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Musical Eccentrics

Musical Eccentrics: Misfitness and Music

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Wanted!! Musical Eccentrics. Dead or Alive, said the post on the internet. This was mine attempt to spread the news about my postdoc research. The idea is to build a platform where the musical eccentrics have their space and voice. But what is a musical eccentric.

In order to clarify some patterns about the scope of my research, I would like to bring back some of the ideas developed during my PhD. In my theses, I suggest an approach to the clown’s practice that is under the umbrella of what I call “misfitness”. From the four principles scrutinised at the time (Objects, Relationship, Body and Logic), the logic of the clown is one that I want to highlight now. The misfit logic is at the base of clown’s practice given that “the logic of the clown is translated in action, e.g., the clown thinks with the body”. The actions of the clown reveal a different kind of logic that defy the principles of the orthodox logic. Logic for the clown it is not necessarily logic for a non-clown one. The horizons of my research can be seen when this misfit logic is applied to the music.

Eccentric is another name for clown. Not every eccentric is a clown but most of the clowns are eccentric, not just because they sometimes dress differently or use weird make up but because they think in a way that does not fit with the ordinary way of thinking. Because their thoughts are translated into visible acts, their attitude is considered eccentric if compared to the common citizen we find in daily life. Therefore, one way of defining eccentric is to correlate it to the concept of misfitness. Essentially, an eccentric is a misfit – someone that fails to fit the expected behaviour towards things and people/society.

There is something that must be said about the term “musical” applied to the title of my research. Maybe I got lost in translation. The term excêntricos musicais in Portuguese language is used to define a special branch of clown’s art – the musical clowns. In English, maybe because of the long tradition of musical theatre, the expression ‘musical eccentrics’ might sound like something related to pantomime or a West End production that escapes the ordinary pattern used in blockbuster musicals. Perhaps Joe Grimaldi could be considered one of the first musical eccentrics. And his shows, some kind of eccentric musical. However, it’s my intention to make clear from the start that the focus of my research is on this branch of the clown’s tree called musical eccentrics or musical clowns. The scope of my research is a bit larger than that. Bringing back the concept of misfitness, the field of the search will be expended to the idea of misfit musician. That means that, in the process of curatorship*, I will be looking at a diverse range of companies and artists (that are not necessarily clowns) that make music in an eccentric way. In order to make the scope of the research not too wide, the focus here will be on people that play music in a non-conventional way, either because their instruments are not conventional or because the way they play is not conventional. I will not however be dealing with what could be called misfit composers, such as John Cage. I will try to stablish parameters for this curatorship, for example, from Grock to Victor Borge, from Grimaldi to UdiGrudi.

The Swiss clown Grock is a classical representative of what a musical clown is. He played more than 47 conventional instruments in a non-conventional way. Plus, another number of sound things** (rubber balloon, chairs and props) that he played joyfully. Grock was a virtuoso as a musician and as a clown. Victor Borge was a virtuoso pianist that played in a non-conventional way. There is a vast range of misfit musicians between one and the other. But they have one thing in common: they played music in a way that made people laugh. This could be set as one of the curation parameters: music that is bonded to comedy. Grimaldi is known to have created some unusual instruments for his shows (including a vegetable band) and Udigrudi creates props and instruments out of recycled materials. The latter has been my company and case study for the last forty years. Consequently, my experience as a musical eccentric with Udigrudi and the work done until now is another defining aspect of the curatorship. Therefore, the research will be looking at the work of other circus or theatre companies and individual artists that use music as one of the basic components of their creative raw material (materia-prima criativa). Another way to put it: Misfit Musicians.

*curatorship is a very important term here. The role of the curator is fundamental to the result of the process. The definition of what should be considered “musical eccentrics” and what should be part of this future archive is as important as the research in itself.

**Marcio Vieira, my partner at Udigrudi, recently wrote a MA dissertation about the “sound things” or objects that may produce sounds or make music. The concept is very useful and it will be applied to this research.

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