Wednesday, November 30, 2022


The 32nd ANPPOM congress in Brazil, last month, was informative, to say the least. Held in the north-eastern coastal city of Natal, with the southern hemisphere's spring well underway, the biotope was more conducive to exploration than the European Autumn I came from. Airconditioning was necessary, of course, even in concert halls during performances, but this proved to be much like listening to a clavichord recital: like the ears easily adjust to the lower dynamic levels of the old keyboard instrument, they quickly learn to filter out the noise of the air conditioners when listening to a colourfully soft piece played on a Steinway. More surprising were the efforts of the organizers towards inclusivity: not only was there space for children from 4 to 6 years old, the presenters were asked to introduce themselves to the visually impaired by describing some characteristics of their countenance, and the whole conference was simultaneously translated in English (for the foreign guests), Portuguese (when the foreign guests presented), and sign language. Curious to know how large the hearing-impaired conference participation had been expected to be, I was told there probably weren't any, but that putting in this type of effort results in the crucially important perception of an inclusive environment. (I later saw that the video recordings of the presentations were being posted on YouTube, where the sign language will no doubt have a more direct effect.)

National Association for Research and Graduate Studies in Music

Impressive as they were, these peripheric practicalities didn't deter from discovering some eye-opening facts about artistic research in Brazil. The conference topic's title - Multiple dimensions of musical praxis in the production of knowledge - was certainly broad enough to allow for the announced intention "to foster a broad debate", but of notable interest, at least to me, was how this production of knowledge was detailed as "scientific-musical knowledge in Brazil". Even if the conference's promotional texts didn't include the words 'artistic research', they were clearly intended to be part of whatever can be understood by the relations between scientific and musical practices. As broad as the conference's content had been intended, as diverse it turned out to be. Large ethno- and historiographic perspectives were deployed to discuss knowledge production as well as interculturality, social impact, and training, but there was quite a bit of live performance as well, with even sizable groups of musicians spontaneously participating in enthusiastically welcomed sessions of choro and samba in the university's hallway.

The congress was held at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, one of the ten largest universities in Brazil. It's Arts Department (including performance, dance, design, and theatre) spreads over 4,000m², which it considers as potential "to bring the community closer to the academic environment". Indeed, musicologists and musicians work under the same roof, even when there is no conference to unite them. This is quite distinct from the situation on the European continent, where academics and musicians are seen and treated as separate, not only in their identity, but in their work locations as well as through the legal and financial structures. (See here for some insights into how far this can be taken.) In their self-presentation, the UFRN arts department further singles out knowledge production and the link between art and research. However, in the curriculum there is nothing on artistic research, specifically. But there are courses on research in the visual arts and in art teaching, as well as modules in academic and creative writing. Also noteworthy is the absence of musical composition. 

Last August, Bibiana Bragagnolo and Leonardo Pellegrim Sanchez mapped artistic research in Brazil (see here) based on keyword searches in 45 journal articles in four journals. Though the sample size is small, some interesting insights can be gleaned from it. It is argued that the beginnings of artistic research in Brazil are situated around 2012, in the Southern region, with expansion into the South- and North-east in 2017/18. Since then, the increase in production seems to follow that which is perceived abroad. The foreign influence is especially visible in the cited literature, with the Mexican Ruben López-Cano (18 references), the Flemish Kathleen Coessens (16), the Dutch Henk Borgdorff (10), and Catarina Domenici (10) as the only Brazilian author frequently cited. Borgdorff's 2012 book The Conflict of the Faculties was cited the most because of (and since) a part of it was translated into Portuguese in 2017. The popularity of Ruben López-Cano's output is analysed as due to its Spanish language (with one article in Portuguese), as well as thanks to the more didactic nature, illustrating AR and its methodology rather than emphasizing a theoretical focus as in Coessens and Borgdorff. 

It is further shown that artistic research is still inscribed more in the context of graduate rather than undergraduate studies, and located within the academic production of interpretive performance practices. 

Bragagnolo and Sanchez conclude with the remark on the coexistence of different conceptions and perspectives on AR, with two main methodological categories: the theoretical and the autoethnographic. The latter encompasses "quite different texts", and it has been stated that, in many cases, autoethnography has become a "mere transcription of work diaries that do not construct questions or defined artistic research problems".

In 2020, López-Cano considered Latin-American artistic research in music to be in the early stages of construction, lamenting the lack of associations dedicated exclusively to artistic research, specialized journals, etc. Nevertheless, some movement towards consolidation is to be highlighted, with, already a year later, the creation of the Brazilian Observatory and Artistic Research Laboratory (at the Federal University of Mato Grosso) with an e-book on artistic research in the works, and the first Autoethnografia Brasil conference. In 2022, the Claves journal plans a thematic issue.

It is interesting to learn how artistic research started in Brazil. In 1987, concern about music education and research led to a national symposium (SINAPEM - see here), which in turn led to the creation of ANPPOM and of the first music journal in Brazil. In the first years of ANPPOM, most of the research at their conferences was from the part of music education and musicology. Both of these fields are still the most prominent of music research in the country - performance is the smallest. But in 2011 the latter expanded, and a year later, as a consequence, the Brazilian Association of Music Performance was created. It's first conference, in 2013, had Artistic Research as the main theme.

Considering this link between research and education, there's the question of artistic research training. As the arts curricula are part of the university biotope, verbalized reflection is naturally embedded: there is no masters degree to be gotten without writing. And PhDs are possible, e.g. "in music/performance". Composition's place in all of this remains remarkable, though. For composers of a previous generation, this has sometimes been a matter of mixing fields, for instance as part of a PhD in communications (semiotics). This is not the case anymore, but traces can be seen, e.g. at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, with the research strands "Language and Musical Structuring" and "Creative Processes in Music", both which programs cater to composers envisaging a PhD. The last paragraph of the latter indicates how the meaning of 'composition' has developed away from the old 'writing music onto paper' type that has been distinguished for so long from the practice of the performers. At the same time, the former strand still demonstrates remnants of the older approach. Here is an example of how post-graduate research projects are distinguished along the lines of education, musicology, composition, and performance, at the Music School of another university in Rio de Janeiro.

Map of Brazil superimposed over Europe

All in all, the most striking to me remains the fact that artistic researchers in Brazil can work under the umbrella of music research as much as musicologists. In Europa, perhaps literally due to its high population density, researchers in music tend to see each other as competitors for space, arguing divisively over money as well as identity. Obviously, a very large country has issues of its own, if also to unite and find financial support. But, at least in some of the aspects touched upon above - and I would add: in more matters of umbrella functionality than merely in artistic research - it would be nice if Europe could be a bit more Brazilian.


I am grateful to Bibiana Bragagnolo, Magno Caliman, Joana Cunha de Holanda, Paulo Dantas and Luis Silva Queiroz for their help in finding sources and pointing out nuances.

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