Hilde Synnøve Blix and Geir Davidsen


Divergent voices –

Different dialogues in the artistic research project Wikiphonium



So you think you can sing here tonight? Well, I don't think so!

 Tröööööööööt!!!! Squeeeeeeeeek!!!!! MOVE! I am the Queen!

Let me turn down the volume for you. Bliep-bliep, bliep-bliep-bliep.


From now on things will be different![1]



The aim of this article is twofold: to present the artistic research project Wikiphonium and to discuss the investigative methods that were applied. The discussion of methodological issues will explore the concept of dialogue used as a reflective tool for artistic research methods, illustrated through the Wikiphonium project. The initial starting point for the article was a profound recognition of the communicative nature of artistic projects. This acknowledgment motivated the dialogic perspective that has inspired this text.


Wikiphonium (wikiphonium.orgwas carried out as an artistic research project by Geir Davidsen as research fellow, within the framework of the Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme in 2005–09. The project was designed to explore and develop new contemporary playing techniques for brass instruments through commissioned works for the euphonium. This exposition is the result of the authors’ longstanding joint interest in and discussions about the artistic research domain. Davidsen is the primary creator and performer of the Wikiphonium project. Blix’s role in the progress of the project has been as a research peer, advisor, conversation partner, and critical listener.[2] Blix and Davidsen’s collaborative writing of this article can be regarded as an articulation of reflective processes related to the Wikiphonium project, outlined as a discussion in dialogue with works and writings in the emerging field of artistic research. The collaboration has consisted of discussions between Blix and Davidsen, some of which were recorded, joint music listening and shared literature readings, and an open-minded attitude toward different ways of thinking and expressing opinions. The aim of the dialogue between the authors was to use each others creative understandings as tools for critical reflection.[3] 


In this exposition, the Wikiphonium project will be described following a presentation of the theoretical background for the reflective deliberations of the project. What will be referred to as artistic dialogism willl be emphasised as a foundation for a discussion of methods in artistic research, which is illustrated by the project.



Presentation of the artistic research project Wikiphonium


The artistic research project Wikiphonium was an investigation into new ways of playing the euphonium and the creation of new music for the instrument. This work was motivated by a desire to contribute to an expansion of the sonic possibilities and expressions of brass instruments in general. As a performer on an instrument that is relatively rarely used on the professional music scene, Davidsen had experienced the importance of being innovative, precise and systematic when commissioning new music. The majority of contemporary music composed for euphonium is tonally and aesthetically conventional. Innovations are mostly used in relation to expanded register, speed, and brilliance. The sonic exploration of the instrument has been limited, and it seems that relatively few performers[4] have engaged in performing experimental contemporary music.


Wikiphonium focused on performance, and the artistic aim was to develop and perform works that made use of new playing techniques, in intimate dialogue with composers and other musicians as co-creators. The project consisted of three interrelated parts, which together constituted the practice as artistic research:


1. Concerts and performances consisting of new works for euphonium based on experimental collaborations with composers and musicians. The core of the Wikiphonium project was the concerts/performances and music works that were commissioned throughout the process of investigating extended playing techniques and expressions. These works were results of the artistic research processes and also functioned as investigative tools in themselves. The many concerts that were performed by Davidsen over a period of three years featured premieres of thirteen works written for euphonium.


The works were created as collaborative explorations of new and unconventional musical means and contained several features that served to expand the field of solo music for brass instruments. What is possible? was a common question from the composers. Instead of using traditional limits to answer the question, Davidsen asked the same question of himself as an artist: What can be done on my instrument? Challenging the limits, creating new challenges and adding tools, such as electronics and percussion, to the musical expressions, Davidsens concerts illuminated the euphonium as a medium for contemporary music. The compositions in the project are different and challenging, but are still in creative dialogue with the canon of music for the instrument. In the search for creative solutions to the making of new sounds and techniques, written and spoken dialogue with the composers was essential in the project, including in the wiki database that contains sound and notations of extended playing techniques. To illustrate the artistic research practice, a description of some of the works will be presented below.


The first major composition presented by Davidsen in this project was a piece called Five Rooms. It was written for Davidsen by Lars Skoglund, and also involved a sound technician playing live at the scene. The performance took place in the five rooms of an art museum as a comment on an exhibition by Kjell Erik Killi Olsen. The electronic component consisted of pre-recorded concrete sounds that were placed in the five rooms and changed depending on the whereabouts of the performer. The soloist and the composer used several multiphonic techniques, and the piece contained a relatively high degree of improvisation. This creative freedom was the origin for several of the later compositions and collaborations with Skoglund and other composers connected to the project. The works main idea was to be in close contact with the audience and, with them, together ‘have a look at the visual art pieces. This gave a potential non-verbal discussion between audience and musicians about the visual art exhibition.


Another significant work in the project was Recital Night by Lars Skoglund. This was a production for solo euphonium and dancer. The composer, the choreographer, the dancer, and Davidsen worked in close collaboration to create a new and integrated work of art. The idea behind this project was the musical interplay between pre-recorded extended playing techniques on the euphonium and live performance. The sound represented digital ‘mirrors of live sounds and movements. Davidsens digital interplay with himself was staged in different ways. One of the notable features of the staging was a small touch-sensitive platform that allowed the performer to manipulate pre-recorded sounds by adding pressure to the platform. This also enabled the dancer to have her own voice through the microphones in the platform.


The last performance of the project was a concert at Tromsø Kulturhus where Davidsen presented five commissioned works for euphonium. The concert represented a culmination of the pathways taken throughout the project, an art-based demonstration of developed playing techniques, and a presentation of an ‘answer to the artistic research quest(ion), How can the artist develop, describe, and use new playing techniques for the euphonium in collaboration with composers to create new and unique music? The concert consisted of the following compositions: 


Owl Parrots Yowl by Jon Øyvind Ness is a piece for euphonium and sinfonietta. It makes use of microtonality and multiphonics in ambiguous tonal spectra. The title refers to the very characteristic mating call of the owl parrot (kakapo) and was inspired by a meeting between the composer and Davidsen, in which Davidsen demonstrated a way of playing where he combines a mouth harp technique with a big vibrato and shouting into the instrument. This creates a very loud and penetrating sound that surprised Ness in a way that made him decide to found the whole composition on this sound. The piece also experiments with the beats that emerge when frequencies intersect in microintervals.


Nwy by Karsten Brustad is a work for euphonium and electronics with motion tracking. The piece was the third work in an Egypt-inspired trilogy, and the title, Nwy, refers to an Egyptian word for water as the creator of life. This piece contains no traditional euphonium sounds; all sounds are manipulated through different playing techniques (mouthpops, air sounds, toungeslaps, etc.), electronic manipulations, grand cassa (bass drum), and combinations of these. The dialogic features of this collaboration will be addressed in the third part of this exposition.

Gávnnadeapmi by Bjarne Isaksen is a chamber piece written for euphonium, harmonium (pump organ), and joik (traditional Sami singing style). The piece represents a musical meeting where different styles of folk music, contemporary euphonium, and religious folk songs emerge and collide in a challenging cultural encounter. Bum ddigidauby Erik Stifjell is written as a relatively traditional solo piece built on a musical idea based on five digit prime numbers. The piece experiments with a combination of mouth harp techniques and multiphonics played simultaneously, which are rarely used in notated music. It is also written in a very complex low register, which challenges the performer: a struggle, which must be regarded as part of the aesthetic of the piece.


Pant kr 1,-by Lars Skoglund is a double concerto for quartertone marimba, quartertone euphonium, and sinfonietta. The percussionist Kjell Tore Innervik had previously developed a quartertone marimba and Davidsen had a quartertone euphonium built especially for him; in requesting the piece from Skoglund, the intention was to use the characteristics of both instruments. Skoglund used microtonality to create both striking timbre combinations and remarkable lyric melodic lines. The meetings with Innervik led to musical and verbal communication about microtonality.



2. Experimentation with the instrument’s possibilities, emphasising multiphonics and microtonality. The artistic research process consisted of interplay between the artist’s experimentation/research of musical and technical innovations on his instrument and the composers’ use of the innovations and the new works of art that emerged in the dialogue between the different artistic agents.


Building on the latest developments in brass playing techniques and aesthetic expressions, Davidsen wanted to challenge the limits of performance on the instrument and investigate how combinations of newly invented sounds could contribute to the field of contemporary music. Multiphonics is a technique frequently used in contemporary music for wind instruments. It involves playing and singing into the instrument simultaneously, which produces additional tones that are the sum or difference of the frequencies of the played and sung tones, creating three- or four-note chords. The effect creates different timbres that give composers more options and flexibility in their compositions involving wind instruments (Davidson 2005). Davidsen developed a structured and comprehensive database of multiphonic sounds/chords, including notations and auditive examples of each multiphonic (wikiphonium.org). This work also included the search for new combinations of tones, and experimentation with the extreme limits of multiphonics on euphonium.


The use of artistic means such as handpops, tounguepops, air sounds, and tongueslaps are commonly used in contemporary music for wind instruments, but are only to a limited degree systematically experimented on, expanded, described, and notated. In this project many different techniques were tested, systematised, recorded, and notated. The aim was to create new and innovative music, while informing both composers and performers about the expressive possibilities of a brass instrument. The clip shows a combination of tongue pizzicato and mouthpop from Brustad’s piece WRSH.


Microtonality was also a major focus in several phases of the project. Davidsens interest in this musical expression was based on a wish to escape the conventions of tonality. Davidsen worked with two main approaches to microtonality: on the one hand, the composers wrote music based on equal tempered quartertones; on the other, Davidsen experimented with the pull of semitones that were closer to the harmonic series. These two main approaches reflect two different trajectories in the use of microtones in contemporary music. The microtonal style related to the harmonic series has a naturalistic and humanist basis, and the equal tempered quartertone can be regarded as a human postmodern creation.


Several of the commissioned pieces were based on live electronics. In Skoglund’s music for the performance Recital Night there were microphones attached to a podium, which could be manipulated by movements from the performer: standing, jumping, or hitting. In Nwy Brustad used electronics that registered Davidsens movements onstage, and these affected the sound of his amplified euphonium sounds.



3. Development of physical and digital tools. In addition to the created music, three major innovations were developed during the project: a quartertone (microtonal) euphonium, a digital mute, and the wiki site.


The quartertone euphonium that German instrument producer Melton Meinl Weston built for Davidsen was based on a rotary valve instrument with features similar to the kaiserbaritone. Davidsens ambition was to construct an instrument that made it possible to play microtones/quartertones as fluently and precisely as possible. This instrument made it possible to experiment and investigate musical and aesthetic expression from new perspectives.


The digital mute contained a traditional practice mute from Yamaha with an integrated microphone, a Sennheiser wireless transmitter, and an audio card. The mute dramatically reduces the acoustic sound from the instrument, and the built-in microphone directs the sounds to the audio card. The sound could then be manipulated through plug-ins in programs such as ProTools or AbeltonLive.


A wiki is a specific type of hypertext collection that allows users to add and modify content in an internet publication. An important principle for the founder of the wiki concept, Ward Cunningham, was that anyone, at any time, could edit pages, leaving ownership out of the picture. The project’s name, Wikiphonium, was in this regard a metaphor for the dialogic fundament the project was built upon. The most popular wiki on the web is the encyclopaedia project Wikipedia, but Wikiphonium.org is not an encyclopaedia as such; rather, it is a mediawiki that presents a collection of examples of sounds, notations, and innovations that is open to discussions and further input. It was developed as an important communicative tool for Davidsen and the composers, and also represented a detailed and shared information source for the collaborations with other artists and composers. The wiki format itself provided future possibilities for developing and discussing technical and artistic features of the extended playing techniques involved in the project. Sounds, notations, explanations, and reflections on new musical expressions are presented at wikiphonium.org, including examples of the uses of the different expressive tools. Nevertheless, the wiki was intended to present Davidsens artistic explorations of sounds and notations and cannot be regarded as an exhaustive database for extended techniques: the content is explicitly linked to the music created in the artistic research project.


These three interrelated parts of the project were based on a high degree of experimentation, dialogue, and innovation, and the project was documented in three main formats:

1. Thirteen concerts/performances, with audio recordings of three main concerts and selected side projects

2. Wikiphonium.org: a website with numerous auditory examples of new playing techniques on the euphonium

3. A written document containing an overview of the artistic research process and critical reflective comments upon the artistic processes


The artist’s continuous critical reflections explicitly emphasised the dialogic experiences and outcomes. This involved many different aspects of the project, for instance the dialogues within the artist himself, the music, the composers, the musicians, the practice studio, the research fellowship programme, and the audience. As a kind of kaleidoscopic view of artistic communication, this enabled the artist to consider the project from different angles without losing the core outline. In the following, we will elaborate on the dialogical fundament of the project, a perspective that functioned as an organising and analytical tool in the artistic and reflective processes.

[1] Text from Recital Night, for euphonium and dance http://www.wildlaks.com/Performances/Aften%20for%20to%20-%20Recital%20Night.

[2] Davidsen is an artist who developed the Wikiphonium project during his years as a research fellow in the Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme. He is currently Vice Dean of Research and Development at the Faculty for Fine Arts in Tromsø, as well as a euphonium performer and teacher. Blix has an academic interest in artistic research per se, has a PhD in music education, and is Professor in Ear-Training at the Faculty for Fine Arts, Music Conservatory, in Tromsø. She also is an amateur brass player.

[3] In the Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme the concept critical reflection is described as critical consideration and evaluation of artistic works and processes in dialogue with the field and applied theory. We regard the call for critical reflection as an encouragement to ask open-ended questions and to be open to the unknown – to not knowing what comes next (Blix 2007).

[4] For example, Neal Corwell, Jukka Myllys, and Sverre Olsrud.

Live recording: Excerpts from nwy. Click for full size.

Live recording: Example from Bum ddigadau

Excerpts from Five Rooms (Fem Rom)

Hand-held audience camera

Photo: Tom Benjaminsen

Live recording of Owl Parrots Yowl

Live recording: Example from Pant kr 1,-

Example from WRSH. Click image for full size picture

The Melton quartertone euphonium

List of commissioned and premiered works:


Five Rooms by Lars Skoglund. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2007. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Øyvind Nilsen (live electronics).

Imago by Geir Davidsen and Ellen Aagaard. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2008. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Ellen Aagaard (voice).


Study No. 1 for euphonium and live electronics by Geir Davidsen and Øyvind Nilsen. Premiered at the Kulturhus, Tromsø, October 2007.


Ognat for euphonium and live electronics by Geir Davidsen and Øyvind Nilsen. Premiered at the Kulturhus, Tromsø, October 2007.


J. H. – Mellom Himmel og Jord by Bernt Simen Lund. Premiered at University of California, Berkley, May 2006. Composer: Bernt Simen Lund, librettist: Niels W. Lund. Musicians from Scandinavia, USA, and Italy.


Timbre – Room – Silence by Ellen Fullman. Premiered at Ishavskatedralen, Tromsø, 27 August 2008. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Ellen Fullman (long string instrument).


Gávnnadeapmi by Bjarne Isaksen. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2009. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Elisabeth Fredriksen (pump organ), and Johan Matthe Skum (joik).


Improvisations by Sizzle Ohtaka. Premiered in Tromsø, October 2006. Performers: Sizzle Ohtaka (voice), Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Bernt Simen Lund (cello), and Nasra Ali Omar (percussion).


Recital Night by Lars Skoglund. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2008. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium/dance), Gerd Kaisa Vorren (dance), Øyvind Nilsen (live electronics), Annika Luschin (choreographer).


Bum ddigidau by Erik Stifjell. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2009. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium).


Nwy by Karsten Brustad. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2009. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Karsten Brustad (live electronics).


Pant kr 1,- by Lars Skoglund. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2009. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Kjell Tor Innervik (quartertone marimba), Ensemble Ernst (sinfonietta), Thomas Rimul (conductor).


Owl Parrots Yowl by Jon Øyvind Ness. Premiered at the Northern Light Festival, Tromsø, February 2009. Performers: Geir Davidsen (euphonium), Ensemble Ernst (sinfonietta), Thomas Rimul (conductor).