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A percussionist's practice


This dissertation traces the development of my practice as a percussionist through my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Chapter 1, A single stroke engine, details the physicality of a single stroke in a narrative format. This opening chapter situates percussion performance as a physical act, intimately connected to the body. This chapter also serves as a metaphor for percussion playing as gestural, a view that is challenged in the proceeding chapters. Chapter 2, The dystonic hand, is an account of my personal experience with a highly competitive collegiate percussion studio and the discovery of a debilitating neurological disorder affecting my left hand called focal dystonia (FD). This chapter places the idea of the physicality of percussion into sharp relief as I recount my search for a diagnosis, the loss of physical control I experienced, and the various exercises I sought out in an attempt to 're-train' my brain and hand to play percussion with focal dystonia. My efforts to both cope with and discover a music located beyond 'handedness' in percussion performance is the focus of chapter 3, Connections. Here I introduce the fields of experimental music and improvisation, specifically my initial encounter with the music of composer Michael Pisaro, and detail their influence on my efforts to locate a nonvirtuosic/ skilled alternative to contemporary percussion performance practice. My attempts to function as a percussionist with focal dystonia in the 'handed' realms of Brian Ferneyhough's Bone Alphabet (1991) and Iannis Xenakis' Psappha (1975) are also detailed. The final chapter of this document, Toward non-instrumentality, explores the concept of 'non-instrumentality' through the lens of Michael Pisaro's Ricefall (2004). This chapter engages the philosophy of Alain Badiou in order to explicate aspects of non-instrumentality and to imagine its possibilities beyond the world of percussion. Finally, this dissertation concludes with a series of texts detailing my close collaboration with Michael Pisaro and a brief epilogue speculating on the future of an alternative percussive practice.

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