I. BACKGROUND AND MAKING
A synaesthetic turn
It is important to underline that the video keyboard was neither a concept nor a concrete intention when embarking on this research project. As illustrated in PRACTICE grounds, the acoustic piano was the instrumental frame within which the research practice took place.
However, when looking back on the documentation process as it developed from audio recording to lo-fi single-camera footage and onwards to multi-camera sessions in a more professional setting, every step seems to have prehended the video keyboard.
One vital turning point is marked by the shift from audio to video documentation. Turning on the camera, all of a sudden, elucidated my practice, giving way for another kind of listening, a visual listening, where the image seemed to amplify the playing situation: audible gestures becoming visible movements, sonifying the corporeal.
Sound was only one of more possible entrances into the work, and by adding images, the project moved towards a synaesthetic territory, which in turn suggested a an interpretation of multilayeredness where perceptions of sound, image and bodily positioning and movement, converged in a performative terrain different from conventional solo pianistic settings.
A performative flip
Still in time before any notion, at least to my attention, of the video keyboard, we did a multi-camera session in which I tried to cover the practice grounds, spanning from the ritualized routines to open-ended improvisations, going through a repertoire of positions, movements, techniques and playing approaches (stickworks, footworks, fieldworks, fireworks).
The approach was quite different from how I would normally enter a recording session. Instead of leaving the practice behind in pursuit of a work of art, I was curious to see what would happen if I went into the session with a kind of practice-ritualistic approach. Preparatory and intermissionary activities, such as entering and leaving the room, sitting down at the piano, opening and closing the lid, resting quietly before play, were also filmed.
The purpose was two-fold. On the one hand, it was to investigate the expressive potential of the seemingly simple actions and exercises, seeing also if the different camera angles would communicate these relations differently. On the other hand, I was curious to see how the longer stretches of improvisation would communicate as a solo performance on film.
When I received the session files, I experienced both excitement and disappointment. It was eye-catching to see the clear-cut angles, the precision of framing and sharpness of focus. The framings, especially the overhead view, seemed to illustrate what I had envisioned: the choreography of play, its relations of movements and velocities within and across the topographic field of play, somehow poeticizing the encounter between player and piano. And yet, the material still carried with it a sense of documentation, an observation of the activity of play, lacking both communicative direction and expressive force. Or as a colleague pointed out: It looks very nice, but what is the work of art? What are you trying to say?