Liza Lim

Knot thinking…

Susumu Nishinaga, electron microscopy of flower

Excerpt from conference paper: ‘Knots and other forms of entanglement’ (Lim, 2013)

…One could think of this musical language as textilic: a music of intertwining fibres and chaotic entanglements, structures of mesh-work or of threads becoming woven textures.

A key aspect of this quality of ‘textility’[1] is the notion of sound rooted in a dynamic relationship to the physical and material conditions of its making. For me, a ‘note’ is not merely an abstract set of parameters called ‘pitch’, ‘duration’, ‘timbre’, ‘volume’ but a very particular and lively ‘world of responses’ between the body of the musician and the resistances and resonances of their instrument, the environmental conditions of the performing situation and so on. This ‘material’ is ‘emergent’ in nature, rather like in Darwin’s famous evocation of ‘an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth’. In this ecologically rich picture of ‘elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner’ (Darwin, 1872, p.429), life is fundamentally improvisational. Each ‘move’ made by plant, mineral or animal is both conditioned and unconditioned, suggesting that every moment is an interweaving of energetic factors that can never be completely predicted.

It is this kind of dynamism that I look for in music-making. I don’t mean ‘improvisation’ as a type of freedom from the constraints of notation but as an unpredictable quality within constraints in which one senses a mind-body intelligence in the responsiveness present in the total situation. The ‘entanglement’ here is an emergent property of performance in time and space and can be seen in the myriad subtle ways in which physical and audible materials play on and are played by musicians in a tactical feedback loop of information and action. In this living world, sonic materials are ‘woven’ inside performative situations rather than deployed as architectural building blocks. Sounds remain close to their physical production revealing the inherent twists and turns, torque and expanding-contracting energies of their material sources…

[1] See: Ingold, T. (2010) ‘The textility of making’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34, 91-102.