Monday, January 12, 2009

Disability, Un-ability and Hyperability

The last decade of musicology has produced a slew of new investigations into the intersections between music and the body. From gender studies to queer musicology, Joseph Straus has not unrecently embarked on a primer research between bodily disability and composition. These inquiries, however, seem to circulate within the orbit of conventional logical orbits; the droning repetition of questions of authorship, authenticity, and referentiality continue to plague music studies, especially investigations into so-called "absolute" music which, amongst others, Susan McClary has continually attempted to con-text-ualize. Yet another angle that has remained scarce in musicological study (though not without certain notable exceptions) seek to theorize the production of the body through performance. Specifically, the production of levels in Ability in musical performance as well as composition articulate a hierarchy of values that continue to challenge our ideas of music, instrumentality, performance, and the ontology of the work-in-itself. The production of the able music body is not without its complications, although history has confirmed that conceptions of the body remain in circulation in the economy of music - a quick survey of examples would include the castrati phenomenon, virtuosity in instrumentism, disability, amatuerism and musical reception.

Ravel's piano concerto for the Left Hand, for example, continue to set debates about ability and disability into motion. Is not this foregrounded disability case for the exercise of compromised hyperability - a new spectre of ability invoked to counter the disable body? And yet an entire field of amateur instrumentism articulates boundaries of subscription and exclusion, carefully intersecting with industries, medias and economics. On the other hand, Alvin Lucier's "I am sitting in a room" tackles another field of disability, precisely by using the discursive realm of "music" (thereby also challenging its conceptual givens) to overcome physical "natural" disability. Specifically, "I am sitting in a room" effaces the Barthesian "grain" of disability within the voice (his stutter) by channelling it into the "playing" of spatial sonorities. Disability, it seems, is performed into ability - composerly (and aesthetic) ability that, by its repeatability, provides the blueprint for not only erasing Lucier's disability, but his locatedness in the produced musical and sonorous text, relegating it into the sphere of conceptual authorship rather than sonic authorship.

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