(Un-)settling sites and styles
- in Search of New Expressive Means
UNSETTLING SITES AND STYLES
Music performance is at its core an unsettling and resettling activity. Each performance is an interactive “happening” that responds to the atmosphere of the venue where it takes place. The research group set out to investigate how and why the site of composition, site of rehearsal or the site of performance seemed to influence their expressive choices.
A performance style is not something settled. It is the way in which the performer enacts a composer’s specified organization of the musical work. Performers attentively interpret written notation of musical symbols and text – the apparently settled
score – but even scores can be in flux through different versions and revisions. Three of the projects resulted in new editions based on study of manuscripts, rehearsals and research results.
As in speech, musical expression can be communicated meaningfully in several different ways. Conveying musical intentions require at times improvised alterations within the style, based on the given moment and situation. Accordingly, each performance creates a unique site – a happening in the here and now, which will never be repeated.
The site/style issue is closely related to the performers’ settled – or deliberately unsettled – attitudes, or “mindsets”:
- AN ABSTRACT SITE - reading and reflecting
This means developing the awareness that all music was composed at different sites, for different occasions and at different times. Some composers draw inspiration from their origin, such as cultural environment or the surrounding nature. Such aspects can strongly influence their musical ideas and artistic choices. In addition, songs will be moulded by the interpretation of the lyrics as well as the prosody of the poet’s language or particular dialect.
A CREATIVE SITE - rehearsing without an audience
This entails fine-tuning technical and expressive issues, investigating a variety of possible musical meanings. Rehearsing at different locations with varying space, reverberation, and/or “cultural aura” can have a remarkable impact on performative ideas and choices.
A PERFORMATIVE SITE - communicating music to audiences
This implies desiring to make the interpretation meaningful to different audiences at different times and places. The performer fine-tunes musical and other means to this end. The goal is to give a sensation of rediscovering the music each time by adapting it to a contemporary context. The performer seeks to tune in to listener reception and conveys extra-musical elements such as anecdotes, gestures, response to the venue (e.g., the composer’s private home), etc.
AN ACOUSMATIC SITE - recording music
This involves imagining what different listeners may appreciate based on recorded sounds. In addition, working with amplified sounds from computers or using transducers where the sound source is outside a visual range.
Given that sites and styles are always changing, is it possible to say anything definite about them? Rather than trying to find fixed answers, the group attempted to find basic directions and attitudes for their work; a dialectic process of constantly examining pertinent questions which again may lead to new, creative, and perhaps more inspiring questions.
- Which expressive elements have meaningful potential for appreciating a musical composition?
What are the boundaries of expressivity within a certain style?
- How can the style be developed and updated?
- How do sites influence composers and compositions?
How can music be expressed so that it becomes meaningful for a contemporary audience?
Every radical artistic research process within music involves some kind of return to the basics concerning musical style, inherent intent and possible meanings. This involves unsettling preconceptions, unlearning personal habitual preferences, applying alternative technical solutions, and reconsidering performance traditions of the particular composer, piece or historical era.
For the performer and listener, it is almost impossible to ignore or neglect the site-style dimension, as it seems to be engraved in the works and thus often intentional. For a performer trying to establish an independent position toward these composers, knowledge of site-specific factors may be instrumental in guiding the performer over the threshold, into the composer’s musical world. Performers with a strong sense of fidelity to the written work and to the composer’s influence might be more committed to the idiomatic style than performers who are more open and/or ambivalent to literal orthodoxy.