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Workshop 1: 5 September 2011

Creative practice in contemporary concert music: workshop 1

Distributed creativity

Faculty of Music, University of Oxford, 5 September 2011

Hosted by Eric Clarke and Mark Doffman

The first workshop in the CPICCM project focused on the broad theme of distributed creativity. It was held at the Faculty of Music in Oxford on 5 September 2011 and was attended by 22 performers, composers, musicologists and psychologists. The day consisted of six short presentations, followed in each case by significant opportunities for discussion. The aims of this workshop were to stimulate a series of debates over the course of the day, each one developing out of a presentation that focused on new research and/or ideas around the notion of distributed creativity. Through a combination of theoretical papers, reports on new projects, and presentations that offered novel methods for exploring collaborative musical work, the workshop sought to deliver an informal but rich set of discussions over the course of the day.

Below are summarised the presentations given on the day with links to articles and Powerpoint presentations where appropriate.

Mark Doffman (University of Oxford)
Approaching creativity

Mark Doffman began the proceedings with a brief introduction to the current work of CPICCM and offered some fundamental thoughts and questions about the notion, and definition, of creativity. The overarching question that we hoped would frame the day’s discussions was ‘what do we mean by creativity in its technical and cultural dimensions?’. This led to further questions that have seemed germane to the project in its opening phase:

  • To what degree is creativity to be understood as ordinary or exceptional? Is it the work of the everyday or of radical innovation?
  • In what ways is creativity the subject of ownership?
  • What methods do we use to investigate distributed creativity in music?

To view the presentation text, click here.

Amanda Bayley (University of Wolverhampton)
Researching the creative process in Finnissy’s Second and Third String Quartets

Amanda Bayley reported on her ongoing research project with Michael Finnissy and the Kreutzer String Quartet. This research, which has examined rehearsal and performance processes in Finnissy’s Second Quartet and is now similarly engaged with his Third Quartet, has involved the significant development of analytical/presentational software to handle the complex combinations of score-based, diagrammatic, written, audio and video materials that the project involves – a development that has featured a collaboration with Professor Michael Clarke (Huddersfield). Amanda provided an overview of what the software can do, and focused on some of the more quantitative and categorical analyses that this kind of approach, and the use of NVivo, can provide. Subsequent discussion focused on some of the problems in using video as a primary means of data capture, and on the relative advantages of a more traditional ‘note-taking’ approach – based on the argument that the interpretative act of note-taking, which at some point in the research process will always be necessary, is made more open and explicit, and is not endlessly deferred (as can be the case with the accumulation of large archives of video).

Raymond MacDonald (Glasgow Caledonian University)
Collaborative improvisation within a multi-media project

Ray MacDonald gave an account of a creative project, Space is the Place, in which he is involved as a creator/performer. The project is a collaboration with the sculptor Martin Doyle, the filmmaker David MacKenzie, and Ray as musician; it involves work towards an installation at the Glasgow Tramway Theatre (to be delivered in 2012) that utilises their improvised collaborations in music, sculpture and film. The project involves all three artists producing work with one another in each of the three media – functioning both as ‘experts’ in their own domains and ‘experimental novices’ in the other domains. All three collaborators have worked with one another in various dyadic combinations over a significant period of time, but have never before all worked together. Ray gave a vivid account of the processes by which they got to know each other’s artistic domains (including a significant period of time at a hotel in Beirut), and then proceeded to a more sustained description and discussion of some of the musical creation that the project has so far involved – a combination of freely improvised material (by all three collaborators) and studio transformation/juxtaposition of those materials. The discussion explored some of the questions about expertise and judgement, discrimination and artistic authority that this shifting combination of creative inputs provoked. The presentation also raised questions about the relationship between practice and research: what considerations are involved in Ray being both a psychologist/researcher and a creative collaborator in this artistic enterprise?

To view the Powerpoint presentation (without media), click here.

Paul Archbold (Institute of Musical Research and Kingston University)
Brian Ferneyhough and the Arditti String Quartet

Paul Archbold reported on the documentary, Performing Complexity, that he had produced with the filmmaker Colin Still and the sound producer David Lefeber. Developed as a pedagogical resource, the documentary follows the dynamic processes of the Arditti String Quartet rehearsing and performing Brian Ferneyhough’s Sixth String Quartet. The 2-DVD production features fascinating video footage of the quartet embarking on the rehearsal process, working in the presence of the composer, and then giving the first performance at the Donaueschingen Festival, and thus provides detailed insight into the creative work that goes towards first performance. The discussion after this presentation focused on the relationship between the composer and performers, some of the technical and methodological problems involved in the production of the documentary, and issues around the use of extended techniques and complex notation in contemporary quartet playing.

Georgina Born (University of Oxford)
Distributed creativity – what do we mean by it?

Georgina Born offered a conceptually rich analysis of different notions of distribution, followed by a range of approaches to creativity based in various frameworks of social mediation. She began by presenting a vignette – a telematic music performance given in 2010 that raised questions about the social nature of performance with the radical mix of connections and disruptions produced by this ‘distributed’ event. Leading from this, seven possible understandings of ‘distributed creativity’ were then offered: first as a set of dimensions, i.e.

  • spatial (the actual distribution of sounds in a space through to the notion of a virtual space)
  • social (the division of labour that underpins music production; the place of role, status and contemporary shifts in composer/performer collaborative work)
  • cultural (the diffusion of authorship and the nature of intertextuality in creative cultures)
  • temporal (the diachronicity of creative work, expressed in terms of genre, emergence and innovation over time)

and then as a series of active mediations:

  • inter-relations (the transformative possibilities between musical materials and human subjects; musical creativity as constitutive of and constituted within the sociality of discourse and practice)
  • circulations (the continuous processes of making meaning, relayed through the circulation of objects, social relations and digital technologies)
  • assemblages (a Deleuzian, socio-materialist conception of constellations of (arbitrary) mediations that constitute musical experience).

To view the Powerpoint presentation (without media), click here.

To view the references cited in the presentation, click here.

Chris Redgate (Royal Academy of Music)
Creativity in contemporary music from the soloist’s perspective

Chris Redgate provided a fascinating insight into his contemporary oboe research and the collaboration with instrument makers, composers, and acousticians that has resulted in the design and construction of a newly designed oboe. The new instrument affords a whole range of new possibilities, including a huge expansion of its multiphonics and microtonal pitches. Much of Chris’s work transforms the notion of the performer from that of an individual who uses an instrument to articulate the work of composers to that of a co-creator who actively re-shapes the compositional process by offering and exploring radically different sound possibilities on the instrument. It also presents the possibility of the performer as inventor. The discussions that arose from Chris’s presentation focused on organological questions about how instruments may change in function and perception over time, the use of technologies in researching instrumental possibilities, and the contribution of the oboe to contemporary music performance.

To view the Powerpoint presentation, click here.

As a whole the workshop demonstrated the increasingly close ways in which performers, composers and researchers (of various kinds) are collaborating, and the fertile common ground that is opening up between them. It provided the project with a rich, diverse spectrum of ideas and examples of what distributed creativity means in terms of method, practice and theory.