Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Play or perish?

 

At least one artistic researcher has suffered a burn-out. I won't divulge how many post-docs I know who depend on some SSRI to manage their anxiety.




Long gone are the days when artistic research could grow up on innocent terms, with the time and money to explore the onset of its trajectory but free from being confronted with the pressures that characterise established academic research environments. A well-known such stress is having to seek and acquire external funding to support one's research or, worse, to basically guarantee one's own salary. Another perversity stemming from straining "key performance indicators" lies in the fact that there are easily more than one million new peer reviewed scientific articles published in a year (if we take 2006 as representative), in perplexing contrast to how fewer and fewer breakthroughs are achieved (cf. here).

But workload duress is not all just a question of money and quantity of output. In a previous post, I have hinted at how we shouldn’t expect to just be able to add AR to the existing required fields of expertise of a professional musician as if those don't amount to at least a full-time already. You cannot expect to tour, teach, ánd organise conferences and publish articles or books. For a long time, some orchestras have taken into account the teaching schedules of their musicians (by not asking for rehearsals on certain days); vice versa, schools have set up their FTEs so as to allow teachers to take the time to practice and rehearse during the day. But many monographs authored by academics are written during one of their sabbaticals, whereas I don’t know of any institution where artistic researchers are typically employed (conservatoires, arts universities,…) and where sabbaticals are included in the contract.

I play a lot less, compared to before I became a researcher: there is no time anymore to practice at least one new full solo piano program per season, hunt for gigs, rehearse, do the administration, etc. On top of the diminished number of performances, I now also only play what I research, which is not always a complete work (like all of a multi-movement sonata), let alone a full program. Some of my colleagues manage to combine research with concertising, but they are few, and play orchestral repertoire that they don’t research. Nor do they teach a significant percentage of an FTE as traditional teachers of a conservatoire do. Some teach a little, concertise, and seem to be involved in research projects, but then either I see few publications of theirs, or their concerts are not always up to professional standards. I know only one musician-researcher who produces academic output regularly, teaches a typical schedule of classes at a university, and concertises with at least one new 1.5h long program per year. Pretty much the proverbial exception.

This is not to say that the situation is necessarily deplorable. I am more than happy not being on the road between concert stages, anymore. As a former new-music specialist, always only having been asked to perform world premieres at thus specialised venues, I now enjoy being able to play Schumann and Bach (at least when I have a fitting research question). I also enjoy having had that career, and it goes without elaboration that I have needed to have had that career in order to become a (post-doc) researcher. But I was 44 years old when I obtained my PhD, so I was properly positioned to decide to continue the performer’s career or not. This is not the case for many who are at that point in a much younger life.

If there is an average age of an applicant for a doctoral trajectory, it is  still a theoretical one. There have been many 40+ year old teachers who decided that they wanted the same degree their students were applying for. These days, though, more and more applicants are coming out of their master’s program, and are in their early 20s, with one foot on the professional stage. We should not ask all of them to contemplate reducing or foregoing the career that their degree was set up to prepare them for most specifically, at an age when the excitement about it, and the energy for it, are at their highest.

This matter even goes beyond merely being open about the potential consequences of the PhD for the workload in a subsequent career. A PhD is a research degree, not a performance degree. (See the post about the PD for the differences.) It allows for widening career perspectives, but we must be careful not to give the impression that all musicians will be better off, or that music will thrive, when everybody becomes a professional researcher. Exposure to AR, and to its principles as well as to its achievements (and the latter for the duration of the musicians’ whole careers, even if none of it is devoted to active research) is most definitely a plus. But a third cycle research degree, with the heavy work that it entails, is not about mere exposure. While I believe in what the academic principles of developing new knowledge can offer to art, and in the benefits of being able to do so in a community of enquiry, the historical development of art has shown that there are other ways and means to progress. The value of artistic research lies in complementing those, not replacing them.

Admittedly, I know of no research about how or whether issues of artistic researchers’ psychological well-being are distinguishable from the society-wide conundrum that cognitive exhaustion appears to have become. Of the 4.8 million people officially employed in my country, there is a staggering 10% at home due to long-term illness, of which almost a quarter because of burn-out or depression. (Cf. here.) At any rate, there is an abundantly clear resistance from teachers in higher music education to just adding AR to their existing workload. One particular effect thereof is the tendency to conflate definitions of research. “All good performers have always done research”, I often hear, with which is meant that they read up on the composers and pieces that they learn, engage critically with the editions from which they play, etc. While these actions are not untypical of part of what research entails, they are a mere matter of learning, not producing new knowledge. Similarly, extending the topic to beyond performance, a new composition may well embody research but should not automatically be equated with, say, an article. For all intents and purposes, underlying such quasi-theoretical discussions is often the fear of extended responsibilities, expertise, and workload in teaching jobs.

Naturally, there are budgetary considerations when it comes to fitting a higher education institute with a research component by enlarging the staff. I would therefore argue for a revision of the traditionally dual identity of the teacher who also plays in or composes for the concert hall. We could have teachers who also perform/compose but do not publish, ànd teachers who research but are not all that active on the stage (anymore), ànd musicians/composers who research but don’t teach. This way, in combination with welcoming initiatives like the professional doctorate (allowing for a non-research based third cycle study – see here for more of my views on that), we could let art be art as well as explore its research-based potential, and we could help young musicians withstand the ever-mounting pressures of automatically following up their Master's with a PhD, so that they can best - i.e. least stressfully - answer to what their calling really is.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

The PD: more specifics on the pilot

 


As of May 30th, the first 11 candidates for the Dutch project of the Professional Doctorate have been approved for funding - see here. This is stated to mean that they can effectively start from today, June 1 2023, onwards. (See a previous post about the PD for background details.)



The financing is assured by “Regieorgaan SIA”, the part of the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NOW) that
specifically funds practice-oriented research. (More on this Regieorgaan on here.) This is funding for just the pilot, so not to be confused with the longer-term future of this programme, for which both financial support and the degree status need to be sorted by the government.

Of the 11 candidates that are now starting, 8 are situated in the domain of “Arts + Creative”, and 3 in “Health & Well-being: 


Risk Hazekamp (Avans Hogeschool)

Unlearning Photography: Listening to Cyanobacteria


Emily Huurdeman (Fontys Hogescholen)

Essaying as (Collective) Performative Practice


Phillippine Hoegen (Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht)

Performing working


Augustin Martinez Caram (Hanzehogeschool Groningen)

Lifestyle and Digital Sovereignty. A new media arts approach to collective technological empowerment for holistic care


Chinouk Filique de Miranda (ArtEZ University of the ArtsDigitised)

Practices in the Margins; Reimagining Fashion’s Virtual Interface


Soemitro Poerbodipoero (Hogeschool van Amsterdam)

To contribute in an innovative and sustainable way to participation, well-being, and self-management of positive health of seniors living at home


Sarah Ros-Philipsen (Saxion)

Lifestyle interventions: from an individual approach to integrated collaboration 


Stefan Schäfer (Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten)

Breaking Apart Together: Performing speculative design with dying mountains and glaciers


Chico Taguba (Hogeschool van Amsterdam)

Towards a better connection: How do young residency permit holders with psychological and addiction problems find their way to assistance?


Reinaart Vanhoe (Hogeschool Rotterdam)

Learning from ruangrupa & documenta fifteen


Nadja van der Weide (Hogeschool van Amsterdam)

The art of mediated dialogue - The role of ownership, technology and participation in facilitating dialogue in local communities


It is always refreshing to read about projects brought to the table by young researchers. To boot: the variety of practice-oriented topics and approaches outside of music is striking and can be inspiring. As noted before, and despite 8 PD-candidates active in the domain of "Arts + Creative", none of the participants in this pilot are musicians. The organisers of the PD are the Duch “Hogescholen”, i.e. the institutions offering higher education outside of the universities, so not limited to conservatoires. For the period of 2023-2029, the PD pilot will be tested in 7 domains: Energy & Durability, Health & Wellbeing, Art + Creative, Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality, Maritime, Education (Learning and Professionalisation), and Technique & Digitalisation. For sure, although perhaps depending on the continuation of funding, a new batch of PD candidates will enter the program in the future, possibly including musicians.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Particularities of expertise

 

During the Bergen Meeting, following up on the famous Bologna Declarationand crucially important to the emergence of the artistic research doctorate, EU policymakers linked their proposed synergy between research and higher education to "lifelong learning" and the "knowledge society". (See here for the report of the working group in Bergen, May 2005, proclaiming higher education and research as core elements of the Knowledge Society, and here for bringing Lifelong Learning into the Bologna Process.) These aspirational concepts imply a wide range of factors such as social learning, innovation, service economies, globalisation, information society, etc. (see here). One of the goals has been, for instance, to stop spending less than half as much per student in tertiary education as the United States. (Cf. here.) 

Meanwhile, in those very US, tensions between access to and excellende in education have been considered  as the cause of what, already in the early 1960s, Richard Hofstadter identified as anti-intellectualism. This has led to deploring 'the death of expertise'.




A while ago, I posted about the desire to see journals cater to specific expertise (see here), as opposed to the very wide aim of e.g. JAR to publish research expositions "from all artistic disciplines". As much as the fundus of architecture, film, drawing, dance, theatre, etc. can be of interest to musical AR projects in a general as well as specific sense, I have found the diversity's benefits relatively meagre for my particular pianistic research practice. Instead, I argued to concurrently establish artistic research journals per instrument, perhaps even per aspect of its performance practice. (See here for that post.)

But the influence on research of expertise in playing a musical instrument has consequences far beyond the need for specialty journals to publish in. The previous post (here), a review of a collaborative project by a musicologist and a violinist, exposed some weaknesses due to the incomplete overlap of their individual expertise in that effort. I also showed how, even as an artistic researcher myself, I was hampered in my review because of my own limited experiences with playing the violin. 

I can really only adequately research matters that relate to piano playing. In that respect, my musicological colleagues at the nearby university are very different: one professor (Francis Maes) plays the violin, but his academic career focusses to a significant extent on Russian opera; another one, Marc Leman, is a trumpet player by training but made his career through matters of systematic musicology that don’t have anything to do with his instrument in particular. It is true that I can feel comfortable engaging in some areas of performance studies that have less to do with piano playing, as knowing the relevant methodology is part of my artistic research skill portfolio. Not much needs to happen before this comfort zone starts feeling claustrophobic, though. I can also investigate Kagel’s experimental sound producers, but that is precisely because the definition of these instruments expressly excludes any prior training. A general critical attitude is of course not an issue, as witnessed (I hope) by this blog, but the general always allows for quick and easy ways out of the confrontation with a lack of specific expertise. My real artistic research potential is inextricably linked to piano playing: it reveals research questions that non-pianists do not see, and it allows for perfoming at the level necessary to implement the research findings.



This distinction goes far. When I listen to pianist Nelson Freire’s recording of Strauss/Godowski’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from Die Fledermaus (cf. here), I automatically hear aspects of his playing – e.g. in this case: the remarkable flexibility of Freire’s rubato – rather than, as one musicologist-friend of mine remarked, the points at which the composition demonstrates structural weaknesses. When I see the above picture of Sviatoslav Richter, with his right hand seemingly ready to play a fist cluster in the bass register, I easily notice that something is wrong. When posting this picture on facebook, quite a few friends were satisfied to identify the piece as being from Hindemith, Boulez, Cowell, Ives, etc., although none of these composers wrote a cluster for the right hand combined with a left hand on the specific keys shown in the picture. Given the set-up of Richter’s limbs, with his left hand visibly depressing an F, the piece in question can only be Prokofief’s 6th sonata, and more specifically a single passage in its re-exposition. But to really play that passage, the left hand needs to have left the treble keys in time to play its own bass keys at the latest when the right hand fist is ready to strike. (To boot: Richter’s left hand seems placed on too low an octave.) The only way the picture could have been taken was if Richter was posing for it. My non-pianist friends do not have that focus, nor do my piano-playing musicologist friends. I wouldn't notice anything of this kind when it was not about piano playing.



Prokofiev, excerpt from the 6th piano sonata

When working with musicologists and philosophers, I have noticed how I can see a performance-related research question in a score, while they sometimes see different questions that stem from years of being conditioned to apply a different focus or perspective. From the other side, I can only really research what my own pianistic technique allows for. With my hand and fingers (and despite training), Brahms 2nd concerto is easier than Chopin's. That impacts the repertoire choices in my research, but it is still different from the traditional demarcations on the basis of career-developed interests, which we also have, e.g. my colleague Tom Beghin’s extensive experiences in exploring the Viennese classical repertoire vs. my decades-long interest in new music.

The consequences are manifold. I have already written (here) about how conducting and orchestral instruments are expertises that I rarely see passing by in doctoral applications and finished dissertations. When I wanted to investigate meta questions for my research group HIPEX, which regards historical(ly informed) performances of experimental music, I had to seek funding to employ a guitarist to look into Lachenmann’s Salut für Caudwell. Able to deal with the larger questions only to an extent, myself, I needed Seth Josel to investigate the basis formed by the particulars stemming from the instrumental setting. When investigating a chamber music piece, a researcher may need to collaborate with musicians who have no research background. But the difference between a rehearsal/performance/recording as an artistic project and as a research-based endeavour can be significant: the latter doesn’t necessarily allow for gig musicians who are used to playing their way, and may require experimentation with aspects of the playing that regular musicianship doesn’t consider. Collaborating with a non-researcher composer can be equally tricky: the protocol that connects a research question with an outcome may offer many interesting leaways, and can be exciting to the reseacher, but it offers no guarantee of feeding into the inspiration that the composer may be used to rely on. 

In artistic research, expertise is in no danger of dying, but taking it into account is vital.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Sei Solo per due

 


In 1982, Karlheinz Stockhausen gave a speech to introduce his month-long residency at the conservatoire in The Hague, in which he stated:

I believe in a master, a teacher, only if he is able to play himself – if he cannot play he should not teach – and this explains why I asked to be allowed to bring with me to The Hague the singers, dancers and instrumentalists with whom I have worked for many years so that the young people can see and hear how they work. (Cf. here.) 

The argument is somewhat crooked: clearly, the teaching to be done in The Hague was going to be that of aligning the performance practice of Stockhausen’s works with his compositional intentions. This approach is common in new music, especially with composers who don’t have time to work with musicians on pieces that have already been premiered. When I contacted Kagel to engage with him with regards to his music for the piano, he initially referred me to his trusted Aloys Kontarsky.

For early music practitioners, this exact composer-performer collaboration is obviously not possible, but, inversely, their repertoire benefits from being the object of interest to countless more historians than what recently composed music habitually enjoys. Long before artistic research was formally imagined, musicians who initiated and developed HIP had their noses in period treatises, often with a degree in musicology in their pocket. No wonder that many artistic research PhD candidates are situated in the early music sector, aiming to tailor their performance practice to insights drawn from historiographical research that they carry out themselves.




All the more surprising, then, to see this CD that came out a year ago, featuring both violinist Daniel Auer and musicologist Dagmar Glüxam on its cover, indicating an in-depth collaboration in a project on Affektenlehr and Bach’s works for the solo violin.

According to her CV in the booklet, Dr. Glüxam can be considered an "internationally active" violinist, and her website lists professional concerts as well as having founded her own ensemble with period instruments. For this project, however, she appears  to have preferred to leave the performance of Bach's music to someone else, even if the latter, as heard on a video introducing the project (cf. here), had some initial difficulties identifying with the musicological findings of Dr. Glüxam.

The video promises that the booklet accompanying the CD is "more than a hundred pages", but that is only technically 82, and taking away translations, photographs and bios, we are left with a 32-page German essay. This text starts with the "justification" for this recording, which is stated as (with my highlighting) "[t]his is probably the first one made of an interpretation achieved through consistent application of the principles of affect theory and musical rhetoric." This reads like an odd marketing disclaimer, as if to make sure the project wouldn’t be dismissed as failing to introduce new knowledge other than through the consistency of the application, but claiming it without conviction. An artistic researcher would be expected to know not only the traditional literature on a given topic, i.e. peer-reviewed monographs and articles, but just as well the relevant performance practice, i.e. the recordings of the violinist-peers. In this case, that would have meant that the Sei Solo research were to have been based on the fact that there is, for sure, no such recording yet made, and include a study of what was (not) achieved in those comparable efforts.

I practiced the violin myself, but only for some five years, so I don’t consider myself expert enough to comment on any previous recordings of these Bach pieces, nor on the performance by Auner in this particular CD. I will remark, though, that he states to have used a modern bow and modern tuning. His strings are the Dominant Pro type by Thomastik Infeld (who have "generously supported" the violinist), but on Auner’s personal website, we read (here) that he used "besonderen Barock-Saiten" developed by that company. (On the company’s website, neither I nor a professional violinist-colleague of mine found any mentioning of such special strings.) The explanation for the non-period tuning and bow is limited to claiming that the project’s concepts “need not be restricted to specialists on period instruments”. While I certainly see value in attempting to reach out with the affect theory to violinists who play in otherwise non-HIP ways, it would have been impossible for an artistic researcher to leave the consequences unaddressed. In fact, whereas the essay includes the discussion of "interpretive consequences", of translating an understanding "accurately into sound", and criticizes modern performances of lacking an adequate distinction between "light" and "heavy" playing, it is hard not to wonder why no wider framework of HIP and related in-depth concerns have been looked into.

I do have extensive experiences as recording supervisor, and to read about how

On a harmonic level, the severity of a dissonance (as well as the length of the tone in question) dictates the performer’s dynamic approach: the "harsher" the chord and the longer the notes, the more emphatic or even more aggressive the dynamic needed to evoke the intended affect.

makes me notice even more how sharp and crisp the violin sounds in all of the sonatas and partitas, and not just when a tritone takes centre stage. It also leaves the impression that at least some of the types of "pronunciation" have not solely been a matter of playing, but also of capturing the sound in the studio. But how to appreciate the differences, then?

All in all, I really enjoyed listening to and reading about this project. But as it is of little relevance to my expertise, I have refrained from buying Glüxam’s book Aus der Seele muβ man spielen. While the volume promisingly contains almost 1000 pages, filled with what looks like an exceedingly detailed treatment of the affect theory, it is prohibitively priced at 198€, with a discount of one cent for the pdf.

This is certainly not the first project for which a musician takes into account the work of a musicologist. To my knowledge, though, it is the first time that the scholar gets equal representation on the promotional level. Glüxam may have demanded to visualize her involvement, given the fact that the project was funded (cf. here). Strange, then, that her personal website has no mentioning of this particular output of the collaboration, other than listing the monograph and the Wiener Urtext Edition. On the other hand, and thinking back to what I noticed in a new DGG recording with Zimmerman playing Schubert (see here), this Bach CD may be yet another way in which a label searches for new power in attracting the attention of potential buyers.

In any case, this effort may be the first in a new tradition of giving musicologists more credit for their work, helping them in turn to valorize their efforts in establishing social relevance. It may also point to a possible change in attitude: in a conversation I had with a music theorist, a decade ago, about the potential for music theory to develop insights that could be of use to performers, he argued that scholars should be left to decide for themselves what they wanted to research. Of course, with my nose deep into matters of artistic research, my most pressing feeling is that of looking forward to this project, itself, being investigated from an artistic research perspective. We could then learn more about what things are like when the master is doing the playing.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Topical overview of the blog posts


A blog is often meant and taken as something ephemeral. However, I noticed how readers look for bygone posts. To make browsing this blog easier, and since blogger.com doesn't seem to offer this, I hereby list the topics in this blog. I will keep adding to this categorical list as I add posts to the blog, and you should keep seeing it as "featured post".



Matters of discipline

* Very brief, first post 👉
* What is AR? Opening musings on the question ofdefinition 👉
* Breakthrough research 👉
* Composition
- When Composition is not Research 👉 
- When Composition is not Research2 👉
- When Composition is not Research3 👉
- Scott McLaughlin’s report 👉
- UK debate & AEC white paper 👉
- Composition as critical practice
• the call 👉
• the complete published introduction to the proceedings & a bit on the then (2022) most recent UK Research Excellence Framework 👉
* Conducting 👉
* Conflating the arts (SHARE) 👉
* Countries and their own situations
- The Case of Germany 👉
- Brazil 👉
- The Netherlands (and the Professional Doctorate) 👉
- UK
• REF 2014 👉
• REF 2022 👉
Embodied knowledge and the Frascati Manual
- A move to put our mark on the Frascati Manual 👉
- A move to put our mark on the Frascati Manual² 👉
- The novelty test and the reproducibility criterion 👉
Expertise 
- expertise-specific conferences 👉
- collaborative Bach project 👉
- particularities of expertise 👉 
* Florence Principles 👉
* 1st honorary doctorate in AR 👉
* Non-Western music 👉
* Novelty test & reproducibility criterion 👉
* Play or perish? 👉
* The Professional Doctorate 👉 & 👉 
* Titles: importance, status, usage
- the sarcastic post 👉
- some more in connection with the Professional Doctorate 👉  
* The Professional Doctorate 👉 & 👉 


Education

* AR at the Master level 👉
* Non-Western music 👉
* Play or perish? 👉
* The Professional Doctorate 👉 & 👉



For students

* AR vs. collaborating with a musicologist 👉
* Context 👉
* The defence of my dissertation at Leiden University, with some history and details of the protocol 👉 
* Language 👉
* Presentation
- Wagenaar's art 👉
- PechaKucha 👉 
* Play or perish? 👉
* The Research Catalogue, the Journal for Artistic Research, and the Society for Artistic Research
- ARC, JAR, SAR 👉
- Have you created your first weave yet? 👉
* Writing
- dissemination success, incl. some statistics 👉
- Writing about contemporary artists 👉
- CD booklets 👉


Projects & People

* Daniel Aune & Dagmar Glüxam's Bach 👉
* Tom Beghin’s Beethoven Broadwood project 👉
* Paul Craenen’s PhD 👉
* Peter Dejans’ honorary doctorate 👉
* Alain Franco’s WTK project 👉
* Michael Picknett’s Devised Music 👉
* Lauren Redhead 👉
* Hans Roels 👉
* Jaso Sasaki 👉
* Anna Scott & Valentin Gloor: “when Brahms met Debussy” 👉
* Mareli Stolp - Reflexivity 👉
* Willem Albert Wagenaar 👉
* Lena Weman’s Studio Acusticum Organ project 👉
* Jed Wentz’ PhD 👉


Gremia

EPARM 👉
the Journal for Artistic Research and the Society for Artistic Research 👉
Practice-Research-Unit 👉
* SHARE 👉
Scottish Journal of Performance 👉


Events

ORCiM research festival (Belgium) 2010 👉
Excellence in Research conference (Belgium) 2010 incl. on peer review and the link to things economical 👉
Academy for Music and Theory (Belgium) 2011 👉
ORCiM seminar on Artistic Experimentation (Belgium) 2011 👉
Practice-Research-Unit conference (UK) 2011 👉
Oslo symposium The Art of Artistic Research 2011 👉
From Output to Impact conference (Belgium) 2014 👉 
- call 👉
- program 👉
- proceedings 👉
“Can Composition and Performance be Research?” (UK) 2015 
- anouncement 👉 
- Scott LcLaughlin’s report 👉 
Conference on conducting by the Oxford Conducting Instituut 2015 👉
“Composition as critical practice” (Belgium) 2016 
- call 👉 
- proceedings, incl. complete published introductory essay, & a bit on the then most recent UK Research Excellence Framework 👉
Writing about contemporary artists conference (UK) 2017 👉
‘Hands on’ piano conference (Portugal) 2018 👉
Sound Arguments workshops (Belgium) 2023 👉


Jobs

2013 👉
2014 👉
2014 👉
2016 👉
2017 New Professorship 👉
2022 doctoral positions 👉