the primary (or is that primordial?) experience; ‘hearing’ is its conceptualised offspring. In order to make the primary act of listening that takes place in the ‘perceiving senses’ intelligible to oneself and communicable to others, one must extract meaning from those fundamental auditory sensations. One must understand them by ‘hearing’ them, by turning the flux of sensations into perceived meaning. Vital though they may be, these are secondary processes, however. Quality of musical experience resides in the flow of sound. Just as I need to unlearn everything in order to play with spontaneity and a sense of abandon, so the audience must unlearn the conceptual overlay in order simply to ‘listen’.

When we talk about the music we practise, analyse and ‘hear’, we tend to rely so heavily on spatial metaphors (ups and downs, vertical and horizontal relationships, Schenker’s Ursatz, Gestalt theories, etc.) that the actual ‘flow’ of the music – its temporal condition – is easily sidelined. Spatial approaches may be crucial to our understanding, but they also tend to divorce us from the immediate flow of music’s present. Again we’re faced with the paradox that we must ‘unknow’ what we know. We must let go of spatialised, analytical conceptions, and trust ourselves to engage spontaneously, in real time.

As Stravinsky noted, ‘Music is the sole domain in which man realises the present.’ It’s the greatest gift music can bestow, and in my mind it’s the key to experiencing what Bergson so aptly called ‘duration’, where past, present and future are bound together in an act of creative abandon – a continuous elaboration of the absolutely new.

Hugo Ticciati is artist-in-residence for Time Unwrapped

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