Who Interprets?

Keir GoGwilt

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: November 11, 2015
venue: Orpheus Institute, Auditorium
format: in words
practice: music and sound
keywords: assemblage, cello, Helmut Lachenmann, Nietzsche and Philosophy, politics

abstract video about the author(s)


Beginning with David Stromberg’s recording of Helmut Lachenmann’s Pression, I ask the question: who interprets?

Operating within a conventional understanding, one would say that David Stromberg interprets Pression. This understanding indicates that interpretation marks the individual subject. However, it could also be said that Lachenmann reinterprets the instrument–body complex, bringing this complex into a new orientation of expressive structures through extended techniques of notation and cello playing. It is not simply a question of the performing subject interpreting the score but also of the performing body itself interpreted by systems of notation.

Taking Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche as a starting point, I will argue that performance does not have to be organised around the interpreting subject. As Deleuze (1983) describes, the “will to power” is not a “who” but a force of creation. A current that runs through The Logic of Sensation is that invisible forces manifest themselves on the body: “Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are made of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it” (Deleuze 2003, xi).

Borrowing from Deleuze’s conceptual framework, I argue that “technique” cannot be thought of as co-extensive with the body’s movements—simply instrumental in conveying the performer’s “interpretation.” Rather, I argue that Deleuze’s philosophy allows one to reappropriate technique as a structuring entity (or invisible force) that plays across the body, without falling into a hylomorphic scheme in which form is distinguished from matter. Technique is never present; it is not an appendage; it is not co-extensive with the material body or the psychological subject.

It is easier to say what technique is not than what it is. However, again in line with Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche, I argue that technique should be spoken of in terms of becoming, not being. Technique is continually developing in relation to different modes of articulating music: as we have seen, Lachenmann’s notation is one example of composition reinterpreting the body and technique. However, many technical treatises—from Pierre Baillot’s violin treatise to Gerhard Mantel’s cello manual to the acoustics research of the bassist Knut Guettler—can be thought of as critical reinterpretations of the body, affecting and indeed becoming part of the technical assemblage.

I will argue that a critical and theoretical language about technique that incorporates Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy might allow us to describe performance on its own terms, aesthetically and formally independent (and yet co-dependent) from (and with) composition. The work of Mantel and Guettler treats technique as an independent object of study shifting between the phenomenological and the empirical. This research values technique in a fundamentally different manner from its treatment as a means of expressing an “interpretation” of musical compositions.

Guettler and Mantel work with technical bodies as machinic assemblages, developing a bodily calculus in line with Deleuze and Guattari’s “minor science”: “This science is characterized less by the absence of equations than by the very different role they play: instead of being good forms absolutely that organize matter, they are ‘generated’ as ‘forces of thrust’ by the material, in a qualitative calculus of the optimum” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 364–65). Guettler and Mantel introduce knowledge about the body, but a knowledge that is inseparable from material action. This knowledge follows the indeterminacies of the technical body’s programmed action, disrupting (to different degrees) the methodologies of “royal science.” It is of note here that differences in valuing and observing the technical component of musical practice led to propose radical revisions to the structure of conservatory education, demonstrating the close relationship of material practice, aesthetics, and politics.


Deleuze, Gilles. 1983. Nietzsche and Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Guettler, Knut. 1992. A Guide to Advanced Modern Double Bass Technique. London: Yorke Edition.

Mantel, Gerhard. 1995. Cello Technique: Principles and Forms of Movement. Translated by Barbara Haimberger Thiem. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


about the author(s)

Keir GoGwilt

Keir GoGwilt graduated from Harvard University (2013) with high honours and was awarded the Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts. Currently he is enrolled as an MA candidate in music (integrative studies) at UCSD, where he is the inaugural recipient of the Prebys Award. As a violinist, Keir has soloed with orchestras including the Chinese National Symphony, Orquesta Filarmonica de Santiago, and the Bowdoin International Music Festival Orchestra. He has collaborated closely with composers such as Matthew Aucoin, Tan Dun, and Tobias Picker, and has performed as a recitalist and chamber musician at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, the Shalin Liu center at Rockport, and Miller Theatre. He has served as associate concertmaster of the Canadian Opera Company and recorded for Tzadik records. Keir’s scholarly work draws on critical theory to reimagine technics, hermeneutics, aesthetics, and politics as they relate to musical composition and performance.

info & contact


Independent violinist and University of California, San Diego, US


kgogwilt [AT] gmail.com