One of the key strands of my MFA research project, At the Borders of Music, Art and Text: Exploring an Interdisciplinary Approach to Composition, was the value of making use of ‘amateur’ skills in ‘professional’ work – those things we do but which aren’t our core area of training, or in which we’ve possibly never been trained at all. For me this focused principally on visual art, performing and video.
In the final six weeks of the degree I decided to take a big leap and combine a number of amateur activities to create a piece, Manifesto, which explores my current compositional interests, mostly centred on dualities such as control/chaos, subtle/aggressive, public/private, serious/humorous, audio/visual.
Facing fear and taking risks was a major part of the entire research project so I added in an additional factor: to see how far I could get (from a point of zero knowledge) in learning Max/MSP – a tool with a famously steep learning curve – as part of the process of creating this work, and to see how far I could get and whether such low-level skills could still create viable artistic work.
In the end, the demands of a 10,000-word thesis had to take priority, but not before I had completed three sections of Manifesto.
To help myself focus on the work to be done, I set clear parameters for the piece:
- Each piece would start with a recording made by me, principally focusing on improvised vocal sounds or body percussion.
- I would use Max/MSP to create a patch that would enable me to improvise using the source recording as a base
- Each patch would focus only on one area of adjustment, e.g. pitch or time or timbral adjustments
- Because I was learning Max/MSP from scratch and didn’t want to get too distracted by the complexities of the programme, the patches would make heavy use of whatever existing structures I could find in the help files and examples rather than attempting too much in the way of trying to build my own structures.
- I set time limits on each piece – no more than a few hours to build a patch (generally, a long evening’s worth of time, say about 5 or 6 hours), and no more than 10 recorded improvisations to be made using the patch once it was completed, with the ‘final’ version to be selected from among the ten.
The three pieces I have already completed are:
My project for this year’s Creative Pact is to complete Manifesto. I plan to stick to the existing parameters and hope to complete another 3 or 4 sections, two of which will probably be video based, over the course of the month. I may look at some way to draw all the elements together at the end, but I haven’t really decided on that yet.
To this end, my blog posts over the coming month will likely cover:
- learning Max/MSP and Jitter
- challenges encountered in developing and recording my improvisations
- development of video content
- self-reflection, both in terms of the process and the elements I am exploring
- research in the form of exploratory listening, viewing and reading
Finalised recordings will be posted to my Soundcloud account or YouTube (as appropriate) & embedded in the relevant post here. I’m not sure whether I’ll put drafts online yet – let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you’re interested in hearing them!