The opportunity to work with a composed piece that involves co-creation, improvisation and electronics with flute opened up new personal challenges and new ways to create, play and think about my practice. The making of the piece encouraged risks, new skill development, and new processes. The writing of this exposition has also been an opportunity to explore and articulate ideas and the melding of writing and performance — a practice termed ‘a/r/ ’ by scholars including Gouzousias (2018), Irwin (2013) and others, which links the artist, researcher, and teacher and ‘promotes artistic enquiry as an aesthetic awareness […] Through attention to memory, identity, autobiography, reflection, meditation, storytelling and cultural production’ (LeBlanc and others 2015: 355). Throughout this exposition I have presented performer and co-creator perspectives, information that has arisen from the processes, presentation and reflections upon my individual artistic practice. Evolving ideas and insights interplayed with continuous writing within a phenomenological structure that assisted with articulating those perspectives and the conveyance of knowledge embodied in performance. ‘In writing’, states Max Van Manen, ‘we may deepen and change ourselves in ways we cannot predict. We objectify the moment—the now that is already past or absent (through writing—as we dwell in the story)’ (2014: 20). In attempting to ‘objectify’ the performance of Making Place, I feel I have come across a method that facilitates awareness and clarity; that, in moving me slightly outside, accentuated the vividness and progression of the piece. A physical and mental freedom seemed to result from this, and less entanglement with the functionality.
The task of the music performance researcher is to explore, objectify, remember and categorize, but predominantly it is to express what meaning, what processes and what transformations may have been found in the doing of all these things (Penny forthcoming). This ‘requires a particular kind of interdisciplinary expertise of the artistic researcher: a mastery of creative practice, of critical reflexivity, and of text’ (Tomlinson and Wren 2018: 9). In the studio, processes aimed to capture the energies implicit in the work with new materials and notation development; rehearsals explored, experimented with, and activated the flow of the work through sharpened awareness, such as attention to breathing, interactions, volume, pitch, tempi, and space. In this way, new knowledge was embodied in the performance itself as findings were activated as both aspects of the performance and research process.
My first encounter with Making Place inspired a version for concert flute set in Malaysia. The result was a rather exotic iteration, filled with sounds of Mak Yong theatre, the Muslim call to prayer, and the Malaysian environment where we often went for evening walks around our university grounds. I have discussed this version in relation to aspects of interculturality and heterotopian spaces elsewhere (see Penny forthcoming and a video of this version here) but I am now struck by the difference between the first and second versions of the piece. Taking sounds and photos from my current locale in Australia has entirely transformed it. To me this version is even more quotidian — of course, I grew up with the sounds of magpies and kookaburras, frogs, squeaky gates, and lots of wind — and I wondered how it would come together in performance. Would it be too ordinary? Would I actually want to respond to such mundane things? I transcribed the music for alto flute, also, to explore the different characteristics of this instrument. In fact, as the Making Place text says, ‘knowledge creeps in by stealth’, and when I listen back to the recording, I find that I have changed musical gestures quite substantially, exploited many of the darker tonal colours of the alto flute, and altered my overall response to the piece in unexpected ways. The darker characteristics of the alto reflected a darker undertone which is always present in the Australian bush, such as fear of wildfire, fragility of environment, ancient connections and echoes of colonization, all sitting within the visual and aural beauty of the land. In performance, the familiarity of the field recordings acted as a kind of grounding to place but lifted out as sonic artefacts woven into the texture of the piece, separate but entwined.
From this work I have felt a shift from a knowing about to a knowing from within activated through performance. It is not just seeing the environment (and photographing), or walking, or hearing (and recording), or reading the poem or playing the notes. It is experiencing and feeling all of these things through playing the piece; through absorbing and following the text, reacting to the animations, colours and digitally altered sounds, and finding a deep immersion, the ecstasis, in that zone. Knowing from within involved a comprehension of creating the space for attention, for the blending of disparate elements in performance, and recognition of this transferal to the actual music making.
This research examined personal subjective experience in which an emphasis on the centrality of the performer allowed for the uncovering of layers of individual artistic practice. These experiential layers culminated in an immersive performance environment of blended dimensions in part arising from the distancing of the epoché and the sense of flow and ectasis unfolding within. The sensation of ‘stepping outside’ and the ‘suspension of judgement’ enhanced and energized musical responses and artistic choices in situ, intensifying inventiveness and spontaneity as the work evolved. Attentiveness to interactions, resonance, influences of the electronics, and the sense of place being created drove intuitive decisions about the itinerant nature of the piece. ‘Seen’ from outside, the cascades of notes of the meandering pathways of Section 2, for example, took on a potent haptic, physical presence, particularly when multiplied by capture and replay, prompting scattered runs, and rustling pizzicato; the stuttering gestures of Section 3, combined with harmonizer effects implying shadows and other characters, sparked a mix of quivering and uncertain sensations that shaped a veiled sonority and physical hesitancy, balanced by breath and projection demands. The flow of the performance, the ecstasis, evolved from an ability to at once be intensely in the zone of the piece while ‘stepping outside’ for objective observation. The experience of the work and artistic responses in turn shaped the reflective process, as the nexus of performance and writing highlighted new awareness and emerging thoughts of interpretation, performance and evaluation.
In illuminating ideas of the quotidian, the project created a possibility for transformation, for artistic creativity and, in its provocation of ecstasis was ‘a source for revitalization of the everyday that opens new expressions of the feeling of life and new possibilities for its reconfiguration’ (Gosetti-Ferencei 2007: 11). The work has strengthened my feelings of (re)connection with place, especially in this time of social distancing and low mobility, when our neighbourhoods have gained heightened appreciation. Working within this unusual restrictive environment has revealed to me a previously undervalued layer and created an opportunity to explore artistic responses in a new way. But still, there were silent layers in this project, murmurings reminding me of the original custodians of the land where I live, of the Wadawurrung people whose stories are just beginning to be extensively told.
Many thanks to Andrew Blackburn for his assistance throughout this project — for digital conversions, sound recording, performance set up and video, as well as walking companion, and co-photographer. Many thanks also to Katharine Norman for her composition, performance notes, explanations of technology, and encouragement for my interpretations of her work.
The Ballarat-Skipton rail trail is located within the lands of the Wadawurrung people. I acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to ancestors and Elders, past and present, and the unique cultural and spiritual relationships they have nurtured. I also acknowledge the struggles of First Nations people since colonialisation and support all efforts to address this and promote deeper understandings.
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