Making and breaking frames of perception – keeping attention alive.
An instantly composed performance with two dancers and a musician, the audience sitting in-the-round. At one end of the room there is a prepared piano with its guts exposed, two speakers on wheels and an electronic set. The night is visible through the windows and the room is softly illuminated by lights inside wooden cubes on the floor which shine onto the white walls.
By now, there are certain things that one wouldn’t expect: Madonna music, clown noses or football uniforms, for example. And yet it could happen, why not? A composition is a bringing together of different elements, and, as it progresses a play along the stability-rupture axis. Every composer could play the game in a different way. A game must have rules, that’s what makes it a game, the fact that certain things are out. The fun depends on what you cannot do, either because it involves an exciting challenge or because one gets a kick out of managing to break the rules. Limitation, when it’s not forever, can bring enjoyment.
Things are defined as much by what they are as by what they are not. Michelangelo is quoted to have said that sculpting was simply removing from the marble everything that was not part of the sculpture. Furthermore, as the Spanish saying goes, anything that does not add, is taking away: it takes away space, or time or attention from the other elements in the piece, composition or event. It is important to know when to stop adding brushstrokes to a painting and, likewise, in a set piece, be it dance, music, theatre, performance or any other format difficult to describe with one word. Careful consideration has been given to what is left out in order to create something that stands as a whole. This is creating the frame, it is the stability end of the axis. On the other hand, too much predictability does not engage the attention, so the rupture end of the axis is also desirable.
In instant composition, what is in and what is out of the frame can be reformulated during the course of events. Explicit agreements between the performers may exist or not, but once the performance gets going, it can potentially go in any direction. When anything can happen and in fact does happen, it becomes extremely difficult to perceive the event in its integrity, as a whole, when everything is a rupture, it has nothing to disrupt and doesn’t stand out. On the other hand, when everything that happens seems to hold together, be it through assonance, dissonance, transposition, expansion or any other pattern that the mind can perceive, even if it cannot name it, there is a pleasant a-ha moment. If no redefinition of this frame is made, then the composition will only progress as “variations on a theme”, settling on the stability end of the axis. Although
stability allows for depth and detail within certain coordinates,
everything comes to an end, if it is not the stability, it will be someone’s attention. The human mind registers beginnings and ends better than small changes, so
rupture reawakens the mind with unlikely juxtapositions and reshuffles the possibilities.
The room was white, but of the blue, one of the dancers stops dancing takes a piece of paper out his pocket and reads some notes, then puts it back in his pocket and carries on. At that moment, for me the performance loses its absolute value as the threads holding the performance together are made evident, a new space appears, the outer and the inner experience of the performer are juxtaposed, just like the present and the past in which those notes were written. This is usually outside the rules of the game and, therefore, it has an awakening effect. A similar thing happens when an object is thrown at the open piano. I wince. Somewhere inside me I am sure that one must not throw things at pianos. Curiously, as this is repeated throughout the piece, my alarm stops going and I start focusing on the sound quality itself. Afterwards I am almost shocked at myself: how could I?
Our perception is composing continuously: there is information that stays in the background and information that comes to the fore of our attention, and both play a role in what we perceive. The first time that something appears, it ruptures the status quo and stands against it. However, what starts as a rupture, when repeated long enough, stands a high chance of stabilizing and becoming part of the background, still present but not so discernible.
These reflections and their implications have kept me busy. How much am I not noticing just because it’s there all the time? And when something breaks into the stability, am I allowing it to put an end to what was and crack open my awareness, with its tendency to solidify, in order to perceive on a new level? Furthermore, any frame is only a creation of our mind – it’s a game, great to play within it, and also great to remember that there’s something else beyond it. Reality is seamless, infinite and in constant transformation. According to Hinduism, things are created by Brahma, preserved by Vishnu and destroyed by Shiva. Remaining present through creation/preservation and destruction/creation, that is, exploring the details in stability, without becoming numb, and acknowledging rupture with openness to the paradigm shift is a two-fold path towards the horizon of reality, which will always lie just a little bit further on.