Sara Carvalho

Spinning Yarns: Gesture and indeterminacy in collaborative composition

Keywords: gesture; indeterminacy; collaborative composition

From the current literature review it is clear that there isn’t one shared definition of gesture, and gesture encompasses a number of different concepts and interpretations. Generally, in traditional music analysis, when referring to music gestures, the notion is often connected to the analysis of the musical score. Despite this topic having already been largely researched, there are several approaches when speaking about gesture in a musical context. Studies of instrumental gesture are often related to body awareness, which is rarely present in musical analysis. In general, gestures seem to be studied and classified either in terms of types of movement, or in terms of the different functions they accomplish. It is important to reflect on the idea of what gesture can both produce and suggest, as gestures evoke meaning.

In this presentation I will discuss, reflect, and give examples, on how aspects of gesture and indeterminacy were incorporated into my piece Spinning Yarns (II), for two pianos. I will analyze how physical gestures amplified the auditory recognition of certain musical events, and how I shared with the performers the ability for the piece to be always played differently, not being so much concerned with giving a defined score but drafting the conditions in which sound and different narratives could occur. The objective is not only to share procedures, but also stimulate discussion on the collaborative composition processes.

The piece was commissioned by/for two female pianists, and my starting point was the women and the instruments themselves. In terms of narrative I imagined the inside of the pianos as being looms, and that the two women were spinning them, while mixing their stories into their tapestries. The title “spinning yarns” is inspired by the expression “to spin a yarn”, which means to tell a story, that somewhere contains a certain amount of exaggeration. In order to generate my music structures and material, I observed the women playing the piano, and analyzed their body gestures. While writing the piece the objective was to reflect on different forms of physical and musical gestures, inspired by the action of weaving, and how I associated the female pianists’ gestures with the movement of the artisans.

Spinning Yarns (II) is formally divided in three sections, which should be played without any interruption. In the first part (A), the idea was to create very rigorous mirroring gestures, as if the musical gestures were being intensified through the physical movement. Section B is of improvisational construction, and the two pianists depart their improvisation from structures of previously heard material. In the last section (C) the idea was that the initial mirroring of the gestures become out of phase.

I will argue that while it might not be possible for a listener to detect my gender imaginings, my musical structures and material intend to transmit them, operating as concealed signifiers of gender. This presentation will reflect on my compositional thinking, gender-marked gestures, improvisational issues, and the construction of a shared narrative, as basis for effective performer-composer collaborative procedure.


INET-md, University of Aveiro, Portugal

Is a lecturer at Aveiro University, Portugal, and a fellow researcher of INETMD. She is a composer interested in the interaction of different performing arts as an extension and transformation of musical thinking, and also gesture, musical narrative and performer-composer collaboration. Her folio has over 50. Several of her pieces are available on CD, and in 2012 Numérica edited her first monographic CD “7 pomegranate seeds”. Several scores are published by the Portuguese Music Information & Investigation Centre (MIC.PT). Her research work is presented at national and international conferences, and is published in different journals and book chapters, such as ASHGATE/SEMPRE Studies in The Psychology of Music Series and London: Imperial College Press. Since 2005 she is an Independent Expert for the “Culture” and “Creative” Programmes (EU).