Dialogue as method


During the course of the artistic project the ways things changed in dialogue with different people, different tools and different music became a significant subject for reflection. Surprising turns and new ideas surfaced at unexpected times, which was intriguing because it wasn’t always possible to figure out from whom, and exactly when, exciting new ideas emerged. In retrospect one can ask how and when creative decisions were made, and how new ideas seemed to develop in some sort of symbiosis between different people, listenings, performances, technical tools, external demands, written material, and life in general. These considerations were the reason for taking on the Bakhtinian concept of dialogism (Bakhtin 1984, Holquist 1990, Sidorkin 1999) as an inspiration for the reflective discussion of the experiences from the project. It also represents a productive way to understand artistic research methods in general.


According to the Russian linguist and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, dialogue is based on creative understanding and development of knowledge as a result of negotiating meaning, the meeting of divergent voices, and the use of other people’s words and actions as tools for critical reflection. In this article we understand the Bakhtinian concept of dialogue not merely as being synonymous with communication or conversation, but as the very centre of human existence. This is an ontological understanding of dialogue: the very existence of a human being in his or her human quality is a result of dialogue (Sidorkin 1999: 7). This perspective also entails a view of humans and their art as fundamentally dialogic, and the interdependence of the creator, the reader/listener, and the artist as essential for understanding human actions and artistic processes (ibid.).


Bakhtin claims that creative forces lie in the tension between different agents:

dialogue always implies the simultaneous existence of manifold possibilities, a smaller number of values, and the need for choice. At all the possible levels of conflict between stasis and change, there is always a situated subject whose specific place is defined precisely by its in-between-ness. (Holquist 1990: 181)


The outcome of a dialogue is therefore to a large degree unpredictable, and to be considered a genuine dialogue, the participants have to be open and ready to listen. A dialogue does not occur until there are two or more participants that are open to changing their views and acknowledging each other’s opinions. The most important things in human lives happen between human beings, rather than within or without them (Sidorkin 1999: 11). Artistic dialogue is in the same way conditioned by the flexibility and communicative attitude of the different agents.


The perception of relativity is central to a broad dialogic view of knowledge and communication. Bakhtin emphasises the situated nature of dialogue, which in works of art is a paramount aspect of how the art is created. When, where, why, and who are the creators and co-creators in what phases of the processes? Communicating with an audience is one aspect of the situated work of art, and Bakhtin regards perception in itself as an act of authoring (Holquist 1990: 7). If the listener is uncomfortable with the genre of contemporary music for instance, the dialogue will be of another kind than if the artist is playing for the congregation of contemporary music lovers. He also describes experience as an unpredictable process that is open and energetic – the loophole in existence (ibid.: 7). Experiencing art through interactions with peers in live performing situations has many potential outcomes, and the multimodal interactions that constitute this kind of experiences are genuine dialogic forces.


To enter into a participatory dialogue, it is necessary to recognise that individuals and objects are defined by their relations to others. Understanding art as a social process implies that an artist and her or his work of art constitute dialogical processes of meaning making. Bakhtin claims that there are no single meanings in the world, but a multitude of competing meanings (ibid.). The interplay between different individuals, the situation, and the social and historical context are basic principles of a dialogic framework.


The creative processes of music performance are often combinations of factors such as the unique idea, risk taking, physical and psychological means and limitations, and communication. A commonly used procedure in classical music performance is that the composer creates a piece of music, and the musicians are expected to reproduce or recreate the composition in accordance with the composer’s intentions. In the Wikiphonium project, on the other hand, the artist and the composers interacted to a great degree, a work process that is today becoming more common among contemporary composers. This influences the creative processes toward open artistic dialogue. In the project, dialogues were set in motion by the way the performer shared documentation of experiments and open discussions of the aesthetic consequences of the sonic innovations. The open dialogues were explicitly different from a type of artwork where the idea is kept secret in order to be accredited to the artist as the sole creative force (Nelson 2009).


Dialogue was also an important focus for the documentation of the critical reflection in the Wikiphonium project, regarding both the inner dialogue of the artist and the purpose of communication with and through the knowledge developed in the project. The documentations consisted of several different modes of communication, but they were ultimately designed to interconnect and develop through numerous dialogues with different people and in various settings.


When one performs an art, the non-verbal reflective process calls for a concept of dialogue that is of a multimodal character, where meanings are created through combinations of different audio, visual, kinaesthetic, and textual resources. Inspired by Bakhtin’s concept of dialogue, we therefore suggest the term artistic dialogue so as to include the multitude of modalities that constitute works of art.


Meaning on the one hand is constructed by individuals and on the other hand is negotiated between different individuals. Artistic dialogues consist of multimodal play with ideas and impulses, and when something resonates within and between the participant, aesthetic choices can be made. A prerequisite for meaning making is the response and active role of a recipient. When a musician for instance plays a sound, a listener (audience, composer or participating musician) is a crucial part of deciding whether the sound is interesting. To interest the listener, the sound must have created some sort of meaning; this makes the listener a co-creative force in a dialogic process of making choices toward an aesthetic result.

In the Wikiphonium project the main approach was to create new material as a result of direct interactions between the composer and the musicians within a wide time frame. The close interaction and dialogue led to the dissolution of established roles, and focused on collaboration and the gradual creation of mutual visions concerning the artistic result.[2] A central dialogic technique was the recording of different parts of the processes. With the recordings of sounds, conversations, dance, or music excerpts, the participants could revisit and communicate with the material, independent of time and the presence of others – this included the recorded sounds on the wiki site.


The nature of the artistic processes as fundamentally dialogic and product-oriented have strong implications for the methods used to investigate and develop the potentials within the work of art itself. The multimodal character of dialogues constitutes a pluralistic and modulating research process that is guided by a shared vision of the artistic product. Dialogue is consequently not only a theoretical perspective for the artist, it is also the method of investigation.


The following is a presentation of how the dialogic perspective guided artistic-driven methods of investigating in selected parts of the Wikiphonium project.




[1] Haseman (2006: 1) argues for a practice-led research paradigm, in addition to qualitative and quantitative methods, where research through practice in the arts entails ‘different approaches to designing, conducting and reporting research’.

[2] Which is reminiscent of the classic Socratic understanding of the concept of dialogue: testing of argumentation where the ideal is to achieve a mutual understanding based on the best arguments (Dysthe 2001).

Quest or question – A dialogic perspective 


Experiences from several artistic projects led us to believe that an artistic investigation is more a matter of a quest than a research question or a hypothesis. A characteristic definition of a quest can be found in the context of video games:


In the most general sense, a quest [in a video game] is a ‘hunt for a specific outcome’, in contrast to simply winning a game. Typical quests involve killing a set number of creatures or collecting a list of specific items. […]

Questing is a tool used in role-playing games to avoid putting players in a position where they only perform a repetitive action […]. Players may be performing this activity in order to gain new skills and progress to new areas, or in-game money in order to buy new items such as armour and equipment […]. Having a number of quests for characters to tackle is seen as a way to provide variety and to counter the need to grind in these types of games.

A side-quest is an optional section of a video game, and is commonly found in role-playing video game[s]. It is a smaller mission within a larger storyline, and can be used as a means to provide non-linear structures to an otherwise linear plot. As a general rule, the completion of side-quests are not essential for the game to be finished, but can bring various benefits to the player characters. (Wikipedia 2015)


Artistic researchers have to struggle with unpredictable, challenging, intense, and self-contradictory processes when striving to fulfil their creative ambitions. The goal is not necessarily to find the Holy Grail, but it might have a similar status, as the quest for a hidden knowledge/truth is very intense and personal. The investigative methods, the practical work processes, and the theoretical trajectories of the Wikiphonium project came to form a quest-like journey for the artist and his different helpers.


For Davidsen it started with a perception of some sort of mission and alternative pathways to find groundbreaking works of art. The different collaborators were participants in the quest for the ultimate performances, and they played crucial roles in the unstable and ever-changing processes.


In an article about practice-led research, Brad Haseman[1] describes the quest-like approach of this type of research as an enthusiasm of practice (Haseman 2006: 4). Nelson (2009) calls it a mission, and, referring to the same phenomenon, Slotte (2011: 5) calls it a journey in which the road miraculously becomes clearer as you walk. These different metaphors reflect that the goals of artistic research are often more ambiguous than those of most traditional research. This undoubtedly affects the methods the artist might choose to pursue the quest or mission.


The investigative methods used in an artistic research project are seldom submissive to the stringency of traditional scientific methods, and have few or no approved criteria that offer a predictive framework for the ways an artist performs a research processes (Hannula 2009, Schwab 2011). Neither is there much standardised research literature that gives directions for this kind of investigation. This is considered favourable for most artistic research projects, since rigid methods represent restrictions that often are considered disadvantageous for the purpose of the artistic research project. Its purpose is to produce works of art and new knowledge for the artistic research field; or, as Slager put it: 

The epistemological perspective of uniqueness and otherness demands a further methodological contemplation. Indeed, different from established forms of research, the methodological path of artistic research and its implied production of knowledge cannot easily be defined. (Slager 2004: 13)


This also means that the results of artistic research projects are of another kind to those of most scientific research, and the documentations of the critical reflective processes may be manifold.

Many practice-led researchers do not commence a research project with a sense of ‘a problem’. Indeed they may be led by what is best described as ‘an enthusiasm of practice’: something which is exciting, something which may be unruly, or indeed something which may be just becoming possible as new technology or networks allow (but of which they cannot be certain). Practice-led researchers construct experiential starting points from which practice follows. They tend to ‘dive in’, to commence practising to see what emerges. They acknowledge that what emerges is individualistic and idiosyncratic. This is not to say these researchers work without larger agendas or emancipatory aspirations, but they eschew the constraints of narrow problem setting and rigid methodological requirements at the outset of a project. (Haseman 2006: 4)

Methods referred to in artistic research projects of the last decade have focused on processes within the artist and the development of the work of art itself – research in and through art. These appear to be alterations of approaches in social sciences, for instance methods derived from the field of anthropology, sociology and psychology attuned to the nature of the art project. Autoethnography, participatory observations, narrative inquiry, interviews, personal journals, reflective dialogue techniques, literature studies (including art works defined as literature) and open-ended experiments are all examples of research methods within the artistic research paradigm (Hannula 2009, Haseman 2006, Lemmens 2012). The call for a performative turn (Fischer-Lichte 2008) applies especially to artistic research projects, as it can be an alternative way for artistic projects to set the agenda for methodological discussions in other fields.



The wiki-quest


The question and quest that was the starting point for the Wikiphonium project was, How can the artist develop, describe, and use new playing techniques for euphonium in collaboration with composers to create new and unique music?


To be able to address this type of question/quest, the artist needed to have a plan for the inquiry. In this case the systematic approach focused on producing new and unique products through dialogic collaboration with composers and other artists, and through experimentation with new playing techniques and their notations. As the different dialogues with different agents came into play, the methods used were largely based on conversations, observations, and interactions with co-creators, supervisors, literature, and the music itself. This will be described in more detail in the next chapter. The artistic dialogues were not transcribed directly, but a record was kept through the development and maturation of the music and performances.


In Davidsens artistic interaction with the music, composers, musicians and literature, and with his instrument, describing the processes was often puzzling, complex and arduous. There were many choices to be made and voices to be heard. Through systematic efforts to present what I did and through dialogue with the other parties involved, the project contributed to the establishment of procedures and routines that are possible to replicate for other artists. In addition, thoughts and reflections were made available to other artists through various types of documentation, such as reports, lectures, concerts, recordings, and an interactive wiki page. The reports written after the performances contained an overview of the techniques and physical material that had been used; they were not organised systematically in a scientific sense, but a record was kept so some of the material could be systematised through the wiki page.