Floating Hierarchies

Josiah Rushing, Fulbright Advanced Student 2016-17, Conservatoire de Lyon

My first exposure to Herbert Brun was in a Percussion Literature course during my years in Cincinnati. The class met every Tuesday night from 6-8PM. These two hours gave us students a snapshot of our professor’s thought-life: a string of tangents that only find their relevance to each other if you’re patient enough to wait and listen (which sometimes took weeks, semesters, or years).  I hold these sessions dear to my heart and soul because this professor exposed us to a variety of thoughts, questions, and music that I would never come upon anywhere else. It was in one of these Tuesday nights that the professor brought a book in his usual collection of vintage suitcases entitled my words and where I want them by Herbert Brun: a kind of “book of proverbs.” I have been deeply inspired by Brun’s words and music since that night.

As a part of my Fulbright project, I performed Brun’s Floating Hierarchies as a project with the Laboratoire Scène Recherche at the National Music Conservatory in Lyon (CNSMDL). I won’t take the time to explain all of the details of how this piece works. However, there are two important things to note for the purpose of my story. First,  the piece requires each performer to compose/interpret a graphic score (the use of images instead traditional music notation). Second, to understand Brun’s concept of floating hiearchies:

To love beyond


is in keeping with the image of floating

hierarchies, where the playful dance of

centers transcends the relativity of

observed levels.

– Herbert Brun (#240 from my words and where I want them)

Being very convicted by the philosophy of this piece, I made it my priority to maintain this collaborative atmosphere and destabilize any sense of centralized power: to sustain the floating hierarchies. Up until the last two weeks of the performance, my fellow COINERS (Brun’s abrevation for COmposing INterpreting performERS) had not really felt confident in the process of interpreting these kinds of scores, since it was there first time participating in a project like this. Two “problems” arose as time passed. First, some of my fellow COINERS’ eventual proposals, in my opinion, did not align with the Brun’s guidelines. Second, the piece was being performed in a collaborative concert between Lyon 2 (one of the universities in Lyon) and CNSMD. I began to see this as a problem not so much because it exceeded Brun’s “limit” of three or four musicians, but because we did not have the time to allow each participant to create their own interpretation. This inherently meant that these additional participants would not have the opportunity to share the power by creating their own realizations of the score and other shared decisions.

Furthermore, the growing confidence of the other COINers and the addition of other musicians made me feel as if I was loosing control of the project. This realization struck me as encouraging and disconcerting. It was encouraging in the sense that I had done my job in cultivating a true sense of floating hierarchies. The group I had initially formed became comfortable with creating within this social structure of decentralized power. However, this sense of loosing control meant that I, at some point, assumed a kind of absolute power. Their ideas began to conflict with my idea of the piece and, somewhere inside of me, I had a problem with that.

So, I had choices to make. Would I assume a kind of absolute power to discourage certain interpretations (thus destroying the floating hierarchies)? Would I deny the opportunity for additional musicians to have a hands-on experience with a piece of American culture (which is one of the reasons I am here as a Fulbrighter)? Would I stay true to the philosophy of the piece even though that would mean going against some of Brun’s other directions?

I decided to let go. Not to be any less invested, but simply to let go of whatever power I had attached to my space of this floating hierarchy. It turned out to be a great performance of the work, but most of all a great growing experience for all creative voices involved.

Such musical spaces allow me to create my own Tuesday night from 6-8PM: a representation to go beyond my own intellectual, emotional, and spiritual capacity. Such musical spaces allow audiences and musicians to share ideas, music, and unanswered questions. Such musical spaces allow us to learn to love beyond comparison…


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