MP 2014: Session 1a: Empirical Study – Vanessa Hawes and James Williams

Vanessa Hawes (Canterbury Christ Church University) began the first day of the conference with a paper of her empirical study, ‘Understanding structure as process’. Hawes explained the bifurcation of the title: ‘the development of an understanding of structure in music as a process’ and ‘understanding structure in music as a process’ and how her research involves examining learning processes and gradual familiarisation with a piece. Ecological perception (examining environmental aspects that guide or influence an organism’s activity) underpins Hawes’s research in performance, and she suggested a number of possible structural and performative affordances within a score that the singer she has been working with seems to be using to guide her continually developing perception of structure in a song by Schoenberg. When the singer went from studying the score to actually singing it, two possible important affordances that were highlighted were:

  • The difficulty of certain passages in the work
  • The changes in pitch through the song and the physicality of producing different pitch ranges

Hawes also explained her choice of repertoire was due to tonally constructed music providing too many ‘flags’ in terms of the structure, in terms of tonal resting points and conventional, or balanced, phrasing and harmonic rhythm – the atonality of Schoenberg’s work eradicated these influential elements, meaning that the structure remains ambiguous and, perhaps, subjective. This ambiguity invites the performer, listener or analyst to interpret structure in their own way.

The idea of familiarity with the score was a theme in Vanessa’s paper, and leads to the identification of a process formed through collaboration with the score and text. The overall aim of the research is to develop a picture that illustrates a listener (or performer/analyst) gradually learning to interact with the score, and that it is through this that the processes within the music put there by the composer might be identified, providing a different, performer-led, perspective on the analysis of structure.

The paper ultimately leads to Hawes’s larger ongoing interdisciplinary ‘Hanging Garden’ project, based on external and analytical perspectives on excerpts of Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten.

James Williams (Wolverhampton University) concluded the session with his paper, ‘The role of “musical conversation” in co-composer collaboration’, in which he videoed and analysed rehearsal time between composer Jeremy Peyton Jones and electronic sound artist Kaffe Matthews. He explained that collaboration, in this instance, meant the link between the instrumentation and, by extension, the two composers and their writings. Collaboration was a popular and well discussed theme at this year’s conference, with many other papers examining the notion from different perspectives.

Williams explored the idea that conversation, planning and verbal preparation could be more fruitful that practice-based studying, and that this ‘musical conversation’ (discussing how to tackle elements of the performance and rehearsals) shapes the development of the piece and the relationship between the protagonists. Williams introduced some points of interest from the rehearsal and conversation time he videoed relating to how ideas were exchanged or discussed. He explained the ‘collaborative spirit’ between the composers: they would not create rules or dictate methods, but invite one another to explore an idea upon suggestion or connotation, meaning the work was entirely balanced and there was no leading party. Williams also acknowledges the empirical limitations found in his study, such as how performers and composers working with different genres and specialisms will have different methods of rehearsing.

This paper is part of Williams’ main research and PhD thesis on the interaction between pre-composed acoustics and partially improvised-electronics between Jeremy Peyton Jones and Kaffe Matthews.

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