Why instrumentalists are "so over" their instruments

There's a trend emerging right now in contemporary music circles: instrumentalists wanting to transcend, or even abandon altogether, their traditional orchestral instruments. This isn't a new idea, necessarily -- after all, fifty years ago, John Cage was writing instructions for bowing a cactus. But in our contemporary moment, I think it's an interesting impulse to examine. What is it about conservatory training for instrumentalists that has some of us dying to escape the instrument's confines? Why do some of us feel that our agency and creativity is limited when we pick up the instrument we've been playing for decades? After a recent performance by the exciting Chicago ensemble Mocrep, in which no standard instruments were used, I overheard one member joke to another: "Instruments are so over, man." 

In the coming weeks, I'm going to be tackling this question from a few different angles. I'll make it the subject of an upcoming episode of my podcast, and in late February, I'll have an article coming out in NewMusicBox on the topic. (Speaking of Mocrep: just after pitching the topic to my editor, they announced their workshop in Darmstadt. The title? "Just Beyond Our Instruments Is The World.") For an example of the fascinating work the group is presenting without instruments, check out this video. 

Last but not least, I'm trying to address this question directly through my own practice as a violinist. After all, I'm the person whose classical string trio experimented with devised movement and theatrical adaptation. I myself have often felt constricted and limited when my violin is up on my shoulder. And yet the violin is one of the most powerful creative tools I have. I'd like to find a way to marry the rigor and beauty of my classical string training with the poetry, freedom, and sense of experimentation that's important to me now. One of my goals for 2016 is to heal and redefine my relationship with the violin: making sure that, while I venture into new creative territory, I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. (The baby being the violin.) I think this is a concern that many of my peers share, and I'm excited to share what I learn here on Artist's Huddle.