Artistic experience can be determined … as the perception mode of sensible interfering frames … to have an artistic experience means to have a look from outside of a frame and simultaneously enter into it. (Klein, 2010, p. 3)
The works under examination were created over a two month period from May to June 2012, a series of 12 recordings now complied as an ‘album’ entitled Monograph. The idea of a career-spanning monograph took its somewhat ambitious roots in earlier proposals (Draper 2010a; 2012)1. However, while adjusted downward in scope since that time, I believe that the use of the term still has currency, in effect, being both intensely personal while pragmatically providing musical evidence of my recent sabbatical undertakings. The material is somewhat eclectic in nature and does not follow the usual expectations for ‘bundling’ a consistent artistic persona /direction /concept as an ‘album’. Rather, it moves quite freely between different explorations: working with a young Czech didjeridu player via the Internet (in some rather rambunctious pieces); arranging and recording other more restrained solo jazz works (informed by live ensemble improvisations); a number of pieces exploring the effects of asynchronous communication on music-making with a UK colleague (Millward & Draper, 2013 forthcoming); and finally, some ‘outliers’ which include experimental electroacoustic-influenced tracks and a re-mix of a poetry-styled piece dedicated to its original author, an inspirational US composer /mentor. How to make these ‘interfering frames’ more sensible?
To begin to do so, I now turn to the work of Henk Borgdorff. Aside from the aforementioned meta research considerations, I’m also intensely interested in ‘what works’? Or perhaps more accurately, ‘what has resonance’? That is, not in an intellectual /academic sense where I certainly have admired the rhetoric from afar – but now in acutely more confrontational terms as I begin to scrutinise my own music-making. Across all of his work Borgdorff consistently argues three fundamental PhD research concepts as overarching questions to be applied in an artistic research (AR) framework, the following example extracted from an earlier piece published in the Dutch Journal of Music Theory in 2007. He writes:
The ontological question is (a): What is the nature of the object, of the subject matter, in research in the arts. To what does the research address itself? … The epistemological question is (b): What kinds of knowledge and understanding are embodied in art practice? How does that knowledge relate to more conventional types of academic knowledge?... The methodological question is (c): What research methods and techniques are appropriate to research in the arts? in what respect do these differ from the methods and techniques in the nature sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities? (Borgdorff, 2007, p. 9)
I will now work though each of these issues in turn as follows.
Why? – The ontological positioning
Recordings of music present odd, multidimensional conceptual difficulties in this art space. While the recording, commodification and ‘stockpiling’ of commercialised sound recordings occupies a relatively recent development in the long history of music-making (Atalli, 1985), in recent times, for many aficionados recordings ‘are’ music (see for example, Bahanovich & Collopy, 2008) – who do you like? (ie, recordings), how many of their iTunes /CDs /records do you have? etc. In terms of the artist however, the boundaries are now often blurred between instrumentalist, performer, composer, producer and music technologist, and in reality the contemporary musician increasingly attends to all of these things at once in the creation of new material. Fordism is long past. Yet music research tends to be still published along these somewhat out-dated specialisation themes while in universities there remain many of the old departmental divisions of labour. In particular, the idea of ‘music technology’ remains elusive, or as Carla Boehm (2007) puts it, ‘the discipline that never was’:
… the multiplicity of what exactly is understood by ‘music technology’ is an indication of the fragmentation of commonalities at large and their emerging cultural boundaries … It also represents a fragmentation of our formerly holistically concept of knowledge and the delivery of knowledge. (p. 7)
Accordingly, technological aspects of music-making may be variously quarantined, for example: as ‘music technology’ in conservatoriums (sound recording, Tonmeister, record production); as ‘science’ in computing faculties (computational musicology, informatics, soft/hardware development); or as ‘art’ in some creative departments (popular music, live art, electroacoustic composition) – all of which I believe, has more to do with how something is done (theorizing about) rather than with what musicians actually do (theorizing through) (Draper, 2009b). Christopher Small’s influential work, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (1998) reminds us that music is not a noun but a verb in his theory of ‘musicking’ – an interweaving of social contexts, actions and decisions often hidden from view (and perhaps deliberately so given entertainment industry control, see Draper, 2008)2 in a viral web of ‘structure, sign and play’ (Derrida, 1967).
This then leads me to frame some overarching research questions for this piece:
- In my practice, what has been the exact nature of these interrelationships between music and technology? And, exactly how does this serve the artistic processes?
- What can I and others understand as ‘new knowledge’ through such an investigation?
- How does this better both my musical and academic portfolio?
To elaborate further on these last two questions – while there are certainly personal musical aspirations, professional academic considerations are also entwined. To explain: i) throughout the many incarnations of the Australian federal government research evaluation exercises, the justification of ‘art-as-research’ through various ill-considered schema has been somewhat counter-productive and confusing to many artists-in-the-academy. For example, impact assumptions, prestige of commercial outlets /venues, self-review statements, ticket sales and a range of other rather low level metrics have often substituted as a proxy for traditional research indicators3 (Harrison & Draper, 2012; Draper, 2009a). And ii), in the case of now burgeoning PhD research training, the often slippery relationship between the ‘product’ itself (in this case, performances, compositions, sound designs, web sites, etc) and the underpinning research development processes. There is little coherence across the sector: in some cases written dissertations are the only accepted outcome (albeit, with some added contemporary capacities to include new media as enhanced appendices); while in other frameworks there may be a dubious relationship between the performed ‘outcome’ for an audience (sometimes as ‘entertainment’) and the written components of the exegesis. Additionally, there is little scope to assess works in progress because current PhD rules require that all material be submitted together as a final work. This would seem at odds with the intrinsic time-based nature of music, not only in form, but also in its genesis, re-formulation and sometimes multiple execution demands (Draper & Harrison, 2011; 2010).
Leading on from these contexts, a number of sub-considerations arise for my project:
- Is there a risk that ‘the works will ‘totally disappear from sight’ (Borgdorff, 2010)?
- Or, have the recorded works themselves already ‘disappeared’ with reference to the multiple hermeneutic meanings ascribed above?
- Which leads me to a final overarching reservation: How and where might the research be indeed embodied in the artwork (if at all)?
This last point is the most puzzling to me, for example:
The constructivist perspective holds that objects and events actually become constituted in and through artworks and artistic actions … It does not represent things; it presents them, thereby making the world into what it is or could be. The hermeneutic perspective assumes that artistic practices and artworks disclose the world to us … offer[s] us those new vistas, experiences and insights that affect our relationship with the world and ourselves. (Borgdorff, 2010, p. 61) (underlined, mine)
As epistemic things, artworks not only play a constitutive role in a process of discovery that eventually culminates in produced and justified facts. They are not just generators of knowledge. They are also … that which is generated. (Ibid, 2012, p. 198) (underlined, mine)
Presently I see little relationship between how my music might speak in its own right through sound recordings4 vs. the complex processes of decision making, craft, improvisation, serendipity, genre-imitation and the mastering of both hidden and visible technologies that lead to any idea of a ‘final’ outcome, or the ‘critical edition’ as it were. In recorded music these would appear to be two very different matters, but I reserve an open mind in order to try to unpack and understand this a little better.
What? – An epistemological approach
Epistemological assumptions which underpin the work demand that attention be directed to the nature and identities of the authorities influencing research-on-praxis – a strategy of turning text into display and interaction among perspectives . . . [in order to present] material rich enough to bear re-analysis in different ways. (Lather, 1986; p. 15)
In the wonderfully entitled Methodology as Subversive Repetition, Patti Lather (Ibid) picks up on what is a centrally resonant element of music making – the idea of on-going attempts to solve central, recurring artistic (and technical) problems, a ‘constant itch’, the quest to constantly strive to better express ourselves though repeated variations and interpretation (so evident in the jazz and world music traditions, for example). While I (or the media) may position each new work as future-facing, ‘the latest thing’ hyperbole, or hopefully ‘the best I have ever done’ etc. – much of the activity may be more truthfully ‘backward facing’, variously building on shoulders of giants, ‘re-mixing’ practice, nagging at one’s own mistakes and imperfections, incorporating problem-solving through re-interpretations of what in fact has come before. As Walter Benjamin (2003) writes so eloquently in his concept of history:
His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to say, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (p. 392)
An historical examination therefore informs the epistemological considerations for this piece. By examining the ‘past’ processes that created the ‘now’ products, this aims to expose and progress understandings of what was done before and how this knowledge might be applied in the future5. As Lather (1986) would put it, this is essentially framed as ‘research-on-praxis’, an interaction between theory and application that keeps both vivid, relevant and truthful. In such cases it has been my experience with academic colleagues and PhD projects that the constant and often confounding blockages to such exploration reside in matters of representation in relation to notions of instinct, tacit or embedded knowledge and know-how, or even more obliquely – serendipity, happy accidents and (to my mind) the central characteristics of improvisation. There is also the matter of validity, where simply reflecting on one’s actions always runs the risk of presenting as navel-gazing, or perhaps more pertinently, inhibits the dissemination of valuable insights because of the inherent self-doubt of artists to express themselves in these ways. ‘The work speaks for itself!’ I will return to this point a little later under ‘Toward a method’ below, but firstly, to improvisation.
I believe the practice of musical improvisation central to this piece, and as it has in fact been throughout much of my life (be it in musical or many other professional contexts). Yet just like the many tacit knowledge considerations outlined above, the very word ‘improvise’ poses problems given a range of connotations – perhaps a lack of discipline, or systemisation – or conversely, that works might come into being fully formed from the anointed genius of the great artist (and as popularised and reinforced by the Western mass-media fascination with celebrity for example). Similarly in the public sphere and everyday speech, improvisation may convey “something that is insufficiently prepared and of no lasting value (for example ‘an improvised shelter’)” (Sorrell, cited in Peters, 2009, p. 9).
Therefore I wish to explore and attempt to demystify in particular, just exactly how my improvisation skills might be built, refined and deployed as the central element of my music-making. Moreover, in also attending to the notion that improvisation is a somehow elusive or untrustworthy concept. This therefore hypothesises a partial answer to the overarching question in that ‘the exact nature of these interrelationships between music and technology … [may] serve the artistic processes’ via an ever-developing vocabulary bought about through deliberate actions, systematised problem-solving and explicit historical considerations (both short and long term), yet which lead to automatic /intuitive choices and actions in extended ‘flow states’ (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996) – which I posit as ‘improvisation’.
Where? – Toward a method
[AR] articulates the fact that our natural relationship with things we encounter is more intimate than we can know. At the same time, it also familiarises us with the fact that those things are in some way foreign to us … [AR] is the acceptance of that paradoxical invitation. The artistic, pre-reflective, non-conceptual content enclosed in aesthetic experiences, embodied in art works and enacted in artistic practices is articulated, amplified, contextualised and thought through in the research. (Borgdorff, 2010, p. 60)
There are two primary influences I would like to highlight in order to frame the research methods to be employed here and from very different timeframes and theoretical contexts, the following citations have much resonance for me. The first is from the well-trodden writings of Theodore Adorno whom I have often referred to in an on-going exploration of the disjuncts and approaches to creativity, music and technologies. For example, in his Philosophy of Modern Music, Adorno (1973) writes:
The demands made upon the subject by the material are conditioned much more by the fact that “the material” is itself the crystallization of the creative impulse, an element socially predetermined through the consciousness of man. As a previous subjectivity – now forgetful of itself – such an objectified impulse of the material has its own kinetic laws. That which seems to be the mere self-locomotion of the material is the same origin as the social process, by whose traces it is continually permeated. (p. 3)
In a modern recording studio, it is very clear to me that the design and subsequent operation of the tools themselves may so strongly dictate the outcomes. A doxa perpetuated by certain pre-suppositions as to the nature of music and its audiences (that is, soft and hardware designed for the creation of mass market /popular music consumption purposes) (Draper, 2012). Indeed, these materials can have forceful ‘kinetic laws’. Elsewhere and much later, I have been repeatedly drawn to Bordorff’s fascinating chapter, Artistic Practices and Epistemic Things (2012). In this he explores the science-oriented research of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max Planck Institute) where – in a laboratory environment – he seeks to emancipate the ‘context of discovery’ in relation to the ‘context of justification’ in order to clarify the epistemology involved. In particular relation to this exposition, and to my mind, in strikingly attending to the thoughts of Adorno, he outlines a powerful conceptual framework for thinking about and investigating the relationships between technologies and practices:
Experiments are not merely methodological vehicles to test … knowledge that has already been theoretically grounded or hypothetically postulated … Experimental systems are characterized by the interplay of ‘technical objects’ [TOs] and ‘epistemic things’ [ETs] … [ETs] may turn into [TOs] or instruments, thereby ensuring the relative stability in the experimental system that enables new epistemic things to appear … [TOs], if deployed differently may sacrifice their stability and diffuse into epistemological questions … Experimental systems must be sufficiently open to allow these indistinct things to come into view; enough space must be present to produce what we do not yet know. (Borgdorff, 2012, pp. 188–190)
This is precisely what I would like to try to bring to the fore in my research design – exactly how and when technologies ‘come forward’, change their nature, inform improvisation and musicking, then again recede into the background. And, what actions are taken to deal with and profit from this. Conversely, in how formerly powerful ‘epistemic things’ may evolve into lesser importance and/or change roles in the creative process.
On the matter of validity then, following Lather’s thoughts (1986), attention is reflexively directed to ‘the nature and identities of the authorities’, while overall it is the intention to examine of the creation of a number of musical works by employing a narrative strategy of ‘turning text into display and interaction among [artistic and technical] perspectives’ in order to present material rich enough to bear re-analysis in different ways. A ‘thick description’ as Clifford Geertz (1973) would put it, and which draws upon aspects of phenomenology in terms of the coding, sifting and representation of recurring themes (Moustakas, 1994). I will now elaborate further on the specifics of this as follows below.
How? – The experimental design
Researchers employ experimental and hermeneutic methods that reveal and speculate the tacit knowledge that is situated and embodied in specific artworks and artistic processes. (Borgdorff, 2007, p. 14)
In earlier writings, I may have framed the following according to an overarching ‘case study’ design. However, I do find that the ‘experimental’ rhetoric has considerable pull, not only in terms of this conceptual interplay of TOs and ETs, but also perhaps more mundanely – the recording studio does ‘feel’ to this artist, more like a lab in its rather obvious collection of gizmos, flashing lights, visual metering, commercial audio mixing and mastering standards, etc. The musical instruments themselves for some reason tend to be left to one side in such discussions (for example, technology = computing, a Stradivarius violin = art-making). However, I will also include my very fine collection of guitars and their entourage in this design given their embedded, jointly technical and aesthetic characteristics (Draper, 2010a).
I am pragmatically aware that perhaps it may be best not to delve too deeply (for now) into exact technologies, industry practices or other idiosyncratic terminology that may only be fully understood by specialists in those disciplines6. Indeed, I find this to be just one of the challenges in the idea of ‘AR’ – to frame generalizability across what in my experience is a very wide range of sub-disciplines (a bit like ‘herding cats’). Or perhaps more accurately, in language. In the following exploration and design therefore, I will do my best to bear in mind my imagined lay-artistic audience in this respect, and seek to clarify all material considerations and use as they arise. I promise to try to avoid ‘geek-ism’.
To return to the subject of the artworks themselves, the material comprises 12 different recorded pieces of music which are eclectic in their range of influences and processes. For research investigation purposes these have been analysed and categorised according to what I understand as four sub-categories or ‘connections’:
- Connections i): three pieces involving working with a Czech didjeridu player and other collaborators via the Internet;
- Connections ii): four solo jazz works, arrangements and approach informed by recent live ensemble improvisations and related foundation research (Draper, 2012);
- Connections iii): two indicative mixes (and more on-going) exploring the effects of asynchronous communication on music-making (Draper & Millward, 2013 forthcoming);
- Connections iv): three sound design pieces as ‘outliers’ which include two electroacoustic-influenced tracks, and a re-mix of an unusual, but influential poetry-styled work.
Each of these connections and their constituent music recordings have both advantages and disadvantages in relation to this exposition. However, I believe that the investigation of all 12 tracks would make for an overly complex design and I will delimit the enquiry by arguing a suitable representative cross-section in terms of responding to the research aims outlined above. Or more reflexively – in acknowledging the iterative design of the questions themselves based on what I’ve tacitly understood to be available to exposition.
Connections iv) would appear to have too many variables, and/or represent some of the more extreme ‘try this?’ aspects of the project (including issues of collaboration); some aspects are not as artistically satisfying to me, other matters are a work-in-progress. Connections iii) on the other hand is already the subject of a parallel but independent research project. Connections ii) to my mind is an attractive candidate, not the least of which is in relation to the progress of earlier research leading to these pieces; however, because the original compositions are copyright works, this presents convoluted considerations for using and displaying (that is, ‘file-sharing’) them here7. This then leaves Connections i), but certainly not by a process of elimination, but rather through deliberate experimental design. As will be shown, I believe these three works succinctly reveal my own AR in the direct connections between their historical development, in their ‘passing of the baton’ from piece to piece re. problem solving, and in clearly unpacking this idea of the changing relationships between ETs and TOs. This gives rise to the development and deployment of improvisational skills, noting the subsequent unfolding of creative ‘flow states’, and overall, reveals and begins to attend to the research questions and considerations outlined earlier.
In terms of data collection, archival and review, this took a format that I have used for other research pieces or has been used in many PhD projects. All interactions – from audio file-sharing, versioning of materials, through to Skype or email communications – were labelled, catalogued, stored and archived. Name /date formats, sorting, computer representation and meta data schema were attended to here. Of particular note, similar data identification tactics were applied to the naming and monitoring of ‘save-as’ states for all compositions throughout their various iterations (see Collins, 2007 where this method is applied in his Real-time Tracking of the Creative Music Composition Process). Practically, this allowed for easy reversion to an earlier ‘save’ should a trial idea go awry, or alternatively, so that multiple versions might be simultaneously in play – either for testing a variation, or to be able to deal with differing response times while material was ‘out there’ on the Internet with Daniel (or two others who later became involved). At the same time, I could continue working on a particular aspect or version of a piece.
Overall, the data was sifted, sorted and refined similarly to that of phenomenological, ethnographic and/or action research approaches that I am reasonably familiar with (eg: Robson, 2002; Bresler, 2006). While this process has unfolded the overarching logic for the themes that emerge, the presentation format takes the form of narrative inquiry (eg: Polkinghorne, 1998) using multiple voices and representative text arrangements interspersed with audio and visual media as required. This presentation of the experiment I have called Jamming, where I seek to: i) (re) perform the actions which led to the creation of the three works; ii) review my thinking as an artistic researcher along the way; and iii) provide other insights, asides and/or hyperlinking as may best situate the work. Overall, I intend that this multi-narrative should flow in such a way that the reader may more closely engage with these readings of the events – over time, and as they happened.
1. I forgive myself for earlier naivety – I wanted to write pieces of music that reflected on and gave homage to important events and people across my entire career in academia (and since transiting from the professional music world in the early 90s). However, being so busy with the business of higher education and ever-present ‘universities in crisis’ events since the amalgamation of arts schools in Australia, this was to be my first sabbatical in 16 years of service. Music revealed herself in unpredictable ways.
3. These matters have improved greatly in recent times with the introduction of the Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) exercises. Yet peer review, quality and matters of scope remain work-in-progress, as does the more pragmatic reality of artistic research income and grant opportunities (still largely ‘missing in action’).
4. This is in contrast to some other works I have created, exemplified as one colleague puts it, “the differences between ‘sonic art’ and ‘music’. For example, in the case of the recent double CD set Remixing Modernism (2010), the concept was indeed to make the musical research processes quite explicit in their representations as sound recordings (Draper, 2010b; Draper & Emmerson, 2008; 2011). This Art of Interpretation extract gives an idea:
6. In my experience, ‘sound engineers’ with a particular focus on equipment specifications, audio engineering standards and so on. There are only a very few research publication outlets for this kind of work, usually via the US-based Audio Engineering Society (AES), or in the more recent, interesting developments of the UK-based The Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production Association (ASARP), its conferences and journal. Still, the work tends to veer toward the technical.
7. Copyright and the music industry is an old frustration for me (Draper, 2008; 2009a). Once a recorded work is ‘signed’ and distributed through a record label, they in fact own the recording itself (not to be confused with other, independent arrangements for publishing, performance, video etc). This means that in the case of publishing academic texts or even using sound recordings for teaching, complex legal matters often arise (in direct proportion to the status of the sales involved).
In the Remixing Modernism (2010) case for example, the CDs having been released on a label meant that for any or all of the three related research papers involved (Draper, 2010b; Draper & Emmerson, 2008; 2011), the use of audio extracts would need to be approved by the record label. This didn’t happen and CDs were only played at related conference events face-to-face. In the case of jazz works, to my mind this becomes even more nonsensical – the whole point is for artists and audiences to enjoy interpretations of familiar ‘standards’ (sometimes quite extreme, unrecognizable even). Outdated copyright limitations therefore severely limit the capacity to present, research and teach in the jazz disciplines where the presentation of copyright recorded works is involved.
Further, current university and ERA research indicators favor distribution through impact-oriented ‘bar code’ commercial outlets for music and this includes commercial CD releases, yet presently it would seem impossible to ‘portfolio’ both research texts and such CD ‘research equivalents’. In this exposition there was therefore significant considerations for the three Connections i) pieces to be examined and distributed here: if they are in fact to be part of any future commercial release then this option is likely compromised. However, at this stage I prioritise the JAR and the matter of later distribution of all 12 recordings remains an investigation into alternate structures that may hopefully adhere to ERA acknowledgment, perhaps via one of the newer record industry models such as TuneCore.