Often we think of artistic method in the process of music creation as mainly related to how the actual actions are undertaken: do we create text or titles before the music, which instruments or tools do we use, what is the order of decision-making, how and when do we use notation or recordings, and in what way, etc. A more generalized version of this could go like the following suggestion for a list of clarifying questions regarding artistic method:
(Please note that the numerous questions onwards from here are not new research questions within this project. On the contrary, the questions form a model for clarifying the methods and methodologies of any artist, across genres and (hopefully) disciplines.)
What are the initial input formats? (objects trouve/drum roles/words/social interactions/guitar chords/field recordings/transcriptions, etc.)
What physical materials are in use? (audio/paper/chopsticks/pen/mouse/cat, etc.)
What are the tech tools and instruments in use? (writing music by the piano, on the guitar, by voice or instrument, in a score, in a DAW, using midi or audio, voice memos, samples, etc.)
In which order are the musical dimensions being decided on?
What are the formats of early output-sketches? (lead sheet/drawing/chord sequenze/DAW-file, etc.)
What kinds of operations upon the material are used to add new material or to develop existing material? (re adding: adding what: further found items? other signals? Sections? Layers? By specific techniques? By pure inspiration? – re developing: repeat, cut, permutate, distort, amplify, contradict, disguise, combine, etc.?)
Which forms of documentation towards own memory are in use? (Regular notation, graphic notation, voice memos, lyrics, photos of analogue settings, map of cable connections, etc.)
How do the artist’s daily routines and practice, including embodied action and tacit knowledge interact with the material? (meditation, warm up, spiritual practices, etc)
Which kinds of reiterative processes are in play? Are some outputs treated as new inputs? Which processes are repeated, and for what reasons? What kind of reflection goes on between one iteration and the next?
Is the music created from start to end, or from one layer to another, or unfolding from an inner core concept?
Is the process based on a vision-driven (top-down) or a material-interacting (bottom-up) approach? - Which kind of each?
What is the format that the work aims for in the end (score, album, concert, game, soundtrack, installation, etc.), and how early in the process is that format allowed to define the properties of the unfinished work?
What is the order of the above decisions?
So far, so good.
The way the Sonic Complexion Project made me think about method, cognition, topics, etc., led me to articulating how the above model lacks a number of crucial points, among others:
More paradigmatical clarifying questions regarding artistic method:
Which dimensions of the art form are being specifically (consciously) investigated within the work?
Which (other) dimensions are left to operate below the radar of the artist’s consciousness?
What is the topic/artistic question being investigated, and how does this inform the methodological choices?
Which kinds of physical representation models are in use within the process? (graphical models, notation formats, muscle memory, tactile operations, built models, graphic user interfaces, etc.)
Which kinds of analysis are in play along the way, and when? (transcriptions of field recordings, analysis of other music, structural considerations, historical comparisons, etc.)
Which means of language and mental representations are in use? Which types of cognition processes are applied, what are the cognitive domains of engagement, and which types of intelligences are primarily activated?
Is the artist applying parametrical, stylistic/historical, structural, or metaphorical/metaphysical ways of cognitively grasping what is going on in the process?
What kinds of metaphors are being used in the artist’s own understanding of investigation’s core: spatial, visual, narrative, logical, kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, orientational, linguistic, existential, moral and/or ecological metaphors?
What I am trying to convey here is that the lastly added considerations (dimensions, topic, representation, analysis, language, cognition, metaphor) are far more paradigmatic, and thus more effective in changing the artistic direction of the output. Using the terms “paradigmatic” and “effective” in the previous sentence owes a lot of its logic to the writings of Donella Meadows, especially the text “Leverage Points – places to intervene in a system”.
(Meadows, speaking from a position in environmental science & systems theory, names and describes 12 “Places to intervene in a system”. In a short recap, they are, in increasing order of effectiveness: Constants/parameters/numbers, buffer sizes, material flows, delay lengths, negative feedback loop strengths, positive feedback loop gains, information flow, system rules, power to change system, system goal, mindset or paradigm that system arises from, and power to transcend paradigms. One interpretation by today of Meadows’ almost prophetic text, dating from the 1990’s, could be that we will not be able to solve our environmental problems just by changing the parameters, buffer sizes or material flows of our societies, if we do not also change the system rules, system goals, and paradigms of our societies, and the power to change or transcend those.)
I will try to explain in the following text how and why I see artistic methodologies as systems to which we can apply Meadows’ reasoning. Regarding the dimensions of differences between the strands of the Sonic Complexion project, as outlined in the graph/form above, and inspired by Donella Meadows “Leverage Points” theory, I will state the following:
Among my decisions in each strand, on e.g. Topic, Mapping, Key approach, Analysis, Method outline, Harmony, Cognition focus, the most decisive in terms of changing the direction of one’s own art work will be the decisions on topic and cognition. Those domains (or leverage points) are obviously the most paradigmatically defining.
To paraphrase Meadows, this time heretically freely, the first list above, the “clarifying questions regarding artistic method” could be compared to the seven first, least effective leverage points from Meadows list (“Constants/parameters/numbers, buffer sizes, material flows, delay lengths, negative feedback loop strengths, positive feedback loop gains, and Information flow”).
Whereas the second list above, the “more paradigmatical clarifying questions regarding artistic method” could be said to compare to the last, most effective leverage points from Meadows list: “System rules, power to change system, system goal, mindset or paradigm that system arises from, and power to transcend paradigms”.
Another way of retelling the journey leading me to this point of view:
I started out in this project imagining that a mix of investigations on harmony and texture, paired with a perspective on linguist metaphor theory, would point to interesting new approaches to my music making. Through my readings on metaphor, and while working on creating new music with harmonic-textural inventions as my goal, I gradually drifted away from this purely metaphorical-linguistic interest. I realized that the concept of metaphor was too narrow to name what I was interested in. What in stead ended up being the main perspective in my artistic investigations, was how my diverse ways of approaching embodied cognition and mental representation was forming my artistic output in a way that I would describe as not just thematic, but rather paradigmatic:
* Method, entangled with cognition, as always situated in a cognitive mental representation paradigm.
* Changing this paradigm being among the strongest possible leverage points for developing or changing one’s artistic outcome, if wanted.
By not just reflecting on one such approach, but actually comparing three to four quite different cognitive approaches in the music making, I hope that this point is demonstrated even more in the artistic outcome than in this short text: Each project strand demonstrating a specific choice in terms of which mental representation forms and cognition thematics are allowed to inform the artistic choices.
Summing up, here is an attempt at listing the project's contribution to artistic research:
- I have shown a way to approach the mapping of clarification of musical dimensions through multi-stranded systematics.
- Via the vast differences in types of cognition in each project strand, I have indirectly demonstrated how strongly connected the artistic-methodological as well as the Artistic research study is to the cognitive models of what our field consists of
- I have created a number of new works with a vast sonic width, and yet from a unified aesthetic point of view.
- I have created a multidimensional, shareable model for how to map musical texture
- In terms of the harmonic meta-system of the “Complexion Miniatures” series, I have explained the intended end properties of the works. I have explained how I arrived at the systematics around the construction of this meta-system for harmonious variation across a large number of compositions.
- As a spill over result, I have suggested a model for description or clarification of artistic methods.
- I have shown how the question of context can be closely tied to an on going artistic practice.
 If the reader is unfamiliar with Meadows, I recommend visiting donellameadows.org or searching online for Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.