UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Performing complexity : theorizing performer agency in complexist music Hockley, Liam James


This thesis explores performer agency in complexist music (often called “new complexity”). Rather than dwelling on compositional aspects, it examines the multivalent network of relationships between the score, the performer, and their performance. This focus situates the thesis at the confluence of multiple intersecting lines of inquiry into complexism as a musical phenomenon and also positions it within the broader field of performance studies. Chapter 1 surveys and contrasts definitions of complexism offered by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf and Richard Toop. Both engage with the underlying conceptual elements of complexism rather than surface-level concerns and provide a framework and terminology for discussing aspects of complexist performance. Chapter 2 examines approaches to instrumental writing (“radically idiomatic instrumentalism”) and notational practices that emphasize the means of sonic production (“prescriptive notation”) common in complexist music. Taken together, these qualitatively change the nature of performance in contrast to common practice era music and other contemporary aesthetics. Some aspects of complexist performance practice and ethics are also considered. Chapter 3 develops the core ideas of the thesis. It draws on complexity researcher Paul Cilliers and literary theorist Umberto Eco to formulate a nested paradigm—the “complexist performance system” and its “performance nexus”—through which the web of agencies and inter-agent relationships can be examined. The defining aspect of this system is the observation that the performer is multivalently situated in relation to and actively embodies aspects of the composer and work agencies during performance (“multiple agency”). Chapter 4 uses this framework to examine pieces for solo clarinet by Joan Arnau Pàmies, Aaron Cassidy, Richard Barrett, and Timothy McCormack. Special attention is paid to the ways in which conceptual and material structures shape performer agency. Chapter 5 focuses on a performer’s evolving familiarity with a complexist work as a contextualizing pressure during performance. This topic is explored through reflections on the author’s performance history and interpretational practice with Ray Evanoff’s Narratives for solo E-flat clarinet. Chapter 6 concludes the thesis by reflecting on possible future work in the field, and an appendix provides a repertoire list of complexist pieces for solo clarinet and for mixed ensemble including clarinet.

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