Music Performance in the Making

Caroline Wilkins

Independent Composer/Performer/Researcher, UK


I propose to situate music performance within the increasingly widespread thematic of Performance Philosophy, an interdisciplinary study that examines the nature of creative thinking within a performing arts medium, one that occurs during the act of performance itself. Given the diversity of new techniques and approaches towards the body, technology, instruments and voice, contemporary musicians are faced with a radical change of aesthetics in today’s musical world. A different process of musical creation to that of the fixed work offered by a composer questions the certainties of traditionally inherited academic knowledge. It offers interesting parallels with contemporary theatre, dance and inter-medial performance, all of which, to a greater or lesser degree, involve affective interaction between bodies, space and time as part of their creative process.

To quote composer / theatre-maker Heiner Goebbels, ‘the training of musicians today should have more than ever to do with aesthetic impulses and their underlying structures… amongst the most exciting musicians of this century there are many who cannot read a manuscript…one…discovers how creative and unpredictable collective work can be2 .’ In this light I shall refer to the philosophical writings of Gilles Deleuze on performance as a zone of intensity that can generate new, unknown movements, forces and forms. Applied to musicians as creative thinkers, the knowledge that emerges as a result of such direct action can be viewed as changeable and experimental, emphasizing in turn the protean quality of a performer.

My examination includes a phenomenological approach towards the study of contemporary performing musicians, exploring how an act of performance participates in a receptor’s experience and understanding both of time and of musical form in the making. Dependent on venue conditions and the degree of physical proximity between the two, an affective performer-audience connection can be made, this through the immediacy of an act that embodies thinking through sound. There is a sense of co-creation, leaving room for a musical event to unfold and be shared with an audience through a process of both receiving and giving energy. Here the musician’s procedural memory, based on training and technique, is challenged alongside a need for his / her own presence as such.

With direct reference to two excerpts from contemporary music performance, I propose to examine the above concerns from an essentially practice-based perspective.

Keywords: Performative composing, Performance-making, Music-making (musicking), Performance composition



Independent Composer/Performer/Researcher Dr. Caroline Wilkins comes from a background of new music performance, composition and theatre, and has worked extensively on solo and collaborative productions involving these. Her particular interest lies in creating new forms of presentation, whether in the field of inter-medial sound theatre, sound poetry or performance art.

She completed a practice-based PhD in Sound Theatre at Brunel University (W. London) in 2012 and since then continues to present at (inter-)national conferences including ARTECH (Guimares), IFTR World Congress (Munich), Sibelius Academy (Helsinki) (2010) & Folies du Temps, Caen University (2011). Most recently she presented at the Performance Philosophy Biennial Conference 2019 (Amsterdam).

Book and journal publications include Studies in Musical Theatre / International Journal of the Performing Arts & Digital Media / Journal of Interdisciplinary Vocal Studies (2012 / 2018), Gestures of Music Theater (O.U.P. 2014) and Journal of Performance Philosophy, Vol. 2. 1. (online, 2016).