Mark Wraith: The Body in the Composition and Performance of Art Music 21:01
- Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
- Oct. 9, 2015
- Program note: TCPM 2015
- Mark Wraith (conférencier)
Serious art music may seem to have lost its relational aspect and to be veering off into modernist oblivion lost in the noise of exponential technological development. Whether or not this is fanciful, there’s no doubt there are challenges — the challenges of engaging audiences with art music, of devising creative process aimed at presentation, and of dealing with the gulf between art music and other musics that seem to only benefit from ever-spreading and changing technologies.
One composer who has relentlessly claimed to ignore these, has, paradoxically, been solving them throughout a long career that is now establishing him as one of the most important living musical minds. Harrison Birtwistle claims he is unable to care for the audience, yet paradoxically, his audiences are often strikingly engaged, despite the hard edges of the sound. What is happening; and how does it work?
For relational music in the sociological sense, there are many examples: the call and response of our black musics, our concertante forms, religious musics of all denominations. But Birtwistle is more interested in the ‘relational’ inside the musical process. The relationships Birtwistle preoccupies with are not social, but those of the senses — the negotiations that occur between sight, hearing, and most significantly, touch in musical performance. The body, long split off from art music, has been quietly (actually not so quietly) integrating back via Birtwistle’s musical thinking.
Harrison Birtwistle’s Pulse Field (1977), was an innovative collaboration that reformulated the traditional relationship of music and dance movement. Birtwistle took paper and pencil into the studio and composed, as he put it ‘on the floor of the theatre’. The piece has been referred to by several of the Birtwistle scholars, yet has remained little understood. I believe Pulse Field to be an important creation, not only from a theoretical, and aesthetic point of view, but above all, as a model of creative process aimed unlocking the power contained in pure musical attention of performers (and listeners). In its present form, the score can only be fully understood by taking into account the creative process which took place during the collaboration period. The secret of this process has been locked in the Rambert Archive until this year as the newly established facility opened at London’s Southbank. The Rambert Archive makes available materials extending back to Marie Rambert's relationship with Stravinsky/Diaghilev, and incorporates the continuing tradition of composer/choreographer collaboration into the present century.
Birtwistle's notion of ritual applied to the performance of abstract music is now highly developed. Pulse Field, by no means the first instance of this development, none the less represents an early experiment that clearly demonstrates how fundamental musical elements and theatrical intuition can work together. I have described and explained this in my study, incorporating ideas from Nicholas Cook's Analysing Musical Multimedia (1998).
Since Birtwistle was focussed on attempting a reformulation of the traditional relations between dance and music in western classical dance, I proposed a theory of interaction that links the notion of tactus with the fundamental essence of balletic movement drawn from its major theorists: Noverre, Blasis, and, in the twentieth century, Lopukhov. I found that there was a significant relationship between the two media through movement in the vertical plane. I have described the aural and visual context of Pulse Field and applied the proposed theory as a way of understanding the composer’s approach to composition and performance. The research established that the theory of interaction at the level of tactus not only provides a key to understanding the ‘common practice’ of traditional ballet, but makes clear Birtwistle’s radical reformulation of this practice.
What is particularly interesting about Birtwistle, is the inherent theatricality in his musical thinking. Pulse Field’s abstract musical and physical elements, illustrate musical innovation that need not rely on text for drawing attention. Investigating the collaboration, revealed a model that allows for the widest possible range of media relationships without completely losing all connection beyond the incidental, as with the Cage/Cunningham approach. The array creative processes included the relationship of entrainment, of independent elaboration of the media, of the incorporation of theatrical effects, of improvisation — the possibilities are wide open. The key question of musical attention involves the senses including that of touch so that the focussed, physical self, is written into the music.
The theoretical approach involving the work's functioning as spectacle, has repercussions for the presentation and reception of art music. The way in which Birtwistle engaged his performers with the notes and with each other, produced a powerful engagement with the listener/viewer.