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CALM is from a collection of works that explore trauma through trauma-informed therapeutic models, such as bilateral coordination drawing, tapping, and existing movement practices, such as yoga, Pilates, and dance, to control and manipulate sound in performance. This work draws from yoga practice to control the amplitudes and effects on pre-composed audio layers through datagloves.
Yoga is a movement practice often recommended to manage trauma and anxiety symptoms due to the focus on one’s body and the generally meditative nature of the practice. However, in cases of sexual trauma, yoga may yield the opposite of the desired results when not used in a trauma-sensitive context (Khoudari, 2021; P. Levine et al., 2010). This is because the individual tries to focus on the body where they do not feel safe and encounter unresolved trauma. Thus, instead of a grounding effect, the individual hears the mental and physical pain they have endured repeating itself in the present. To reflect this, “stillness” audio material is routed to scream-like and abrasive sounds, while “movement” audio quiets the listener’s internal landscape. This contradiction is the impetus of this work.
Keywords: gestural control; trauma; musical data mapping; movement practice
CALM is a gestural music work that uses traumatic experience and yoga as a composition framework. It uses movement generated through a yoga practice to control the amplitudes and audio effects on pre-composed audio layers through datagloves. The work reflects the contradictory results of yoga on trauma management, where focusing on the body can trigger painful memories when not used in a trauma-sensitive context (Khoudari, 2021; P. Levine et al., 2010). This is because the individual tries to focus on the body where they do not feel safe and encounter unresolved trauma. Two pre-composed layers were created by:
“Stillness”: destructively editing live and pre-recorded scream samples through hand gestures (closed fists, pointing, et cetera) and physical movement. Samples were looped and affected with distortion, granular synthesis, and spectral effects. This process was repeated multiple times.
“Movement”: synthesising the author’s voice and scoring for choral harmony for three to eight “voices” arranged to form a pleasant harmonic movement (chord progressions loosely based on Classical choral and medieval music). Effects were added in live performance.
In the final performance piece, the performer’s movement is sent through Max/MSP to calculate the amount and force of the movements to control the amplitudes of the final audio. At the same time, hand gestures and positional data are used to control audio effects on the pre-recorded audio. The impetus behind the piece is the composer’s struggles with unresolved trauma and the insistence of laypeople that yoga and meditation will “fix” the trauma when it has had the opposite effect historically. The consonant harmonies are audible through the performer’s movement as they move through poses, which usurps commonly held notions of yogic movement practices (meditation and stillness bring peace). Additionally, it serves to externalise the internal feelings and sensations of trauma.
This research is performative autoethnography (Spry, 2011), emphasising the embodiment and the embodied experience (Levison and Schiphorst, 2011). I used the MiMu/Glover dataglove system, Ableton Live, and Max/MSP. The subject of this work is a culmination of my experiences and knowledge analysed against trauma-informed therapies and socio-political context. It is an illustration of how the individual’s trauma may not benefit from treatments that may aid another trauma or be helpful in a different environment (for example, in a trauma-informed yoga centre run by a sexual assault crisis group in place of a general yoga studio or trauma-informed yoga run for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from a car crash).
As a singer, a large part of my practice involves delving into the self to embody the emotions required for the performance to benefit the work and the audience (Wishart, 1996). Part of this process involves drawing up the feeling to accurately convey through voice timbre and facial expressions (which also shape vocal tone). This work removes those from the performance and leaves them solely aural phenomena.
Yoga is a movement practice that commonly has a meditative aspect. Many studies support yoga as a beneficial management aid for trauma, but most of these studies are not designed around sexual trauma. The elements that make yoga a helpful tool can be its downfall. For example, the focus on listening to one’s body, relaxing into a position and learning to be still, and the general quiet atmosphere of the practice. For sexual trauma, listening to one’s body and the quietness means that you hear the internal screaming; the stillness may invoke a “freeze” (as in fight/flight/freeze) response or remind the person of being forced to stay in a position. Trauma is an embodied experience and often slinks around unbidden in the body (Kolk, 2014; P. A. Levine, 2015). The seemingly benign qualities of yoga can tap into the implicit procedural memory (body-based, fixed-action patterns) and trigger an individual’s trauma responses when not adequately supervised or applied (Khoudari, 2021; P. Levine et al., 2010).
Data generated by the performer is captured by MiMu datagloves. This is transmitted via WiFi to MiMu’s companion software, Glover. Routings are output as Open Sound Control (OSC) and Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) and sent to Max and Ableton Live. These are converted to MIDI Control Change (CC) values and sent to Ableton to alter the amplitudes of six audio tracks—changes in amplitude scale with the input value. OSC data for yaw, pitch, and roll is fed through a Max-patch to determine the movement rate of change.
Hand gestures (Puppet hand, OK sign, Open hand, Fist, 1 finger Point – see image below) are used as note on/off controls for effects in Ableton. These same gestures directly alter effects parameters (for example, dry/wet, feedback, et cetera). The audio effects used were Wanderer (filter delay), Chromatic (Vocoder Reverb), Ring Modulator, and Vibrato Spacial (Chorus). These were primarily controlled in pairs of effects by hand gesture with yaw, pitch, or roll. These effects were chosen to create an unearthly, digitally modulated choir sound to alter the voice synthesizer further away from sounding unquestionably human.
Stillness audio was created by individually and repeatedly destructive editing audio samples (different types of screams, groans, inward phonation) through sampling, looping, granular synthesis, and panning around a quadraphonic Surround sound environment. The audio was manipulated using MiMu, Glover, and Ableton Live. There were three separate control routings used in each manipulation of the audio. One for controlling the recording of samples, one for manipulating the loop samples with speed and reverse controls, and one for altering the granular controls Max for Live plugin Granulator II through grain size, position, and HATEFISH RhyGenerator – a Euclidean rhythm generator. An additional 38 audio tracks were generated by overlapping live manipulation and re-manipulation of audio. These were then parcelled in three tracks for the final work and panned in the Sound panner to separate the sound data. Older audio generated for testing the work was reused and cut up without editing through gestural control.
Movement audio was created by scoring choral music; the harmony was loosely constructed around medieval progressions. The density of harmony increased over time, starting with three voices and building to eight. To create a Kontakt instrument, I sampled my voice at every note pitch in my range (C3 to C6). The first 21 bars were performed acoustically and blended into the virtual instrument audio for the remainder. These audio choir layers were separated into three tracks. Each of these was manipulated by the left and right hand as separate instances but spatialised to the left and right according to the hand/side of the body.
The piece draws inspiration from Nora Turato, Yoko Ono, and Maria Abramovic, capturing the essence of unfiltered communication and aggressive textures performed by a female body through non-traditional methods. It invites the audience into a protected internal space related to trauma. The piece became less definitively yoga as it was refined, initially based on a short daily yoga flow. The work aims to subvert conventional advice for self-management.
Yoga poses used were child’s pose; puppy dog; half camel and camel; turtle; saddle; mermaid side stretch; seated star; forward fold; malasana; up and down dog; warrior two; peaceful warrior; dancer; mountain; prayer; and crucifix. Some were included because they are well-known yoga poses (such as up/down dogs). This intellectual referencing helps code the movements of yoga practice. I made modifications along the way and still use modifications to the poses to advance my flexibility, thus providing a direct physical benefit. For example, a full malasana (a deep squat) only became possible after eight months of practising the pose and working through different alterations to assist tight hips. Saddle pose still sometimes requires ungainly movements out of the pose. This, though personally aesthetically unattractive, does reinforce the performer’s humanity and plays with expectations of grace and poise in the movement style. It also highlights that some poses might be quite difficult or impossible for every performer or the same performer on different days. It may read somewhat humorously as a struggle increases the movement, and there is a juxtaposition of the visuals of a person struggling to get up from the floor while a choir breaks through a veil of screaming. In those moments, it becomes an acceptance of one’s state.
Movements used in the live piece were chosen based on providing extramusical benefit without contributing to any adverse effects; for example, the pose Happy Baby/Ananda Balasana was excluded and Malasana (a deep squat pose) was used in its place as it puts the performer in a less vulnerable position by being on one’s feet while providing a similar benefit. Areas of the body that typically carry tension due to sexual trauma include the hips, chest/diaphragm, and jaw (American Psychological Association, 2018). Muscle tension is a stress reaction and can become chronic as the body wards against danger (physical or psychological). In a chronic state, they need to be loosened gradually and consistently. As a reaction to trauma, physical treatments only provide one aspect of the solution to resolving the trauma and releasing muscle tension. So, while I chose these movements based on their comfort for my body, they transcend my experience and could be helpful for other performers.
The impetus behind the composition was trite and generic advice that yoga is a panacea, fixing trauma without proper support or consideration for the individual. I respect yoga as a deep traditional spiritual practice that benefits many people. However, I reject the supermarket of spirituality and commodification of Eastern spiritual traditions.
Another subtext is beyond the scope of this paper – the silencing of a female-bodied performer, the use of extended voice techniques (for example, screaming and inward phonation) and the wordless nature of the piece. The performer is silent on stage; no language directly translates the emotions (screaming or singing). Asemantic vocalisation is a key aspect of the “monstrous feminine” (Chion & Gorbman, 1999; Stojanović, 2015). In Western Art music, when the female voice expresses anger, it is often wordless and reinforces the stereotype of hysterical femininity. This lack of language is used to strip women of power and intelligence.
CALM uses yoga movements to externalise the internal soundscape of sexual trauma, captured through datagloves to affect pre-composed audio. Movement alters audio amplitudes, while hand gestures add audio effects. Poses were chosen for physical benefits and modified to reduce potentially harmful consequences for sexual trauma survivors. Audio reflects the alternative emotional response caused by a movement practice becoming a biological trigger for trauma.
This work is part of a more extensive collection for the doctoral thesis exploring traumatic experience and its effects through an embodied interface, with the use of voice as a further avenue to be explored post-doctorally.
DOI to work: 10.5281/zenodo.7934421
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