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What weren't you trained in that you now rely on? Rees Archibald

My current work seeks to use arts performance practice to conduct first person studies of consciousness. My approach is grounded in ‘doing as thinking’; it’s experiential, and in terms of investigation prioritises somatic body- mind information processing over a rational ‘head- led’ intelligence.

My original training took place within the Western classical musical tradition. Breath, and the muscular movement of the body required to hold and manipulate

a musical instrument (in my case a saxophone) were treated as functions tasked

with the creation of an external musical work. Performance was a situation in which to ‘flawlessly’ demonstrate thinking done previously. Musical works were

put forth as interpretations or ‘sonic arguments’. Arguments that were to be constructed, deconstructed and interpreted rationally by performer and audience.

I wasn’t trained how to be in my body and to use the physicality of performance as a way of thinking. I wa s trained in using performance to demonstrate ways I had been thinking previously.

Of course, in the moment of performance this rationality is ‘transcended’, and this is what makes performing arts ‘magical’. Yet this is a different thing to engaging with a performance work, a performance moment or act, as a process and not an outcome. Of performance being used as thinking, and of attempting to use performance to process information about states that are ‘unthinkable’.

My current performance works function as attention focusing processes; they become methods aimed at establishing a stable attentional base. Over a period of time, pieces in combination become methodologies, testing and developing ideas from slightly differing positions.

I am learning how to use the ‘materials of performance’ in order to access and

explore specific somatic states Wallace refers to as “contemplative technology (p.177) .” These materials can be my body, my breath, a specific focusing of attention on an object, a score, a loudspeake r, or the quality of a sound produced by my movement. Materials are neither gestural nor expressive.

I am trying to invert the elements of performance as I previously understood

them. The musical/sonic experience is important, but only as a process through which to engage with a 'pure conscious' state. Sounds now inform me as to the quality of my movement; diaphragmatic breath is tasked with grounding and centering physical focus, concentration and posture. Mind is focused on breath and the muscular tension required for physical movement, but primarily breath. Thinking about sound comes last. Moving outward I sit with breath, then body, then sound.

I am facing a hanging sheet of amplified fabric and move toward it. I walk from the knees rather than the hips keeping my centre of gravity low and stable. In order to develop and mindfully focus musculature tension I aim to move at a constant rate and to move as slowly as possible. As I touch the fabric, the visceral, tact ile sound of its caress over my body is highly amplified and this sound feeds back aspects of the quality of my movement. My mind stays with breath. After a long period I pass through the fabric and it swishes behind me. I pause and exhale.

What can I know and what can I find out if I can’t use word thoughts and my work seeks to operate in that place described by Shear and Jevning as containing “no phenomenal content at all, no colours, sounds, thoughts, anticipations etc. or even any subjective manifold where such content could be located (p.194) .”

I want to use performance as a way to move beyond a sense of anticipation that characterises our human experience. A continual reading forward and backward, a sense of desire and an ever - present internal narrator who comments, measures and compares.

Works that explore a place free of phenomenal content carry with them the possibility that we could bring something back. Emerging from such an experience afresh with eyes renewed can open up new ways of understanding and being with ourselves and our world.


Shear, J. & Jevning, R., 1999. Pure consciousness: Scientific exploration of meditation techniques. Journal of Consciousness Studies , 6(2- 3), pp.189


Wallace, B.A., 1999. The Buddhist tradition of Samatha: Methods for refining and examining consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies , 6(2- 3), pp.175