In early 2016, right after our piece Barren was performed, Toby Kassell and I started discussing the possibilities of continuing our collaboration aiming mainly at composing a joint music-and-dance score. There was a particular line of inquiry from Barren that we wanted to investigate further: was the separation between something defined as music and something defined as dance successful –could we instead just write the exact same material for two mixed ensembles of musicians and dancers but separate them spatially so that one of the ensembles would be heard and the other seen? If so, would that create a situation where one material performed by two groups could simultaneously be interpreted as music and dance? At the time when we started to work on the score we both found it hard to decide what the material should be. We made several experiments and improvised together to try and find this out. In the end we came to the conclusion that we would find it more interesting if these considerations, concerning what could qualify as a music-, or dance- material, were negotiated in a constant flux by the performers during the performance. Something that we believed called for a score that, in an almost algorithmic fashion, consisted of a series of letters that could be filled with any gestural or sonorous material. We also decided that these letters could take on different meanings within the two different ensembles, something that abstracted the idea that the exact same material should be both heard and seen, even though the spatial disposition would still point to the see-music-hear-dance proposition. As composers and choreographers, Kassell and I became more interested in the performers and what kind of interaction we wanted our score to suggest to them. We wanted the score to be more of a catalyst that would push performers—and later an audience—into a situation where the initial line of inquiry concerning interpretation of gestural-sonorous material could be more openly meditated on. As such we decided that we would make as few dictations as possible outside of what we considered the bare minimum—time and space—and instead try to incorporate extra-instructional suggestions into the score. With a series of etudes we hoped to give the ensembles performing the score some shared references and experiences that were not necessarily explicitly aimed at manifesting during the performance of the score, but rather at the social structures of the ensembles. There is also a moment in the score that asks for music to be replayed. The music would be chosen by a person in each ensemble based solely on their interpretation and feel for what was needed musically at this point in the performance. This moment would take on the symbolic meaning of having one of the members of each ensemble’s own aesthetic preferences shine through and lead. This quite clear action would also occur at the same time in both ensembles, resembling the so-called events of Barren. The score, as composed, consists of a few speculative aphorisms, a bare- minimum explanation of how to read it, a series of etudes, a transparent template that shows the spatial disposition (one ensemble is situated behind the audience that is seated in a circle around and facing the other ensemble) and nine pages of letters (a – d + mm) with modifiers like rhythmic considerations, direction and time indications. Looking at the series of letters, the score is certainly reminiscent of Matthew Shlomowitz’s Letter Pieces, understood as showing that: “[t]he imposition of literal relationships created temporary synaesthesias in which one element can come to function as the expectation of the other. The direct link created between action and sound can itself come to function as the subject of variation and thus be used to provide form and structure time” (Craenen, 2014, p. 217). However, without the clear separation and beforehand agreement that one of the actions is a musical action and the other a dance, or choreographic action—alluded to, in Shlomowitz’s case, by the efficiency of the music instrument—synesthesia is never quite achieved in the case of barren cont. budapest double quartet. Instead, the score seems to end up with a slow-moving ambiguity that refuses to give any clear interpretational direction—perhaps frustratingly so.
In chapter 2.1 I mention the collaboration between Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion. Can Kassell’s and my collaboration be said to share some similarities with the works of John Cage and Merce Cunningham –a composer and choreographer we certainly discussed during our collaboration? This seems even more farfetched as chance never was part of our interest; this is in fact explicitly stated in our shared score barren cont. budapest double quartet, where it says:
6. the placement of material, direction, rhythm and duration was conceived in silent duo improvisation by the piece choreographer toby kassell and composer johan jutterström, where only the name of the signs representing material were spoken.
6.1 using terms like aleatoric or stochastic to describe this process is misleading as mathematics was never an explicitchoice.
6.2 rather the placement of material, direction rhythm and duration was conceived in practice.
“In regular usage, it is […] understood that improvisation tends to involve agency of one or more musicians, while indeterminacy can often be more prescriptive […] Anthony Braxton made a parallel statement with another layer of connotations: “Both aleatory and indeterminism are words which have been coined…to bypass the word improvisation and as such the influence of non-white sensibility” (Gottschalk, 2016, p. 189).