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Negotiating the Musical Work

A version of Repetition Repeats all other Repetitions for Viking Eggeling's film "Symphonie Diagonale"

In January of this year myself and Stefan Östersjö made a version of Repetition Repeats all other Repetitions for the classic dadaist film Symphonie Diagonale by Swedish artist Viking Eggeling. From a music point of view it's a very odd project and an example of a (not widely used) collage-like artistic work method. It's basically the one thing (an existing piece of music) put on top of the other (an art video from the 20's) with minor adjustments to the music. What is it that makes this interesting?

Before I can get in to the question of the relevance of the project and the method we used, I should explain what my piece Repetition Repeats all other Repetitions is about. The piece is the result of a fairly ambitious collaborative research project that me and Stefan started in December 2005. The idea was to investigate the negotiative aspects of composition and interpretation. Stefan has a long experience of working closely with composers and I, as an improvisor and composer has thought a great deal about the boundaries of the different processes leading up to a performance, including the performance itself. We started by analyzing sections of video documentation by a collaboration between Stefan and Swedish composer Love Mangs as well as sections of an evolving composition by me for harp and computer. The studies resulted in a set of statements, or guidelines, that we found to be pertinent to the interaction between the participants in the works analyzed. Very briefly these can be summarized as:

  • Noise in communication may not be a problem.
  • Direction may be more important than synchronicity.
  • The initiative may shift independently of the esthesic and poietic processes.

Furthermore, we concluded that the activities traditionally assigned to the roles of the composer and the interpreter (composer -> constructive, poietic; interpreter -> reproductive, esthesic) may actually be much more complex oscillations between poietic, neutral and esthesic modes of (inter)action.

For more information on these studies please see "Negotiating the Musical Work. An empirical study." in Proceedings of the ICMC 2007.

The attempt to transfer the knowledge gained and the data harvested in the studies mentioned above resulted in a couple of guide lines (if the term wasn't so worn out I would say 'concepts') to be used in Stefans piece that was now starting to take shape. The one thing that was already decided was that this should be a piece for (some kind of) guitar and computer. Derived from the three statements above we came up with the following ideas to cling on to:

  • The communication between the performer and the electronics should not break if noise is introduced.
  • The form should not be fixed. The notion of a 'space' in which Stefan could 'navigate' was introduced.
  • The electronics should be able to take courses of action that could affect Stefans interpretation(s).

As we can see we had the intention to model the performer/composer interaction in the computer/performer system. Although this has not been fully accomplished yet, the most important aspect in this context is the second one above; the open form. The consequences of the complex modes of interaction between the constructive, reproductive and analytical stages of production of musical content was built into the piece. To not 're-navigate' the 'space' of Repetition... would be a falsification of the piece. Although I have been interested in the idea of the non-static form or different means of producing difference in the organisation of musical content, in this case the open form concept was not based on stylistic preferences but on empirical data.

This, the open form, however does still not explain why (or if) it was (or is) a good idea to make a version of Repetition... for Symphonie Diagonale.

The idea to make this version was introduced by Stefan only weeks after the first performance of the first version of Repetition... in October 2006. Initially I was very hesitant but Stefan had "a feeling" the two pieces would work well together. This is where it starts to get interesting because this "feeling" of Stefan's says something about artistic intuition. He had started thinking about different ways to re-structure the material in Repetition... and, I assume, ways to force himself away from the way he had performed the piece already at three occasions.

The first thing we did was a rudimentary analysis of the film. We found it to consist of a variation of three different graphic forms - accidentally this is how Repetition... is strucutred as well. Now, it should be said that this is an analysis that is likely to have been biased towards finding a structure similar to the one in Repetition.... Other scholars have found different organisational schemas in the Symphonie Diagonale.

First of all it is a little more than a simple juxtaposition. It is a combination based on an intuition that proved to be very effective.

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