Some months ago, I organized a half study day on the issue of artistic research into non-Western music and improvisation. An increase in the number of students wanting to enter a doctoral trajectory with topics relating to these interests had been noticeable throughout the field, so questions of the potential and the problems that such topics bring with them were reason enough for wanting to discuss the matter with policy makers and a few invited specialists. Except for a lecture by Godfried-Willem Raes, arguing that there is no such thing as solo improvisation because players need the unpredictability of interacting with another player, the whole was more than somewhat disappointing for me, however. Especially when it came to the issues regarding AR and non-Western cultures, one specialist’s statement, putting forward that the potential is great and the obstacles non-existent, was intellectually lethal to the get-together. Actually, the prospects had already been condemned from the moment ideas like “Asian pianists coming to Europe to study Chopin can do no more than copy us” clashed with the suggestions that we, ourselves, could just go anywhere and research another culture even if we don't even speak their language. As hard as I tried to steer the debate into the direction of any type of worthwhile insight, both notions remained unconsumed food for thought.
If the soup had been too hot and spicy, here’s a more palatable opportunity to ponder some of the issues. One of the members of the audience, that day, was Liselotte Sels, who is working on a doctoral project involving Turkish folk music. You can read more about her and her project here – basically she is a Western pianist from Ghent (a city with a sizable history and population of Turkish immigrants enjoying an ever more visible cultural life), looking at Turkish folk music from theoretical, aesthetic and sociological perspectives to create “new music based on characteristics emerging from the ‘deconstruction’ of the Turkish folk music repertoire,” including collaborative “explorations of different musical idioms and procedures (composed contemporary classical, free improvisation, jazz, pop,…)” and finding “a meaningful role and appropriate use of the piano in relation to Turkish folk music.”
Naturally, Liselotte’s research takes her to Turkey. She is there at this moment and has agreed to include her research progress in the travel-log that she set up to share the experiences of her trip. Here’s the link to the blog – the posts in English are the ones concerning the research. (Click “volgende” to go to the next post, “vorige” to go back.”)