Monday, May 23, 2011

Reporting on the Oslo symposium

The world of artistic research revolves quickly and there is much to see. As I can't be everywhere at all times, I have been lucky: my colleague researcher Darla Crispin gave a keynote lecture at the Oslo conference, earlier this month, and she graciously agreed to act as my guest blogger. Here's her thorough account of what she witnessed, 'up there in the cool North'. (Links inserted by me.)

Symposium: ‘The Art of Artistic Research’ 6-8 May 2011

The Norwegian Academy of Music hosted its first International Symposium on ‘The Art of Artistic Research’ from 6 to 8 May 2011. The Symposium had been developed to allow a deep interrogation of presented work at different stages of evolution in this new field. Appropriately, the presentations were searching, almost always strongly based in practice, and demonstrated a keen awareness of the key issues that artistic researchers grapple with – though not always able to supply ‘easy’ answers to the proposed research questions. The Symposium encouraged instead an open approach to working with ideas, and this was of particular benefit to the doctoral students in attendance. Expert Panels were conducted periodically, and included the pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes, who is proud to call himself an artist-researcher!

The ‘Symposium’ model was developed for this event in order to provide an opportunity to discuss various approaches to artistic research. In default of any generally approved definition (of artistic research), there is a continuing need for establishing good examples, relevant research models and a common understanding. The aim of the Symposium was to enhance a collective discussion and reflection on various questions related to artistic research.

The event was organized around four themes:

1) Craftsmanship and Artistic Research
2) The Concert
3) Interdisciplinarity in Arts
4) Defining Artistic Research

Ian Pace (City University, London) gave the opening keynote relating to craftsmanship, relating his analysis of the postwar evolution of piano performances – including the politicization of performance styles – to some of the current themes of artistic research, such as how small-scale aspects of craft might be read in the current turbulent political landscape for Western classical music. As a context to this, he also presented a short recital, including Johannes Brahms’ Klavierstücke Op. 118, Claude Debussy’s Images Book II, and a rare performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X, which he performed clad in protective gloves.

Pace’s keynote and the short papers within the thematic group all pointed up the challenges of generating artistic research questions from personal observations from within practice. Some, like Pace, relate their practice very rapidly to existing knowledge – but we witnessed others less certain in their thought-trajectories, and focused more intently of the personal insights of their own practice, prior to the process of contextualization.

This lack of certainty, its potential to leave space for new understanding, also means that musical performance itself has the potential to be transformed by the findings of artist researchers. This potential was discussed by MartinTröndle (Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen) in a trenchant keynote: ‘Transforming performing: new concepts for new audiences’. Tröndle presented a series of sobering statistics for performers attached to traditional concert-giving paradigms, but then challenged his listeners to use artistic research itself as a means of rethinking the manner of musical presentation. There was some resistance to his message in the form of concern that the musical content was being challenged by media packaging and virtuosic light shows, but the current turbulence in the funding for the arts is undeniable, and is an important component for consideration in the world of artistic research, where the scholarly and professional spheres often clash. Examples of contrasting consequences to this were heard in the accompanying papers, from the negative reception of Rudolf Kolisch’s Beethoven cadenzas in America, to the positive revivification of the carillon through innovative approaches to improvisation and performance practice: Carl van Einhoven’s video of his jazz performance on the carillon will stay long in the memory.

This pointed up another challenge for artist-researchers: the necessity to go beyond research in musical practice to learn from other disciplines. ‘Interdisciplinarity was thus an important theme of the Symposium, and was vividly discussed by Sally Jane Norman (University of Sussex) in her keynote: ‘Interdisciplinarity through and beyond the Arts’. She presented numerous examples of projects in which the work engaged with collaborative interdisciplinary practice, relations between art and technology, and disruptive innovation processes. She was also able to offer some insights on research and cultural policy frameworks, which form another site of interface with which artistic research must engage.

As the Symposium, questions arose about how artistic research was going to generate it own critical theories. In her keynote, Darla Crispin (Orpheus Research Centre in Music) drew together all the themes of the Symposium and proposed one model of how the very specific experimentation and observation processes of the artist-researcher might generate broad interpretative frameworks; in her case, this involved relating aspects of Anton Webern’s Piano Variations Op. 27 with the development of a theory for understanding ethics in relation to music performance. This led into a dedicated session for 3rd cycle students, who are developing their own projects in light of their findings during the Symposium.

Erlend Hovland and Otto Christian Pay are to be congratulated for setting up a very good event. The time keeping was precise, especially on the first day, and the programme had been developed with many long, open slots for group discussion. Many of these talks were very productive, sometimes through strong words and unresolved philosophical disagreements, but also with respectful, open research attitudes. Hopefully, this will be the first of a series of such events within the Norwegian Academy of Music.

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