RMA Study day session 1: Eric Clarke, Mine Doğantan-Dack and Rees Archibald


Faculty of MusicOur opening speaker is Prof Eric Clarke, who opened the day with a discussion of the recent shift in musicology from a product-based to a  process-based approach. He cited Christopher Hasty’s book Meter As Rhythm, which takes such an approach to rhythm. Eric cites Margaret Boden’s definition of creative products as “ideas or artefacts that are new, surprising or valuable” – this is the product-based definition I use in my own work (that is, I’m not researching songs that do not exhibit all three characteristics). This is contrasted with more nuanced approaches including Ingold (2007) and Howard Becker’s Ethnomusicology and Sociology (1989). Becker takes the view that ‘Art is something people do together’. All of these authors (including, I infer, Eric himself) eschew the idea of the ‘lone creative genius’. His view (and I agree) is that both approaches are necessary in understanding creativity.

He goes on to identify some of the challenges of research methodology, and notes that the documentation of process itself (for research purposes) can paradoxically create an artefact that is itself a product! Many of the artefacts (figures, scores, graphs etc) are fixed objects that do not fully represent the music – they are reductive of the music but not necessarily of its process – often to a single ‘snapshot’ of an aspect of the music (frequency curve, amplitude over time etc – for example a Sonic Visualiser diagram).

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Artistic research on the phenomenology of modern pianism 

Dr Mine Doğantan-Dack (Middlesex University)

This presentation concerns my artistic research project on the phenomenology of modern pianism, with particular focus on piano touch. After outlining the research process, which involves a continuously evolving movement between theoretical inquiry and practical exploration, I discuss the value-laden approach the artist-researcher needs to adopt in researching piano touch: such an approach necessitates moving beyond the interests of merely gaining new knowledge and understanding into an area where the artistic engagement and commitment to the ‘object’ of research, i.e. the nature of the experience of tone production and of the quality of the produced tone, requires an interested and subjectively valorized positioning of the performer-researcher. I also explain the challenges involved in studying the physical, psychological and aesthetic processes of cantabile pianistic practice on the modern concert piano from the perspective of the practicing artist, and argue that the process of insider research necessitates integrating embodied artistic practice into musical thought and discourse by thinking in and through the instrument-cum- sound.

Mine DOĞANTAN-DACK is a Senior Research Fellow in Music at Middlesex University, London. She is a concert pianist and a music theorist and has published articles on the history of music theory, affective responses to music, solo and chamber music performance practice. Her books include Mathis Lussy: A Pioneer in Studies of Expressive Performance (2002), and Recorded music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections (2008), Artistic Practice as Research in Music (in press). 

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Rees Archibald (Leeds Metropolitan University)

Performance seeking nothingness: using musical performance practice to explore ‘pure consciousness’

In traditional Japanese shakuhachi (Zen bamboo flute) performance practice, musical works and the instrument itself can be conceived of as processes facilitating specific psychophysical states. In this context, the focus of performance practice lies not in the presentation of a musical work for external appreciation, but in how compositional structure and instrumental design combine with the physicality of performer in the ‘doing’ of a piece. Engagement with a musical experience is important, but only in terms of how the physicality of ‘doing’ can engender specific somatic states.

Performing live, the author will present an analysis of a solo shakuhachi piece (named hon shirabe 本調) and discuss the musical characteristics of the work in relation to the physical design of the instrument and its performance practice. It will be argued that a combination of elements such as a focus on timbre, a welcoming of ‘noise,’ microtonal intonation, and the use of ornamentation as ‘unbalancing,’ in combination with an extremely demanding physical performance practice, lead a performer towards an immersive state which can be likened to Csíkszentmihályi’s (1990) ‘flow’ concept, or expressed as ‘pure consciousness,’ that being “pure, silent, and empty of all ‘phenomenal’ objects (Shear & Jevning 1999, p.194).”

Rees Archibald worked as a professional saxophonist in Sydney, Australia, before moving to Japan to study Zen bamboo flute in 1996. He is interested in investigating relationships between breath, body and conscious states using arts performance. His current work brings together a mix of devised physical movement, sonic arts, visual media, dance and Asian meditation systems. 

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