The artistic research project Wheels within Wheels. New approaches to interactions between performers and composers set out to investigate new forms of expression through interactions between performers of early music, composers, and a shared material of late medieval music. We envisioned a triangle of interactions:
1. Music of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, especially polyphonic music in Italy around 1400.
2. The performers’ interpretation of that repertoire, including improvisation of counterpoint within its stylistic frames.
3. The composers’ abstractions and manipulations of traits of both the repertoire and the performers’ interpretations of and improvisations with it.
While musicians within the field of Historically Informed Performance (HIP) frequently have commissioned new works for their historically inspired instruments, and composers have frequently studied the music of the past for new ideas for composition methods, we sought new ways of interaction between these seemingly distant ends of the musical spectrum by introducing the element of interaction interaction between repertoire, performers, and composers.
We imagined a continuous interaction where not only the repertoire, but also the performers’ playing techniques, strategies for interpretations of and improvisations in style with the late medieval repertoire would work as sources of inspiration for the composers. Based on these expressions, and their own readings of the repertoire, the composers would develop new strategies for composition, for improvisation and electro-acoustic interactions. This, in turn, would offer the performers inspiration for new ways of improvising, and relating to the different parameters of the performance, which in turn would feed the composers with new inspiration. Our goal was to create strategies for improvisation in historical and contemporary styles, new works, and new interpretations of late medieval works. In the course of this exposition we will show how some of these goals were achieved, some less so, or in a different manner from what we imagined.
The performers in the project were mainly members of the ensemble Currentes, founded by project leader Jostein Gundersen in 2006 as part of a research fellowship into improvisational styles in historical music. The musicians who participated from the beginning to the end of the project were recorder player Jostein Gundersen, keyboard player Hans Knut Sveen, singers Ingvill Holter and Kjetil Almenning, and fiddle players Anna Danilevskaïa and Hans Lub. Several other musicians participated for shorter periods of the project. Singers Ingeborg Dalheim, Tyler David Ray, and Sunniva Eliassen, the viol and fiddle player Mikko Perkola, as well as the composer Cassandra Miller appear in sound or video recordings in the exposition. Credits are given next to the relevant documentation.
We worked closely with the French specialist in improvisation of polyphonic music in historical styles Barnabé Janin, to whom we are greatly indebted for his contribution of musical material, methodological directions, and general performance suggestions.
The two composers in the project represented very different directions. Ruben Sverre Gjertsen is a composer within the experimental field, with an interest in microtonal tunings, timbral explorations on the instrument, and experience of spatial perspectives, both in instrumental performance and electroacoustic elements. Alwynne Pritchard’s field is that of "The New Discipline", a term coined by Jennifer Walshe in a manifesto written for the Borealis festival catalogue in 2016. The term functions as a way "to connect compositions which have a wide range of disparate interests but all share the common concern of being rooted in the physical, theatrical and visual, as well as musical."1
We chose Mouvance as the common title of the three concert programmes that form the artistic basis for this exposition. The term comes from the study of medieval literature, where it was introduced in the 1970s to describe the high level of textual variation between different versions of the same work in medieval manuscripts.2