One faces (2021)

for percussion trio

Text by Patrick Milian

Commissioned and premiered by Line Upon Line

Recent studies suggest that individual performers can be consistently identified solely by observed physical variations in “motion and timing parameters” occurring during performance. These performance hallmarks are the result of “non-deliberate, subjective and consistent motion variations…which [have] been shown to be sufficient to accurately identify a performer above chance level. Such variability is influenced by both biomechanics and cognitive factors in both space and time.” With these identifying motion variances being “non-deliberate” yet “consistent” it is apparent that innate physical and/or cognitive attributes influence resulting physical (and by extension sonic) performance in a fundamental, pronounced, and observable manner. These attributes are so strong that the resultant physical idiosyncrasies result in the detection of an individual identity, one that is not consciously pursued, but rather expressed through the activation of organic psychophysical programming. An aspect of the self communicated through a unique form of failure.

One faces is concerned with the fissure between signifier and signified and the frantic nature of connection forming. The score consists of two parts: a ‘source’ and a ‘legend.’ The ‘source’ is a paragraph of text and the ‘legend’ pairs each letter of the English alphabet with a unique performed event. The ‘source’ is read (mentally) letter by letter. For each letter the performers locate and perform the corresponding event in the ‘legend.’ The performers are instructed to make as many connections as possible, as fast as possible, and to perform the event immediately as the connection is made without regard to how it relates to the actions of other performers. The number of events performed, the duration between events, and when an event is performed is determined by the performers’ connection-making abilities.


This connection-making ability is subjected to varying types and degrees of obfuscation. For example, a letter on the source may appear blurry, turned upside down, or be ‘skewed’ by a superscript (e.g.,  T-10). This indicates that the performer must identify the letter 10 spaces to the left of ’T’ in the English alphabet and perform the event paired with that letter (in this case ‘j’). Additionally, when the performer encounters a symbol like T-10 they begin a stopwatch. Once the corresponding letter/event is discovered on the legend the watch is stopped. This value measures the elapsed time between perception of the signifier and location of the signified event, quantifying the effect of cognitive limitations and obfuscation methods. This value (referred to as the variable ’n’) is then used to determine the duration of the event that has been activated, effectively expanding and contracting notated material (e.g., the duration of an event may be expressed as ’n’ or ‘2n-4’ etc.). The ’n’ value is a way for the performer to modify the material in an unconscious way; a means of modification unrelated to conscious thought or aesthetic consideration but instead driven by the non-deliberate, subjective movements expressed in moments of failure or confusion.


Crucially, the performers come into contact with the ‘source’ and ‘legend’ for the first time on stage. As they interact with the score, memories and habits begin to emerge (e.g., one may remember the event ‘E’ communicates and thus it will be performed immediately, resulting in less silence between events, a smaller ’n' value, and a quick, compressed event.) What you observe are the performers essentially re-mapping the fundamental ability of symbolic manipulation and forming connections, memories, relationships, and habits in real time.


The complexity of the system and the inability of the performers to become familiar with the material prior to performance causes them to stumble/struggle through the system. They sway, shift, prepare objects, manipulate space, observe one another, move papers, and rotate. We hear this struggle through the rustling of clothing, squeaking of shoes, and the shifting of weight. Most importantly, the struggle experienced by the performers expresses aspects of their identity; in this case the manner in which an individual sifts through information. For instance, some performers use their index finger to guide their process while others bob their head. Some rigidly rotate their body as they survey the space, others calmly turn their head while keeping their torso still. If asked to select an option from a collection some performers insist on reading through all the options before selecting one while others are content to pick the first one they see. 

Embedded in this process is a text composed by Patrick Milian, in which unattributed, seemingly disembodied, voices offer comments, stories, and suggestions. Several threads are seemingly woven together making the number of voices in the narrative, as well as their context within the whole, unknowable. One may grasp at similarities in tone of voice and diction in an effort to construct provisional identities. Identities which are later problematized, deconstructed, or simply turn out to be unimportant.