Key Concepts

Embodiment (Peters)

The term “embodiment” has numerous meanings and usages. It names a key concept in Feminism and Cultural Studies and is often understood against the background of Merleau-Pontyan Phenomenology, where embodiment refers to the bodily acquisition of knowledge, skill and awareness, and, in prolongation, a self, through being-in-the-world as a lived and felt body. Arnold Berleant offers a concise characterisation of this acquisition: “In embodiment meanings are experienced rather than cognized”. Behind this is a non-Cartesian understanding of the body-mind relationship as only nominally dualistic, and, instead, as fundamentally rooted in the lived body, and its reciprocal relationship with others and the world. There is a “body in the mind”, as Marc Johnson for instance discusses, that is, cognition is “embodied” to an extent that our grasp of concepts is thought to go back to our bodily grasp of the world. A crucial aspect in viewing experience as embodied - as Alva Noë expounds in brilliant continuation of the “enacted approach” presented by Varela, Thompson and Rosch - is to understand perception as active, i.e. as partly being provided by the lived body, and not only as a result of passive projection (representation) of a world that is “objectively” given to the senses.

The term embodiment, however, is also used with a different slant in the areas of Cognitive Sciences and Robotics, where it refers to the design of moving machinery imitating the human body or parts thereof, to thus “embody” human corporeal functions and behaviour, including the generation of “artificial intelligence”. Within the context of music and its performance, embodiment can thus refer to the felt experience of music-making and listening (as is understood in EGM), or, alternatively, to the constructing of artefacts imitating human abilities. For a detailed consideration of the concept see [Peters, “‘Embodiment’, Elektroakustische Musik und Expressivität”, 2010].

Enactment (Peters)

Using the term “enactment” to describe the dancers’ experience of the perceptive process acknowledges Alva Noë’s work on the crucial role of action in perception, as he argues in his 2004 monography with the same title, and, in a condensed way, in his article “Art as Enaction”. To Noë, experience is not a passive absorption of sensual information, but “a kind of activity, an activity that acquires content [...] thanks to the perceiver’s application of a kind of sensorimotor knowledge” (177). Rather than representing the perceived internally, we bring embodied knowledge actively into what we perceive. On Noë’s view, there are “two aspects of [perceptual] content [...] How [things] (merely) appear to be plus sensorimotor knowledge gives you things as they are” (164). These two aspects are joined in experience much as in Wollheim’s sense of seeing in: “When you look at a tomato, [...] you experience its three-dimensionality in its visible parts” (167). “The content of experience isn’t really given at all – it is enacted” (“Art as Enaction”).[1]  While Noë is mainly discussing visual perception (and its touch-likeness), my use of the term in the present context addresses the auditory and proprioceptive domains.

In exploring EGM scenarios, dancers enact their perception of the topology of the scenarios, concerning, for example: 1) borders of “sonorous objects”, going towards them, beyond them and back in cyclic movements with gradual increases in aptness; 2) tensions and effort qualities as implicit in timbral qualities; 3) densities within “sonorous objects” which lead to pulses and rhythmicity within dancer’s motion qualities; and 4) literal doublings, as in, for example, a noise their movement might make on the floor, which is similar to what is heard in the scenario.[2]  In this kind of artistic exploration, enactment thus has a double meaning: there is, one, an enactment in Noë’s sense of active perception (of the intermedial perceptive experience of the dancers), plus, two, an observable enactment in form of the actual performance. The latter expresses the former. For a detailed discussion of enactment in listening see [Peters, “Enactment in Listening”, 2010

Intermedial Expression (Peters)

When exploring EGM-scenarios, dancers can have dance-directed intentions and music-directed intentions. Their expressive presence – and experience – may thus encompass two media (dance and music), in an interrelated way; hence the term intermedial expression. The described intermediality is a source of tension. The passive following of what dancers hear might not allow them to meet the apparent movement qualities that they feel as emerging in them. The intentional path of motion might bifurcate, into a path suiting dance expectations, and another one suiting sonic expectations. A similar thing happens when they actively imagine sonic continuations of current movements: against wanting to follow through with movement intentions actively, the sonic development might deviate, contradict, or fall short of the continued motion. Sometimes though, the paths converge, so that dancers experience an aptness, or fit, between both intentionalities, in which the paradoxical relationship between them is held in balance.

That fit creates the illusion that they indeed make these sounds, as if they were amplifications or extensions of their very own motions. It is the state mentioned by Johannes Birringer: the “impression that ‘the medium [isn’t] separate from [oneself] any longer’”.[3]  The dancers then extend into the sound with their lived bodies. Dancers find themselves fluctuating between these two experiential facets, the diverging and converging paths of intermedial intention. In seeking to rejoin the split intentionalities, and in aiming for prolonged states in which the said paradoxy is held in balance, dancers enact their perception of the topology of the virtual scenarios. For a more elaborate description of the dancers’ intermedial experience see [Peters, 2011 -> Linz conference paper]

Haptic Illusion (Peters)

When exploring EGM scenarios, performers experience a felt resistance affecting their movement, despite there not being given any physical resistance in the instrument whatsoever. As the experienced tactility of the sonic scenarios is induced not primarily by the sounds own physicality (that is, its physical impact as soundwaves), but appears to emerge largely via an intermodal “completion” of what the generation of similar sounds felt like in former experience, the working term for these and related experiential phenomena is sonic-haptic illusion (or short: haptic illusion). In some EGM scenarios (e.g. Spheres), the haptic illusion is given in three-dimensional tactility of an illusionary object in space (in this case a sphere).


Sonic Scenario (Peters)

The term “scenario” is meant to capture the experiential potential opened up by the various constellations of spatial mappings and sound materials designed in EGM; they offer not only individual soundscapes, but also represent different relations between bodily and sonic expression within these (one might feel as if in an environment, but also as if wearing a kind of sonic skin). In being spatially playable patches of generative music, EGM sonic scenarios combine instrumental, composed, and installation characteristics.

Unlike in, for instance, the multimodal performance environment HARP, EGM scenarios do not include artificial intelligence in the form of software agents. Interestingly, however, there is experienced agency, due to tracking instabilities and borders, and software bugs – but also due to imagined dialogue and animation.

Musical experience (Peters)

An important and much discussed concept in the aesthetics of music, concerning the experience of music as music, instead of mere (meaningless) sequences of sound. The meaning in music can be understood (as for example Stephen Davies and Roger Scruton hold) or felt (in visceral terms as argued for instance by Arnie Cox, as well as in emotional terms), or both (as held by Jerrold Levinson, Andy Hamilton and Deniz Peters, amongst others). For an argument on aspects of the felt dimension see [Peters, 2008 -> Gesture-paper and Peters, 2010 -> BEEM-paper].


[1]     Before Noë’s sophisticated elaboration, the notion of enactment became widely known through Varela, Thompson and Rosch’s The Embodied Mind. Enactment, after Varela, Thompson and Rosch (172/73), is perceptually guided action and the sensorimotor patterns leading to cognitive structures enabling action to be perceptually guided. In other words: I act according to what I perceive; but within what I perceive there is my ability to act upon it. That ability is altered by my bodily action, and emerging cognitive structures from it. My bodily knowledge is articulated in what I perceive, and vice versa: What I perceive articulates itself in my bodily knowledge. The former is active perception. The latter expression describes the component of perception that is “extended” or “completed” in the experience (of perception). Enactment then has a double meaning: one concerns the bodily action in the process of establishing a perception; the other concerns bodily knowledge (embodied knowledge) as entering perception.

[2]     Compare Jiri Killian’s Stomping Ground.

[3]     Such extension may additionally trigger fictions, such as dancers imagining themselves as “animals”, or “bizarre beings”, or “strange futuristic instruments”, or as “having superpowers”, and the like.