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.