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Stephen Ibbotson

Agency, Time and Space = the Performance Matrix
A conceptual topography as a form of orientational assistance

1.1. Abstract

In this paper a short overview of the Performance Matrix (PM) concept will be presented in respect to the performative dimensions (temporal and spatial) of social phenomena. For this purpose the determining features of music-theatrical experience will be used analogically to explicate these dimensions. The theatrical analogy is well established in the social sciences. The musical metaphor, as a supplement to the theatrical metaphor, provides the possibility to examine both simultaneous and consecutive events. These events can then be viewed along both the horizontal and vertical axes within different time/space horizons. The essential elements of this model are agency, time and space.

1.2. Introduction

The concepts presented in this paper were developed as a response to a need perceived by the author to understand the musical-theatrical phenomenon more closely. What Music-Theatre is may seem self-evident. As with many areas of our everyday lives, Music-Theatre is built upon multifarious attitudes, assumptions and ways of behaving that are taken for granted by most participants. This prosaic access to the Music-Theatre has a pragmatic foundation. If one thought too deeply about the `what´ and the `why´ of one’s role in the musical-theatrical event it would disturb the flow of the experience, both actively (per-formatively) and passively (receptively). Roland Kurt (2004, p. 31) classifies this as ›!- type of access, implying in this exclamation ! the self-evidential nature of the way things occur in `real life´. With a ›?- or scientific access one consciously places everything in question. For our purposes this means, to understand the phenomenon one requires a process of uncovering. Having achieved a level of understanding, one can then decide how to use this information, and, therefore, return to the everyday mode. This movement from ›!- to ›?- and back ›!- is essentially a hermeneutical process. The movement described involves understanding and interpretation; analysis and synthesis; impression and expression; contemplation and action. The Music-Theatre Per-former takes the `de-hydrated´ forms created by the Pre-Former (Composer/Librettist) and re-hydrates them for consumption by the Post-Former (Auditor/Spectator). In order to interpret, and thus express, the given forms in an optimal manner the Per-Former must understand them. Music-Theatre, the process of per-Forming, the Per-Former and the post-Former themselves can therefore all be considered as essentially hermeneutical phenomena. To understand one requires the “…detached, meaning-giving, knowing subject” (as in the case of Husserlian Phenomenology) and the “…embodied, meaning-giving, doing subject” (as provided by the Heideggerian brand of Phenomenology). (Dreyfus, H. L., 1994, p. 47) The intentionality of the per- and the post-Forming subject is a determining factor in their existence as subjects. The question must be, however, what “…is the ontological meaning of “performance”. (Heidegger, M. in the translation from Macquarrie, J. and Robinson, E., 1962, in Dreyfus, H, 1994, p. 49)

1.3. Music-Theatre as Performance

Music-Theatre is the epitome of a per-Formative medium; it achieves substantiality through its execution in the present. In other words, the musical-(dramatical) score as a sequence of coded Forms has to be realised by the per-Formers in the process of per-Formance. As every professional musician knows effective music-making (Musizieren) is based on the ability to oscillate between different levels of focus. At one point he is intimately involved in the embodiment and enactment of every single tone, and at the same time he must be able to organise this tone in a sequence of other tones. These tones themselves then build a phrase as part of a larger form. The per-Former is required to retain simultaneously, both a holistic and reductionist perspective. (See Hofstadter, 1979, p. 311) Above and beyond this the per-Former is required to adopt different perspectives, consciously or unconsciously, in order to achieve a successful per-Formance. Most obviously he must be able to adopt the perspective of the character he is portraying. He must also be able to adopt the position of the pre-Former and the post-Former respectively, i.e. he must be able to interpret the forms provided adequately and anticipate the manner in which these modified forms will be interpreted. The per-Former´s per-Formance is also directly influenced by the conductor (Dirigent) who acts a quasi-per-Former in that he can determine the flow of the per-Formance without directly per-Forming himself. The category of the conductor can also be divided between a variety of individuals (Seifter, H., and Economy, P. 2001) even if this is mostly no the case in Music –Theatre. The per-Former must also take him into account. The producer (Regisseur) does not per-Form himself/herself, in the sense of per-Forming in the immediate actual moment of per-Formance , but rather provides the framework or matrix within which the per-Formance can take place. In order to do this he must not only be able “tune in” (in the sense suggested by Alfred Schütz) to the other participants of the per-Forming process, but also bring the complete process into a tuneful relationship. (see Stascheit, A.G., in Srubar, I., and Vaitkus, S., 2003, p. 215-237) The process of per-Forming itself appears to be a relation of figure to ground. The Music-Theatre per-Former experiences this in the manner in which his per-Formance is supported and carried by the orchestral sound. In this sense there exists are corporeal extension of the per-Former´s bodily vessel (Körper) and thus is incorporated into his embodied sphere of influence (Leib). This is not to deny that the orchestra does at times take on a central per-Forming role. Nonetheless, one can view the per-Former as the prototypical unit of the theatrical process. Even when two or more performers are involved, one or the other is the central point of focus in the immediate moment of per-Formance. An ensemble of per-Formers (as in the case of the orchestra or chorus) forms an independent unit which operates in relation to the audience in the same way as the individual actor does. The successful musical-theatrical per-Formance would be the synthesis of the contingent factors mentioned above which are present as potentialities (i.e. as a matrix) in every moment of per-Formance. The categories of Matrix and Performance are obviously, in the context of musical-theatrical per-Formance, mutually dependant phenomena.

1.4. The Performance Matrix (PM)

Michael Kirkby postulated in 1965 the concept of a matrixed performance in the context of an essay about new theatrical forms. A matrixed performance (MP) can be seen as an event in the so-called traditional theatre in which…
…the performer always functions within (and creates) a matrix of time, place, and character. Indeed, a brief definition of acting as we have traditionally known it might be the creation of, and operation within, this artificial, imaginary, interlocking structure. When an actor steps on stage, he brings with him an intentionally created and consciously possessed world, or matrix, and it is precisely the disparities between this manufactured reality and the spectator’s reality that make the play potentially significant to the audience. (Kirkby, 1965, in Sandford, 1995 p. 5)

It is important to note that the essential elements mentioned earlier, agency, time and space (character, time and place), are present in his explanation. This concept was developed by him in order to distinguish traditional theatre from improvisational theatrical “Happenings” which he described as being non-matrixed. This was meant to indicate the non-planned aleatorical nature of these performance events that simply occurred in the present. Despite what Kirkby claims it can be suggested that, even if these events are contingent, chance occurrences, there is still an implicit Performance Matrix. It is only a question of whether the matrix has been made visible or not. When it has been made visible we can either, observe an event, deconstruct it and place it within a factorial matrix, or, we can consciously use this factorial matrix in order to construct an event. This is a familiar means of observation in the natural sciences and involves the processes of analysis and synthesis. This can be presented diagrammatically in the following manner:

The movement from PM to MP and back to PM can be considered as comparative to the hermeneutical process described by Kurt – from Text to Context and From Context to Text. (see 1.4., also Kurt, 2004, p. 242-251) It also resembles Spencer Brown’s calculus of form, particularly in the manner in which it returns to starting position. (Baecker, D. 2002, p. 9-10) Both the matrix and the performance themselves do not remain unchanged by this process but are modified recursively, i.e. the matrix becomes more complex through greater differentiation and the performance increases in expressive pregnancy on the basis of the augmentation of the possibilities of choice within the matrix.

1.5. The Performance Matrix Reloaded

In a further explication of Kirkby’s concepts Darko Suvin believes that without theatre’s time and space referring to…

…a different epistemological or even ontological status (which is, what I take it is what matrixing means), its situations cannot be organised into an imaginary universe which impinges on our universe only on the privileged “holy circle” of the stage. (Suvin, in Sandford, 1995 p. 294)

What is implied here is that the flow of events in everyday life is essentially unintelligible until one creates a special space or husserlian `Epoche´ (the “holy circle of the stage”) within which to observe its phenomena. Suvin further clarifies the distinction between matrixed and non-matrixed performances by classifying them as diegetic or non-diegetic. These terms are derived “…from the Greek Diegesis – a story told.” (ibid) Thus the story can be told or it remains untold. When a story is told it implies that someone is there to hear and see the story. Therefore, the per-Former is always connected to a post-Former. The per-Former relates the story, and essentially is the story, while the post-Former receives and comprehends the story. They are, then, bound together in a primary or “Ur”-dyadic relationship. He differentiates further between diegetic and non-diegetic events by explaining that the…

…unfolding of a happening does not give rise to another imaginary but [instead a] vivid and coherent space/time universe overlapping with our own. …Paradoxically, any diegetic theatre genre …can thus be seen as a limit-case of a non-diegetic genre (such as the Happening) whose time and space had become fixed into a constant. (ibid)

He expresses this in the form of a mathematical notation in the following manner:

…if a Happening is a function of time, space, dramaturgic figures, and dramaturgic situation:

(1) H = f(t, s, fig, sit)
then for
(2) t/s = k, which is the situation for drama
(3) Dr = k • f(fig, sit)
The constant k is then the time/space relation or form characteristic for each major epoch of drama (and diegetic theatre). (ibid)

He is therefore arguing that the unplanned (non-diegetic) occurrence is the general case and the planned (diegetic) event is the exception. As informative as this formula is there are several important aspects lacking in his considerations. He does not account for the process of observation or for the complexity of the event. The differential between the situations for Happening as opposed to Drama does account for the temporal dimensions of performance. This is possible when one views the description of Drama as the potential for per-Formance and Happening as coincident with the actuality of per-Formance. This relationship is clarified by Bernhard Lonergan in that he shows the connection existing between invariant and variant forms of temporal/spatial presentation.

Thus, as long as men remain on the level of the invariant expressions they are not considering any concrete extension and duration; inversely, as soon as men consider concrete extensions and durations, each views them differently. The endless multiplicity of spatiotemporal viewpoints and of different frames of reference, so far from being transcended, reappears with every return from the abstract to the concrete. (Lonergan, B., 1997, p. 195)

Suvin’s formulation of Drama as a constant time/space relation can, in my opinion, be viewed as a form of invariant and, therefore, abstract expression. It becomes variant and concrete expression by being transferred to the Happening modus. This transfer is, in my opinion, executed the per-Former. Hereby one is accounting for the complexity as well as the processual and observational, or more correctly multi-perspectival, aspects of performance. In order to adequately describe these various components it is necessary to create a more inclusive model. Such a model would, in my opinion, be the PM. This model would have to account for the following aspects:

1. The PM is a slice of life (Momentaufnahme) showing an event within its context under the conditions (agency – i.e. figure, space and time – i.e. situation) that are apparent within the specific time/space coordinates.

2. It is also a derivation (Auflösung) of the event that points outwards centrifugally to the surrounding matrix.

3. The MP is seemingly the same as the PM, and is of course based on the same event within its matrix. However, the movement within the matrix is in a centripetal direction and involves the construction (Aufbau) of the performative event from the matrix.

4. In Suvin’s formula the Ur-dyad is missing. How can one show that the event has to be observed in order to exist? This means that the observer (post-Former) is witnessing the per-Formance and is concentrated upon the per-Former´s diegesis (storytelling) instead of the complete event (i.e. he is within the system). How the performance is comprehended is dependent on the point of view the post-Former has. His position/perspective towards the performance is also a factor located within the matrix. Furthermore, in order to establish the existence of the PM itself one needs to observe it from without/outside the system. The observer of the PM is himself/herself, of course, is also part of a larger system/matrix.

5. This slice of life is, of course, only one of a series of moments. When we place these matrices (single moments) alongside each other it is then possible to plot the path of the performance.

For our purposes the PM could be expressed mathematically as follows :

• k – “situation for drama” is integrated on the basis of the diversity of components, the number and content of the components would be established by an external observer

• (fig, sit, historical background, political background, etc.) , a competent observer describes or analyses k through a complex filter, in this manner he communicates his performance by his/her description of k

• PM is then the sum of all observations of an observer from point A (middle) to point B (outer edge), the quantity of the individual Integrals provides information about the extent of the observers acquired competence

• PM describes additionally the lower edge A and the upper edge B where the observer is located

MP is the inverse relationship which can either be presented by a reversal of the upper and the lower edges of the Integral

By considering MP as an Integral the diversity of components would be used as criteria for the analysis of k i.e. that the actual situation would be influenced by contingent factors and therefore would be determined externally. If one attempted to describe MP with a differential then the situation would be filtered to such an extent that consideration of all external factors would be negated. This would, of course, be nonsensical because the fundamental principle of communication would be contradicted. One would then be describing k without reference to its context. This could also be postulated as an axiom of the PM (see 1.3., 1.4.). Despite these reservations this formula could be stated thus:

Our analysis provides us, of course, with only a cursory overview of the structural dimensions of the PM. A comprehensive explication is being conducted within the context of a dissertation. This analysis gives us a macro-perspective of the per-Formance phenomenon, but fails to account for the micro- or phenomenological perspective. This will also be dealt with more comprehensively in the dissertation. Nonetheless, I believe that we have at this point achieved the construction of the foundations of a functional description, within a terminological Instrumentarium (PM), of the phenomenon of per-Formance. The forthcoming task is then to further develop and differentiate this Instrumentarium. This will be conducted in the context of the dissertation and the publication of academic essays.

1.6. The provenance of the PM

The theoretical and philosophical origins of the PM are manifold and cannot be adequately traced within the context of this paper. There are, however, obvious connections with Luhmann’s system theory, particularly in regard to category of observation. (see 1.5.) There are also recognisable elements of the concept of the conditional Matrix developed by Anselm L. Strauss and Juliet Corbin (Strauss, A. L., Corbin, J., 1996, 135-147) and Strauss’s theory of action (Strauss, A. L., 1993). One can also see parallels to the Thousand Plateaus of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1992) in the sense that each matrix is part of a further matrix. Nonetheless, there is an undoubtedly strong familial relationship with Actor Network Theory developed by French sociologists Bruno Latour and Micheal Callon. Despite this family connection, and the multifarious influences referred to above, I wish to delimit the territory of the younger theoretical sibling PM. As a name I believe it retains the advantages of the Actor Network by clearly indicating the relationship between agency and structure (Law, J., 2003, p. 3). Additionally, it informs what and how, as well as, by whom this system is determined. The term performance can mean either the execution of an action (the forming of forms through forms), the designation of an event, or an index of achievement. The per-Former is the agent of per-Formance. Per-Formance is derived from the Latin performans and indicates the temporal imperativeness of the term – it is occurring in the present – as well as, standing in relationship to the other temporal horizons. It is also an essentially spatial, and thus substantial, concept. Matrix is a form out of which other forms can arise, and in which potential forms can be stored. PM and MP indicate, as stated earlier, that the same phenomena is being observed, but out a different perspective and with a alternative direction of movement (see 1.2., 1.4.). It can be viewed as either centralised (i.e. inhabited by the actor/per-Former) or decentralised (i.e. the surrounding context of a per-Formative event, or a system with manifold nexuses). PM can also be viewed as a form of existential semiotics. (Tarasti, E., 2000) In combination with the musical-theatrical event the concept allows us to consider the so-called reality in a “doubled sense” because it is similar to other art forms in that it “…divides the reality through its form, so that it is possible, in effect, to distinguish between to sides [of the form]; between the real Reality and the fictional Reality.” (Luhmann, N, 1990, in Böhme-Mehner, T., 2003 p. 137 ) Thus, we can view the actual “Happening” of societal processes (see 1.4., 1.5.) through a foil, and at a certain remove, without forgetting that it is only a necessary fiction.

1.7. Opera/Music-Theatre as the construction and representation of society

The last issue to be considered in this paper is the way in which Music-Theatre can be used to construct and represent society. Tatjana Böhme-Mehner devotes her PhD dissertation to a consideration of this subject. As mentioned above (see 1.6.) Music-Theatre provides us with a double foil though which we can view society. As a sub-subsystem of the subsystem Art (Luhmann) it is part of, as well as being responsible for, social communication and, thus, social construction. (ibid, p. 126-133) As with other dramatic mediums Music-Theatre represents social systems within another social system – i.e. the dramatical situation portrayed on the stage in the context of social situation (scene) within a specific social milieu. (ibid. p. 141-144, also Schulze, G., 2000) As can be seen we have multiple levels which can be represented with this model (PM) which combine to create a harmonic whole (this is not to say that dissonance is not an important factor to be considered). The musical work itself, with its melodic, rhythmic and harmonic structures, is one level that can be considered. In a less than flippant example the x and y axes of the graphs of social/economic indexes could, in my opinion, be easily transferred into musical structures. Additionally we have the dramatic and per-Formative elements of the work. The is a complete social apparatus literally behind scenes concerned with the production of the event. The event is patently of social nature and reflects the complexity of social processes in a coherent form. Suffice it to say that the questions that must posed if one wishes to adopt this paradigmatic manner of viewing social processes are the following: “Which types of per-Formance are occurring?”; “Which per-Formance is central/essential to the organisation?”; “Where is the nexus of the PM?”; “Where am I situated (temporally and spatially) in relation to it?”; “Am I the Performer , Spectator , Conductor or Producer/Director ; or am I part of the supporting organisation (the accompanying orchestra)?”; If I am the Performer how does my melody (action scheme) fit into the overall harmonic structure of the organisational processes (the horizontal and the vertical axes). “Do I exert an influence (direct or indirect) on the nature of the per-Formance?”; “Which other per-Formances are connected with this per-Formance?”

1.8. Encore

If we can accept this way of viewing social structures and process we will not need to be satisfied with the realisation that “the show is over when the fat lady sings.” It will be much more important to determine who the “fat lady” is, and what song she is singing!!


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Böhme-Mehner, T. (2003): Die Oper als offenes autopoietisches System im Sinne Luhmanns?, Musikwissenschaft/Musikpädagogik in der Blauen Eule, Band 61, Verlag Blaue Eule, Essen

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Strauss, A. L. (1993): Continual permutations of action, Aldine de Gruyter, New York