Phantom Limbs: On Musical Bodies

Phantom Limbs: On Musical Bodies

Phantom Limbs: On Musical Bodies

Phantom Limbs: On Musical Bodies

Synopsis

The prostheses Peter Szendy explores those peculiar artifacts known as musical instruments are not only technical devices but also bodies that live a strange phantom life, as uncanny as a sixth finger or a third lung.
The musicological impulse to inventory those bodies that produce sound is called into question here. In Szendys hands, its respectable corpus of scholarship is read aslant, so as to tease out what it usually prefers to hide: hybrids and grafts produced by active fictions, monsters, and chimera awaiting the opportunity to be embodied. Beyond these singular bodies that music composes and disposes there lies the figure of a collective social body ready to emerge amid an innervated apparatus that operates at a distance, telepathically.
Phantom Limbs touches on bodies of all shapes and sizes that haunt the edges of musics conceptualizations. Music continually reinvents such bodies and reconvenes them in new collective formations. It is their dynamics and crystallizations that Szendy auscultates on a motley corpus that includes Bach, Diderot, Berlioz, Eisenstein, Disney, and Monk.

Excerpt

I have a body: This is a statement that—even though its use and overuse have made it banal—vacillates and trembles in me every time I experience musical body-to-body contact [corps à corps].

Each time this phrase comes back to me, in a halo still rumbling around the resonating instrument, I sit there wondering what the verb to have might mean here. What does having a body, and a body that is mine, really mean when I lift my hands from the keyboard, and, in this suspended time, little by little, the vibrations, tacts, and contacts dissipate, and the innervations slowly come undone, the ones that just a moment ago seemed to articulate some kind of immense demultiplication table to me?

It sometimes seems to me that after the incredible dilation and ramification that my body has just experienced in its contact with keys, vibrating strings that resound or zing, pieces of wood and felts that strike in a muffled way or with brilliance, it retracts or reconfigures only reluctantly [à contre-coeur]. It is thus despite my body [à contre-corps]; yes, it is in a slow contraction that an infinite number of phantom limbs that had come to dance a delicious Sabbath wither away.

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