Emily Payne: Historically informed? The creative consequences of period instruments in contemporary compositions 28:39
- 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
- Emily Payne (conférencier)
The study of collaboration between performers and composers is a flourishing area of research, but an aspect of creative work that remains unexplored is contemporary compositions that employ period instruments. These projects add another dimension to the collaboration between composer and performer. All musical instruments have their own histories, but period instruments magnify them by bringing the musical past into the present through their particular historical and cultural baggage.
This paper examines the interactions between composer Evan Johnson and clarinettist Carl Rosman in the making of a new work, *indolentiae ars, a medium to be kept* (2015) for nine-key basset clarinet. This is the first contemporary commission composed for such an instrument, and a significant aspect of their collaboration has been to develop a new instrumental rhetoric, and, correspondingly, to find ways of notating it. The commission forms a case study that is part of a wider research project that aims to consider the nature of creativity and the ways in which performers experience opportunities for creativity across different contexts.
The particular instrument employed in this collaboration, a reconstruction of the instrument associated with Mozart’s collaborator Anton Stadler, has its own distinctive qualities: huge flexibility of colour, yet limited ergonomic and mechanical properties and greater intonational instabilities. Period instruments are connected to particular repertoires and practices, and raise aesthetic questions such as the extent to which contemporary composers embrace or reject these historical associations. As Johnson put it, ‘To what degree is this just an exotic quasi-clarinet, and to what degree is it a specifically *eighteenth-century* instrument?’
Through analysis of episodes from the compositional trajectory of the piece, the paper illustrates how the particular historical, cultural, social and ergonomic affordances of the instrument are gradually enmeshed into the ‘here and now’ of the present collaboration. The findings present an alternative interpretation of what it means for composers and performers to work together; an understanding of creative work that is bound up with history as well as co-presence. The paper also demonstrates the ways in which musical skill is grown and developed through shared experience, and sheds light on the symbiotic nature of creative collaboration, since Johnson was reliant upon the technical expertise of the performer in order to create a relationship with an unfamiliar instrument and performance practice. Equally, Rosman was compelled to interrogate his conventional performance practices in order to develop skilled practices and a fluency that is specifically tailored to this specific instrument and the musical work. *Indolentiae ars* could ultimately be characterised as a diachronic encounter between performer, composer and instrument that brings to the surface the interdependence of the latent histories and practices that lie within musical instruments.
Conceptually, this paper takes an ecological perspective (Ingold 2011; Clarke et al 2013), proposing that creativity is a distributed phenomenon, entangled within a complex interweaving of social, material and historical influences. It also draws on Richard Sennett (2008) and Tim Ingold’s (2013) work on craft and material engagement, suggesting that the interaction between a practitioner and a tradition entails a synthesis of action, perception and prior experience. The methodology employed is ethnographic in approach, using as its foundation thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) of a significant body of qualitative data gleaned through semi-structured interviews with composers, performers and instrument makers, and audiovisual footage of a number of workshops (undertaken with the analysis software nVivo). Close analyses of sketch material and score annotations are also presented. This approach draws on the work of Amanda Bayley (2009; 2011) and Eric Clarke et al (2013) who have used similar observational methods to examine the creative processes in the sphere of contemporary concert musics.