UNVEXED CONFORMAL BODIES
March 2023 - Present
UNVEXED CONFORMAL BODIES is a devised musical system of instruments, notation, and interactive performance, taking formal and structural inspiration from the 92 Johnson Solids (mathematical polyhedra) and aesthetic inspiration from gay and queer leather culture. At its core, it is an exploration, acceptance, and celebration of the inevitable imperfections and mistakes that occur when abstract theory is brought into physical reality, which is equally true for mathematical shapes, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, it insists on the process of physical manifestation as a necessary, grounding, and clarifying transition: every composition within this system requires a significant number of physical components, and every physical component is carefully (and imperfectly) handmade.
UNVEXED CONFORMAL BODIES is therefore a long-term project that will eventually produce an initial set of 92 compositions for performance, each centered on one primary Johnson Solid and each accompanied by its requisite set of physical structures. These initial compositions will use my physical, bodily experiences as source material. Once these compositions are complete and all the physical structures have been created, I will then compose more freely within the system, experimenting with different combinations of instruments and source material.
BODY FEELINGS - Op. 1 No. 1 for Lunar Ensemble No. 1
BODY FEELINGS is the first piece composed for UNVEXED CONFORMAL BODIES. It will be performed on May 9th and May 11th, 2023 at Parsons School of Design (video documentation to come).
It is composed for Lunar Ensemble No. 1, which includes J92 (bilunabirotunda) as a primary metal instrument, J86 (sphenocorona) as a secondary wood instrument, and J87 (augmented sphenocorona) as a secondary wood instrument.
Notation Quilt & Compositional Material
BODY FEELINGS draws on my experience of transition over the past two years, using body-related journal excerpts and photos of my body as compositional material. In the notation quilt for BODY FEELINGS, journal excerpts are attached to the faces of the wooden instruments, and bodily photos are attached to the intersections of the metal instrument. The composition therefore creates a new narrative through these journal excerpts and photos as I play the metal strings and wooden faces, acting as a personal reflection and a newfound understanding of my bodily journey of the past two years.
Program / Score
The program for the performance is an abridged "score" of the composition. I have handwritten the ordering of each journal excerpt and bodily photo as they are played in the composition. In this score, journal excerpts are referred to by short phrases that act as their titles, and photos are titled by relevant phrases that I have texted/tweeted/spoken in the past (or they are simply captioned). This score therefore gives the audience a view into the complex narrative of the composition and my bodily journey - yet it still retains some privacy with the abridged and self-referential titles.
SYSTEM LOGICS & COMPONENTS
Book of Instrument Family-Ensembles
This book will have one page for each Johnson Solid, depicting its notational templates as well as the other shapes in its "family". These familial relationships are mathematically constructed from purely augmentational operations and describe their geometric and/or spatial similarities. These families also dictate the creation of ensembles: each metal instrument can only be accompanied by wooden instruments in their family.
The pages of the book are handprinted using a combination of full bite copper plate etching, woodcut, and linocut.
Primary Instruments: Metal
The skeletal structure of the metal instruments are a halfway point between the Johnson Solid and its mathematical dual (an "inverted" twin). Each face of the Johnson Solid is manifested as a pinwheel, whose center is connected to adjacent face-pinwheels with salvaged electric guitar and bass strings. The shape bounded by these metal strings is the dual.
The "tuning pegs" are hex bolts with holes custom-drilled. Each string is tightened to the (very narrow) balance between a taught string and a broken peg, which produces a note whose frequency relies entirely on the physical properties of that particular pinwheel-pair, tuning peg, and string.
Metal instruments are amplified with contact mics placed along their pinwheel-spokes.
Secondary Instruments: Wood
The wooden instruments are directly representative of their Johnson Solids' shape. They act as percussion instruments to be struck with the fingers.
The wooden instruments attach to a custom harness worn by the performer, which has a contact mic for each instrument. Currently, the harness only supports two wooden instruments on the chest to evoke the imagery of breasts. I am experimenting with possible placements for additional instrument attachment points, which will follow the pattern of frontal instruments/microphones with jacks protruding from the back as a visual reference to The Matrix.
Notations in this system are laid out on the nets of each instrument, which is a 2-D unfolding of the 3-D shape. Once unfolded, the nets can be used as graphs, with faces as nodes. Composition is then a process of connecting these nodes in order to create a sequence of metal strings or wooden faces to play.
Using a graph approach to composition provides the ability to embed exterior meaning by attaching meaningful ephemera at the graph nodes. It also allows for opacity (as described by Édouard Glissant) when composing with personal or sensitive material. These source materials can be broken down into representative fragments and placed at the nodes, thereby embedding the composition with meaning without wholly exposing the initial source. This method then generates a new understanding of the initial source material through the strung-together sequence of fragments that arises from the compositional process. These notational net-graphs thus allow the musical composition to simultaneously function as a reimagining, unpacking, and/or recontextualizing of the source material.
Metal instruments are suspended from large wooden frames, which create a heightened sense of theatrical presence and performance while also invoking kink / BDSM aesthetics.
The last component of this musical system (as-yet unbuilt) is the speaker array which accompanies each metal instrument in the ensemble. These arrays use the edges of the Johnson Solid as its skeletal structure, with one speaker driver suspended from the center of each face. The arrays are human-sized with the drivers facing inwards, so that audience members can experience the amplified sounds of the instruments from within. This also enables audience members to engage with the shapes directly, as the spatialization of the sound is directly influenced by the placement of the speaker drivers.
The arrays will be built from plywood.
Norman W. Johnson, Convex Solids with Regular Faces. Canadian Journal of Mathematics, 18, 1966, pages 169–200.
Hermann Helmholtz, On the Sensations of Tone. Dover Publications, 1954.
Bruce R. Gilson, The Johnson Solids and their Duals: A Comprehensive Survey. Bruce R. Gilson, 2014.
Édouard Glissant, For Opacity from Poetics of Relation, pages 189-194. The University of Michigan, 1997.
Oscar Yi Hou, Oscar yi Hou. James Fuentes Press, 2022.