this title refers to a counterproductive piece of private property
this title refers to a counterproductive piece of private property is an evening-length participatory scored event for a small group of human bodies. In the event I aim to take emergent, real time embodied sensation as a point of departure, inflecting this in a variety of ways through guided sensation, breathing, discussion, and sound-making with breath and voice. The event constitutes one small part of a longer-term, larger-scale research project on relationships between music, somatic practice, and social justice.
Formally, in the score I aim to establish a complementary ecology of relationships between two contrasting, broad areas of investigation in embodied technique: first, a space that facilitates bodies’ settling and harmonizing, and second, a space amenable to sensing bodies’ social inscriptions, with its attendant possibilities for bodily unsettling. The first is realized in the form of guided breathing, sensation, and collective sound-making activities—together with a bookending sound installation that features thick carpets of sustained sound in low light—while the second is actualized as structured sensation and (succinct) discussion around participants’ embodied, lived relationship to work (the latter conceived as broadly as possible).
The first realm is meant not to close off engagement with the second, but rather is created in hopes of catalyzing sustained and sustainable embodied engagement with the social realm in ways that might not be possible otherwise; in this respect, the event differs markedly from neoliberal approaches to “mindfulness.” Conversely, my goal here is not to instrumentalize musical techniques in service of a political agenda, but rather to situate intensities cultivated by these techniques in a way that allows them to converse with(in) a heterogeneous, interdependent, nonhierarchical ecology of activity, in contrast to undialectical formulations of aesthetic autonomy which are alive and well in many art music institutions. Altogether, in the score I intend to create an atmosphere not of the public sphere’s* disembodied, rational social climbing, but of affirming collective safety, with the objective of loosening the hold of normative social inscriptions, opening them to embodied inquiry and transformation; in this respect the project is influenced by second-wave feminist consciousness raising (whose more radical practices I interpret as nurturing consciousness in a deeply somatically-grounded fashion). Within the escalated eco-social nervous systems of late neoliberalism, it should not be assumed that bodies’ default state is non-escalated embodiment, nor that this latter state is easily attained.
Strategically, in the event I aim to appropriate the institutional form of the evening concert, understood as part of the broader public sphere, and take their unstable social basis in the present moment as a point of departure. That is, while the public sphere always was and continues to be constituted by classism, racism, and sexism, its class content has been historically bound up with the fantasy of upward social mobility, a fantasy which has fallen apart rather dramatically over the past decade in North America and Europe. The social component of the project is thus an attempt to leverage this historical shift, via embodied labor study, in order to provide space for the new music concert attendee—often a downwardly economically mobile body raised in bourgeois settings—to begin to disidentify with the public sphere’s constitutive fantasies of social climbing. The piece materializes the breaking apart of The Public as a category, complicating its claims of granting greater visibility to previously excluded subjects. This is a counterpublic, not a separatist strategy: the participants’ break with the bourgeoisie has the capacity to activate deeper, more inclusive solidarities with those more marginalized in late neoliberal labor arrangements. In other words, a shutting out of a dying, reactionary social space enables a deeper opening up to an emerging, radical, explosive if not yet wholly tangible social space. Actuating this shift is a long term project, far beyond the scope of any single arts event; in the short term, a portion of royalties and other compensation associated with this event will be donated to labor organizers working on behalf of uniquely marginalized laboring bodies.
The score’s title frames the event in the context of financial speculation. In the public sphere, the presentation of the individual work (i.e. the hype-driven presentation of a greatest hit) can be highly productive of asset value—salaries for star performers and social climbing listeners, as well as rents for property owners. The present score, with its focus upon subtle, quiet, settled, sensation-based, somatically-contingent techniques, short circuits–at least on a local level–these value-systems’ continuation. Perhaps more radically, the score’s two lines of investigation themselves propose a possible body-accountable approach to value in work, in contrast to imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy’s instrumentalization of bodies, while its sensory and discussion-based activities around the political invite the posing of broad questions about value within and beyond work that might be culturally taboo in other settings. Along these lines, the word counterproductive in the title is meant in the sense developed by sociologist of work Melissa Gregg in her astonishing book Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy, as an intervention against instrumental (neoliberal) productivity regimes as such.
*I use the term “public sphere” primarily as a historical, descriptive term referring to networks of historically white, bourgeois, male civic associations (i.e. including concert halls, opera houses, and symphony orchestras), as distinguished, on some level, from the state and marketplace.