In an essay titled “Instrumentalities,” David Burrows proposes ventriloquism as a metaphor for understanding the relationship between musician and instrument. Burrows identifies ventriloquism as “not simply [an act] of concealment and transformation but [one that] involves splitting the performer’s personality and displacing part of it onto an alter ego that acts as a foil, not a clone.” Like the ventriloquist’s dummy, the instrument is made to appear to have its own agency with which the musician must negotiate. The illusion of the instrument’s (semi-)autonomy is fundamental to instrumental performance in most Western musical genres. In this essay, the questions of instrumentality and agency, and their relationship to technology in musical performance are discussed in relation to two contemporary performers: blues guitarist and songwriter B. B. King, and classical violinist and composer Mari Kimura. The trope of ventriloquism is used as a means of unpacking the layers of agency, both overt and covert, in their performances to suggest that both performers, while innovative, do not so much challenge the ways agency and instrumentality play out in conventional musical performance as dramatize them.


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pp. 603-616
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