6.5 Closing remarks
“All the paths we have trodden, as speculative as some of them may have been, have ultimately led us to a music-making body” (Craenen, 2014, p. 262)...
What I have done within the framework of my artistic research project is essentially trying to refine a music-choreographic aesthetic expression. I have attempted to make music out of choreographic-, or dance- movements and displacements; insisting at times on a music interpretation of something that is usually not seen as included in a conventional—in my mind not always thought through—understanding of music as a practice or art field. Starting out with Ng, a piece of music that was made as a reaction—on impulse more than carefully calculated, —I have tried to see critically what this approach actually holds up for. Stemming from a personal desire, I have tried to create a space for myself where I can escape the conventions of music—even music that is generally seen as more unorthodox, by excluding the music instrument. In a sense desperately looking for something more substantial than technique and beautiful sounds—though I am well aware of the futility of such an endeavor holding up as something universal; it can ever only be subjective. Simultaneously I have tried to define my role as an artistic researcher. This made me investigate the relationship between language—something I saw as a prerequisite for academic reasoning—and my artistic pursuits. As a result language, either spoken or written, has featured in my music, creating perhaps a music-choreographic-poetic expression rather than just the music-choreographic one that I initially intended.
I will now do my best to state my case, however, and try to answer the questions I ask at the end of chapter 1.4.1—hoping that they are also tacitly—perhaps more to the point— answered in the piece Ng revisited: 1) Can my choreographic approach offer a substantial donation to western art music theory and practice? 2) 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? 3) Can it change time measuring mechanisms of music and advance the way space is approached?
1) To my knowledge there are few accounts of western art music—in fact none comes to mind—that completely abandon the instrument for a choreographic approach. Would such an endeavor simply tip over into the field of dance? I do not necessarily think so, but I believe that such an argument is most convincingly made in practice. Whether this approach is “a substantial donation” to western art music theory and practice, I believe can really only be assessed by whoever experience it. Personally, this approach and the opportunity to conduct research on it have revolutionized my own relationship to music –I can hardly expect this to be the case for anyone else. There are, however, voids that I believe to have identified in western art music reasoning on less of a personal plane. Voids that I try to—if not fill, at least—enter; whether that would pose as a substantial donation however is out of my hands and, again, more up to whoever hears my music and however they react to it. Western art music seems focused on instrumental sounds to the point where instrument, or object, and music almost becomes synonymous. I believe that there are other possibilities to investigate, two of which being a choreographic approach and language as an approach. The conventional music score could perhaps, slightly simplified, be said to be choreography; it might not even necessary to make such a big gesture of it as Simon Steen-Andersen does in his score to Next To Beside Besides: “[w]hat if the composition was thought of as a choreography for musician and instrument—with sound as a consequence” (Andersen, 2003/2006)? –this could be said to always be the case, whether seen as actions prescribed by a score, or as a description of the actions that the musician performs. A musician reading a score moves their body in relation to their instrument in accordance with what they read and the sounds appear. I have, with my research project, attempted to further investigate the consequences of a choreographic approach to music where the safety of an instrument vouching for it being music is gone. Even in a piece like Thierry De Meys Musique de Table where three percussionists play on a table or table-like surfaces, indeed notated with a precision of how the hand should hit this surface to a point that tangent choreography, things are being played. In Blaha Lujza Tér (2016) the floor is being played. Is there really a significant difference? I believe that there is. To a point. The floor is part of the room where the piece is performed and always sounds if one moves around in that room. Unlike Musique de Table, Blaha Lujza Tér (2016) then points to the fact that a human moving around in space makes sound. As a theoretical claim this is hardly eloquent or convincing, but as a starting point to make artistic choices and composing music it has, at least to me, been richer. How well this plays out in my scores and the performances of my music is of course always up for debate, but this could at least, arguably, be said to be an attempt at a donation or a furthering of western art music theory and practice.
Language and music, similarly to choreography and music, has a relationship that goes back all the way to when it, at least for western culture, was defined; something that I try to show in chapter 2.2. My approach to this has been to have my academic reasoning, in language, become part of my music material.
2). As discussed in chapter 6.4 the notational strategy that I have reached through my research tries to make sense in several ways: as western art music notation, as a personal account of music, as choreography, but also as research –represented most clearly by the use of literature and spoken language. The part of the question where I ask if the—musical- choreographic—premise of my research can challenge how music notation is approached can of course only be answered in relation to particular accounts of other significant music notation. Opening the five bar lines of western music up for something else –other possibilities of mediation, is in no way anything new but the question that I believe needs to be asked is whether the notational strategy makes sense in relation to, or indeed as part of, the particular music that it is—or represents. With that being said, the use of choreographic notational strategies, Choreology in the case of this research project, in a music score is not something that I have seen before –though the music of Raxach and Abrahamssen, described above, certainly reminds me of it. In conveying my ideas to an ensemble I could just as well have looked at Kagels score Pas de cinq as the opening segments of both Ng (2013), Barren (2015) and Ng revisited (2018) are also reminiscent of that piece. If I had done that the ties to western art music would also have been clearer. But in choosing to borrow a notational system from dance instead, I believe to underline the ambivalence I write about in chapter 1.3. I dare say, then, that the use of Choreology makes sense in the context of this research project. Does this challenge how music notation is approached? Does the novelty of a choreographic notational system really stand a chance of opening up for a major shift in music notation? Of course not, but mostly because–in line with the reasoning of Entzenberg and McClary, above—that this is not what is at stake today. My personal reasoning and positioning in relation to several accounts of western art music, its history and theories could however perhaps be of interest. The second part of my question, whether the premise of my artistic research project can expand how music structure is thought of beyond how it is communicated through notation, thusly has to be read in relation to what music I personally react to. Though several accounts of music certainly acknowledges the importance of space, e.g. the above mentioned piece Pas de cinq by Kagel, Cathy Van Eck in the piece Wings, Pierluigi Billone in his piece Quattro Alberi (2011), John Cage, when he writes: “Sound takes place in space” (Cage 1969, there are no page indications in the edition of Notations that i have access to), Pierre Schaeffer in his musique concrète, Denis Smalley in his Spectromorphology, or Jacob Ullmann in the recordings of his music, together with many, many other accounts, I feel that there is a somewhat of an overseen opportunity in the simple movements of human bodies in space. Even Yoann Durant in his music for solo saxophone (generally making much use of space and the possibility of moving around in it) does so with his saxophone, or other objects, in hand. Therefor I do dare to make the argument that I at least attempt to expand western art music structure, or make a small contribution to it –if only within the space that I have allotted myself. Whether this will be a substantial contribution, however, remains to be seen.
3) The music that has been created within the frames of my artistic research project generally lacks bar lines, divisions and timelines. Instead I have decided to work with cues (though barren cont. budapest double quartet could be seen as an exception). This places the length and rhythm of the music in the actual actions performed, which could be said to open the time measuring mechanisms of western art music up for something that is not—or at least has not been—the convention. Alone it does not constitute as a possible change in the time measuring mechanisms, as there are several other examples of music and scores that operate in this manner. But in the ratio between a cue based score and trust in body time –as borrowed from the field of dance, there could perhaps be something worth mentioning. Toby Kassell describes the concept of body time as something that dancers are trained in. Instead of counting a strict beat, or feeling it in your body for that matter, dancers seem to take their timing more from the feel of and length of their gestures; in that sense (and with great risk of generalizing) I would argue that there could be more room for fluidity in dance. Dancers, granted when not dancing to a music score, seem to generate their own rhythm in less of a mathematical way than musicians in a conventional sense. In making that argument I of course disregard music such as improvised music and certain other examples from the field of western art music. Working in synergy with the cue based disposition and overall lack of time indicators in the scores that I have composed the music could basically be as long or short as imaginable. But more interestingly the rhythm and timing is not handed down as a prescription possible to be read, but has to be performed as it exists only in that very moment–and never as a forethought. When asking if my research could advance the way space is approached in music I am far more literal than Paul Craenen when he compartmentalize space as either surrounding-, for-, or of- the music –in a sense similar in scope to Christopher Small’s verb musicking. My investigations are closer situated to the actual spatiality in Craenen’s mapping of music as from here, there or somewhere. In fact, the reality of space is, in Ng, Barren and Ng revisited a prerequisite for the music itself as certain sounds are made by displacements. Space is not only a matter of an acoustics reality that the music exists in, but activating the scores mean activating the space by moving around in it. I believe that I am pointing to this, partly overseen, basic fact: that human movement alone produce rhythmic sounds possible to cultivate toward music, and that this could be a catalyst for other composers, musicians, or choreographers and dancers for that matter; as such arguably advancing how space is approached in western art music.
As an artistic researcher, language has become an imperative part of my musical reasoning and practice. This, I believe is apparent in all pieces that my research project encompasses, with the possible exception of barren cont. budapest double quartet, and most explicitly so in the presentations of my research. I am in agreement with Darla Crispin when she writes that: “…how it is written is part-and-parcel of what it says” Crispin, 2014, p. 139), and this is also a point that I believe is an important aspect of artistic research at large. Lastly, while I have my own particular strategy and my own reasoning, I do position my music and my research in the periphery of the opening that G Douglas Barrett’s envisions in a musicafter sound. When discussing Pussy Riot, Ultra-red, Wandelweiser, Hong-Kai Wang, Peter Ablinger, Cassie Thornton, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, he explains this reasoning:
”Ultimately, through their practices of mobilizing bodies, staging participation, and organizing collectivity, these artists, I argue, deploy forms of composition: they recognize a broader need to put together and assemble, to construct and compose radical forms of commonality. Importantly, this conception of composition departs from the term’s meaning in “new music” institutions—and, moreover, requires a break with sound (art) and absolute music. Such a break is conceivable only by acknowledging the historical finitude of absolute music. Indeed, despite its widespread acceptance, absolute music is to be understood as ahistorical specific concept: it has a determinate beginning, and, as German musicologist Carl Dahlhaus insisted, “What has come about historically can also be changed again.” Such a change could represent a radical shift in musical thinking and practice. Music could become untethered from sound as an autonomous medium, left, at an extreme, without sound […]Sound could be deprioritized in favor of the wider methodological scope necessary to formulate music as a critical art practice. No longer adherent to the primacy of sound, this “music beyond sound” could finally become a music after sound“ (Berrett, 2016, p. 6).
To summarize: though I am reluctant to talk of a substantial donation to western art music practice and theory, I believe to have identified something of an overlooked possibility in the movements of human bodies, and their consequential sounds, in my endeavor to escape the saxophone. Trying to investigate that musically has had consequences on my score notation, borrowing methods of notation from the field of choreography. I believe to have—at least for myself—challenged certain western art music conventions and ended up with a somewhat coherent material that is not dependent on an instrument or sounding object. But instead, in line with other contemporary theoretical positions and historical accounts, I have tried to open music up for possibilities in reasoning and langue, and—inherent in our very existence—in our bodies. Starting out at the composition Ng I have through artistic practice and reasoning moved towards a consolidation of my methods in Ng revisited.