Artistic Research as a Process of Unfolding
As artistic research work in various disciplines and national contexts continues to develop, the diversity of approaches to the field becomes ever more apparent. This is to be welcomed, because it keeps alive ideas of plurality and complexity at a particular time in history when the gross oversimplifications and obfuscations of political discourses are compromising the nature of language itself, leading to what several commentators have already called ‘a post-truth’ world. In this brutal environment where ‘information’ is uncoupled from reality and validated only by how loudly and often it is voiced, the artist researcher has a responsibility that goes beyond the confines of our discipline to articulate the truth-content of his or her artistic practice. To do this, they must embrace daring and risk-taking, finding ways of communicating that flow against the current norms.
In artistic research, the empathic communication of information and experience – and not merely the ‘verbally empathic’ – is a sign of research transferability, a marker for research content. But this, in some circles, is still a heretical point of view. Research, in its more traditional manifestations mistrusts empathy and individually-incarnated human experience; the researcher, although a sentient being in the world, is expected to behave dispassionately in their professional discourse, and with a distrust for insights that come primarily from instinct. For the construction of empathic systems in which to study and research, our structures still need to change. So, we need to work toward a new world (one that is still not our idea), a world that is symptomatic of what we might like artistic research to be.
Risk is one of the elements that helps us to make the conceptual twist that turns subjective, reflexive experience into transpersonal, empathic communication and/or scientifically-viable modes of exchange. It gives us something to work with in engaging with debates because it means that something is at stake.
To propose a space where such risks may be taken, I shall revisit Gillian Rose’s metaphor of ‘the fold’ that I analysed in the first Symposium presented by the Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research (NordART) at the Norwegian Academy of Music in November 2015. I shall deepen the exploration of the process of ‘unfolding’, elaborating on my belief in its appropriateness for artistic research work; I shall further suggest that Rose’s metaphor provides a way to bridge some of the gaps of understanding that have already developed between those undertaking artistic research and those working in the more established music disciplines.
Creating with timbre
Unfolding processes of timbre and memory in improvisational piano performance
This exposition is an introduction to my research and practice as a pianist, in which I unfold processes of timbre and memory in improvised music from a performer’s perspective.
Timbre is often understood as a purely sonic perceptual phenomenon. However, this is not in accordance with a site-specific improvisational practice with changing spatial circumstances impacting the listening experience, nor does it take into account the agency of the instrument and objects used or the performer’s movements and gestures.
In my practice, I have found a concept as part of the creating process in improvised music which has compelling potential: Timbre orchestration. My research takes the many and complex aspects of a performance environment into account and offers an extended understanding of timbre, which embraces spatial, material and bodily aspects of sound in improvised music performance.
The investigative projects described in this exposition offer a methodology to explore timbral improvisational processes integrated into my practice, which is further extended through collaborations with sound engineers, an instrument builder and a choreographer:
-experiments in amplification and recording, resulting in Memory piece, a series of works for amplified piano and multichannel playback
- Piano mapping, a performance approach, with a custom-built device for live spatialization as means to expand and deepen spatio-timbral relationships;
- Accretion, a project with choreographer Toby Kassell for three grand pianos and a pianist, where gestural approaches are used to activate and compose timbre in space.
Together, the projects explore memory as a structural, reflective and performative tool and the creation of performing and listening modes as integrated parts of timbre orchestration. Orchestration and choreography of timbre turn into an open and hybrid compositional approach, which can be applied to various contexts, engaging with dynamic relationships and re-configuring them.
Blue Mountain is a 35-minute work for two actors and orchestra. It was commissioned by the Ultima Festival, and premiered in 2014 by the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. The Ultima festival challenged me – being both a composer and writer – to make something where I wrote both text and music. Interestingly, I hadn’t really thought of that before, writing text to my own music – or music to my own text. This is a very common thing in popular music, the songwriter. But in the lied, the orchestral piece or indeed in opera, there is a strict division of labour between composer and writer. There are exceptions, most famously Wagner, who did libretto, music and staging for his operas. And 20th century composers like Olivier Messiaen, who wrote his own poems for his music – or Luciano Berio, who made a collage of such detail that it the text arguably became his own in Sinfonia. But this relationship is often a convoluted one, not often discussed in the tradition of musical analysis where text tend to be taken as a given, not subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny that is often the case with music. This exposition is an attempt to unfold this process of composing with both words and music.
A key challenge has been to make the text an intrinsic part of the performance situation, and the music something more than mere accompaniment to narration. To render the words meaningless without the music and vice versa. So the question that emerged was how music and words can be not only equal partners, but also yield a new species of music/text? A second questions follows en suite, and that is what challenges the conflation of different roles – the writer and the composer – presents? I will try to address these questions through a discussion of the methods applied in Blue Mountain, the results they have yielded, and the challenges this work has posed.
Performing Hanne Darboven's Opus 17a and long duration minimalist music
Hanne Darboven’s (1941-2009) Opus 17a is a composition for solo double bass that is rarely performed due to the physical and mental challenges involved in its performance. It is one of four opuses from the composers monumental 1008 page Wünschkonzert (1984), and was composed during her period of making “mathematical music” based on mathematical systems where numbers were assigned to certain notes and translated to musical scores. It can be described as large-scale minimalism and it is highly repetitive, but even though the same notes and intervals keep repeating, the patterns slightly change throughout the piece.
This is an attempt to unfold the many challenges of both interpreting, preparing and performing this 70 minute long solo piece for double bass consisting of a continuous stream of eight notes. It is largely based on my own experiences of preparing, rehearsing and performing Opus 17a, but also on interviews I have conducted with fellow bass players Robert Black and Tom Peters, who have both made recordings of this piece as well as having performed it live. One is met with few instrumental technical challenges such as fingering, string crossing and bowing when performing Opus 17a, but because of its long duration what one normally would take for granted could possibly prove to be challenging.
Wood or blood?
Astrid Kvalbein, Gjertrud Pedersen
Wood or Blood?
New scores and new sounds for voice and clarinet
Astrid Kvalbein and Gjertrud Pedersen, Norwegian Academy of Music
What is this thing called a score, and how do we relate to it as performers, in order to realize a musical work? This is the fundamental question of this exposition. As a duo we have related to scores in a variety of ways over the years: from the traditional reading and interpreting of sheet music of works by distant (some dead) composers, to learning new works in dialogue with living composers and to taking part in the creative processes from the commissioning of a work to its premiere and beyond.
This reflective practice has triggered many questions: could the score for instance be conceptualized as a contract, in which some elements are negotiable and others are not? Where two equal parts, the performer(s) and the composer might have qualitatively different assignments on how to realize the music? Finally: might reflecting on such questions influence our interpretative practices?
To shed light on these issues, we take as examples three works from our recent repertoire: Ragnhild Berstad’s Vevtråd (Weaving thread, 2010), Jan Martin Smørdal’s The Lesser Nighthawk (2012) and Lene Grenager’s Tre eller blod (Wood or blood, 2005). We will share – attempt to unfold – some of the experiences gained from working with this music, in close collaboration and dialogue with the composers. Observing the processes from a certain temporal distance, we see how our attitudes as a duo has developed over a longer span of time, into a more confident 'we'.
Gjertrud Pedersen, Sigstein Folgerø
Symphonies Reframed recreates symphonies as chamber music. The project aims to capture the features that are unique for chamber music, at the juncture between the “soloistic small” and the “orchestral large”. A new ensemble model, the “triharmonic ensemble” with 7-9 musicians, has been created to serve this purpose. By choosing this size range, we are looking to facilitate group interplay without the need of a conductor. We also want to facilitate a richness of sound colours by involving piano, strings and winds. The exact combination of instruments is chosen in accordance with the features of the original score. The ensemble setup may take two forms: nonet with piano, wind quartet and string quartet (with double bass) or septet with piano, wind trio and string trio. As a group, these instruments have a rich tonal range with continuous and partly overlapping registers.
This paper will illuminate three core questions: What artistic features emerge when changing from large orchestral structures to mid-sized chamber groups? How do the performers reflect on their musical roles in the chamber ensemble? What educational value might the reframing unfold?
Since its inception in 2014, the project has evolved to include works with vocal, choral and soloistic parts, as well as sonata literature. Ensembles of students and professors have rehearsed, interpreted and performed our transcriptions of works by Brahms, Schumann and Mozart. We have also carried out interviews and critical discussions with the students, on their experiences of the concrete projects and on their reflections on own learning processes in general.
Chamber ensembles and orchestras are exponents of different original repertoire. The difference in artistic output thus hinges upon both ensemble structure and the composition at hand. Symphonies Reframed seeks to enable an assessment of the qualities that are specific to the performing corpus and not beholden to any particular piece of music. Our transcriptions have enabled comparisons and reflections, using original compositions as a reference point. Some of our ensemble musicians have had first-hand experience with performing the original works as well. Others have encountered the works for the first time through our productions. This has enabled a multi-angled approach to the three central themes of our research.
This text is produced in 2018.
Professional identities in progress – developing personal artistic trajectories
We have seen drastic changes in the music profession during the last 20 years, and consequently an increase of new professional opportunities, roles and identities. We can see elements of a collective identity in classically trained musicians who from childhood have been introduced to centuries old, institutionalized traditions around the performers’ role and the work-concept. Respect for the composer and his work can lead to a fear of failure and a perfectionist value system that permeates the classical music. We have to question whether music education has become a ready-made prototype of certain trajectories, with a predictable outcome represented by more or less generic types of musicians who interchangeably are able play the same, limited canonized repertoire, in more or less the same way. Where is the resistance and obstacles, the detours and the unique and fearless individual choices? It is a paradox that within the traditional master-student model, the student is told how to think, play and relate to established truths, while a sustainable musical career is based upon questioning the very same things. A fundamental principle of an independent musical career is to develop a capacity for critical reflection and a healthy opposition towards uncontested truths. However, the unison demands for modernization of institutions and their role cannot be solved with a quick fix, we must look at who we are and who we have been to look at who we can become. Central here is the question of how the music students perceive their own identity and role. To make the leap from a traditional instrumentalist role to an artist /curator role requires commitment in an entirely different way. In this article, I will examine question of identity - how identity may be constituted through musical and educational experiences. The article will discuss why identity work is a key area in the development of a sustainable music career and it will investigate how we can approach this and suggest some possible ways in this work. We shall see how identity work can be about unfolding possible future selves (Marcus & Nurius, 1986), develop and evolve one’s own personal journey and narrative. Central is how identity develops linguistically by seeing other possibilities: "identity is formed out of the discourses - in the broadest sense - that are available to us ..." (Ruud, 2013). The question is: How can higher music education (HME) facilitate students in their identity work in the process of constructing their professional identities? I draw on my own experience as a classically educated musician in the discussion.
The unheard voice and the unseen shadow
The French composer Francis Poulenc had a profound admiration and empathy for the writings of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. That empathy was rooted in shared aspects of the artistic temperament of the two figures but was also undoubtedly reinforced by Poulenc’s fellow-feeling on a human level. As someone who wrestled with his own homosexuality and who kept his orientation and his relationships apart from his public persona, Poulenc would have felt an instinctive affinity for a figure who endured similar internal conflicts but who, especially in his later life and poetry, was more open about his sexuality. Lorca paid a heavy price for this refusal to dissimulate; his arrest in August 1936 and his assassination the following day, probably by Nationalist militia, was accompanied by taunts from his killers about his sexuality.
Everything about the Spanish poet’s life, his artistic affinities, his personal predilections and even the relationship between these and his death made him someone to whom Poulenc would be naturally drawn and whose untimely demise he would feel keenly and might wish to commemorate musically. Starting with the death of both his parents while he was still in his teens, reinforced by the sudden loss in 1930 of an especially close friend, confidante and kindred spirit, and continuing throughout the remainder of his life with the periodic loss of close friends, companions and fellow-artists, Poulenc’s life was marked by a succession of bereavements. Significantly, many of the dedications that head up his compositions are ‘to the memory of’ the individual named.
As Poulenc grew older, and the list of those whom he had outlived lengthened inexorably, his natural tendency towards the nostalgic and the elegiac fused with a growing sense of what might be termed a ‘survivor’s anguish’, part of which he sublimated into his musical works. It should therefore come as no surprise that, during the 1940s, and in fulfilment of a desire that he had felt since the poet’s death, he should turn to Lorca for inspiration and, in the process, attempt his own act of homage in two separate works: the Violin Sonata and the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’.
This exposition attempts to unfold aspects of the two men’s aesthetic pre-occupations and to show how the parallels uncovered cast reciprocal light upon their respective approaches to the creative process. It also examines the network of enfolded associations, musical and autobiographical, which link Poulenc’s two compositions commemorating Lorca, not only to one another but also to a wider circle of the composer’s works, especially his cycle setting poems of Guillaume Apollinaire: ‘Calligrammes’. Composed a year after the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’, this intricately wrought collection of seven mélodies, which Poulenc saw as the culmination of an intensive phase in his activity in this genre, revisits some of ‘unheard voices’ and ‘unseen shadows’ enfolded in its predecessor. It may be viewed, in part, as an attempt to bring to fuller resolution the veiled but keenly-felt anguish invoked by these paradoxical properties.
Modulations through time
Stephen Emmerson, Bernard Lanskey
This article explores the rationale behind a performance given by the authors at the Unfolding the Process symposium held in Oslo in November 2015. For this occasion, the authors devised a new version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations that builds upon Emmerson’s arrangement of the work for two pianos in 2012. A shortened version of the work (c.30 minutes) was designed that aimed nonetheless to maintain the original work’s sense of structural balance and coherence. This version involved the transposition of a number of variations into different keys to explore the possibility of adding a satisfying tonal structure to our experience of the work, in a context where both performers see potential communicative value in 'playing with' dimensions of original masterworks with a view to giving fresh perspective to the listener experience. The article is written from the alternating perspectives of the authors; one of which is primarily concerned with the rationale and process of devising the arrangement while the other reflects upon the performative aspects and implications arising from it.