AHRC Online Conference

Classical Music Hyper Production and Practice As Research

Some initial thoughts on... PAR outputs

I was speaking to Dr. Experience Bryon today from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and talked about the idea of practitioners feeling they have to prostitute their art in order to present it as research: that presenting the art should, perhaps, be good enough. She was much more nuanced and expert in her analysis but was suggesting that this is what a lot of practitioners in academia feel: that they have to jump through hoops in order to demonstrate the research element of their practice. It seems to me that this is much like a medical researcher wanting to put a new drug they've discovered onto a table and saying 'there's the research'. The problem for me isn't so much that practice based researchers shouldn't have to produce research outputs that are about the process but that the written word often isn't the best way of communicating the types of knowledge and understanding that are involved. If we are to document the creative process of creation and then to highlight the particular moments, gestures or whatever else can be used to illuminate the key and mind altering moments in that process, we need to think about what kinds of outputs should be produced.

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  • What your suggesting regarding research outputs - written word, is part of a larger question for me. I’m interested in how the creative production dynamics of art practice research is driven by academic institutions; and how traditional academic research methodologies get reinterpreted for arts practice output, who decides the criteria?

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  • It's worth remembering that this imperative to present practice as research originates with government and its attempt to assess our worth to the economy. There's an unpleasant history of governments using funding to nudge universities into supporting their values, and of universities willingly complying. The example of Germany in the 1930s may seem like scaremongering, but with Prevent now in operation, and the obligation to inform on absent students, we're not as far from that as we may feel we are. On the other hand, a real benefit of thinking about performance in order to explain what it's doing is that we're (perhaps unwittingly) encouraged to question the values that underlie current performance orthodoxy. If I have to say how my performance of the Art of Fugue constitutes research, I really have to think quite hard about what I've done with that score that isn't simply reproducing norms. In such a deeply conformist and heavily policed environment as (in this example) western classical music performance, that has to be a good thing. There do seem to be exciting possibilities, then, for using this agenda for much more progressive purposes.

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  • I like Dan's suggestion that the agenda imposed on us is one that can be used for "progressive purposes" - that would seem to be the best reason to "play the game". But I suppose my main concern, beyond encouraging some highly progressive exemplars that challenge prevailing norms (but which may go largely un-noticed outside the academic environment), would be to bring about a deep change in the culture of classical music-making itself - valuing performance in terms of creative investigation. Admittedly that will be a slow process to change such heavily policed cultures but it seems to me, while that we need some provocative ones, we also need many forms that more subtly challenge and gradually shift prevailing orthodoxies and values.

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  • I haven't undertaken PAR with 'old' music, always with new classical repertoire so there's always lots to write about. We find, in the true research-led practice process (according to Sarah Rubidge's definition of the term) issues emerge from the practice which we then write about. So far Dawn Bennett and I have given several lecture-recitals (a great combination and one answer to the issue raised in Simon's first blog about writing not necessarily being the best way) on seeking a collaborative interpretation of a work, the role of the program note for performer and composer, marketing contemporary classical music (probably more research-led practice than practice-led research) and now playing for live performance and for recording. At first I thought practice was enough, and it is for the initiated (those who understand the instrument/repertoire etc), but if something interesting to write about emerges which could be of interest to those beyond the initiated (other disciplines etc), then I find PAR a very meaningful research paradigm. On a different topic, I had the opportunity to write my first (and maybe last) autoethnography paper recently - wow - talk about researching the self! Has anyone else used this approach to writing about their practice?

    from Sydney NSW, Australia
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  • I agree with Stephen that art should speak for itself, but as he mentions, in reality there is a need to translate it into many different languages for different audiences. My theatre colleague calls this being artistically multilingual. Other than the fear of uncovering the serendipitous and therefore making it impossible to recreate (a particular concern for composers), many artists find new insights in the process of expressing the underlying thinking of a work. For me, the biggest challenge is helping artists do this as a constructive and valuable component of their practice. For this, we need to mentor practising artists and encourage aspiring artists to become reflexive practitioners. Has anyone done some of this work/worked with artists to understand their thinking about their artistic practice as research?

    from Perth WA, Australia
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  • I agree the point that government attempt to assess outputs, which need to be alert to. Evaluation measures of university and government reflect power will. But the core of evaluation measures is a control policy yet. Such measures might kill creativity. There was a bad sample. Two thousand years ago, in ancient China, a prime minister formulated a policy to control common people for just farming and warfare. This policy included five measures as the following: (1) appointing bad man governing good man; (2) educating all people in one viewpoint; (3) depriving private capital; (4) insulting and impoverishing people; and (5) warring to occupy other country and kill powerful people of his own country. As a result of this policy, Qin dynasty unified China and savagely ruled 15 years.
    I guess that more communication might work in a democratic country.

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