Doubt & Identity

The following text is from a talk given at the Norwegian Academy of Music on 30 March 2016. This text addresses both No Say No Way and Jennifer Torrence’s umbrella research project, Percussion Theatre.  

A recorded reading was played during a performance of excerpts from No Say No Way. You can listen to the text’s recording here.


doubt & identity, excerpts from a talk by jennifer torrence

the work which you are experiencing now is an excerpt from a larger production entitled, no say no way, which was created by francois sarhan and myself.

no say no way is the first work presented under my research, percussion theatre.

this work is part of a larger tradition that extends back to the 1960’s, in which composers ask the percussionist to extend her instrument to include the body and the voice, as well as a slew of objects previously deemed non-musical.

since the 1950’s, there has been ample discussion on the following questions: what is music? and what can music be? there has been, to my knowledge at least, much less discussion on the follow-up questions, questions that are extremely relevant to both my artistic practice and to the art of percussion generally, those being: what is a musician? and what can a musician be?

these questions fundamentally address identity. and indeed, in its own way, my research is about questioning, blurring, and reimagining identities.

no say no way is a work that addresses this topic on a few fronts.

first, is the identity of genre. here we have the blurring of two types of theatre: one, the lecture, and two, the musical performance, which we should remember is a type of performance that contains both music and non-musical ritual and gesture. both of these forms of performance are deemed theatre simply because at least one so-called passive spectator is viewing it, and this spectator, through the viewing of this theatre, will undergo an expansion in knowledge or experience under the guidance of the lecturer-slash-master.

the second is the identity of the performer. for those of you who are wondering, almost everything that you have seen here is scored as music, using the logic of musical language.  but as you see, and may already be thinking, the tasks performed often don’t sound or feel like what we traditionally call music. so once again, we are presented with that age old question— is this music or some other art? and then by proxy, is this is a musician or some other kind of performer?

the third identity is that of the individual. this one is far more universal than the previous two examples, but it is also one which is extremely local to no say no way specifically. identity is constructed through labels, association, difference, and context. these labels become masks, and act as empty signifiers which the spectator fills with meaning, based on her own references. for the performer, who stands behind, the masks act as shields to protect insecurities that fester and swell inside the body of a fractured identity, an identity marked by doubt and unanswered questions.

over these three years, i will create solo work with composer collaborators that intends to live and breathe within this fabulous in-between state–a state somewhere between music and something else, and a state that, at least for this brief moment, defies labelling.