The Reflective Musician
author(s): Håkon Austbø, Darla Crispin, Jonas Howden Sjøvaag
published in: Norwegian Artistic Research Programme
The relationship between performance and reflection is rich and complex. Great performances can sometimes seem the spontaneous products of mysterious inspiration; however, most musicians would agree that, to attain its full potential, a performance must arise from a thorough investigation of the artistic acts of interpretation and expression appropriate to the work.
When this investigation becomes an overt research process, artistic choices begin to be based on conscious critical and self-reflective evaluations and decisions — and the resulting performance to be informed by a wide range of hermeneutic and analytical approaches. But the promise of such a multi-stranded approach is vulnerable, and sometimes compromised, when the performer’s skill and knowledge in the associated disciplines does not measure up to their performative artistry and insight. Since Artistic Research, in particular, often posits a model in which all associated knowledge should reside within the performer, this can be problematic.
So, is there an alternative model that, nonetheless, maintains the skills of artist and scholar in a mutually beneficial configuration?
And, if so, how does such a model uncover the kinds of performing knowledge that may lead to a specific, unique interpretation?
This exposition reveals a constellation of approaches around a central premise, namely that musical interpretation may be read as an inherently creative activity based on its own systems of knowledge which, whether conscious or intuitive, ought to be capable of being articulated in words as well as in practical music-making. In articulating this premise within the project, the process of interpretation is seen as emerging, ideally, as a form of co-creation, as it were, in which the performer ‘composes’ the work anew from inside the act of performance and, in doing so, works in a creative partnership with both composer and audience. Among the possibilities offered by such a model is the prospect that the term ‘performer’ can become a multiple entity of individuals engaged in a creative partnership of their own and articulating in words the impulses and mechanisms at work in this partnership.
The exposition ‘Delirious Brahms’ opens not with hallucinatory delirium, but with the all-too-real sense of bored dissatisfaction that can overtake the hardened concert-goer, even when the performance itself is of good quality. Buene’s complaint is not about standards, but about frustration with the still apparently inviolable norms of conduct in the traditional classical concert set-up, its dictums, the separation of composer, performer and audience and the passivity that results.
Buene dreams of breaching the proscenium of the stage in order to make 'composerly' interventions in an otherwise ‘standard’ Brahms Trio performance. Through the exposition, we see how he strives to realize this through a new composition, which has rather complex philosophical roots in a ‘paranoid-critical’ approach, originating from Dali and taken up by the architect, Rem Koolhaas. This is then articulated in a musical process that echoes Lachenmann in its compositional processes and Kagel in its staged provocations. Buene creates a work in which an apparently ‘traditional’ performance of the Trio is gradually undermined by a series of onstage interventions until the genre of piano trio is destroyed by the electronic music that takes over the scene, and even by the numerical disruption that changes three onstage performers into five.
The exposition tells the story of this process of transformation, and includes information that demonstrates that the compositional process is far from random, being a targeted deconstruction of the originating score. The final irony, of course, is that the overcoming of one kind of resistant tradition simply demonstrates the persistence of others: in this composition, as in those of the canon, the composer exacts obedience and the performers comply, being made increasingly passive as electronic composition takes over the stage and leaves them nothing to do. The final tableau, in which the electronics and their manipulators are at centre-stage harks back not only to the controlling modernist character of a figure such as Stockhausen, but, at still greater remove, to the centrality of the composer within the creative hierarchy of nineteenth century music. Once again, the composer is top dog. Does this not form another subject for frustration and ennui?