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Book Chapter

Inscription, gesture, and social relations: Notation in Karnatak music


Pearson,  Lara
Department of Music, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Pearson, L. (2022). Inscription, gesture, and social relations: Notation in Karnatak music. In F. Schuiling, & E. Payne (Eds.), Material cultures of music notation: New perspectives on musical inscription (pp. 139-151). London: Taylor & Francis Ltd. doi:10.4324/9780429342837-13.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-2429-0
In the South Indian style known as Karnatak music, vocal teachers often spontaneously produce elaborate manual gestures while demonstrating phrases to be imitated by their students. Meanwhile, the music notation used is schematic and typically written out by hand during lessons. Based on ethnographic research conducted in India, this chapter shows how notation and gesture in this practice constitute intertwined modes through which music is conveyed, experienced, and remembered. Furthermore, the chapter presents an exploration of musicians' attitudes towards the materiality of notation and the physicality of gesture, looking at the role each can play in the formation and articulation of social relations. Drawing these analyses together, I argue that teachers' gestures can be viewed as a spontaneous form of kinetic notation—guidance for the student that also reveals some of the underlying connections between music and movement. In addition, I propose these bodily practices—gesturing and notation writing—can act to mediate practitioners' social relations, through the memories associated with each and with their materiality affording persistence over time.