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Introduction

In ZAB unusual approaches to playing the double bass are transformed into a form of theatricality. Unexpected physical gestures and behaviour draws attention to the interaction between performer and instrument, and to the physical creation of the novel sounds. Yet, ZAB cannot be unambiguously defined as instrumental theatre. The sounds are not subordinate to the gestures creating them and they are almost never considered a mere consequence of the corporal movements. Rather on the contrary, it was the anticipation of novel timbre and sound that constituted the ideas in the composer’s imagination. When Boivin was working with Jean-Pierre Robert, his conceptions of sound also found a visual expression, which proved to be a revelation in shaping the ideas for the coming piece. Working with gesture was a natural extension of the instrumental research. But theatrical actions also originated from suggestions and feedback that came from friends involved with theatre. Boivin describes that he was always picturing the gesture while writing the music, to endeavour a contextual entirety of sound and gesture. Visuals that fitted into the idea of the piece were incorporated in the structure, mostly without any precisely defined intentions, as potentially meaningless gestures used by virtue of their visual value. In ZAB, the gestures are not a structural element, and only the sound is used systematically in the construction of the piece.

When I began studying ZAB I had a twofold focus: I started off rehearsing technical details, the percussive techniques, focusing on short sections or phrases in order to master the instrumental challenges. Secondly, I had to work on the theatrical aspects and on those parts where sound and movement merge with each other. The eventual act was the assemblage of the previously rehearsed parts, to complete the entirety of every movement.

This phase of twofold attention, the study of instrumental technique one the one hand, the study of instrumental theatre on the other, presented multifarious challenges. Since I prefer to work on my instrument in a rather traditional fashion, it is often easier to focus in the usual practice situation, even when rehearsing unconventional techniques. As a consequence, it was difficult to change focus and rehearse the motion-related or theatrical aspects, which make it necessary to develop a very natural feel for the specific movements and their combinations with sound (the composer provides very precise instructions also for all movement and theatre in the piece). My future involvement with ZAB will most likely be dedicated to progressing on a path towards an ideal natural flow of the larger musical lines, and to the discovery of my personal interpretation of gesture, rather than continuously advancing towards a perfection of playing techniques.