During the summer of 2015 I started investigating spoken language as music material; something already thoroughly investigated by e.g. Alvin Lucier, Språkgruppen4, contemporary text-ljud composers like Tomas Hulenvik, Diamanda Galás, perhaps John Baldessari in his piece Baldessari Sings LeWitt, Kurt Schwitters in Ursonate, Jaap Blonk, and in the hiphop scene and rap music—but something that I wanted to internalize as part of my artistic practice and in relation to my aesthetic preferences. I wanted to make the theoretical choices that I made part of the sounding music material and was looking for a point, a boarder site, where how I was reading the text would qualify it as both a formal explanation of a theoretical standpoint and at the same time make out the music that implemented this standpoint. Something not too far in aim, but perhaps not in execution or aesthetics, from Brian Ferneyhough when he asks: “…Why not have music which is at one and the same time experience per se and theoretical formulation, rethinking of “normality” as a form of philosophical activity’”(Fitch,2013,p.202)? I carried out my first experiments on these lines together with aesthetician, artist and musician Andreas Hiroui Larsson during the PAF Summer University in St Erme, France–one year after I premiered Ng there. Since then I have continued to pursue these experiments and as an artistic researcher I have found them to be useful in trying to strike a balance between the artistic and the academic (this will be further elaborated on in chapter 5).
When starting to compose the first study piece of my artistic research project, it became clear that many of the questions that I arrived at with Ng had already been asked. Quite explicitly, in fact, by Paul Craenen in Composing under the skin, published in 2014 – about the same time as I was working on Ng. Though Craenen came at it with a richer understanding of the western art music canon, and was more theory laden, when asking: “Can we reappraise compositional material by integrating the performing body and perhaps the listening body as well? Can compositional practice be redrawn as an inclusive practice that genuinely transcends the boundaries of music, choreography, or theatre” (Craenen, 2014, p. 204)? These questions tangent the ones that I ask in my artistic research. However, instead of theatre, I look to language manifested as speech or text as a companion to music and choreography. G DouglasBarrett writes about this in After Sound:“…prior to the advent of absolute music, the concept of music included language (“lyrics”, for example) within the premodern tripartite harmonia, rhythmos, and logos—or harmony, rhythm, and language, or rational thought” (Barret, 2016, p. 2). Further, the ties between music, choreography, text and language dates back to the early conceptions and definitions of music in ancient Greece, as is stated by Lelouda Stamou in her article Plato and Aristotle on music and education: lessons from ancient Greece: “In ancient Greece, music was not the discrete art form that we, today, consider as music. It was the complete combination of poetry, melody, and dance in one unity” (Stamou, 2002, p. 3)… Music consisting without all these parts, was considered to be inferior. Exemplified by the fact that: “Wind instruments are generally criticized by Plato because they also prevent the performer from singing or speaking while playing, thus violating the unity of speech or song, instrumental playing, and dance”(Stamou, 2002, p. 6). Later Stamou even let us know that: “Singing and speaking were close in the ancient Greek culture.[…]In many literary descriptions, the words singing and speaking are coupled or used interchangeably, and one cannot tell whether speech or song is in question” (Stamou, 2002, p. 3). Far from trying to adopt the views of ancient Greece, I simply want to show that the isolated disposition of music that was formulated demand the inclusion of choreography and language. Music seemed no trivial entertainment, neither, but a very serious matter: “Plato’s concept of the relationship between musical laws and legislation is characteristic. As he notes in his Laws, “it is to be remembered above all that our songs are our laws – a paradoxical assumption, but one which we should accept” (799e 10-11). This is why he believes that one must be careful when introducing a new kind of music” (Stamou, 2002, p. 6). It is interesting to see how the relationship between music, culture, state and legislation was intertwined so early in their conception. Later voices like Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno would remind us of this: “Culture has always played its part in taming revolutionary and barbaric instincts” (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1944/1997), though my knowledge of philosophy is too limited to further converse with them with any confidence.
Further, in In search of a concrete music, Pierre Schaeffer asks: “Let’s record a spoken phrase, listen to it, distort it as much as necessary so that all that is left is the melody, the rhythm, and all verbal content is lost. Haven’t we got an excellent schema for the composer? Isn’t he bound to find melodic and rhythmic inflexions here that are very far from harmonic norms, but, because of the way they have been constructed, are in tune with human sensibility” (Schaeffer, 1952/2012, p. 172)? Schaeffer’s question was later to be answered and realized—quite brilliantly—by Alvin Lucier with I’m sitting in a room. Hopefully I will be able to demonstrate the use of language in the research project clearer by further discussing how language was used in Barren. In Barren my unpublished article On the subject of dance as acoustic phenomena, as sounding material and its possible appliance in the field of music: a point of departure was read in relay. I chose to have this article make up part of the music material because it concerns topics that were being practiced in the piece –as such the article could arguably even have been used as a score in and of itself. The text is not poetic or philosophic, but concerns itself with questions from the field of music. I hoped to work with an ambivalence in how the information of the text was communicated, investigating if it carried through as it was transformed into music, into a part of a sound image and a sounding room. I asked Luo, Oláh and Zackariassen to translate the article into their native languages: (Mandarin) Chinese, Swedish and Norwegian respectively. The translations were aimed at allowing everyone to gain a more personal relationship to the text, something that I believe is unavoidable when translating from one language to another. The variations of texture in the different languages were also a compositional consideration and a natural way of creating variety in how the text sounded. For the coda of the piece Kassell and I agreed on using the word subject spoken by the dancers in their respective native languages: Russian, German and French (it might be worth noting that subject is the same in these languages and that the only difference are small variations in the pronunciation). The dancers would leave their room one by one as the lights were turned off. Entering the room where the music was performed they would repeatedly say subject. When the first dancer said subject the music would stop and be reduced only to applauses of finger snaps, rendering the sounds of the room more tangible as the abstracted sounds of movement stopped. The word subject could have many meanings in this context: the performers being subjects for the audiences considerations, the subject of dance or music at large and subject as the root of subjective: something existing in the mind, belonging to the thinking subject—the specific people that had gathered for the performance—rather than the object of thought; stressing the need for a personal, local, interpretation of the piece. The finger-snap-applauses were part of an internal communication within the two ensembles. The dancers would use it when they succeeded in repeating a stage pattern in accordance with the rules of the choreography and the musicians could superimpose it on any given material, forcing the other musicians to join in at any time – granting it a special status throughout the piece. In my mind this was meant to be an unmasking action revealing part of the inner mechanics of the piece –the craft of communication in the ensembles through a material that could easily be recognized as something extra-musical or extra-choreographic, usually at the hands of the audience. As such it could arguably also be understood in relation to the discussion on reality-music above in chapter 1.4.