Vanessa Porter (Foto: Oliver Look)
Body Percusscion

No Fabric Between Skin and Hand

When monkeys beat their chests, children clap their hands and someone slaps the face with a flat hand in the Kleine Tonhalle, it's all about a fascinating phenomenon: body percussion. An approach.

Melanie Kollbrunner

Vanessa Porter rolls along the streets between rehearsal and gig, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel – constantly and almost without noticing it herself yet. «That's just how we are,» says the percussionist and performer. She means herself as a percussionist, but basically all people, because this form of music-making is the most archaic, the one we all harbour deep inside us. Body percussion is when the body is used as an instrument to create rhythmic sounds. Clapping, snapping, stamping. If the human voice is also used, we speak of body music.

Christian Hartmann, solo timpanist in the orchestra, also taps and drums next to his coffee cup when he talks about this form of music-making. Especially with his sons, he has repeatedly used forms of body percussion, sometimes consciously, sometimes less consciously, especially when they were small. Body percussion is so immediate and intuitive, no wonder that it is often used in music education, often in combination with the use of the voice: «I'm building a house,» he says. Emphasis on «building», parallel tapping with the finger. Yes, that's how people start playing the drums today. For children, trying out their own body orchestra promotes self-efficacy. With body percussion, they get to know their body in a completely new way: as an instrument.

From zero to knocking in the now

«Children love all forms of body percussion,» says Mara Corleoni, who heads the music education department of the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich. «When there is clapping, drumming or stamping, everyone is immediately in the same place, it unites groups, no matter how heterogeneous they are. It brings everyone into the now, into togetherness.» Since she took up her position many years ago, she and her team have used body percussion in very different formats for this reason.

Vanessa Porter (Foto: Oliver Look)

There was also a lot of drumming and clapping at the Porters' home in Laupheim, south of Stuttgart: the father is a professional drummer for pop and jazz with his own music school in the house, the sister is also a drummer. Vanessa Porter studied classical percussion at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart. The fact that she chose this path for herself is certainly due to the constant availability of music with which she grew up. She can't say what role body percussion played in this: «What is certain is that body percussion is far from being only important in education.» There is much more to it, she says, even though she herself has always used it as a pedagogical element out of great conviction when she was still teaching more.

In the meantime, she is mainly interested in stage performance, live performance as the border between narrative art form and concert. This is also her approach to body percussion: «I want to touch the audience as directly as possible.» The sound on the body has an immediate effect, everyone can imagine something with a slap in the face. Complex, virtuoso sequences with several mallets, for example, are more abstract.

Firmly anchored in the canon

Christian Hartmann also experiences that this mixed form of concert and art performance is becoming more and more common today. In percussion competitions for contemporary compositions, body percussion is an essential component: «an aspect that is now firmly anchored in the solo percussion literature. This literature is not even a hundred years old and is characterised by the joy of experimentation: «There are exciting pieces such as ?Corporel by the Slovenian trombonist and composer Vinko Globokar, which go far beyond childlike clapping and snapping

The aforementioned piece «?Corporel» can also be found in the programme «Folie à Deux», which Vanessa Porter will present in November as part of the Série jeunes. The artist, born in 1992, has already performed on the world's great stages and has made a name for herself with various awards. Nevertheless, she fits perfectly into the Série jeunes with her extraordinarily performative and very intimate programme. Body percussion plays a major role in it when she mixes elements of improvisation and electronics with the sound director Daniel Mudrack.

Rubbing, hitting, hissing

It seems to Vanessa Porter that Vinko Globokar (*1934) asked himself while composing what all these instruments are supposed to do on stage: «And that's how it is for me and many of my colleagues, too,» she says. She wants to prove that a continuous, hour-long programme without intermission or applause requires, above all, full physical commitment: «There is hissing and whispering, it's about scratching, rubbing and also hitting, but actually not in the rhythmic sense.» Just like someone exploring their body for the first time. She sits cross-legged on stage in sports underwear. Not to radiate eroticism, but so that no fabric between hand and skin obstructs the immediate.

When Vanessa Porter stops at a petrol station, for example, and there is a rustling in the bushes, she may well incorporate the noise she has just perceived into one of her programmes later on. Everything around her inspires her. «I'm less the type for orchestral music,» she says, «even if symphonic works sound through the car radio. What interests her are sound and physicality, skin and haptics: she is interested in exploring boundaries. This is not always beautiful, but fragile and direct. In other words, body percussion.


Folie à Deux

describes a mental disorder in which an actually healthy person adopts the delusions of someone close to them who is suffering from psychosis. Over time, the two reinforce each other's convictions. Together with the sound director Daniel Mudrack, the award-winning percussionist and performance artist Vanessa Porter has developed a concept entitled «Folie à Deux», which depicts the emotions of those affected through music, improvisation, live loops and sound installations in order to draw more attention to this still little-known illness. For this, she uses her own music as well as works by Georges Aperghis, Salvatore Sciarrino, Alexander Sandi Kuhn, David Lang, Emil Kuyumcuyan and Vinko Globokar.

Tranlated with

November 2023
Mon 06. Nov

Série jeunes: Vanessa Porter

Vanessa Porter Perkussion, Daniel Mudrack Elektronik Porter, Kuyumcuyan, Globokar, Lang, Aperghis, Kuhn
published: 30.10.2023