CoLaboratively Speaking: Perception of art within the Arts.
NB: The following was written for a conservatoire project; however as I think it makes an important point, I have reworked it to post here. It contains less debate &/or humour than previous articles which you can read by clicking here, here & here. I currently have access to limited footage/audio from the performances. However, you can expect to see follow up posts containing these in the upcoming weeks.
All art yearns to be shared. As a creative artist, I give freely to the world everyday, whether it be with the markings on my face, clothes on my back or the music I play. All of the arts are highly responsive crafts; composed, indulged and created as a response to what we sense or feel. Instant reaction, appreciation & feedback from others therefore are the ultimate gratification and stimulus a creative artist can receive. At a conservatoire, practicing alone for hours on end it is easy for musicians to forget this. Music even at its most chaotic, by very definition, is structured. It is a process of organized sound even in improvisation heavy jazz music, relevance always existing in the applications of harmony, form, phrasing or style. These things, not without valid reason, take primary focus in the study & practice of music. The reward therefore often comes from self-indulgence or self-improvement rather than through connections.
In recent weeks I have come to learn that dance possesses an incredibly different approach. The practice & execution of dance is fundamentally receptive to people & the world around them. It is based on spatial & bodily awareness including the transfer and placement of weight. While a music student’s schedule is dominated with individual practice time, a dance student’s day is preoccupied with group classes. The sharing of their art is constant & embedded into their doctrine. For dancers, connections, not just within their bodies but between people as well, are fundamental to how they work & rehearse. It is unsurprising then, that the basis for the project ‘We’ came from a dancer.
‘We - Original compositions from both music and dance experimenting with the soundscapes and textures of electronic music and the connections between people.’
The quote above is the sum of the details I had before entering this project. The then foreign aspect of working with dancers & understanding their perceptions of music was not what initially excited me about the project. My current infatuation with various forms of electronic & intelligent dance music instead got me enthused. My interpretation of ‘connections’ was that of improvising & jamming with the other musicians within a highly interactive genre of music. This included evoking heavy world music influences. The musicians, including myself on electric harp, Paul Ooi as composer/producer & Jennah Smart on flute, began rehearsals a week prior to the dancers arrival. With these rehearsals it was evident that my preconceptions were not wrong; Jennah & I spent time playing and manipulating the main theme over Paul’s electronic backing, which did indeed contain many world elements such as a tambura section. Through our discussions further world music elements were included into the composition such as African drumming patterns, samba beats and eastern scales. These sessions however were primarily to gain a firm grasp on the material & each other’s playing styles before full rehearsals. It was quickly apparent that there was little we could develop until the dancers’ introduction when we could observe how our product served. Before the project had officially started, by creating music for a purpose outside of our usual classes we were already being forced to consider connections & responses then act accordingly.
Paul would trigger effects & loops he had created within a project on Ableton Live.
Upon first meeting the dancers it was very clear that despite being music & dance being so tightly intertwined, they exist in very different worlds. Soon it became evident that my role in the project was not as clear as previously envisioned. My comprehension of how dancers worked with music existed largely from films I had watched focusing on either ballet or hip-hop in which dancers predominantly used set choreography or a definite story. Being a harpist further enshrined this, an important part of our repertoire being the great classical ballets of Tchaikovsky. Naturally, I was extremely thrown by the hours spent on ice breaking games and peculiar workshop exercises. This way of working was so different to how musicians interact; at times it became difficult & frustrating because from our perspective there was an apparent lack of progress. Even when preparing heavily improvised pieces, the architecture & practice of that music is no different from the strict repetitive nature of learning any other piece. I assumed contemporary dance would behave in much the same way. I now discern how these workshops, and the musicians participation in them, were essential to our operating & connecting as a group and ergo the success of our project. At the time however, it seemed too much emphasis was placed of lying on the floor ‘feeling’ as opposed actualizing the material.
Many of the dancers’ workshops centered around carrying each others’ weight.
The open environment allowed for a very free flowing exchange of ideas and soon led to enquiries from the dancers as to how musicians evoke music. The emphasis musicians place on phrasing & structure made me conceive our role as the narrators. The dancers were playing out & reacting to the scene we described with our music and in turn our scene evolved as moving objects were placed in it. The coherence & unity of these scenes grew as the week progressed largely due to lengthy discussions of the image Paul, Jennah & I felt the music depicted. Even with our very different methods of advancing our art, a consistent interpretation of the material across the musicians & dancers ensured our functioning as a tight unit. Throughout the duration of both project & performance nothing felt forced or stagnated due to lack of enthusiasm, participation or interest. This what I believe to be the driving force that generated the overwhelmingly positive response to our performances. The commentary said much of how bonded we were as a group as well as our engagement with the audience. Everyone was in sync, everyone connected. Our ultimate outcome & initial objectives were one of the same.
However, what I ended up loving about the project was so much more than what I initially expected to enjoy. Though the act of playing an instrument is physical, musicians lack a tangible product. The dancers being there not only gave us something physical to respond to but also supplied us with a visible result of our music. It allowed us to see instantaneous feedback & indulgence of our work. The immediate gratification as we were playing was exhilarating, especially as it is something we seldom experience in the classical world. Emotions at the end of the project were running high with renewed realization of how strong my desire is to share my art, display what music can offer, and reverberate it off it and other creatives. Despite the vast & varying approaches among the different disciplines, this is the basis from whence every artistic medium evolved. We all strive for the same fulfillment; we strive to share.
I would love to know if my usual readers would be interested in more of these posts, discussing my work as a musician? The ranting & raving articles will remain of course but if people find interest in these then I will post more.