Co-composition involves themes of materiality and process together with approaching the creative practice from an action-driven perspective. It is situated in-between sculptural and sonic practice and my route of exploration seeks to merge aspects of both traditions and their creative methods. I am reflecting on works that focus on the idea of process with an aim to locate practical and conceptual tools and to develop an understanding of how structures and actions could be articulated in an interdependent manner.
Action works such as Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale [spatial concept] 50B9 (1950) involved the visual impressions left from the artist’s physical actions on a metal sheet. In observing this work, one can see the direct response of the material to the force of the actions of the artist that altered not only of the material’s surface but also its volume. This includes a manner of thinking about material, which is closely related to time and the way material is manipulated in successive actions. In a sculptural context, Carl Andre articulated his action-oriented approach to sculpture verbally. According to Alistair Rider, Andre’s use of the term cutting instead of for instance, carving, detached his approach from any sculpting technique: “a cut was always a generative act, regardless of its nature” (Rider, 2011, p. 71). Rider drew attention to Carl Andre’s statement: “up to a certain time I was cutting into things…Then I realized that the thing I was cutting was the cut. Rather than cut into the material, I now use the material as a cut in space” (ibid., p. 53). From this position, Andre expanded actions from techniques to notions. Further to Andre’s work, Richard Serra explored “the nature of process” through his work Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself (1967-68) (Serra, 2000). Serra's words acted as stimuli for actions rather than for communicating information about the way actions were executed for achieving a specific outcome. An example is the work To Lift (1967), which as Serra stated, did not involve a process of thinking about composition or the result, rather it was about making sculpture by enacting “those verbs in relation to a material” (MoMA, n.d.). Verb List was in that sense a creative tool that enabled the development of relationships between material and actions of making. Richard Serra discussed his work To Lift in relation to his Verb List, which as he stated, was “revealing exactly what it did” (ibid.). John Rajchman considered Serra’s List as a type of thinking, which
…has a logic that makes it more than a list, and a central aspect of this logic is that it gives its verbs as infinitives. In language, infinitives are indeterminate virtualities. They become determinate only through the addition of persons, objects, and situations, given through tenses and pronouns, which tie them to the here and now of sensations and actions. In their infinitive form, verbs suggest processes without fixing them in time and space. […] the “activities for un-specified materials” thus become a matter of attaining this infinitive potential spatially, prior to subjects or objects, and the question arises of the larger philosophical nature of this space. (Rajchman, 2007, p. 66)
How could such an “infinitive” repository of ideas concern the qualities of both sculptural and sonic material? Serra’s consideration of the process itself as a model for thinking about sculpture enabled me to look for links between the made/sculpted and the heard through the actions of my making.
From a music perspective, compositions such as John Cage’s Water Music (1952) looked at a hybrid function of actions that were communicated as instructions to a performer. These included non-musical activities such as pouring water, as well as using objects on and inside musical instruments to transform sound. Such activities aimed not only at generating unique sonic outputs but also to “engage the eye” (Schimmel, 1998, p. 22). Performance instructions were notated on a score using verbs, time indications and musical staffs. Similarly, James Saunders mentioned that Antoine Beuger’s colour series “formative principles did not determine the structure of each piece, but simply suggested a situation (a title, an instrumentation). His work cadmiumgelb (2000) for double bass presented a set of instructions for making a sound…” (Saunders, 2011, p. 504). Oscar Wiggli’s scorring processes brought together sculpture and sound visually and verbally. His partitions graphiques and partitions verbales integrated aspects from the making process and the environment of the workshop (Hesse, 2007). Oscar Wiggli used sound recordings from his making as material for his compositions. Using video stills Wiggli captured visual qualities of his sculptures similar to those of spectrograms for visualising sound qualities. Oscar Wiggli structured the morphology of his sounds as a collage of visual material that was derived from his sculptures and their making (Wiggli, 2010). Wiggli worked with samples recorded in the sculpture workshop, and sound synthesis. His verbal score for the work RESEMBLANCES ET MIROITEMENTS (1994) created links between the two modalities by using verbs such as sparkling, pearling and rubbed, which were directly derived from sculptural processes, material qualities and their manipulation. During the performanceTightrope Dance by Hans-Joachim Hespos, an action of welding was used by the performer to free himself from a space in which he was enclosed (Steiert, 1994). This operated as a visual, theatrical element, but also contributed to the sound environment of the composition as the performer’s action of welding aimed to intervene in the performance’s stage design/visual and sonic outcome.
In focusing on such relationships between instructions, actions and sounds within the above-discussed works through a dialogue between sculptural and musical practices, I suggest that actions could be used as intersecting points between sonic and physical material manipulation. How could actions be articulated meaningfully, across the two materials? And, what types of knowledge could be generated about sound in relation to physical material manipulation?