New Islands: The “Manifold” of Performing Gestural Electronic Music

Jan Schacher

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: November 9, 2015
venue: De Bijloke Music Center, Kraakhuis
practice: music and sound
keywords: algorithm, electronic music, manifold, music performance, singularity, stratum

abstract video about the author(s)


New Islands is an entwined, manifold, physical, sonic, gestural, electronic, mediated, yet immediate musical performance.

The performance’s main issues are presence, agency, and mediation. This manifests in an interwoven, complexly folded situation of physically performing with electronic sound processes and technological instruments. At stake are the relationships between the artist’s body, actions and affects connected to the resulting soundworld, abstract narrative, and the imagination triggered in the audience. This happens in the social situation of the concert space, the period shared in co-presence with the audience, by sharing the moment of shaping the sounds and the overall musical form.

The performance is tied to the key elements of the physical actions, the perceived intentionality and agency of the performer, yet also the invisible presence of the “machinic” agency, and the interaction and dialogue with the musical processes and structures. Algorithmic, rule-based processes are counterbalanced by a state of pre-reflective, intuitive “surfing” of the piece.

The stage situation represents an “island” in the flow of everyday life, which comes naturally for the audience but is equally true for the performing artist. The moment onstage represents the tip the iceberg, a singularity, a focal point, the compression moment of a practice that spans a considerably larger scope. This compression results in a “manifold,” a “fold,” and a “millefeuille” of elements that are infinitely entwined. Yet, given a beginning and an end in a performance, this multiplicity of elements becomes finite, at least in time, and can be perceived and experienced as a unified object, created and shared in the presence of the audience/viewers.

The metaphor of the “manifold,” a concept from abstract mathematics, serves to point toward a state of affairs where many dimensions intermingle, explode, and get wrapped and enfolded in such a way as to render nearly impossible the task of identifying, isolating, and evaluating the individual constituent parts; or at least it only permits approximations to singular exemplars of the experience in question.

This abstract model represents the multiplicities of implications, operational domains, and significances present in any musical performance situation, particularly when applied to non-predetermined or non-textual practices.

New Islands investigates a core question through “showing/doing”: whether and how the signifiers, act(ors/ants), and shifting scopes that get (re)present(ed) in the stage situation are organised hierarchically and how they represent a gridded cultural space; whether and how they embody a decentred, shifting, and enfolded web of relationships and strata that we are forced to continuously traverse in multi-perspectival, shifting perceptions.



about the author(s)

Jan Schacher

Jan Schacher (Jasch) is an artist-researcher active in electronic, exploratory, and contemporary forms of music, live-performance, and media art. His main focus lies in works for stage and exhibition that combine digital media and gestural interaction. He has been invited as artist, lecturer, and researcher to numerous institutions and has presented installations, screenings, and performances in clubs and at festivals, such as the Sonar Festival, Barcelona, Transmediale Festival, Berlin, the Holland Festival, Amsterdam, the Singapore Arts Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Sonic Circuits Festival, Washington DC, the Ultima Festival, Oslo, the Sound Reasons Festival, Delhi, and many other venues throughout Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. His research topics cover performance, embodiment, and awareness as well as empirical work on motion and gesture in music. In addition to his artistic work, Jan Schacher holds a position as a research associate at the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology ICST of the Zurich University of the Arts. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in the arts at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp and the Orpheus Institute, Ghent, Belgium.

info & contact


Royal Conservatoire Antwerp, Artesis Plantijn University College, Antwerp, BE, and Zurich University of the Arts, CH