Amanda Bayley and Chartwell Dutiro: Creating new music across cultural boundaries: mbira and string quartet 29:53
- 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
- Amanda Bayley (conférencier)
- Chartwell Dutiro (musicien interprète)
The exchange of ideas and sounds generated from combining Chartwell Dutiro’s mbira music from the Shona tradition of Zimbabwe with a classically trained string quartet results in a creative practice that defines its boundaries through the act of collaboration. This paper identifies the processes involved in devising new music that merges oral and notated traditions and participatory and presentational performance practices. Neither the string quartet repertoire nor the sacred music of mbira stems from an improvisatory tradition but bringing these two distinct cultural strands together invokes an improvisatory style that questions the conventional roles of composer, performer and ‘master musician’ and the definition of authorship.
Combining music from diverse cultures invites practical considerations of many hotly debated topics, often presented as dualisms (including issues of West/East, good/evil, Christianity/Islam, etc. (Nooshin 2003)) or discursive binaries (Brinner 2009). The political notion that difference invokes power is quickly diffused in a creative context where building bridges across cultures requires breaking down boundaries rather than reinforcing them. However, this idea has yet to be fully explored at a practical level. Relatively little scholarship has focused on actual intercultural encounters or documented collaborations of intercultural inquiry.
The paper will include live demonstration. Recorded evidence (video and audio) from participant observation will reveal how the musicians work together to create new music. Observations are made prior to and during the creative process as well as post production. The creative components afforded by the participants that go towards defining a new music are interpreted by the respective etic and emic perspectives of the authors analysing interactions between performers and between composer and performers. The compositional input brings a third cultural dimension to the collaboration with Daniel Linker’s Chilean origins. The composer has two roles in the project: 1. To arrange and transcribe the results of the creative process in a combination of fixed and unfixed notated forms in order to provide a structure to the music and as an aide memoire for performance; 2. To write music specifically for the collaboration in a way that offers new directions and approaches towards musical structure, timbre and notation. Musical parameters such as tuning, technique and tempo are investigated in order to consider how a notation for mbira music might serve future generations.
For all five players and the composer, background and culture are important contributory factors to understanding the independent histories and conventions of the mbira and the string quartet that determine how a fruitful collaboration is subsequently developed. This case study was set up to address the fact that despite Dutiro’s wealth of experience, playing mbira (and saxophone) in many different cultural settings worldwide since the 1980s, his previous collaborations had all been ‘fusions’ rather than founded on creativity inspired by dialogue, historical context, empathy and education. In response to a point made by Martin Stokes – ‘music doesn’t simply “flow” across the gap as some, talking more generally about cultural globalization and transnationalism, like to imply’ (Stokes 2012: 99) – Dutiro identifies that ‘the outcome is not a hybrid with mbira hanging on classical music, or strings on the periphery of mbira music. [...] It’s not a hybrid or a fusion but new music if it’s done in a way that has a historical context’ (Interview 20 August 2014).
Audio and visual evidence from eight days exploring creative practice, composer- performer dialogues, and interviews with the mbira player illustrate that the concept of composition needs to be reconsidered in this context as a product that evolves through a highly creative and collaborative process achieved through trial and error, consultation and negotiation. Theories and methodologies from ethnomusicology, sociocultural studies, network analysis, music analysis and intercultural theatre studies will be employed to interpret observations of dialoguing and musicking. The interactions that take place between musicians across stylistic and cultural boundaries are explained and understood through Benjamin Brinner’s overlapping constellations of analytical concepts: interactive network, interactive system, interactive sound structure, and interactive motivation (1997). His theory of musical interaction is implemented in order to deal with abstractions of sound under the rubric of interactive sound structure and abstractions of human organisation under interactive network.
The methods, the creative process and even elements of the dialogue between Dutiro and the string players have strong parallels with intercultural trends in the making of contemporary theatre. For example, Jen Harvie and Andy Lavender present an ongoing theatrical trend to interrogate the roles of text and director by examining ‘the methods of groups who devise theatre collectively, often led by or working with a director, but always with self-reflexive attention to the dynamics and ethics of power and authorship circulating amongst all participating makers’ (Harvie and Lavender 2010: 2). For the musicians, their starting point was the exchange of ideas about sound, not the notation. Similarly, Harvie and Lavender ‘understand devising to be a method of performance development that starts from an idea or concept rather than a play text; [it] is from the start significantly open-minded about what its end-product will be; and uses improvisation [...] as a key part of its process’ (Harvie and Lavender 2010: 2).
Prior to this, over twenty years ago Patrice Pavis (1992) proposed a new way of understanding intercultural theatre practice using an hourglass model which will be evaluated to determine its suitability as a methodology for music performance analysis.
By examining the dialogues and the sounds that have developed through the interactional processes of creative collaboration, an ethnographic approach helps to understand the nature of interculturality in music. A performative vocabulary can begin to be constructed from the discourse and playing that arises directly from the musicians’ interactions. By bringing the conditions of making and hearing, history and culture, to the forefront of research, in preference to the dominant musicological interest in works as self- contained entities (Taylor 2007), the unfolding of events at a practical level deals in turn with cultural difference, social practice and improvisation. Languages of speech, gesture and music are shaped by the practices of communities. A new ‘community’ of musicians provides an opportunity to identify how creative practice can create a new musical language.