Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The case of Germany

Amongst the prolific and consistently high-quality output of Arnold Jacobshagen, Professor of Musicology and dean of the department of Musicology and Music Pedagogy at the Hoschschule für Musik und Tanz Köln, is an edited volume Perspektiven musikalischer Interpretation from 2016, in which his own chapter deals with Musikalische Interpretation als künstlerische Forschung? Konzepte und internationale Kontexte. The value of this contribution lies primarily in the fact that it displays Germany's lagging behind the international AR developments, and argues for breaking with this situation.

Arnold Jacobshagen, article on artistic research in Germany,
Arnold Jacobshagen 

Whilst Jacobshagen confounds some of the concepts, e.g. considering Practice as Research to be merely a more precise term than Artistic Research (rather than identifying them to be distinctly different concepts in their own right), and trusts definitions offered by single authors over searching for consensus (or pointing to the lack thereof), such as the odd distinction between Practice as Research and Practice-led research made here, he offers a handy overview of exactly how confused the international terminological usages still are. It remains a pity that the source material for the chapter consists of the theoretical literature on AR, and not a single case of AR, Practice-as-Research, Practice-based Research, etc. is selected to support either the reported arguments or Jacobshagen’s own insights. This points to what is still a serious problem in AR: the discourse is heavily dominated by abstracting syntheses, with an ever-increasing absence of the relevant researchers and their projects, which is remarkable indeed. (Cf. also the lack of musical researcher-practitioners among those referred to in e.g. the Wikipedia page on Künstlerische Forschung.)

The chapter's international contextualization offers a handy overview of most of the global developments (Asia is notably missing) and zooms in on the German situation and its German-speaking neighbors, Austria and Switzerland. Of interest is Jacobshagen’s detailing of the issues pertaining to Germany’s position, e.g. how establishing “Wissenschaftliche Forschung” to be a pleonasm led to the compromise of considering “künstlerische Entwicklungsvorhaben” as both (legally) equivalent to and (otherwise) distinctive from “Forschung” (see also here).

With regards to the third cycle, it is clear how much of a problem is presented by the need to reconcile the demands for the highest artistic standard as well as “eine geisteswissenschaftlich fundierte Ausbildung, die zum Schreiben einer höchsten akademischen Ansprüchen genügenden Dissertation befähigen würde” (p. 75), and that this is not or hardly ever the case. At the time of the publication, an “artistic-scientific” promotion (Dr. Phil.) is still only possible in the Hochschulen in Freiburg, Hamburg, and Karlsruhe. Whilst Hamburg has a large number of artistic-scientific doctorandi (mostly in composition), and the first applications have been submitted in Freiburg, no completed doctoral trajectory was announced yet. In all three cases, the scientific research is primordial, with the artistic project “lediglich eine Ergänzung bzw. Verdeutlichung”; in Hamburg, the dissertation is valued as twice the weight of the artistic component. (Interestingly, in the Medical School Hamburg, the department Kunst, Gesellschaft und Gesundheit has been focussing on AR, having devoted a conference to Artistic Research in Applied Arts in 2013, which resulted in a 2015 book publication.) In the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln, a doctorate can be obtained in musicology, in music pedagogy, “dance science”, art management, and music medicine – not in artistic-scientific matters. There is nevertheless a masters course in “artistic development and reflection”, aimed at enabling the function of a bridge towards artistic research, and offering Hochschule students to embark on a musicological doctoral trajectory.

Jacobshagen's chapter certainly relates to the 2011 article, Die Verleihung des dr. Art und dr. Mus, by his Cologne Hochschule colleague Prof. Dr. iur. Dr. h.c. Peter M. Lynen, who, at the time, was director of the Zentrum für Internationales Kunstmanagement, and vice-president of the Nordrhein-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Künste. In such relevant functions, Lynen established an elaborate but purely negative view on AR in the context of the "hochschul- und bildungspolitischen Raum", noting issues of financing and legal status, as well as putting forth the said pleonasm and what he sees as the consequent softening of the research concept. All the while, Lynen apparently considers AR at its most limited, i.e. as Practice-As-Research with the simplistic "man nehme dies und das" methodology. In his view, neither the cultural sector nor academia is waiting for the research "hermaphrodites" that would be created by mixing completely different standards of quality.

Philipp Spitta, artistic research,
Philipp Spitta

Lynen's notion of the research-wise incompatibility of art and art-science can be traced back to Julius August Philipp Spitta's 1892 Kunstwissenschaft und Kunst essay (in his Zur Musik - I thank Karin Gastell for pointing me to the Spitta and Lynen texts.) Spitta revealingly claimed "It is conceivable a state in which [art and science] live peacefully side by side, each one of his work, the one of the work of beauty, the other the struggle for truth" (p. 14) but that "[t]he paths of arts-science and art must never interrelate" (p. 13).

Indeed, with gaps between pro and con running so deep, there is still much to do in Germany. For the upcoming Darmstadt Summer Course 2018, a Call for Applications was issued by the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt, offering a workshop Artistic Research as Compositional or Performance Practice. Tutors are violinist Barbara Lüneburg from the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Trossingen (Germany) and composer Marko Ciciliani (Graz, Austria). Both list their involvement in AR through Austrian Science Fund projects (TransCoding, resp. GAPPP) at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, however. The Musikhochschule in Trossingen does not (yet) seem to offer anything related to AR.

Jacobshagen's 2016 text concludes that “[i]n view of the excellence and dynamic of these international developments, it is to be hoped that Germany, as a country with a particularly dense landscape of Musikhoschulen and international student body, will be able to catch up in the field of artistic research in the near future”. Perhaps his contribution will help ignite the further efforts necessary to enable musicians to develop their AR ambitions in German higher education.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Expertise-specific conferences

Time flies when you are having fun. I generally don't find plane rides much fun, but during my flight from Portugal last week, it struck me how much I had enjoyed the Research 'Hands on' PIANO conference in Aveiro, and how it had only been a few years since I started thinking how we need this type of event.

Back then, I had voiced some frustration to the founders of the Journal for Artistic Research, which aims to publish expositions of research "from all artistic disciplines". To be exposed only to a variety of types of creativity and its fundus, including architecture, film, drawing, dance, theatre, etc., doesn't really cut it for me when considering the relatively meagre benefits of this diversity for my particular piano practice. Yes, AR is a common interest, but my expertise is that of piano playing, not of pan-disciplinary methodology. As wonderful as JAR is, I would prefer there to be artistic research journals per instrument as well - even per aspect of its performance practice. Similar to academia, to have output disseminated in specialized channels allows for professionals to be updated on what goes on in their field more efficiently than having to browse through many more publications to find relevant output. This fits the wider debate about AR types of output that need to include formats which extend to different multi-medium levels (hybrids like a monograph-with-DVD, full-online publication, research-CDs and -DVDS, annotated scores,...) and even to the outside of the traditional dissemination framework, like workshops.

So that was just a few years ago. Now, in a way, we're already there. Not that we have many specialized online journals for artistic research, but we now have such conferences. That's a big step. Since 2017, the University of Aveiro, through its communication platform IMPAR - Initiatives, Meetings and Publications on Artistic Research - has been announcing its Research hands on events. The first one was for flute in April of last year. There was one for guitar later in 2017 (no call for proposals, though) and, just now, one for piano. During 2018 there will be new ones for flute and guitar again. The aim of these events is to "bring artistic production and academic research closer together, creating opportunities to combine the artists' and the researchers' knowledge". To be fair, this is what the Orpheus Institute had in mind for its "Research Festivals", presented from 2009 to 2015: to merge the academic conference with the artistic festival in order to avoid the typical conference-with-some-music-as-well while making the point that a concentrated presentation of AR projects should be more than a display of artistic output. The research festival concept has been welcomed by other institutions, notably the conservatoires of Rotterdam and Tilburg. (Apparently, other disciplines have them too - e.g. here - and already from before 2009, but these "festivals" are thought of more generically as a celebration.) Typically, the research festivals' content is organized to include compositional and pan-instrumental expertise. Many of these events use a topic to apply cohesion, but that is not the same as having instrumental (or compositional) expertise be the common denominator.

Aveiro conference on artistic research

The four-day conference in Aveiro that I witnessed (Jan. 24-27, 2018) catered exclusively to pianists. The colleagues hailed from Spain, Croatia, Greece, the UK, Belgium, China, Canada, and Mexico, as well as from the more predictable linguistic background (Portugal and Brazil). The students at the masters and doctoral levels, and the concert pianists and teachers who were newer to the research scene, compensated amply for the presence of the more established scholarly types. The merchandise table in the hallway offered not just scholarly books, but new editions of scores as well, signalling how the target audience was not the academic per se. This became immediately palpable in the parallel sessions. Noticeable categories in the presentation contents included geographic overviews of repertoire from three different continents, gender-related topics (women composers; more than half of the presenters were women), the entire range of 18th to 21st century music, from solo to concerto, from Ligeti to graphic scores, etc., i.e. categories that could have been taken to satisfy the desktop scholar for all that the titles in the program indicated. Although perspectives often did include the historical and analytical, by far most of the presentations were purely practitioner-oriented however: from the technical (virtuosity, memorizing, pedagogy, practicing, bodily relaxing) to the fringe of the professional activities (medicine, marketing & management). Even the seemingly archaeological or the instrumental innovation catered insights that are useful in developing interpretation.

Mozart Fantasie k397, artistic research, reconstruction Luis PippaI particularly found Luís Pipa's personal experimentation and reconstruction of the final bars of Mozart's Fantasie in d minor K.397(385g) to my liking, in which he made insightful and distinctive use of the Neapolitan sixth to musically argue a connection to Mozart's own preceding materials.

Kate Ryder, artistic research, expanded pianosKate Ryder's session on expanded pianos, including the Magnetic Resonator Piano, offered interesting information on what seems to be a trend in the UK, what with the country's self-perceived history of experimental music and the work of a handful of Ryder's UK colleagues in this regard (e.g. Sarah Nicolls and Geoff Smith's "fluid piano").

Julius Block, artistic research, Inja Stanovic

Inja Stanovic's investigations of Julius Block's cylinder recording technology offered views on how to distinguish the performer's interpretation style from the influence on the sound from the mechanical recording equipment. (Reminding me of Jaso Sasaki.)

And then there was Dr. Hara Trouli, performing arts medicine specialist, whose cause is worthy of a separate post on this blog.

Not all was to be taken as research output. One odd presentation listed the presenter's past projects, which could be seen to lean towards AR because of the personal perspective but lacked an argumentation to consider it as really providing new knowledge in any way. Some of the concerts merely demonstrated little known repertoire. There was also nothing dealing with the pianoforte (though this may have to do with the lack of appropriate instruments on the premises). But what I take away most of this event is precisely the benefit of the balance of those diverse takes and foci, from the musicological to the performance, with everything in between, showcased in research presentations, concerts, workshops, masterclasses, panel discussions, poster presentations, film, etc. It gave the pianist-audience the impression that they could spend less than a week's time and be submersed in just about any type of development that they could wish to be updated on. The richess made me think back of what I once heard a competitor in a Liszt competition state: "Playing and listening to all that Liszt makes you remember why you like the piano so much". If it wasn't exactly interdisciplinary, the conference was nevertheless multi-subdisciplinary, covering a wide range of very different methodologies and perspectives from within the field of piano playing. I 

I look forward to other institutions experimenting with this concept, whilst noting that the next 'Research Hands' on PIANO gathering is scheduled in Aveiro in 2019.