published
published in Journal for Artistic Research
Voice (a retracing) is a video/sound work which seeks to capture and articulate the dancer's inner experience of movement improvisation. In doing so, this work layers and distorts video images and uses the dancer's spoken voice as the basis for an acousmatic composition. In this exposition Tom Williams (composer) and Vida L Midgelow (dancer and videographer) discuss a creative lexicon emerging from their collaborative processes making this work. Through these conversations they reveal conceptual, contextual and methodological ideas, illuminating their creative practices.
JAR portal comments: 3
Don Asker 05/11/2012 at 09:37

Vida Midgelow explores the tension between the ephemeral nature of dance and the videographer’s artful endeavour. She is accompanied by musician and sound artist Tom Williams. Their exposition brings the creative and intellectual capacities of the researchers into a rich dialogue.  It touches upon many issues important/intrinsic to dance improvisational practice, and those that flow through to videography. The exposition makes transparent many methodological aspects of the collaboration and informs on their emergent process. In many respects there is an extension of the phenomenological stance of the improviser to include a critical and reflexive attitude. This is ably developed and sustained by both participants and individual perspectives and approaches are revealed. The reflective aspect of the exposition - that which endeavours to explore and indeed trace the creative process - is enriched by a high level of analytical and critical engagement. The printed text contributes a description of core elements and process manifesting as Voice (a re-tracing).

The conversational component of the exposition - a conversation that is structured around a number of word provocations - gives each participant opportunity to outline their experiential perspective and importantly the informing values that shape this. Such inter-subjectivity - even in the short sound bites of the conversational component of the exposition - enable individual values, methodologies and even hypotheses to be drawn and interestingly qualified in the dialogue.

The exposition provides a collective account of a particular collaborative process with a focus on an emerging lexicon. Its concerns with language - languages of the body, of sound(s) and  written and oral English – is underscored through the weaving of visual, audio and written materials so structured as to provide constant referencing to one another and a raft of interconnected discourses.  In some ways it gives primacy to the improvising dancer and it is her dialogue with her self that she and her collaborator explore through Voice (a re-tracing). However the conversational reflections provide insight into the substantial nature of their collaborative journey. That we don’t become inundated with references to others is a relief - we can go to the artist’s voices, values and constructions more directly.

Midgelow and Williams allow the work, their description of experience and their analytical and critical reflections to weave together. They draw on current performance and visual theory, and the approach reflects an emergent, (bricoleur’s) methodology - one grounded in some respects in phenomenology, while resisting rushing towards interpretive possibilities. The form and substance of their exposition is stimulating and richly informing. They allow the poetics of what they construct to also be known in relation to the processes of its formation. They also make no knowledge claims, but from my perspective their exposition affords the opportunity to engage with many concepts and notions surrounding improvisational practices and test their efficacy or meaning in my own practice.

This is largely a succinct and successful exposition. It delivers written statements about the core aspects of the work - moving image and sound, the work Voice (a retracing) and the ‘live’ discoursing of its two participants in a relatively transparent form. The artists reveal some of the intricacies of their approaches and the establishment of or clarification of a way of speaking about their practices and how this has lead them, as they put it, down unknown paths. In finding and affirming their individual and collective lexicons there is insightful reflection.   
 
In acknowledging the influence of Berio, Williams provides a tangible link to his past that has importance to Voice (a re-tracing) while Midgelow notes some important and informing dance improvisational developments. That said I am mindful that the exposition has perhaps resisted endeavouring to locate itself outside of itself. This is an important exposition, one which provides a lucid document of collaboration and the emergence of a lexicon. It describes the movement between conceptual and experiential knowing, and examines the attributes of improvisation, awareness, consciousness, attention, remembering and the ephemeral nature of live act. Notions of composing and choice are as present for the improviser as they are for the digital visual or sound artist and the exposition explores these, noting how considerations of repetition, and the tension between something and nothing inform the audience.

The exposition is a poly-vocal one – with both participants being ‘heard’. The detached ‘voice’ of the printed texts tends to contrast with the ‘conversations’. At times it seems there is someone else in the room and interestingly enough it is hard to know who is talking.

anonymous 23/11/2012 at 17:26

I was interested by the presentation, but feared that it was so open, so discursive and conversational that it actually resisted engagement. I was being asked to bear witness to a series of reflections and artists’ statements, without being presented with a contextualised argument about what was going on… it feels more like an elaborate (and interesting) artists’ talk, rather than a grappling with intellectual and artistic problems. While the conversations are interesting insofar as they provide an insight into a particular collaboration, there does not seem, to me, to be much that is conceptually innovative, and while the work cites Luciano Berio’s work of 50 years ago, there is nothing that anchors the project in contemporary theory and thought. I am aware that I am a harsh marker in these kinds of things.
In fact, the work itself declares itself to be “deliberately partial and elusive”. But my anxiety is that this is something of a cop-out, and there needs to be more of a proposition put to the viewer reader. Too much of the talk was mundane and bordering on the unremarkable—although, as I suggest, there is an inherent value in accessing artists’ processes, I would like to see this done in a developed, considered, contextualised and theorised manner, rather than in a somewhat chatty, partial manner. The conversation between the artists needs to be edited for publication.
I am struggling to see this presentation as being anything significantly more than the presentation of an artwork with some conversation about that artwork from the artists’ perspectives. There is a lack of criticality, a radical assertion of authorial authority, and little for me, as the reader, to take away. There was so much talking that it was hard to sustain my listening. It was unclear what I was being asked to engage with, and too much of the talk seemed to return to similar territory, and too often returned to a simple discussion/exposition of ‘what we were doing’. I consider this to be the least convincing dimension of practice-based research.

Cecilia Roos 07/12/2012 at 12:44

The submission “Voice (a retracing): an emerging lexicon” is of interest for the field of dance. But not only dance as it deals with improvisation as the artefact, which is an art form that can bring together different artistic expressions.

The importance of trying to conceptualize a creative process, and what that brings to the process itself, is visible in the recorded discussions that are one of the parts of the exposition. Here conceptualising, as a method in the making, clearly shows through.

The submission is framing the issue that the research project is exploring in an interesting way even if it doesn’t show that much innovation in the content of the video.

It struck me, not so much in the video product but in the recorded discussions, how different experiences and interpretations of a word in relation to practice effects ones choices in a creative process. For example when Midgelow and Williams discuss traces (one of their words in the emerging lexicon) she mentions layers and he talks about linearity. For me, that gave a necessary resonance to the video and made me understand their practice as research.

One can say that the exposition, but maybe not the research itself, opens up for new knowledge just because of the way the viewer can take part in the artist’s discussions.

It would have been beneficial for the viewer with some video-cuts from Midgelow’s movement improvisations. Not edited, just the “raw material”. That would have given the viewer a possibility to follow the traces that are described in the discussions as the paths in the process from movements through words into sounds and moving image. Midgelow mentions very briefly her way of moving compared to Williams’ way of describing how he composes. It would have been interesting with a more developed discussion from Midgelow regarding her ideas around movement improvisation.

The contradiction in how to capture the nature of improvisation without losing contact with the moment/movement is problematized in a thorough and humble way, which holds my interest and makes me curious, throughout the discussions.

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