Music & Practice, Volume 7
‘Expositions & Developments’
In July 2018, the Fifth International Conference of the Performance Studies Network (PSN) was held in Oslo at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH). Although PSN has always been international in its scope - and in the far-flung home locations of many of its attendees - this was the first time that the biennial event was held at a venue outside the UK. The call for contributions produced a substantial response, amounting to over 150 proposals, which were considered by an international committee of peer reviewers.
In all, around 100 presenters, working singly and in groups, gave talks, performances and hybrid presentations combining these two elements during the course of the event. They addressed a wide range of repertoires, issues and approaches, all linked by their focus on how we understand music in relation to its manifestation through performance, how we analyse our experience of it as sound and how the creative and performative aspects of the art-form relate to one another.
The richness and variety of what was presented demanded that there should be some kind of more durable resource documenting, preserving and disseminating at least a portion of the material that had been laid before the attendees. In view of this, after the event, NMH issued a further call inviting those who had given presentations to take up, if they wished, the opportunity to develop them to be included in a set of publications celebrating PSN 2018. NMH supports the online journal, Music & Practice, whose aims and focus chime closely with those of PSN. It was agreed with the Editor–in-Chief of Music & Practice, Erlend Hovland, that three special issues of the journal would be dedicated to articles and expositions, some of them scientific in scope, others more exploratory in nature, building upon presentations from the conference. Two of these issues would appear on its standard platform; in addition, a third would be mounted on the NMH’s portal within the Research Catalogue (RC) of the Society for Artistic Research (SAR). Here, presentations in which the performative element dominated over that of text or commentary would be published as ‘expositions’; in the standard issues, there would still be ample opportunity to benefit from the journal’s online format by including images, sound files, etc. within the papers, when required.
It was my privilege to be invited to serve as guest editor for these three issues. Doing so has brought home to me the vitality and diversity of activity taking place under the umbrella term of Performance Studies, as well as highlighting the important role that PSN, over ten years and five editions, has played in the development of the sub-discipline. Along with my gratitude for being commissioned to take on this task, I must pay tribute to the open and collaborative spirit in which contributors have engaged with me during the entire editorial process.
This issue, Volume 7 of Music & Practice and the last of the three to be dedicated to PSN 2018, departs from the previous two in its migration to the Research Catalogue, although, importantly, it also retains a presence among its companion volumes on the Music & Practice website with a home page there, offering links to the RC. In keeping with RC nomenclature, the six contributions which make up the volume have been cast in the form of expositions, and authors have been encouraged to use to the full the freer conventions associated with this genre of presentation and with the RC format. The extent to which they have done so varies, but the resulting collection of expositions offers a diverse array of examples of how the material content of contributions and the platform on which they have been gathered may interact in fruitful ways.
Among the contributions, there is a discernible division into two types: those which explore new ways of presenting or exploring pre-existing material and those which use the development of newly-created material as a novel lens through which to examine ideas which may already have been explored in other contexts. With this duality between exposition and development – and with due homage to the famous published conversations between Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft of the same name – the volume takes as its overall title the phrase ‘Expositions and Developments’.
Four contributions fall within the first group, Expositions. Two of these are concerned with particular repertoires, one relatively mainstream but given an innovative treatment and the other existing at the highly specialised margins of both sonorous character and playability. The other two focus on techniques: in the one case, those associated with the drive in the 20th and 21st centuries towards the extension of these to produce new compositional resources and, in the other, those described in certain 19th century singing treatises but long since lost from normal vocal practice.
In their exposition, ‘Debussy: Beyond Black and White’, Stephen Emmerson and Bernard Lanskey offer a fascinating and original perspective upon the performance of selected piano works by the French composer. Their joint exploration of the possibilities offered by modern digital keyboard instruments provides both a technical explanation of these and a narrative account of the progressive stages of their collaboration. They situate the sometimes unexpected creative decisions that they make along the way within both the historical context of what we know of Debussy’s aesthetic preferences and the here-and-now of their own empirical reactions to the range of choice offered by their digital instruments.
Roger Heaton provides us with a detailed account of Horatiu Radulescu’s The Inner Time, based on the deep knowledge and understanding formed through his own close association with the work since its earliest performances. As its title suggests, his exposition, ‘Horatiu Radulescu – playing the unplayable’, also touches on broader issues of how, in highly demanding repertoire, the performer must mediate at the interface between creative conception and performative practicality to produce the optimum realisation of the work. His text-based account is complemented by a video presentation in which his profound internalisation of the work and his total immersion its technical and aesthetic qualities are vividly apparent.
Ellen Fallowfield uses her concern with extended techniques, in particular multiphonics for the cello, as a lens through which to view the twin phenomena of performance practice and research practice and to critique the shortcomings that commonly arise at the point of their interaction. In her exposition, ‘Multiphonics for Stringed Instruments: Performance Practice and Research Practice’, she highlights, among other aspects, the critical role of the choice of communicative medium in facilitating the incorporation of state-of-the art research into performance practice. As an example of this, she discusses her own smartphone app, Cello MApp. A feature of her exposition is the inclusion of video extracts from this app alongside a discussion of the various rationales which she employed for deciding what should feature in its content and which should be the navigational routes offered.
For Ingela Tagil, too, research practice and performance practice are combined as she explores the lost vocal techniques of ‘Coup de la Glotte’ and ‘Voix Blanche’. In ‘Coup de la Glotte and Voix Blanche: Two vanished techniques of the Garcia School’, she attempts to establish from treatises, contemporary accounts and early experiments with the laryngoscope a clear concept of what was understood by these terms to 19th-century teachers and, in particular, to Manuel Garcia the younger, one of their most vigorous proponents. She then describes her own practical experiments, conducted with present-day singers, whereby these techniques are re-created and, as a result, heard for probably the first time in more than a century.
The two remaining contributions are those which may be seen as partaking of the character of Developments. In both cases, they involve the creation of new works arising from, and acting as test-beds for, the exploration of ideas. In ‘Cerro Rico: the co-production of a discursive voice in chamber music’, the idea being explored is that of creative collaboration between composer and performer – one that has also featured in several other contributions across these three M&P/PSN volumes. David Gorton, Mieko Kanno and Stefan Östersjö have produced an exposition documenting their shared work, as composer and two performers respectively, on the creation of a new piece, the ‘Cerro Rico’ of their title, for the unusual combination of soprano violin and charango. Their exposition both illuminates the collaborative processes feeding into this work’s creation and presents the finished composition. Using video presentation as the primary element of the exposition enables them to show directly how process and product were intimately related during the unfolding of the project and how their ideal of ‘the discursive voice in chamber music’ was able to emerge in the creative spaces of this interrelationship.
Finally, Helena Marinho and Joaquim Branco present their innovative work exploring the possibilities of the fortepiano as an instrumental resource with the capacity to inspire contemporary improvisers and composers. In ‘New music for old instruments: Expanding the fortepiano’, they discuss the range of special effects which were initially commonly built into fortepianos but which rapidly shrank to the sustaining and una corda pedals of the modern piano. Their project considers what they describe as the ‘digital expansion’ of the fortepiano, using sound design and programming not just to re-create the wider palette of historical effects but to strike out in new creative directions. While some of their testing protocols during the developmental phase made use of existing repertoire, the main thrust of their ambitions is towards the electronic interfaces and digital sound objects they have created providing a stimulus for improvisation and for new compositions.
From the brief descriptions of these six expositions, I hope that their richness of content and breadth of subject matter already shine through, although these qualities will doubtless become more apparent still from viewings and readings of the expositions themselves. Working with the contributors to this volume has been especially rewarding, if sometimes challenging, since we came at the project with very different levels of skill and experience in handling the Research Catalogue platform. Here, I should record my special thanks to Jonas Howden Sjøvaag and Birgitte Grydeland Pollen, whose advice, technical expertise and sympathetic approach towards those unfamiliar with the RC have been of immense help in bringing the volume to a state of readiness for publication.
Looking back over the now-completed trio of special PSN volumes of Music & Practice, and at the just under thirty contributions which they contain, it is impossible to feel anything other than optimistic for the future of performance studies – at least in terms of its own vitality and diversity. This rich corpus of published material now exists thanks to the generous support and commitment of the Norwegian Academy of Music. It is to be hoped that, in a climate where monetary austerity is frequently accompanied by a sense of the arts as being less essential than their scientific counterparts, such enlightened patronage, not just by higher arts education institutions but also by arts and cultural organisations more generally, will not only continue to be seen as important but will remain financially viable. If the unforeseen upheavals of 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it should be that the performing arts are simultaneously more vulnerable than we might have imagined to such a threat and even more precious in times of fearfulness and enforced isolation than many of us may have realised.