This exposition set out to unpack two musical case study examples as a means for increased understanding of the effects of intercultural dialogue and collaborative processes on my own artistic identity within the context of my artistic research. Presenting and discussing my work in this exposition format has given me further insight into the numerous musical and non-musical layers of these processes and experiences, allowing me to reflect on them from new angles and points of view.
I began by asking the core questions: ‘How can intercultural dialogue and collaboration impact on the formation of a personal artistic identity?’ ‘How can the third space emerging from a transcultural dialogue be a catalyst for new musical discoveries?’ Referring back to these research questions, I am able to observe key insights that have emerged, which provide further understanding and knowledge building of the core issues. However, this process has also naturally raised unanswered questions that point to further areas of research, some of which I aim to address in other parts of my artistic doctoral work. In doing so, I acknowledge the limitations of my research and the fact that I am only ever able to answer my questions from my own perspective, and that my collaborators and other researchers will have different evolutions and experiences.
With this in mind, the first, and perhaps most obvious insight that this research has generated is the interconnected nature of my work and its reliance on meaningful dialogue and exchange with others. Every encounter, be it musical or otherwise, and every sound that is produced, appears to be connected to other sounds or experiences, past and present. Secondly, another phenomenon rises out of the questions, observing that each intercultural dialogue and collaborative experience has its effect on forming and re-forming my identity, which on one hand becomes more defined and personal over time, but is also in constant flux with the environment around me, therefore becoming further expanded or more multidimensional in its nature.
Referring once more to the writing of Hargreaves et al (2002), this process uncovers the notion of having multiple identities, which may arise and form in different ways through interaction with others, depending on the musical and social context. It is clear that this process cannot happen in isolation and is the sum total of a series of encounters, ranging from small, fleeting moments, to long term ongoing collaborations. An interesting juxtaposition can be observed here, whereby although my identity may become more pluralistic and malleable as a result of encounters with diverse musicians and musical contexts, it simultaneously becomes more personal, defined and idiosyncratic in its nature. With this statement, I am referring to particular personal aspects of my musical identity that have been informed by and grow out of my experiences and subsequently remain as integral elements, such as approaching the double bass as a percussive instrument, integrating buzzing attachments as a central element of my sound and working with harmonics as an embodiment of my experiences with Wagogo music in Tanzania, for example. These elements remain as part of my personal core identity, which I may use in different ways in each new context but remain as constants. Pluralism therefore becomes a means for deepening and strengthening my core individual identity.
A third key insight is that, within the context of the musical case studies presented in this exposition, I can observe that the musical identity I entered into the dialogue with changed shape in both tangible and tacit ways throughout the process, directly affected in different ways by my two collaborators. In the case of the dialogue with Adriano Adewale, new approaches were developed and integrated into my double bass playing, drawing on ideas gained from encountering the stick and shaker technique typical of berimbau playing, as well as exploration of rhythmic ideas, texture and musical tension and release inspired by the berimbau and Adriano’s playing. These elements uncovered new instrumental and musical territory, which remain part of my playing after the collaboration.
In the case of the dialogue with Hildá Länsman, I developed new percussive techniques on the body of the double bass, inspired by the Sámi frame drum and joik vocal techniques introduced to me by Hildá. Approaches to filling the sonic spectrum of the piece were also developed through exploring a range of sounds found behind the bridge of the double bass and the use of harmonics. These approaches arose from the imposed limitation of using only double bass and voice to portray the emotion of the song, which was inspired by Hildá’s lyrics. These emerging new elements once again remain after the collaboration and become embedded in my playing and musical identity.
Concretely, combined with more traditional double bass techniques, these intercultural duets had the knock-on effect of generating new techniques and approaches for the double bass, as well as shifting my perspective on the possible roles of the bass in ways that I had not even considered previously. I can of course only speak with authority from my own perspective and experiences and any possible transformations for Adriano and Hildá that may have taken place remain uniquely understood by them in their own ways. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged that any new encounter will have an effect on each of us in unique ways, some of which may be evident at the time and others that may unfold long after the encounter. In order to gain further insight into Hildá and Adriano’s experiences, I asked each of them to reflect on the collaborations three months after the release of the recordings (February 2020). These reflections revealed many similarities to my own experiences but also some distinctive individual perspectives. Further in-person interviews are planned at a later date as part of the larger scope of my doctoral research.
Commenting on the creation process, Adriano stated:
There were many improvisations in different periods, sometimes based on short phrases pre-composed or sometimes based on traditional rhythms. However, those were only starting points, and after some-time playing and exploring different techniques and sonic worlds, there was a sense of arriving somewhere, a new place, a new beginning. The outcomes were a growing sense of confidence and openness to the unknown, where trust between two players served as a solid ground for experimentation and a spring-board for creativity (Adewale, written feedback, 2020).
I can observe that Adriano's statement uncovers two key elements that emerged as findings in the research, namely:
a) A balance between pre-composed elements and improvisation as a framework for the collaboration and catalyst for new discoveries in the third space
b) Trust and openness to the unknown as the foundation for experimentation and a spring-board for creativity.
Hildá made further observations on these areas stating:
After the first jams Nathan brought melodical and rhythmical ideas for the song to have a more structured shape. The melody felt being something very familiar and close to my musical taste or spirit. Nathan’s suggestion for the theme of the song and our conversation about it was interesting and exciting and making the lyrics in northern Sámi language happened more fluently than usually when writing song lyrics. In other words, finding the shape of the lyrics was not painful at all :D (Länsman, written feedback, 2020).
In addition, looking beyond the technical aspects and musical developments that took place, there are also non-musical elements that emerged as a result of these collaborations. I refer here to the emotional effects of engaging in dialogue with another, where aspects of non-verbal communication become tangible in the emerging third space, giving rise to emotion, the desire to communicate and simply be human together. This kind of connection has a direct impact on me at a human, emotional level, which ultimately affects the formation of both my musical and non-musical identity.
Hildá also commented on this area stating:
This process with making and recording the song supported my path in finding a new musical range of motion or extent, a new musical dialect for my musical interpretation / expression. I'm very happy for the outcome and proud to show and share this song to other musicians or to Sámi communities (Länsman, 2020).
This thinking points to the further sub-question that was proposed at the outset of the research: ‘What kinds of musical and communication skills are needed to co-create music in a transcultural context and which kinds of ethical issues arise?’
Adriano reflected on this question stating:
Intercultural collaboration needs understanding, open mind and patience. New things do not come quickly, you need to understand that positions and roles are being shifted and once that process is understood, there are beautiful new experiences where everybody can learn, grow and rediscover themselves in new ways (Adewale, 2020).
Entering into dialogue with an open heart and mind are crucial elements that emerge from this research, to the extent that without which, a collaborative process would simply not be possible. Flexible musicianship and a willingness to explore new musical territory also emerge as core skills. However, there are elements and questions here that the research has not been able to answer in terms of the tacit layers that contribute to the success (or not) of the collaborations. These appear to be unexplainable moments where things either ‘click’ or they don’t, remaining elusive in terms of being able to articulate why or how this phenomenon takes place.
A fascinating aspect of this journey for me is the fact that some elements of identity formation can be directly traced to specific encounters such as those mentioned here, while others emerge in unexpected, tacit ways. Those elements that emerge in tacit ways often become things I begin to identify with most strongly, as if more of my true self is uncovered in the process. I refer here to those parts of my identity that are no longer tracible in terms of musical or cultural reference points but exist as a result of some kind of complex, transcultural, hybrid web of experiences. Long term collaborator and co-producer of my doctoral album Resonance (2019), Simon Allen referred to this process in his album liner notes, stating:
Nathan’s will to expand the bass palette into this grainy area, clearly springs from years of his life led in Tanzania and Zambia. To suggest that his music bears the influence of that time understates the depth of that experience. His relationship with Tanzanian culture is one of bone deep mutual adoption within which music forms a part. This aspect of his sound surfaces occasionally in the recordings on this disc, but is for the most part hidden, existing beneath the surface, fused into a unique voice (Allen, 2019).
Allen clearly articulates a phenomenon that took me many years to realize and understand myself, whereby the experience of being immersed in another cultural environment gradually moved beyond the surface to take its place as an integrated part of my identity, which has had far deeper impact on me than simply adopting surface musical influences. Allen’s observation therefore illuminates the possible longer term effects of hybridity and third space on identity formation, which takes shape in that unknown emerging space that no longer bears tracible elements of its origin.
I feel that sheer time and breadth of experience are important factors in this process. Reflecting on my time spent in Tanzania and Zambia, for example, many of my experiences continue to unfold and affect me more than 20 years later. A tangible, gradual shift has happened during this long period in terms of moving from initially being fascinated primarily by the technical aspects of the music I encountered at the time, to internalizing the personal experiences of the music and culture as an integral part of myself at a deeper level. In other words, the internalization of an experience takes its place as an embodied experience that continues to manifest itself deep under the surface, like some sort of ecosystem forming a complex web of connections. Third space theory (Bhabha 1996) and hybridity (Bhabha, 1996, Whitchurch, 2012, Wren, 2015) have been important concepts for me in terms of making sense of these experiences. To use the words of Bhabha, ‘by exploring this hybridity, this 'Third Space', we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves’ (Bhabha, 1988, p. 22). The concept of tacit knowledge (Polanyi, et al 1966, 2013) also connects strongly to this experience whereby the knowledge gained is ‘caught’ or absorbed rather than explicitly ‘taught’ and remains to a large extent unexplainable, taking its place deep below the surface.
Ultimately, identity formation is an essential part of being in, and contributing to, the world around us. Furthermore, being allowed to be who we are, as well as being able to celebrate and embrace diversity and difference in all its forms is crucial in our world today. Rosa’s concept of resonance (2019) makes an important contribution to this discussion. Through actively engaging with artists from backgrounds different to my own, I discover more about myself, whilst simultaneously increasing my understanding, respect and empathy for others and the world around me. Inherent within this experience is an invitation to shift one’s perspective and gain new knowledge, understanding and wisdom by looking through the eyes of another. Musically, this opportunity is both destabilising and invigorating, bringing with it unlimited chances to grow, expand and deepen one’s own artistic identity and forms of musical expression.
Personally, although music is my vehicle, I feel this process of identity formation through intercultural dialogue, collaboration and co-creation is much bigger than the mere development of new techniques, instrument modifications, musical expression, or indeed music itself. It reaches beyond these phenomena and points to an area fundamental to human existence, highlighting qualities such as openness, respect, integrity, empathy, equity, dialogue and collaboration that are crucially important at every level of society.