Music as movement: Table music by Thierry De Mey

One of my many unproven theories is that there are two kinds of people, depending on the way they respond to music:

  1. by dancing
  2. by playing an air instrument

Me, I belong to the second group. Through the years, I’ve mastered the air guitar, air piano, air drums, all the instruments of the air string quartet, … even the air marimba on occasion.

Marimba

A 5-octave concert model, no less

Either way, music and movement are intimately connected. And there’s one man who devoted his life’s work to that idea: Thierry De Mey, composer of the fabulous Musique de table or Table music.

“One of the main reasons we make music is the simple pleasure of using or bodies to make sounds.”

Table for three

Table music is a composition for six hands on three tables. Performing it looks like immense fun:

As you probably guessed, none of this is improvised. De Mey developed a special notation system to prescribe exactly what each hand should be doing at any moment.

Thierry De Mey Table music score

No longer seems so much fun, does it?

Table dance

Would I enjoy this music as much if I just listened to it, without watching the performance? No. But that seems to be the point. De Mey is not interested in making ‘absolute music’. In fact, he is best known for his collaborations with dance choreographers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Wim Vandekeybus.

“Music is just as much art as handicraft.”

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of modern dance – or classical ballet for that matter. Maybe that’s because I’m one of those air instrument people. But Table music does speak to me. It reminds me that one of the main reasons we make music is the simple pleasure of using or bodies to make sounds. Just look at the moment when the middle guy can no longer hide how much fun he’s having.

Performance of Thierry De Mey's Table music

“Stay cool, stay cool, … Oh, forget it.”

The take-away from Table music

In the end, there’s no such thing as absolute music. Most of the fun of attending a live concert is watching the players work their magic and sharing in their enjoyment. Even when I’m listening to a pure stream of sound through my headphones, I can’t help imagining the movements that produced it. Until I start making those moves myself, in endlessly ridiculous ways.

Maybe that’s why the dance people were the first to really appreciate electronic music. And yet, even DJ’s feel the need to visibly but – as many suspect – pointlessly fidget with buttons and sliders. As De Mey’s Table music literally illustrates, music is just as much art as handicraft.

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