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Physical Intentions: Exploring Michel Waisvisz’s The Hands (Movement 1)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2017

Jon Bellona*
University of Virginia, 112 Old Cabell Hall, PO Box 400176, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22903, USA


Through a musical examination of The Hands (Movement 1) (1986), this article reveals musical developments of Michel Waisvisz’s early performance practice with The Hands. Waisvisz’s digital musical instrument, The Hands, helped shape the body as a recognisable agent of musical structure; this article details how the instrument controls relate to musical gesture and reveals the physical efforts of the composer through spectral analyses of the sound recording and an investigation of a 1987 performance video. The rich context of The Hands – the instrument controls, Waisvisz’s decades-long dedication to the instrument’s potential and, more centrally, the exploration of human effort in performance – have made this pioneering live-performance system for electronic music stand for more than just a musical instrument. Many authors cite Michel Waisvisz’s Hands technology but few provide musical analyses of Waisvisz’s music. The musical analysis of The Hands (Movement 1) (1986) highlights the art practice of a seminal composer–performer through one of his most important digital musical instruments and signals how the body became an instrument for playing digital electronic music.

© Cambridge University Press 2017 

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