Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Jennifer Walshe: Spiel mit Identitäten (F. Kloos)

Jennifer Walshe: Spiel mit Identitäten

If you read the interview with Walshe at the end of the book, you understand that Kloos' work is basically a philosophical expansion of that interview. She engages with primary sources, but the "name-dropping" of philosophers without citation was aggravating on occasion. The opening chapter is valuable in terms of framing the discussion--Kloos provides Erik Erikson, Stuart Hall, and Judith Butler as lenses through which we might understand identity. Chapter 2 wanders a bit more, investigating Walshe's place in the avant-garde and new music. She summarizes the biographies of the alter egos of Walshe's Grúpat and briefly muses upon the reconciling of these individual identities with group identity. There is some redundancy across chapters, but this is unsurprising as one of Kloos' main points is that Walshe's music doesn't fit traditional categories or modes of analysis.

Kloos gives Chapter 4 over to analysis--and this is where the book is weakest for me. Kloos has insightful observations, but her methodologies vary so greatly that some readings of pieces come up short. We don't know what to expect since there is no systematic approach to analysis. It may very well be that this is due to the content of the works themselves (as well as varied access to materials), but then I would have preferred that the analysis be integrated into the prose of the other chapters. Kloos' "listening journal" approach to Walshe's "As mo cheann" addresses the difference between listening with and without a score, but for readers who are looking to engage with the piece academically, this might prove frustrating. Still, in that Kloos includes gesture, breath sounds, and performativity in her discussions, she provides a good example of what solid analyses of contemporary music might look like.

I've always bemoaned the lack of discourse with the work of living composers--but I get it. It is much easier to use a critical eye (and ear) toward music when the composer is dead. Kloos posits, however, that Walshe's music authorizes listeners to be co-creators, in effect--a glimpse at a democratic idea that "those who listen, have a say" (107). In her final statements, Kloos remarks that Jennifer Walshe invalidates the biographical relationship between work and author, but it is her work with the alter egos of Grúpat that allow her to do so without metaphorically "killing" the author ( a la Barthes).

This is an important book and I would love to see it come out in an English translation. It is a good primer on the New Discipline and provides bibliographic value as well (Kloos curates a helpful list of Internet sources).

(Cross-posted at Rebecca's Reading Rants and Raves)

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Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea