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Of Slovenian heritage, Vinko Globokar started out as a jazz trombonist and later studied composition with René Leibowitz – an important Schoenberg disciple – and Luciano Berio. He has developed a body of work – quite literally so in Corporel – based on improvisation and extended technique. Globokar’s theatrical sensibility is reminiscent of Berio’s humanism and all-inclusive curiosity, but with somewhat more overtly political overtones.

Corporel (which means “having to do with the body”) strips down the familiar Romantic idea of the suffering artist – which the other two works on our program reconsider as a species of insanity – and takes it to a raw extreme. The premise appears simple: Globokar has the shirtless percussionist use his own body as an instrument, hitting, beating, thwacking, and wordlessly vocalizing. Patterns of sound and gesture are built from what seems to be self-inflicted pain, keeping us transfixed even as we flinch. Is this a form of madness? Or perhaps the performer is split in two, enacting torture visited on him by an unseen sinister force – or its memory, stamped on his body and repeated in grotesque rituals of internalized punishment.

Where in traditional aesthetics we like to anthropomorphize musical instruments (a violin “sings”), Corporel seems, on one level, to dehumanize the performer by transforming him into an instrument and stripping away the veneer of civilization – or at least it seems to make him regress into a sort of primal unconscious. At the same time, his gestures, percussive and vocal, generate an oddly compelling sense of authentic expression, one not filtered through convention. The performer is, after all, both agent and instrument, subject and object: “playing” himself. Ultimately, though, it’s through the tension between the premeditated shape of the performance and its spontaneous-seeming execution that Globokar holds us captive, whether we react with bemusement, concern, or outrage.