Forms of Vitality

In her article Shaping and Co-Shaping Forms of Vitality in Music: Beyond Cognitivist and Emotivist Approaches to Musical Expressiveness Jin Hyun Kim develops a theoretical framework for empirical investigation in expressive forms of music. Her attempt is based on the concept of “forms of vitality” by the psychologist Daniel N. Stern. According to him, experience of vitality is inherent in physical and mental movement resulting in a psychological gestalt (shape). Pointing out that these forms are essential in one’s own movements and time-based arts in general Kim comes in her analysis to the work of Alexander Truslit. I totally agree with her that Truslit’s motion forms of musical expression “can … be regarded as analog to Stern’s “forms of vitality” as applied to music” (p. 165).

Kim develops this connection to music and thereby works out many brilliant thoughts about the involvement of empathy and kinaesthetics. Among her suggestions for empirical studies I – of course – like the one of drawing continuous lines to music while listening. (Maybe my iOS App Music Moves could be valuable here?) I also highly appreciate the hypothesis that a professional performance  is “a process of going along with music, an empathic devotion of the self to the music in shaping its production toward fulfilment or perfection, largely based on automatic processes available through embodied knowledge of the piece of music”. (p.168) Although I am not sure about “automatic processes”, this description is rather close to Caland’s or Truslit’s concepts of objective interpretation. Kim’s methodical idea for contemporary studies of comparing a sight-reading performance with a practiced performance, seeing whether the passages of the first one lack musical fulfilment sounds promising.

So I am quite enthusiastic about Kim’s article but I have to mention some points that I see as missing. Her agreement with the theoretical concept of Truslit raises the question of what this may mean for his basic motion types (open, closed and winding). With his motion exercises Truslit connected these shapes with musical expressiveness and anatomy. In my opinion, Kim could have given the central role of the body more room. E.g., one central hypothesis of Truslit is that our physical disposition not only influences the shaping of a musician but the co-shaping of a listener as well. I think this aspect could be of interest in methodological discussions and experimental studies. Likewise Kim writes nothing about musical tension but Truslit’s dynamo-agogic motion shapes are patterns of tension and relaxation. Shaping and co-shaping in music is in this understanding based on the inseparability of musical and physical tension.


How everything started

In this post I will take a short look backwards and tell my personal story of how I came into contact with the work of Alexander Truslit.
Right at the beginning of my musicology study I heard about the musical-rhetorical figures of the Baroque age and spontaneously became very curious about them. But after studying the historical subject I was somewhat disappointed that there were no drawn figures at all. When I look back at how Truslit’s unique motion curves affected me this story really makes me wonder. I must have had an unconscious idea about lines and shapes in music and maybe therefore later became fascinated by Alexander Truslit’s work.
Because of my piano studies I was very interested in music psychology and performance research. Bruno Repp’s synopsis of Truslit’s book was topic in one of my classes. Being German and living in Berlin, where Truslit’s book was originally printed, I wanted to have a look at the original book and, due to the excellent historic inventory of Berlin’s libraries, I found an original exemplar.
Truslit’s book really impressed and astonished me with its motion curves, coloured synaesthetic pictures, scientific diagrams, photographs of Truslit himself swinging his motions and, not least, the three records. Everything clearly witnesses to the author’s enormous effort. Without doubt he was driven by something he wanted to prove and bring to the public. His unique attempt and the fact that even in Berlin nobody knew anything about him and his work made me even more curious and I began my historical research. The major libraries in Germany brought more articles from Truslit to light. I learned about his connection to Elisabeth Caland, the Caland Piano School, his educational film and about his teaching in the context of the Duncan-Dance. At the Duncan School in Munich I met Hannelore Schick and other former students of Alexander Truslit. Suddenly I had a full story about Truslit’s work and life in my hands that would presumably interest others, and so I had the burden of writing it down.
Finally, in 2012, my book “Bewegungslinien der Musik: Alexander Truslit und seine Lehre der Körpermusikalität, der Kinästhesie der Musik” (Motion Lines in Music: Alexander Truslit and His Teaching of Body Musicality, the Kinesthesia of Music) was published. I will soon write a special blogpost about it.


Two new motion line animations

IMG_1240I have made some changes to my motion line animation to J.S. Bach’s Praeambulum BWV 927. The basic structure is the same as in the animation I made last year, but the new version is much clearer and reduced.
Likewise, the new version of the Chopin Waltz in C# Minor op. 64 No. 2 is very similar to the old one, but here the curve of the theme has changed in some ways. It has still a wrung shape, but playing the new version is much easier and smoother. The first version is still online. I think it is interesting to examine the differences.

Making new versions shows that I am in the process of exploring the kinaesthetic notation of musical motion. Truslit wanted the lines to “capture the big motion forms originating from the body” (Gestaltung und Bewegung in der Musik, p. 188). While playing you have so many different motions in all parts of your body which can easily distract you from focusing only on the impulses and tensions in the trunk. Therefore the old version of the Praeambulum was not reduced enough.

Improving motion lines to a piece of music also raises the question of whether there can be an original motion as postulated by Truslit. Well, as a playing technique, my motions have so far convinced many of my pianistic colleagues. Therefore I would say that most of the curves in the videos are optimal motions for playing the piece. For me, optimal means that these motions lead to a perfect and easy flow in the holistic playing mechanism that fits with the structure of the music and leads to a convincing expressive shaping.

Soon I will publish more motion lines to new music pieces…


Voice Studies


voicestudiesWith their book “Voice Studies” (2015) the editors Konstantinos Thomaidis and Ben Macpherson want to bring leading international scholars and practitioners together to examine what voice and voice studies are. They offer a broad variety of interdisciplinary perspectives on voice, involved experiences and methodical concepts, e.g. the Alexander Technique or different cultures of singing.

Last year I had some email contact with Ben Macpherson about Alexander Truslit’s work and I am very surprised and pleased that his article (pp. 149-161) in the book is named “Body musicality” and makes references to my German term “Körpermusikalität” for Truslit’s approach.

Truslit’s work about the “inner motion” encompassing the whole human being is, for Macpherson, “in many ways ahead of its time” (p.149) in revealing a connection between visual notation and the visceral bodily experience connected with music.

Macpherson discusses the dialectic of visuality and viscerality from neumatic and cheironomic music notation to classical music notation to modern graphical scores and the newest digital experiments with voice notation. I am really pleased that he tries to figure out whether every different notation system can be regarded as more or less “body musical”.

Of course this musicological study does not describe the practical meaning of Truslit’s curves in detail but it is highly interesting to discover the contemporary potential Macpherson sees in his curvilinear notation.


Truslit and the sensory-motor theory of Neil Todd

In their recent article (The sensory-motor theory of rhythm and beat induction 20 years on: A new synthesis and future perspectives. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9/2015) Neil Todd and Chris Lee review the history of the sensory-motor theory of rhythm and beat induction. They give a thrilling overview of the last 20 years of research in rhythm perception from a neurological perspective. The authors see it as confirmed that beat perception includes sensory and motor representations and have strong arguments for postulating an internal body motion and the involvement of the vestibular organ in rhythmical phenomena.

Todd shares both ideas with Truslit and points out that Truslit first proposed the idea that the vestibular system is central to musical rhythm and that he independently restated this hypothesis in 1992. All in all, Todd leaves us in no doubt that he is a fan of Truslit and mentions the “Truslitian spirit” (p.42) of many modern findings:
“From a neurobiological perspective such motional percepts may almost literally be created as was predicted by Truslit, i.e. by either indirect associative links of sound shapes to vestibular centres in the body maps or by direct vestibular activation of body maps by sound above the vestibular threshold.” (pp.42)

So, according to Todd, Truslit’s basic assumptions are strongly supported by today’s neurological research. This, though, shows that Truslit’s “biological laws of motion” perfectly fit the paradigms of that branch of research though which aesthetic perception and sensation is newly bound back to nature and evolution.

I also want to mention that I am very pleased that Todd quotes my book from 2012 and mentions that Truslit’s theory is connected to the dance of Isadora Duncan and the history of piano playing back to Liszt. So my book achieves what I hoped it would, in that revealing the historical background of Truslit gives his work more weight and makes it even more interesting.


Truslit’s “Music and Motion” screening in Berlin

On the 21th August there was as a public screening of Truslit’s film in the Zeughauskino cinema in Berlin. This fantastic arthouse cinema belongs to the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) and has a special programme for recently rediscovered film documents. The curators of the programme were highly interested in showing Truslit’s educational film “Musik und Bewegung” (Music and Motion) and were quite curious about his line animations synchronized with music.

Filmtitel_blackSo almost 70 years after the premier of the film and 50 years after its last public presentation Truslit’s film was back at a real cinema. I had the pleasure introducing the show with a brief overview of Truslit’s life and work.

Due to the screening date during the summer holidays, I had no big expectations about how big an audience would come to the show. But I was quite astonished how many viewers there were and it seemed that most of them already knew about Truslit. So his work really has become quite popular in recent times!

When I entered the theatre before the show, I noticed a wonderful grand piano under the silver screen ready for silent film accompaniments and had the spontaneous idea of  improvising to the second, silent part of Truslit’s film. In this part he explains his laws of motion mostly  exemplified with wildlife shots. Nowadays this part appears a little long, but music makes Truslit’s text and the many beautiful animal observations with spectacular slow motion pictures quite entertaining. Freely accompanying this part was great and I hope to get more chances to repeat it in future!


My reprint-colleague Michael Haverkamp travelled to the show from Cologne specially and we both enjoyed the great discussion with many interesting questions from the audience after the showing.


The new edition of Truslit’s “Gestaltung und Bewegung in der Musik”

After Michael Haverkamp and I decided to release a reprint of Truslit’s book “Shaping and Motion in Music” we found in the publisher Wißner and its team the best partners we could have for this project. The preparation of the edition took us more than a year. But in the end the new edition became without exaggeration a perfect masterpiece of a reprint.
It was important for us that the new edition excited the same impressions as the original book. When you hold the original slipcase in your hands containing the three gramophone records, the book with all its removable plates and the extra music book, you immediately recognize that it is something very special and unique.reprint
The design and equipment of the new edition perfectly repeats this impression. The hardcover print is handsome and the extra folder surprises and astonishes containing not only a CD but also a DVD and two extra books, one with curves and audio waves, another with scores. Of course this edition is as unique as the original.
So the book’s concept was, and still is, that the reader is an explorer of something documented with text, scores and records, something that he should explore not only with his mind but also with his ears, motions and kinaesthetic sense by switching from one medium to another.
Many thanks again to Mr. Lamey, Mr. Schmid and Mrs. Schwenk from the publisher Wißner for their perfect work. And thank you Michael Haverkamp for the initial idea of bringing this reprint together.

For all who don’t have the new edition yet, here is a link to the publisher and the description of the edition:

The lifework of Alexander Truslit (1889–1971) on the connection between music and motion is unique in many ways. His approach to understanding musical shaping and perception through motion and connecting them with the body is as exceptional as his various engagements with and extensive presentations of the topic. His far reaching claims are fascinating due to their authenticity and are of great interest for music education and musicology as well as in terms of research on synaesthesia and the multi-sensuality of perception.
Truslit’s work has quite recently been rediscovered and its meaning realized. Now, nearly 80 years after the first printing, this new edition of his book “Gestaltung und Bewegung in der Musik” (“Shaping and Motion in Music”) makes Truslit’s magnum opus once more available to its fullest extent. The actual reprint is preceded by two comprehensive introductory prefaces by the editors and Truslit-experts Hans Brandner and Michael Haverkamp in German and English. The edition contains the original music and footage and publishes Truslit’s educational film “Musik und Bewegung” (“Music and Motion”), as well as a recently discovered film fragment for the first time, including English subtitles.

I am really curious about how Truslit’s work will be received in this second chance.


Starting my blog and what I have planned to write about

I have always wanted to write a blog about my research into Alexander Truslit’s work. A few weeks ago Michael Haverkamp and I published our new edition of Truslit’s magnum opus (see next post). I think, this is also a good occasion for starting my blog.
In this blog I will discuss articles concerning Truslit’s work as well as articles or books about music, motion and body technique in general that come to my attention.
Of course the main focus will be on my continuous effort to bring Truslit’s method back to new life. His motion lines communicate a wonderful physical-musical ability (I called it “Körpermusikalität” in my first book) which could be of great value to modern music education as well to musicians’ medicine.
From time to time I will also write blogposts looking back at the past years of my work. There is a lot to write about: e.g. the story of how and why Truslit caught my attention, my first book “Bewegungslinien der Musik” and the Truslit-Curves-Videos I make with the help of the experimental iPad app Music Moves.
Of course, I hope this blog finds many readers. Please comment or contact me with ideas, wishes, critique, etc.