1.4 Forming the outset of an artistic research project.
“The rib cage, the thighs, the tongue also have a plan known only to them. Man has more that is sonorous than a voice, more than vocal cords ready for sound” (Schaeffer, 1952/2012, p. 159) .
The disposition of the artistic research project Ng revisited is such that I can criticize the—perhaps disproportionate—aims of the composition Ng; the ideas I had at the time and how the music functioned, whilst simultaneously refining the same concepts. I can, in a sense, research my own artistic practice retrospectively and externally by looking at Ng while simultaneously researching the very same practice from a more subjective and internalized position —in composing Ng revisited. By juxtaposing the two pieces I hope that my research questions, my methods, the context of my research and whatever new knowledge my project can offer will become clear while simultaneously activated by and contained in my own artistic practice. An artistic practice firmly situated in the field of music and at the boarders of choreography. The juxtaposition of Ng and Ng revisited, I would argue, is the very core of my artistic research and this is what I mean is at stake. The piece Ng can be understood as my hypothesis, investigated in a series of etude-like, experimental (case) study pieces: Barren, Blaha Lujza Tér, barren cont. budapest double quartet, and arguably Etude/Presentation, leading up to my main research finding Ng revisited. As such I hope to coalesce concept, form, theory, material and presentation; a methodology that artistic research arguably opens academia up for. I hope—after these introductory accounts—to map out my research in the rest of this reflection chronologically, and to the extent that it is possible propel it forward also in text and theory. Although I believe that the quality of my research first and foremost needs to be situated in the artistic practice I see it as part of my task as a researcher to try and open it up for a discussion.
One could also detect a narrative of sorts in my artistic research project where a set of materials and how they correspond to different perspectives in relation to either the field of Western art music or the field of contemporary dance and choreography are ruminated and regurgitated: 1) in Ng the ensemble is evenly mixed between musicians and dancers, though the visual aspects of the piece is denied through its acousmatic presentation, 2) this is also the case with Barren but the separation of the two perspectives is drawn to an extreme by putting them in two different physical rooms, denying the audience the possibility to see how the music is performed but also to hear how the dance sounds, 3) with Blaha Lujza Tér there is only the perspective of the solo musician, all material as such is read through the history of western music, though the audience now has access to the full spectrum of seeing and hearing how the sounds are produced or how the gestures sounds, as it were, 4) in barren cont. budapest double quartet there is only the perspective of contemporary dance as the ensemble that I worked with consisted of only dance students, 5) finally revisiting Ng and the mixed ensemble again, now allowing all the perspectives to collapse on each other forsaking the idea of medium-specificity and separation between them all together.
The obvious esoteric and almost obliviously modernist approach I had working on Ng does not hold up to any scrutiny, but in sharing my thoughts of the time just before the forming of this artistic research project I hope to give an account of the emotional currents that set the whole project in motion. Though still quite unarticulated the basic aim of Ng “being a slice of reality”, could however be said to put it in relation to what aesthetician Claes Entzenberg formulates as:
”a complex epistemological problem: is it possible to assume that we can have a world free from reification in history so we can finally discover the world, and rediscover it? The absence of worries might imply that the transformation is so complete that we are no longer aware of it, that reification has become the human condition as such. A simple example: the nature of the burning soul is transferred to the burning stars in the sky […] such anxiety towards reification itself, starts from a dream that we can separate reality and representation, and that finally, reality can be directly accessible. I do not share that view, I think reification is impossible to avoid completely, and sometimes difficult to discover” (Entzenberg,2013, pp.7-8).
Throughout my research project, I hope to show a greater understanding of where my music fits in the western art music tradition today. Acknowledging the inherently subjective nature of artistic research, however, I also believe that there is reason in keeping my argumentation dynamic in the sense that I can oscillate between an emotional-personal standpoint and a more analytical-detached one.
As for how the project has unfolded practically, I conducted three (case) study pieces: Barren (2015), Blaha Lujza Tér (2016) and barren cont. budapest doublequartet (2016/2017), where different aspects of Ng were tested, elaborated-, and meditated -on. Parallel to this I tried to develop a method for presenting the research to my peers in an artistic research setting. Lastly this reflection has been written simultaneously with my artistic pursuits throughout the research project —attempting to interlock the theories and arguments of the project with the artistic results. This text is organized chronologically and each of the (case) study pieces, as well as the method of presentation, have their own chapters. I then attempt to form some closing remarks in the last chapter concerned with Ng revisited. Before that, however, I wish to try and elaborate on the more personal narrative above. I will allow myself to digress at times, in an attempt to place Ng and my artistic research project at large in the western art music tradition. I hope that the text does not become scattered to the point of incomprehensibility, but rather suggestive as I try to put my train of thought on display— following the different threads where they might lead.
In trying to contextualize Ng and surveying my—at the time—contemporary field, parallels could be drawn to many other works such as the French saxophonist and composer Yoann Durant’s piece sous-entendu. Looking to the field of choreography parallels could be found in Martin Forsberg’s Clusterfuck that contains a brief segment where no music is played and the frictions of feet against the floor and the panting of the dancers became apparent —in line with earlier examples from the dance field, e.g. William Forsythe’s N.N.N.N. There are also many slightly less contemporary examples in the western art music tradition that need to be brought up, either because they propose an interesting handling of the music instrument or because they explore other aspects of music that I also attempted with Ng.
The music of Mauricio Kagel and the genre of instrumental theatre, today represented by composers such as Manos Tsangaris, Trond Reinholdtsen, Carola Bauckholt, Johannes Kreidler, et al. could at first glance seem to be the natural context of my music. There are similarities between this genre and the music that I do (it is hard to claim ones originality today) but I believe that there are also differences that I will attempt to clarify throughout. The instrument is emphasized in the very name of this genre, whereas I hope to escape it in order to offer an opening—however small—to what music could be without it. Though the way that bodies move and produce sound in my music could certainly be said to be instrumental, part of this research project is to investigate whether there is a tangible difference in a music without any instrument-object, on the boarders of choreography, and music that uses instruments or objects. Kagel—to me—seems interested in the musician’s condition, something that I share, but it is often being conveyed through the musician’s relationship with their instrument; as could be exemplified e.g. by his piece Zwei-Mann-Orchester (Two ManOrchestra)(1971-1973).The possibilities of adding layers of extra-musical elements that instrumental theatre opens up for is something that post-doctor Tanja Orning discusses in her article Experimental practice – experimental evaluation?1She suggests using the term reality-music (virklighetsmusikk) for describing music that includes extra musical elements. In rapport with Harry Lehmann and his concepts of relational music and what calls the Gehalt-aesthetic turn, she writes that: “…it refers to something that is not music”2 (Orning, 2016). This reasoning opens music up for a debate similar to one that visual arts has had, e.g. through the voices of Nicolas Bourriaud and his relational aesthetics. Lehmann writes that: ”…it is true of all advanced art that one can only observe its formal choices if one is aware of its basic conceptual conditions” (Lehmann 2010). A statement that reminds me of Bourriaud when he writes:
the content of these artistic proposals has to be judged in a formal way: in relation to art history, and bearing in mind the political value of forms […] It would be absurd to judge the social and political content of a relational “work” by purely and simply shedding its aesthetic value […] meaning and sense are the outcome of an interaction between artist and beholder, and not an authoritarian fact. In modern art, I must, as beholder, make an effort to produce sense out of objects that are ever lighter, ever more impalpable and even more volatile. Where the decorum of the picture used to offer a frame and a format, we must now often be content with bits and pieces. Feeling nothing means not making enough effort (Bourriaud 1998/2002, p.82).
Though a reasonable claim over the conditions of the more theorized art—and music—of today, Bourriaud’s last sentence is where it becomes problematic for me: “feeling nothing means not making enough effort”. Bear in mind that, as Lehmann suggests, one can only observe the formal choices of advanced art if one is aware of the conceptual conditions of it. There is a risk here, as I see it, that art (or music, which is something I feel more confident in discussing) paradoxically succumbs to self-referencing by including extra-musical elements. This self-referencing also receives the added protective layer that a person who does not feel anything is not making enough of an effort, while simultaneously being disqualified as not competent of to make that effort if not initiated. The practice of advanced-, art or -music, under these conditions, then indeed seem to be closed off, having nothing to offer those who are not already part of it. Though problematic, the alternative might of course be horrific instead if we were to regress into ideas of a unified music that a majority of people of a society can rally behind as the true music—something that, remembering the European history certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Going back to Orning’s term reality music, I believe that there are better examples outside of the western art music canon that deals with and integrates itself in the real world outside of music. Punk rock and hip-hop could pose as quite clear examples of that. But even those genres, as well as western art music, are highly dependent on fantasies; whether the fantasy of changing one’s own situation in society, overthrowing a system that one disagrees with, whether they are fantasies of love or—as in the case of Øyvind Torvund's piece 10 Plans (2017)—fantasies idiomatic to the western art music and how it could sound or function. As an artistic researcher I certainly believe that the acceptance of fantasies as something potentially quite powerful should not be belittled, but it is at the same time imperative that we admit to working with fantasies and not confuse ourselves by trying to pass them off as reality. It is important that art does not develop an inferiority complex to other academia as it becomes research, seeing as this would probably be contra-productive to what art potentially has to offer academia in the first place. I will discuss the topic of artistic research further below in chapter 5.1.
Hanna Hartman, I believe is part of a scene that helps opening music up to the fact that: “[j]ust about anything can be an instrument. It doesn’t have to have a musical history” (Gottschalk 2016, p. 89). This statement, found in Jennie Gottschalk’s book Experimental Music Since 1970 is of course correct in general, but could—in my mind—be further elaborated on seeing to the enormous importance of the concept of instrument in western art music. To have an object—any object—fill in for a conventional music instrument might perhaps change the way the music sounds and the way it unfolds, but it does not move beyond the tenets of human exploration of the sonorous aspects of an object. It is, in that broad sense, analogous to the functions of conventional music and does—in my mind—share the musical history of the instrument, contrary to what Gottschalk claims. Then there is, of course, the added layer of extra-musical meaning to objects that are not music instruments, something that could put it in contact with the discussion on reality music above. Is my approach so different? Is there a real difference between the human exploration of the sonorous aspects of an object, or ones own body moving in space? As I write above, in relation to instrumental theatre, the way that bodies move and produce sound could certainly be said to be instrumental. Though I build on traditions claiming that “just about anything can be an instrument”, on of the pretentions of this research project is to try to expand on that, by saying not only that “just about anything can be an instrument”, but also that there can be a music without instruments (without objects). Whether the body then simply takes the place of the instrument-object or not remains to be seen.
Andrea Neumann as a representative for the echtzeitmusik and Helmut Lachenmann as a representative for the musique concrète instrumentale both clearly trace music back to the instrument, how a musician relates to it and what it represents for a concert situation. Perhaps Ng could be regarded as a musique concrète corporelle but I hesitate in calling it that because there is a risk, as I see it, that the relationship between music and choreography that I try to uphold in Ng simply becomes a translation showing that bodies can be played just as instruments, which in a sense could create an inversion of my aim; the instrument becoming emphasized by its absence. Again, whether I achieve something else than simply having the human body fill the role of the instrument or not remains to be seen, and will be discussed further down in chapter 7.
The voice does feature in Ng, as mentioned above but is that sufficient to put it in a strong relation to the vocal music of the Darmstadt composers Dieter Schnebel, Karlheinz Stockhausen, et al. or other composers, such as e.g. Pauline Oliveros? I think not. My focus simply lies too heavily on a musical-choreographic reasoning where the voice, though definitely present, simply is not the focus. It is just another part of the body that can be choreographed –though by its historical significance certainly has roots—strong roots—in music.
Music that can be regarded as not adhering to the western art music genre or the western music canon at large, e.g. various types of folk music, has not been included as part of the material that I investigate in the framework of this artistic research project. This is in no way a comment on music outside of the western art music genre, but simply an expression of an, in my mind, necessary delineation of my project; I certainly do not claim my research to be applicable to music in a universal sense, but it is rather to be understood as an attempt to question and possibly innovate the western art music genre from within. This project stems from a personal fatigue of, but still great love for, that particular genre.
I want to underline that I find all the examples discussed above to be brilliant examples of music, but they still do not suffice to explain my personal pursuit. They do not explain what I would like to open western art music up for. Martin Forsberg, coming from the field of choreography is in the brief segment of Clusterfuck perhaps closest to what I was aiming for with Ng, but with the difference that his point was made within the frameworks of choreography and dance. The works of Pierre Schaeffer and Jakob Ullmann might not seem topical in relation to Ng, but I believe that there is reason to bring them up. I will do this below at chapter 1.4.1. Before that I would like to give an account of the—for my project— most important literature that I have tried to keep a dialogue with.
In the seemingly topical book for my research project Musical Gestures. Sound, Movement, and Meaning, Rolf Inge Godøy and Marc Leman write: “We believe that experiences of music are intimately linked with experiences of movements: Musicians make music with movements, and people very often make, or imagine, movements when listening to music. We would go so far as to claim that music is basically a combination of sound and movement, and that music means something to us because of this combination” (Godøy & Leman, 2010, p. ix). They go on to write: “…we felt that the main focus of our book ought to be on basic issues of sound and movement in musical experience for two main reasons: First, with technological development it becomes clear that many challenges are actually more of a conceptual or perceptual-cognitive nature, or that technological advances are dependent on having a basis in human experience. Second, we believe that sound-movement interaction in music is a general topic with ramifications beyond any technological contexts, actually concerning the very basis of music as a phenomenon” (Godøy & Leman, 2010, p. x). In agreement with these speculative statements, I am hoping to add to: “…a much more extensive exploration of music as an art of sound and movement in the years to come” (Godøy & Leman, 2010, p. x). When reading Godøy and Leman, it became clear to me that my contribution to these speculations had to be of a different nature. The focus of Godøy and Leman is—again—on the relationship between musician and instrument, different technological strategies of mapping gestures (contrary to what they state in the quotes above) and analysis of these gestures in quite a scientific sense. Godøy and Leman’s endeavor offer no release from the music instrument and as an artistic researcher, I needed something else to converse with.
The researcher Paul Craenen’s book Composing under the skin soon became important to my project. Together with Carl Dahlhaus’ The Idea of Absolute Music, G Douglas Barrett’s After Sound and Claes Entzenberg’s Art from death originated (already mentioned above), Craenen also helped me put my inclinations in relation to the history and the accepted canon of western art music and theory. I will try to show this further below in chapter 5.
1.4.1 Binaural strategy.
Though I consider Ng to be an acoustic piece of music, the way it was recorded and the way it is presented are critical aspects of it, inseparable from the very music itself. I believe that through the binaural strategy a type of listening situation can be achieved on the lines of what Pierre Schaeffer describes in relation to his ideas of a musique concrète:
…Western music […] is mainly concerned with the numerical values of pitched sounds. The experiment in concrete music reveals within the ear, and with almost no relationship to the musical ear, a sound eye, sensitive to the form and color of sounds, and also, as there are two ears as well as two eyes, to the three-dimensionality of these sounds. Imagine a perfect chord, made up of three notes, each one, apart from a relatively pure basic sound, having weird forms and colors: one of these sounds is a pulsation, one a series of fluctuating attacks, the third an “aeolian” that seems not to come from the movement of any sound body. Moreover, the matter of these notes changes. Not only do they differ, but each of them develops. Finally, they scatter in to space, tracing out trajectories there. In this example, in addition to the perfect chord these notes sustain, they cause sound forms and sound colors to appear and develop in time and space. Concrete music is nothing less than the bringing of consciousness of this phenomenon, until now implicit, and which no instrument had yet allowed us to grasp (Schaeffer 1952/2012, pp. 182 –183).
That Schaeffer tries to open Western art music up for different sounds than the pitched sounds of instruments is something that appeals to me. But what appeals to me is what could be considered the opening he offers, not that pitched sounds should necessarily be discarded altogether; something that would potentially even be careless. In this is the time of conceptive ideologues no longer Mathias Spahlinger writes:
what is sounding in reality?’ is the question that new music asks; asks again in a new, material-oriented way. in the time of tonality, this question was synonymous with the question ‘what is sounding in reference to the system?’ because the system was the human reality of perception. sounds that didn’t act within the system were not music. all that was counted as real, and rightly so, was human reality: that which (physically) sounded, as related to reason—that is, together with a system of selective appreciation and interpretation, this is what was meant by the phrase ‘labor of the spirit in spirit-amenable material (hegel); it is also the true sense of the hegelian idea, that the real is the reasonable, and the reasonable is the real. new music ask the materialistic question: what is sounding independently of the cultural system of perception, tonality? and she brings to consciousness: the object (of perception) independent of consciousness is geared toward consciousness, the as-such is only for us. the question ‘what is sounding in reality?’ is posed by new music, and it implies: only so much can come into consciousness from the object of perception as comes from consciousness itself, from the conditions of our perception and interpretation, be they the biological premises of our perceptive apparatus, or the musico-cultural premises of our society (Spahlinger, 2008, pp.580-581).
I believe that Spahlinger is on point when he explains that new music, or at least certain new music, interests itself with a more materialistic approach to sounds. But I believe that if we are to take the consequences of the statement: “only so much can come into consciousness from the object of perception as comes from consciousness itself”, the particular qualities of and object or instrument (still very important components of new music), or even the instrumentalist, could be said to be superfluous. I believe that David Dunn’s approach in his piece Purposeful Listening In Complex States of Time (a score meant to be performed by the listener, circumventing musician and instrument as mediators of music and the social situation of the concert) is more to the point in that regard. In the introduction to the score Dunn writes: The meaning of music cannot be found within the mere structures of notes and/or their semiotic referents. There is no point to point correspondence of communicative intent and reception, and the extent to which there could be, would be a commentary on its triviality […] Expression and meaning in music exist in the agreement to circumscribe a boundary upon a seemingly infinite set of superabundant associations and uses. In other words, how much you buy into the culture you are born into is not merely a matter of personal taste, but to assume that the meaning you have attributed to your music is a universal attribute is simply stupid (Dunn 1997-1998/1999). In order to formulate a standpoint on the culture that one is born into, without the risk of ‘kicking in open doors’, I believe that it is important to first understand what has made said culture to function the way it does –something that clearly both Spahlinger and Dunn understand, but something that I might need to meditate on a bit further. The A (440) in Ng was, in my mind, a commentary on pitched sounds and harmony in western music culture – both displaying my personal fatigue within this culture as the single note is not developed further towards a melody or any harmony in a conventional musical sense–but also indicating that my music was still part of it. The notion of harmony is not dependent on music instruments either, but seems to me to be more abstract in nature. Harmony, represented by pitched sounds, in fact, seems integrated in the very concept of, not only music, but mathematics and even early attempts at understanding the cosmos: “The ‘first thing to be harmonised’, wrote Philolaus, was the central fire. The central fire was the number 1; the outer fire, the number 2. The ratio 2:1 represented the musical octave, so an octave separated the two extremes of the cosmos“ (Ferguson, 2008, p. 110). Even though the dodecaphony of Schönberg arguably pushed music beyond the hierarchies of tonality and John Cage with 4’33’’ perhaps even beyond the hierarchies of organized sound altogether, they did so in relation to the western music history. Schönberg did this explicitly by pitched sounds and Cage implicitly through the tension of the concert situation and the grand piano as a symbol and continuous possibility of pitched sounds and harmony. Another example of a similar strategy, taken even further but still traceable back to Cage, Schönberg and the history of western art music that could be mentioned is Peter Ablinger’s Listening Piece in Four Parts where an outdoors area is framed by chairs positioned as they would for an audience in a conventional concert setting. Here the rituals and conventions inherited are what is placing the piece in the field of music and in western culture. Coming back to the importance of the recording strategy I used for Ng and the fact that it was always meant to be presented acousmatically, I would like to argue quite uncontroversial, that what proximities and conditions music is recorded in has a huge impact on how the recorded music is perceived. Dennis Smalley’s work gives us a vocabulary to the acousmatic and spatial qualities of sounds in general, but I believe that the recorded music of the German compser Jakob Ullmann is more to the point as an example of this in the context of my artistic research. To me, it sounds like space is incorporated in the recordings of his— in this context fairly conventional—music by having the microphones placed at a great distance from the musicians. This is often understood as an attempt at creating a quiet music, as Bernd Leukert writes in the booklet of fremde zeit addendum: “Loud music forgoes the subtleties of perceptible sound. Thus, Ullmann creates a quiet music in order to give himself and the listeners the opportunity to hear more, and better” (Leukert 2012). Even though it might indeed be Ullmann’s intention to create a more quite music, I find that the spatial disposition changes the perception of the sounds in more ways as well. The sound image of the recordings on fremde zeit addendum works together with the architecture of where the music was recorded, where the explicit instrumental sounds are mixed with the sounds of e.g. the musicians readjusting their posture and the sounds already present in the space where the music was performed and recorded. Remembering the discussion above on reality music, I believe that this strategy is more subtle and organic in having music mediate extra-musical accounts of reality. To me this strategy feels less forced than having music explicitly—from a meta-perspective of sorts—try to comment on itself and its place in the world; even though it perhaps is not as outspoken or witty about it. Ng revisited will be performed live and I will not depend on acousmatics in working with this piece. During a live situation certain questions will rise: will I be able to reactivate the fleeting ephemeral character of music—the moment between musician and listener where everything is at stake in a live situation? Will the chorographical elements of the music take over and subvert it into a pure dance performance, or will the tension between the musical intention and the choreographic means help open the situation up for something, if not new— at least, interesting? What are the risks with my research project and what is there to gain from it? In chapter 6 I intend to revisit also the questions I posed when composing Ng: Can a choreographic approach offer a substantial donation to western art music theory and practice? Can such a premise challenge how music notation is approached and help expanding how music structure is thought of beyond how it is communicated through notation? Can it change time measuring mechanisms of music and advance the way space is approached? Accepting the subjective nature of artistic research, I would also—perhaps superfluously—like to ask the reader to keep these questions with them when listening to and watching the documented material from my research and throughout the rest of this text. As I believe that my answers to these questions are not necessarily more valuable then anybody else’s.