8. Summary and outlook
8.1 Research model and summary
I have used a model for this critical reflection that has been presented in Aslaug Nyrnes’
essay “Lighting from the Side, Rhetoric and Artistic Research” (Nyrnes, 2006). This model suggests that the artistic research should be seen, and developed, in the light of inherent “theories” in the artistic field. In this respect, there are some important “theories “ that have served to guide and enlighten my work:
Important aesthetic principles and developments in my field:
- The collective approach to improvisation
- The freedom in melodic variation and rhythmic phrasing
- The focus on sound and timbre as musical parameters
- The development of a personal vocabulary
- The openness towards and borderlines with other expressions and genres
- The mediation between sound-based and intervallic improvisation
- The Afrological and Eurological in modern improvisation
The act and nature of improvisation in my genre:
- The need for intuitive control over instruments
- The need for predictability and “inner ear” experience of sound
The voice as an instrument:
- The special position of the acoustic voice as an instrument
- The perception of the natural and processed voice sound in music
- The connection between voice and meaning
- The use of voice and language in sound poetry and spoken word traditions
- The traditional role of the singer in the improvised interplay in my genre
The role of music technology in music:
- The question whether musical premises are defined by technology or genre
- The choices regarding complexity or simplicity related to the act of improvisation
- The choices of sound related to genre and personal vocabulary
The performance as an interaction with the audience:
- Investigating and developing a performance in the light of audience feedback
These “theories” are often intertwined in the process of developing and reflecting on the artistic work, but through this critical reflection I have tried to point them out where they bring in perspectives that I find relevant to my work.
In Chapter 1 I have described my artistic field by pointing towards my most important influences, both in the genre of modern European jazz and in related musical fields. This description points out important developments and principles that I recognise in my musical expressionand contributes towards identifying my genre as such.
In Chapter 2 I have described my live electronic tools and technical setup. I have explained how my choice of tools reflects a need for usability and predictability in my situation as an improvising musician, and, moreover, that it reflects my personal choices of sound. Furthermore, I have stated, in relation to various ongoing discourses in the field of music technology, that control often takes precedence over complexity in my field, and that highly processed digital sound often seems to conflict with the acoustic-electronic interplay.
In Chapter 3 I have demonstrated how live electronics may present new musical parameters for the acoustic voice. I have discussed the challenges and possibilities related to the special position of the voice as a musical instrument, and reflected on the relations between voice, meaning, emotion and language. I have done this in the light of own experience, the theories and research of Andreas Bergsland, and the artistic fields of sound poetry and spoken word. I have also presented Andreas Bergsland’s suggested Maximal-Minimal model for experiencing voice and processed voice sounds in music. Bergsland’s model suggests a perceived continuum between a central zone and a peripheral zone, defined by seven experiential premises for experiencing voice sound. I have demonstrated how I experience, in relation to this model, a “play with zones” in my music through the use of live electronics and degrees of meaning or/and real world in voice sound. This play with zones is also – to some degree – a possible parameter for the acoustic voice, but the use of electronics widens the range of the zones dramatically. Furthermore, in focusing on sound as a musical parameter as such, I have stated that the need for grouping, or categorising different sound effects, is related to the need for “inner ear” experience in improvisation. I present a rough model, based on experiential categories (not technical), which are exemplified through music:
- (a) Broadening: adding something to the voice
- (b) Narrowing: filtering certain frequencies of the voice
- (c) Placing: putting the voice in different rooms/spaces and at different distances from the listener
- (d) Reconstructing: changing the voice sound more substantially
Furthermore, I discuss the use of loop machines and samplers, and point out some new possibilities created for the vocalist through sustained sound, multiple layers and the use of pre-recorded samples. I also discuss some challenges in sampling and looping. The play with zones, the different ways of processing and the techniques of sampling, are examples of what I think of as new possibilities for the singer through the implementation of live electronics within my genre.
In Chapter 4 I have discussed challenges related to the singers’ traditional roles in music, rooted in conventions and expectations that are present in the experience of a performance. I have also pointed out that this situation is fundamentally genre-related. I suggest an experiential categorising of the different possible roles for the vocalist, as I experience them in my work:
- The singer
- The speaker
- The soundmaker
- The soundsinger
The two latter roles are what I see as being new roles for vocalist in my genre, made available through the use of live electronics. I have demonstrated how I take on these different roles in the interplay with different musical projects: BOL, BOL with Snah & Westerhus, the Åse/Strønen duo and the Åse/Duch duo. I have also briefly pointed out a fifth role for the vocalist working with live electronics: The “live producer role”, bringing in traditional postproduction techniques (such as reverb, compressing and effects) in the live situation, both at concerts and in the recording studio. I have demonstrated how these roles are inflected by the musical structures in the interplay, and also how different roles can be adopted at the same time. Moreover, I have reflected on how this situation in the interplay has changed my musical thinking and acting, towards a focus on layers and functions, foreground and background, and the wholeness in the music.
In Chapter 5 I described a project which I undertook with my vocal ensemble Trondheim Voices, presented at the NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression) conference in 2011, Oslo. During this project we experienced how live electronics can be a musical tool and lead to new strategies for an a cappella ensemble. We used the system Stagetracker FX, a performer-tracking and audio- localisation system developed for the theatre by the company TTA in Stjørdal, Norway. By using this system, each singer could choose to manipulate the sound of the voice by moving between different effect-zones on stage.
What we found, was that this use of live electronics could:
- Expand the sound possibilities of the vocal ensemble
- Place the ensemble and each singer in a new position regarding the sound design
- Enhance a listening focus
- Connect movement and sound, thereby visualising musical choices
- Create an improvised “choreography”
I pointed out that this tool can be very valuable for improvisation, but also for musical design and compositions.
In Chapter 6 I have discussed some challenges and experienced strategies in the mediation between different aesthetics and musical paradigms in modern improvised music. This is recognised as a mediation between sound-based and intervallic improvisation, and also as mediation between Eurological and Afrological paradigms in music.
In Chapter 7 I have described my work with the project ‟Eugenie – short story of sound”. In this project I wanted to implement the experienced nearness of the storyteller role in a musical performance. I also wanted to investigate if the use of narrative could open up for the musical expression as a whole. The project was carried out as part of a research collaboration with Andreas Bergsland, named “Voice Meeting”, where audience feedback was collected and, among other things, used to feed the artistic process. The questions asked in audience interviews were related to:
- The role of the text/story as part of the whole experience
- The process of identification between performer and audience
- The experiences of ‟naturalness” and of ‟alienation”
The material collected was multi-faceted, but some tendencies in the groups of audiences were identified:
- The story and the music were experienced as a whole, and the narrative as an important part of it.
- Often the storytelling was experienced as being natural, while the most processed sounds were experienced as being most alienating.
We also received comments on how the singing and the more moderately processed sounds were experienced as being more distanced than the narrative.
I have described how the response from the audience resulted in different adjustments and changes being made to my performance. I also discussed the risk of loosing artistic integrity when making audience feedback part of the development process. Furthermore, I demonstrated how the process revealed several problems regarding my original research questions. These problems clarified the following:
- The question about identification (between audience and performer) was more complex than I had realised, and called for further investigation.
- My thinking about “the audience” had been too general, and became more specific through the process.
This research led to valuable knowledge and sensibility towards the performance situation.
Moreover, I have stated that the work with the continuum between natural narrative and abstract, processed voice sound, made me aware of a very strong commitment to the text, and that an artistic potential in this performance form is to challenge the relationship between sound and story – without breaking it. This is something I would like to investigate further in my future artistic development.
My project relates to several discourses that are relevant both inside and outside the field of vocal musicianship/voice as an instrument:
The discourses on voice as a musical instrument:
- The voice has, as a human bearer of emotional expression and semantic meaning, special qualities as an instrument. How can electronic processing change the situation of the voice as an instrument, and what new musical and artistic possibilities does electronic manipulation open up for in the continuum between natural voice and processed voice sound?
The discourses on modern improvisation:
- In what ways does/can modern improvisation open up for new roles in the improvised interplay?
- As a possibility for crossing genres: what can be the challenges of combining the aesthetics of the different genres?
- As based on intuitive, embodied knowledge and awareness, how does improvised music deliver premises for the musician’s technical level, control and use of instruments – and vice versa?
The discourses on music technology
- Technical developments, like all instruments, naturally have an impact on the development of music where such are used, either complex or simple. How do we choose and question our tools?
- - New technology is a source for a wide range of relatively new musical parameters, developed within several genres with different aesthetics and terminology. What language and terms are useful in my field of music?
8.3 Outlook: Major artistic achievements and ideas for further artistic development
8.3.1 Major achievements:
The major artistic achievements in my work as a fellow in the Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme are:
- The development of my intuitive use of live electronics, and of a personal vocabulary of sounds and techniques. An important part of this vocabulary is what I have called the play with zones.
- The ability, through this development, to take on new musical roles in the improvised interplays I take part in, and also the development of my musical thinking and acting related to these roles as part of the music as a whole.
- Through my work with the “short story of sound” I have developed a new form for my solo performances, where the relationship between the text and the music is explored and challenged. This process has also provided me with a valuable insight into and new reflections about the experience of the performance as such, and the relationship between myself, as a performer, and my audience.
Sounding realisations of these artistic achievements have partly been presented in several concerts and through various recordings, as listed in Appendix no.1 . Many of the sounding results have also been provided as examples in the previous chapters of this critical reflection.
8.3.2 Did I reach my goals?
My goals have been formulated as two main areas of research:
a)“To explore new possibilities and roles as a vocalist, working with the combination of electronic processing of voice sound and acoustic voice sound in real time improvisation.” (From my revised project description, translated from Norwegian)
This exploration and development has led to a change in my music, in my musical thinking and acting, and in my situation in the interplay. All of this has taken place with reference to my musical background and within the genre to which my music is related, and in that regard I will say that I have certainly reached my goal. It is, however, important here to underline that I have not “finished” this process. There is still considerable potential, both in the further development of my personal skills and expression, and in how I can meet other improvising musicians in different ways with my instruments and music. Moreover, there is also a potential for challenging the borderlines of my genre by searching for new possibilities in sound and the manipulation of sound outside the borders of my musical field. This is something that I hope to be able to investigate further in my future artistic work.
My second goal was:
b)“To explore artistic possibilities for the vocalist in the continuum ranging from narrative storytelling to ‟abstract”, processed sound, within the same performance/form.” As part of this, I wanted “to examine what happens with the relationship between the audience and the performer when the voice moves back and forth in this continuum between referential meaning and ‟pure sound”. (From the revised project description and appraisal for final assessment.)
The idea that led to the “short story of sound “ was based on my experience of nearness in storytelling, especially personal stories. This was also partly what represented one of the challenges in the project, because this nearness was strongly connected to the naturalness and the personal character of the narrative. This, again, laid premises for how the music and sounds could work together with the narrative as a whole, and I experienced a tension between the language of music and sounds and the language of the story. As I see it, this tension also represents an exciting artistic potential in this performance form, so rather than “abstracting the story” to loosen the tension, I will continue to seek the necessary tension andbalance between the personal story and the musical expression. The work with this project has thus been a valuable exploration of this “continuum”, and has also established a model for new performances that I plan to develop in the future.
One goal that was pronounced during this project: “to examine what happens with the relationship between the audience and the performer “, as cited above, could be seen as both vague and ambitious. It turned out –in ways that I have described in Chapter 7 – to be more complicated than I thought. Still, by taking part in the performative research collaboration with Bergsland, this has provided me with profound knowledge about the audience’s multi-faceted perceptions of my performance of the “short story of sound”. This has been very valuable, both in the development of this performance, and also in general, in creating an increased sensitivity for the audience's experience as such.
8.3.3 Open questions and ideas for further artistic development:
To develop musical thinking and acting in improvisation is a continuing process that is never finished or complete. This research can – and will – be continued in my ongoing musical projects, as further investigation of instruments and techniques, and of the different roles in the interplay. I have also become aware of borderlines in my genre that can be challenged through further investigation within my musical projects, regarding choices of tools, techniques and sound. These borderlines are also fields to explore further in the development of new tools for live electronics. To design new tools is already an important field for research and important contributions have been made, although very often within the aesthetics and premises of contemporary electroacoustic or electronic music. In the development of new technology and instruments, it is also necessary for musicians and technologists to collaborate with a focus on the musical expression and the musicians’ situation in the real-time interplay. There are limits regarding how much you are able to control at the same time and at the necessary tempo. One relevant question for me in this regard is whether I am willing to abandon some parts of my instrument in order to be able to control something else.
The use of narrative as part of my musical expression is an area that will be explored further through new stories, new venues and new audiences. Each new story will create new premises for the music and the performance – but the performance form and my musical preferences will also be important in my choice of stories. One important question here will be if, and how, the stories – not only as narratives, but also as cultural expressions – should direct or adjust the artistic expression – in order to pay respect to the stories’ origins.
The research on performance with voice and live electronics and the audience experience will be continued and developed further through the postdoctoral project of Andreas Bergsland. This research has so far revealed areas of complexity that need further investigation, as, for instance, the question about identification.
It has been important for me to make my artistic research available to practitioners in my genre. I hope the music and my reflections can lead to new discussions, reflections and ideas within my musical field, especially among vocalists. I also regard my research and these reflections as being an important tool in my contact with students. Thus, there are likely to be several interesting pedagogical applications for my work.
In my capacity as a vocal performer, an improvising musician, a pedagogue and a participant in the broad field of music technology, I therefore regard the results of my artistic project and the presentation of them to represent more of a starting point than an end.