Overview & motivation
The artistic research project Habitable Exomusics was supported by the Danish Ministry of Culture's pool for artistic research and the R&D dept. at Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Copenhagen, for at total of 9 months of work. The final presentation of the project was delivered in August 2015, and most of the permanent reflection and dissemination elements have been available online ever since. This Research Catalogue exposition (completed in 2020) is a compilation of material from:
- The dissemination at RMC.dk, online since 2015, including an abridged rewriting of the 12 blog posts compiled during the project.
- The dissemination at jacobanderskov.dk, online since 2015, including the PDFs Habitable Exomusics Analysis & Habitable Exomusics Interview Answers and audio examples.
- A few translated excerpts from the chapter “Habitable Exomusics”, in “Kunstnerisk udviklingsvirksomhed - antologi 2016”, edited by Anne Gry Haugland, Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium 2016, p 194-215.
Looking back at the project today, certain aspects stand out more clearly than during the project time frame, including the overall motivation for the project. To retell this motivation, I will try to describe where I was artistically, before the project started.
Deeply within the artistic reasons for doing this project, lay a curiosity about a number of properties concerning the “grammar" of my personal musical language. I originally thought of it as a structural curiosity, regarding the content of my music, and its structural-linguistic core. Parallel to this, my curiosity could be viewed as an improvisational-methodical curiosity, about the relation between inspiration and structure, between practice/preparation and performance. Is the core of the qualities of an improvised expression the inspired moment, or is such a moment a less essential getaway from the linguistic-structural core of the expression?
Before I embarked on this project, and for most of my professional career, I had regarded musical grammatical conceptuality as something that belonged in the preparation of improvisation, not as something that happened in the creative moment. Simply put, the decisions about structures belonged in the rehearsal room, while something else would happen during the concert or the recording session. A specific kind of sensuous perception would emerge, sensuous to the situation, the acoustics, the interaction. Then a contributing spontaneous reaction based on the intuitive perception would be added, with few worries about which musical substance this would bring.
This chain of thought would be from around the time of “Panta Rhei”, 2006. I found that this concept had worked well during the first decade of my professional career. Today, I ask myself whether the artistic success, which the approach seemed to have, came from the framing of the language of expression, caused alone by my lack of experience. In other words, did my personal limitations become the inherent frame of the linguistic tendencies in the improvisations? That would at least explain the movement I had observed later on (2011-ish): as I gained more experience and felt more unlimited as an improviser, it was as if my most “inspiring moments” did not necessarily sound outstanding, when I listened to my own concert recordings afterwards. And, to give another example, it was also as if my improvised solo concerts had reached a void, in which almost anything was possible, but not many ideas appeared productive.
You could go as far as to say that I had begun to distrust my own inspiration in the moment. Not the least when ‘inspiration’ wanted me to obey an inner grammatical gravitation in the material, which in retrospect should not have been obeyed. At the same time, I was sincerely curious as to what the central structuring principles in my music were and what they could become. This curiosity was a precondition for the ideas, which the project rested on.
The project title, Habitable Exomusics, refers to habitable exoplanets - habitable planets in other solar systems.
The “Exo” term points to the creative element in this music - that this music operates with other, less familiar types of unifying forces than for example tonality, definable harmonies and familiar rhythmic patterns.
The metaphor of the music’s “habitability” concerns the music’s openness to improvisation and co-creation from the musicians, and in the end the listener’s chances of “inhabiting” the music.
Original PROJECT DESCRIPTION
“The project will examine post tonal material structuring principles. It deals with (searches for) unexploited opportunities or new forms of expressions within improvised music through studies of possible ways to organize the musical material - and with relevant practical and creative ways to find room for them in improvised music.”
My initial thought was that the literature from the tradition of through-composed music has described a huge number of structuring concepts for post tonal musical abstraction. Many of these might seem hard to combine with the practical/pragmatic reality encountered by an improviser, for whom all understandings must be translatable to an instant reaction. The international improvising community has developed a number of post tonal motivic material structuring principles, and in my own practice I have also developed a number of such concepts. However, many of such material structuring concepts are not very openly disseminated to the general public. I wanted to combine definable structuring principles with the practical/intuitive reality inherent in any improvisational artistic practice.
This led me to the original RESEARCH QUESTION:
Through my own artistic practice, I will examine:
- To which extent it is possible for me to use definable post tonal structuring principles in my improvisations?
- Which of these principles can best be used in my improvisational universe?
In the original application, the project’s work procedures were divided into a number of phases, which in retrospect can be expressed as follows:
1) The project started with a detailed mapping of the structuring principles in my own music, including ways to structure compositions, approaches to interplay, and improvisation strategies within non-chord based, post tonal aesthetics, with the common factor that they are applicable in improvisation contexts.
2) The different approaches/concepts were mirrored in an international artistic practice within the field, through a number of interviews with selected international profiles within improvised music.
3) On this basis, I composed, rehearsed, recorded and published a number of newly written works. A keyword for me in this work was that my new compositions were prototypical for the mapped structuring principles.
The output of the project consists of:
- An album trilogy: Three individually published albums (CD, downloads, streaming & SoundCloud).
- Reflection texts on the project, the motivation, the albums, on context, method, results and conclusions.
- A more theoretical text about the musical theoretical dimensions of the project with note examples from the artistic output of the project, 66 pages, PDF.
- A collection of interviews with leading international improvisers, 17 pages, PDF.
- Sheet music of the compositions created during the project.
- Extra artistic material (audio, video), available online.
- Video interviews about the project, online.
The above listed outputs are all part of this exposition. Beyond the exposition, the project also resulted in:
- 12 blog posts about the project, published on RMC’s website. As of today, with this exposition, that blog has become obsolete – most material from the blog has filtered into this exposition. (However, the blog was originally one of two main portals delving into the hybrid reflection universe, which I ended up sharing with the public. The other entry point was at http://jacobanderskov.dk. By now, the only final and official reference for the project is this exposition.)
- Concerts during the project period with material from the project held in, among other places, Copenhagen, Aalborg, Lemvig, Gentofte, Hillerød, Ballerup, Ishøj, Oslo, Beograd, Karagujevac, Indija, Edinburgh, Nuuk, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Groningen and Århus.
- A publicly announced Final presentation at RMC in August 2015, consisting of a 25 minute concert, a one hour visual & oral presentation, responses from 2 international opponents as well as questions from the audience.
- Other compositions based on the principles that found their way into other ensembles.
- Other presentations of the project at among other places, RMC, Syddansk Musikkonservatorium, Den Danske Filmskole & Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium.
- Classes at RMC based on the project.
- The chapter “Habitable Exomusics”, in “Kunstnerisk udviklingsvirksomhed - antologi 2016”, edited by Anne Gry Haugland, Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium 2016, p 194-215.
This exposition has been subject to critical comments by three peer reviewers (one internal, two international), based on RMC's artistic research quality criteria “SITRE”.