[an actor-network] may lack all the characteristics of a technical network - it may be local, it may have no compulsory paths, no strategically positioned nodes … [and] allows us to get rid of a third spatial dimension after those of far/close and big/small. A surface has an inside and an outside separated by a boundary. A network is all boundary without inside and outside. The only question one may ask is whether or not a connection is established between two elements. The surface ‘in between’ networks is either connected … or nonexisting. (Latour, 1999, pp. 369–373)


This exposition began with the premise that I sought to make greater meaning from recent literature in relation to the notion of ‘artistic research’ (AR) by examining and applying this to my own recent music-making project. To do so, this accordingly argued a range of ontological, epistemological and method considerations before turning to a detailed, multi-voice narrative exploration of the processes which led to the creation of the works in question.

I believe it should be clearly revealed here that the overall research design for this exposition was not apparent to me at the outset. In my experience, while such written presentations (journal articles, research dissertations and reports etc.) give the sense that they may have been planned that way, in my experience this is infrequently the case. Items are usually sequenced in an acceptable or familiar order, for example: introduction /theoretical framework /literature review /methods /data /conclusions, and indeed this exposition largely follows the format. However – if this exposition might in itself be considered ‘creative’ or ‘artistic’, then this same analogy of technical and creative interplay applies. In sum: the methodology, the research questions, and the staging were all emergent, and only after ‘re-performing’ the work in ‘Jamming’ did this come to reveal itself more fully to inform and refine a number of research questions as follows:

  • What has been the nature of the interrelationships between music and technology, and how does this serve the artistic processes?
  • What can I and/or others understand as ‘new knowledge’ through such an investigation?
  • How does this better both my musical and academic portfolio?

Given repeated claims in the literature as to the notion that the research is seemingly ‘embedded’ or ‘embodied’ in the artwork itself, a number of other considerations arose:

  • Is there a risk that ‘the works will ‘totally disappear from sight’?
  • Have the recorded works themselves already ‘disappeared’?
  • How and where might the research be indeed embodied in the artwork (if at all)?

I will now work though an understanding of my insights into each these questions in turn, while at the same time reflecting on the context of the exposition.

Finding flow

En route to my final understandings were the more complex, challenging and often frustrating elements of applying Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s conceptual interplay of the technical and epistemic (cited in Borgdorff, 2012) – these damn things would never sit still! I have detailed many of these negotiations in Jamming and as the project progressed, the seeming dominance of technical objects, the need to problem-solve, to learn new operational techniques an so on – all would have seemed to be a barrier to artistic progression while what I would have considered important musical considerations to be constantly forced to the background. Over time though, my expectations and findings surpassed what I had imagined. This was more than just ‘mastery’ over the instruments, and indeed to my mind moved beyond my earlier understanding of what ‘interplay’ and ‘changing nature’ might mean. As Bruno Latour writes, “The surface ‘in between’ networks is either connected … or nonexisting” (1999, pp. 373). Indeed, in its final stages, the artistic project, the epistemic things and the technical objects all began to somehow merge into one ‘flow state’ (Csikszentmihaly, 1996) with no longer a pre-conceived binary between ‘music’ and ‘technology’, rather, the recording studio now re-imagined as musical instrument (Eno, 1979/2004). This ‘state’ leads to other considerations and for now, some ‘better questions’:

  • Re. the very nature and affect of the ‘artist’s studio ‘itself. Has this been explored elsewhere? Are there useful connections to be made my own idiosyncratic circumstances, say, to that of the fine artist, the chemicals of the paint, the light and the ergonomics of the studio; or in what I imagine to be a very physical connection between the sculpturer and their choice of materials. Or to move closer to my broad discipline of music: in jazz improvisation vs. classical music performance, or the human voice and singing, or traditional score-based composition. In what ways do other artists understand this idea of creative environment, ‘the studio’ as related to the artwork itself?


  • More personally – given the finally intense, lengthy immersion in my studio, is this flow state something that can be returned to at a later date? I am especially aware of this as I write, now having to pause ‘artistic work’ while I ‘write up’, something I know to be also of concern for many of our PhDs. Is there a degree of practice here that ‘sticks’? One would hope so, and thus far, brief excursions back to my studio would seem to confirm this, the memory is still strong. I suspect that just like my guitar practice, there will need to be a minimum threshold for this to be at least maintained, and hopefully progressed.

The interplay of technical objects, epistemic things and improvisation

A well-known Congolese drummer, TaTitos, was asked how new compositions are created in that culture. TaTitos replied that there are three methods. In the first, a new piece of music is presented to someone in their dreams; in the second, musicians notice and build on mistakes they make while they are playing and generate new variations from those errors; in the third, someone consciously constructs a new composition. However, TaTitos added, there are no known examples of successful composition using the third method. (Tosey 2006, pp. 29–30)


This amusing anecdote has great resonance for me. The first scenario has sometimes occurred in the past, where I wake up with fresh ideas, rush to the instrument or studio, but in reality am often slowed down, distracted or taken in a completely different direction by the tools of the trade, for better or for worse. The second method describes what I have commonly worked with all of my life, and no doubt will return to again and again – what Patti Lather describes as  ‘subversive repetition’ (1996), so apt for my musicking. For the third description, many musicians would take this as a jab at the contemporary environment, consumable ‘art-on-demand’ as it were. I tend to agree, but there is also additional meaning here: as a music professional, in many projects I have simply 'pushed through' obstacles given timeline constraints, commercial expectations or impacting academic responsibilities. My capacity to do this and the quality or suitability of the results are largely dependant on the automatic application of pre-existing skills – one of the core attributes of improvisation.

For me, these approaches resonate strongly with the literature exploring the interplay between so-called ‘artistic practices’ and ‘epistemic things' (Borgdorff, 2012, pp. 188–190). This was not something I could clearly articulate at first, but the tacit confirmation of the validity of these ideas was compelling. The subsequent investigation of my creative processes in Jamming revealed much detail as to how this worked in my practice, and confirmed or ‘made real’ these matters for me. Technologies and ‘technical objects’ are often just that – invisible in the background like the foundations of a house, or my computer that I turn on and off. Other elements stay very much in the foreground of the deliberate artistic processes as ‘epistemic things’, and for me, here I have come to more deeply value and understand this idea of AR as making explicit the connections between artistic decision-making and epistemic things.

As a consequence I believe this project has extended both my capacity for and understanding of improvisation. Increased abilities and confidence in using the instruments under certain immersive conditions may result in extended flow states, a space where one does not consciously make ‘technical’ decisions – be they literally involved with technologies, or through to consideration of melody, harmony and the deliberate application of musical devices. One ‘improvises’ to create music by interacting with the tools available in apparently seamless ways, but in fact subconsciously draws on much personal musical library, skills and experience to do so. This also vitally draws on a keen capacity to recognise and variously reject or incorporate serendipity along the way.

While this may partially respond to the contemporary ‘time-poor’ considerations outlined earlier – simply, be better prepared and more aware, perhaps? – there remain reservations about the recording studio ‘network’ itself. As I have referred to earlier in this exposition, in consideration of the powerful effects that many recording studios can have on the direction and form of the music created within, here and elsewhere  I have been drawn to Theodore Adorno’s arguments (1973) in that the ‘materials’ of contemporary technologies have their own, often forceful “kinetic laws” (Ibid, p. 3) given previous subjectivity, that is, as the ‘crystallization’ of the earlier creative impulses of others in their design. At an earlier time, I would have thought this far more restrictive in terms of creativity, originality and improvisation in particular. However, in The Philosophy of Improvisation, Gary Peters goes on to explicate some of this in a re-working of Adorno’s material. He writes:

… while everything is there for the artist as brute matter, it is the “crystallization’ of “previous subjectivity” that transforms matter into aesthetic material, thus allowing specific and delimited patterns or structures of human endeavour to be given at any one time … the there and the given are not identical but, rather, a shifting dialectical or differential relation … precisely because of its interminable mobility, demands both obedience and disobedience to ensure one never collapses into the other (the there into the given): the death of improvisation. (Peters, 2009, p. 11) (underline, mine)

Put in another way, I see this as relating to a clarification of my thinking following experiences in the third piece of music presented in this exposition, Over the Reef (Transfuser remix). Here I spent time with learning and using a new ‘virtual instrument’, a piece of software named Transfuser and clearly designed for the dance music market in its manipulation of beats and audio loops, but used in my own problem-solving for a slightly different purpose, or at least, different artistic outcome. While there is no doubt it has forceful operational assumptions and that many young musicians will continue to work very much inside these parameters, I have come to value it terms of the fact that indeed, it does a very fine job of ‘tansform[ing] matter [sound recordings of musical performances] into aesthetic material [musical arrangements as songs or compositions]’ (Ibid). Now more confident, I relish and thoroughly enjoy both ‘obedience and disobedience’ (Ibid). Transfuser (and its brethren) may well be given to write more clearly under certain conditions, yet as no more than a pencil sharpener to be thrown there on the desk when no longer required.

In truth perhaps, even my most treasured guitars and their embodied histories are yet more artificial constructs to be emotionally discarded according to the above philosophy. However, as a musician from an earlier era I draw the line here and believe I will always continue to regard my guitars as epistemic things and beautiful artworks in their own right – and as such, a constant and rewarding source of pleasure and inspiration. It may well be that other much younger researchers who grew up with technologies may not carry such baggage, or may think about software tools or electronic devices similarly to how I understand the guitar. I leave this for them to consider and explore further.


Embodiment or invisibility?

I’ll wager that you’ve never encountered anyone exiting an exhibit of the works of artists like Pablo Picasso, Elizabeth Murray, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mark Rothko, or Henri Matisse and heard them exclaim. ‘Wow, I learned so much from that’. (Johnson, 2012, p. 141)


Despite my probing, there is little to dissuade me that the above observations also hold true for my musical recordings here, or for many other of my creative projects. This refers to my earlier puzzling with what would seem constant references by Borgdorff and others to the idea that somehow the research itself may be embedded, embodied or what I took to understand as ‘visible’ in the artwork itself, for example: “They are not just generators of knowledge. They are also … that which is generated” (Borgdorff, 2012, p. 198) (italics, mine). To return to the specific research question I’d articulated earlier:

  • How and where might the research be indeed embodied in the artwork (if at all)?


When I began the project, I didn’t see this as the case as was explicated in particular under the ontological considerations for this piece. Contemporary music recordings and popular music (aka the ‘record industry’) have deep cultural connotations, at least for most of the Western world. This has always been both a boon and a curse for my discipline: while almost everyone (from the general public to a surgeon or a professor of biotechnology) has a personal connection to what particular musics might mean, it also makes it difficult to ‘get academic’ about it. The very idea of music research is clearly foreign, either fobbed off with a polite ‘oh, how interesting’, or at worst, prone to result in heated arguments.


By the end of this project I have seen nothing to confirm any explicit research processes in the sound recordings alone. Even more confounding – to the contrary. In the case of the first two pieces of music examined as Pulse Two (remix) and Go Fish, I would have thought the lineage and musical reference points to be well exposed to offer just how the first led to the second given the obvious quotations and structure. No one heard this – neither my external musical peers nor the very collaborating musicians themselves. While many were certainly engaged in aspects of how they did or didn’t ‘enjoy’ the music, again, any idea of a research process left them cold. There may be another space here in the JAR for colleagues to examine my interpretation to seek ‘the research’ in ‘the object’, but for the moment, this particular aspect of the enquiry steers me to question my question. To revisit another extract:


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) (underline, mine)


The more I re-read this material and the more I unpack my process, the less I am inclined to take this as literally as I’d first imagined. I believe part of my preconceptions were related to many years of being involved in the slow development of the Australian research assessment exercises: on the one hand the Federal government wanted ‘proof’ that should take quantitative forms, while on the other, artists resisted this in droves while claiming that indeed, ‘the art is the research output’. Certainly artistic knowledge and processes are communicated through art works to many audiences, but with often powerful yet unexplainable results. It ‘moves’ one (or not). Borgdoff’s explorations therefore may be better understood as metaphors to describe the kinds of impacts and embodiments that art may bring to the world, and just as valuable and provoking as other science-based ‘discoveries’. I believe there is a good deal of judgement here in the exact ways in which these thoughts are framed: open, inviting, non-specific, encouraging or inspirational even. Even though the arts are one of the oldest disciplines, clearly we still have a long way to go in terms of its acceptance as a valid form of knowledge production within the academy, or from the public tax payer who usually funds this. I believe that it is with these considerations in mind that these particular aspects of Borgdorff’s work were framed.


To return to my other two questions that relate to this matter:

  • Is there a risk that ‘the works will ‘totally disappear from sight’?
  • Or, have the recorded works themselves already ‘disappeared’ with reference to the multiple hermeneutic meanings ascribed above?


On the second question, I am now certain that the works had ‘already disappeared’ with reference to what has been discussed above: music listeners will make what they will of the music recordings, variously and sometimes extremely differently depending on their own cultural or socio-economic backgrounds, their professional or academic disciplines and associated doxa. They simply ‘hear music’ and like it or not, this is clearly communicated though sound waves. To the first question though, it is very clear to me that I have learnt so much more about my music-making though this process. Rather than ‘disappear from sight’, to the contrary, as an explicated research investigation the work has exploded into view for me. Further, the problem-solving continues to roll forward I believe, and indeed this is one of my major realisations and drivers to do more, that problem-solving begets new art works (perhaps not so unlike many of our science colleagues).


As an artist however, there are doubts that remain, most of which relate to confidence in relation to one’s very personal offerings of creativity, skills and knowledge as an art work. What I mean to say here is that there is a nagging doubt that ‘bad art’ could easily be argued as ‘good research’ if one had the pre-requisite academic skills. I will humbly leave that for others to decide here, but by way of transition, this allows me to move to my final considerations in which these concerns are framed in terms my colleagues and students.

On teaching, research training and academic work

As the Arrangement component for this exposition emerged, I increasingly framed this in mind of both past and future interactions with colleagues and students at my home university. As a result of this project I believe I have expanded some insights to offer as follows.

In terms of undergraduate teaching, I feel more confident with all the latest tech I know that students will want to hear about. As the adage goes, ‘those that can’t do, teach’ and in the case of music technology undergraduates, a pre-requisite to allowing their learning happen is to obtain their respect and attention though the quality of one’s work and capacity to ‘know the field’. In relation to my doctoral and masters research supervision, the flood-gate is certainly open with queries about artistic research design or new chapter drafts in the email in-box. Already I see potential to offer a few more grounded insights about structure, the use of narrative, and to pass on a little more confidence in relation to their ever-present present concerns about validity when it comes to practice-led matters.

In the case of academic colleagues in my university-based conservatorium, having been their research dean for the last two years has attracted difficulties, sandwiched as our Executive is between ‘the coalface’, the university and the Federal government. This has meant in some cases – ‘dragging it out of them’ in terms of qualifying, justifying and accounting for research components of their allocated workloads. Now having stepped down from this position, some shackles are certainly removed, but moreover, in my working though the explication of my research here, I see many echoes of what some colleagues were doing their best to articulate earlier. I believe I now more fully appreciate some of the many issues at work – doing AR is hard. At the very least, I expect to be able to offer a more informed ear on both operational and propositional knowledge.