Practice-Led Research into an ‘Avant Garde’ Style

I’ve made a YouTube video that tries to elaborate on my own approach to composing music. This entails what I think about what we call “Avant garde” music or “contemporary classical music” today. By all means, check out the video on my YouTube channel. In this video, I outline some practice-led research (from my own PhD in Composition) that led me to conclude that the ‘Avant Garde’ music scene is just one massive adherence to a bunch of unspoken established rules and, essentially, a ‘style’. It’s a style so much so that it can be quoted and even the subject of pastiche. This video (and this blog post) should also go some way to showing how composition IS and CAN BE research (am looking at you, Croft).

I’m going to talk about a particular collection of pieces I started writing during my PhD. This collection of pieces is called ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED. You can listen to these pieces online. So far there are four pieces in this collection. It’s important to note that I wrote all these pieces for a student ensemble.  This had an influence on how I wrote the pieces because I had to keep in mind the students’ capabilities at all times.

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New Publication!

I’m pleased to announce that another written publication is due to be released in July, 2019 in Exploring Xenakis: Performance, Practice, Philosophyed. by Alfia Nakipbekova (Wilmington, DE: Vernon Press, 2019).

The book includes chapters by other authors as follows: Alfia Nakipbekova (University of Leeds, UK), Dimitris Exarchos (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK) , Reinhold Friedl (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK) , Benoît Gibson (University of Évora, Portugal), Makis Solomos (Université Paris 8, France)

My chapter was co-written with critical theorist Michael D. Atkinson and it is titled ‘“Xenakis, not Gounod”: Xenakis, the Avant Garde, and May ’68’. This chapter is based on a talk we gave at the Xenakis Symposium.

Below is a summary of the whole multi-authored book, edited by Alfia Nakipbekova. The following quote can also be found here.

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‘Exploring Xenakis: Performance, Practice, Philosophy’

Tomorrow I will be giving a talk at the ‘Exploring Xenakis: Performance, Practice, Philosophy’ Symposium with colleague and critical theorist Michael D. Atkinson. Our talk discusses Xenakis, the Avant Garde, May ’68 and the legendary quote ‘Xenakis, not Gounod’ which was scrawled in graffiti during the protests in France.

Below is an abstract of our talk:

May ’68 saw a time of political tension in France: the Situationist International signified a growing desire to move away from capitalism and the world of boredom and alienation it entails, and, likewise, young radicals wanted to free music from the shackles of reification that contradicted the notion of ‘avant garde’. People protested via music, vandalism, public broadcasts, sexuality, subversive behaviour, and vandalism. Graffiti was rife, with phrases such as ‘Commute, work, commute, sleep…’, ‘In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society’, and ‘Art is dead, don’t consume its corpse.’ Upon the walls of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris were graffitied the words ‘Xenakis, not Gounod’.

This focus on an avant-garde practice that exemplifies experimentation, chance, subversion, and the like was part of an effort to sublate art with everyday life, that is, to enact a revolution of everyday life. In this talk, we will explore the intertwining of such revolutionary desires with the avant-garde tendencies of the day, and, further, how the ageing, commodification, and subsequent reification of the Avant Garde is antithetical to the desires and ideology behind itself. We will focus in particular on how Xenakis and those like him became central to the revolutionary consciousness of the day, and what it is about Xenakis’ practice that paradoxically disavows such possibilities.

‘avant garde’ and ‘Avant Garde’: A Practice-Led Investigation

I will be giving a talk at the University of Leeds in December. More information will be available here at some point. My talk is based on my PhD thesis, and is titled ‘”avant garde” and “Avant Garde”: A Practice-Led Investigation’. Below is an abstract for the talk:

‘avant garde’ and ‘Avant Garde’: one term denotes artistic progression, the other describes a fixed concept. Both fuel artistic practice. The terms are easily and often confused and this goes someway to blurring the boundaries between being progressive and adhering to a style. This talk examines and compares these two definitions by way of an introspective examination of the compositional process. Investigations involve a series of forced attempts at being avant garde (progressive); however, as will become clear throughout this talk, forced attempts at being progressive are destined to fail due to the inescapable phenomenon of Meno’s paradox that, instead, explains the existence of the Avant Garde as a fixed concept. Theoretical research suggests that this is symptomatic of the way current society is organised. This talk explores ways in which compositional practice can work with the societal status quo in order to be avant garde in the progressive sense.

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The above image comprises the cover of the 1983 edition of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle by J.R. Eyerman, superimposed onto a photo of Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square taken by Micha Theiner (edited by Michael D. Atkinson and Alannah Marie Halay).

Image credit: Kasimir Malevich, J.R. Eyerman, Micha Theiner, Michael D. Atkinson, Alannah Marie Halay

(Per)Forming Art: Performance as Research in Contemporary Artworks

I have recently completed editing a multi-authored book based on the proceedings of the (Per)Forming Art Symposium which I founded in 2015. I am pleased to announce that the book will be available via the Cambridge Scholars Publishing website from the 1st October, 2016.

This publication is based on the proceedings of the first (Per)Forming Art event, which took place September, 2015. More information regarding this event can be found here.
Further information regarding this publication can be found on the (Per)Forming Art website.

Below is a book description, which is also available on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing website:

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Front cover: Alannah Marie Halay (ed.), (Per)Forming Art: Performance as Research in Contemporary Artworks 

Book Description:

The acts of composing and performing are central processes to the formation of a musical work. Performance is a medium through which music is formed. It is a significant part of a work’s compositional process and, as such, forms a symbiotic relationship with the act of composing. An iterative cycle between performance and composition comes about when the composer performs their own work or composes through performance. Performance in this manner can be seen as a form of practice-based research that can guide the compositional process.

Primarily engaging with music of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, (Per)Forming Art: Performance as Research in Contemporary Artworks focuses on performance as a type of compositional technique and as a mode of practice-based research for the act of composing a work. It addresses how performance and composition are reciprocally entwined and what role this hermeneutic relationship plays in creative practice today. This publication is the work of multiple authors from academic institutions around the world; each approaches the topic “(Per)Forming Art” from their own perspective. As such, the contents of this book will appeal to a variety of academic interests pertaining to various “styles,” traditions and cultures, all of which are unified by the relationship between performance and composition.

I would like to thank the following researchers for contributing to this book: Michael D. Atkinson (Sheffield Hallam University); Gabriele Cavallo (Goldsmiths, University of London); Hans–Peter Gasselseder (University of Aalborg); Jacopo Gianninoto (Assumption University of Thailand); Maria Kallionpää (University of Oxford); Marina Liontou Mochament (Leiden University, Orpheus Institute); Adilia Yip (Royal Conservatoire Antwerp); Cornelia Zambila (Orpheus Institute Ghent)

What does it mean to ‘compose’?

Tomorrow I will present a paper at a postgraduate symposium in Leeds about composition and what it might entail. This talk also forms a small part of the argument in my PhD thesis. A the moment, it poses more questions than it answers. Below is an abstract for this talk:

What is really involved in the act of composing? Does it concern ‘material’ (whatever that is) or structure? Are composers genuinely ‘creating’ when they compose or are they merely rearranging what already exists into a coherent form? In order to explore this area, my investigation begins with the following question: what level of constituent ‘material’ is necessary for a piece to be recognised as the same piece or to be identified as a different piece? My practice-led investigation into this query concerns a series of compositions where each piece is a re-ordered version of the first composition in the series. This collection of pieces poses several research questions: first, can (or will) these pieces be perceived as separate compositions that share the same obvious ‘blocks’ of material (which is essentially what they are) or as essentially the same composition? Second, if perceived as separate, do the ‘movements’ in this collection sound like separate compositions by different composers or like separate compositions by the same composer? Third, if they sound like separate compositions by the same composer, then is it the micro-level which determines whether or not a piece sounds like it is written by a particular composer? Finally, what can this research say about the act of composing?

*Interstice* now available on iTunes

Interstice is out and available to download via iTunes! More information can be found here.

screen568x568Interstice is an artwork and iPhone app that enables users to record, and listen to, an audible representation of their heartbeat. It also allows users to select a musical fragment to accompany their heartbeat. As such, users from all over the world are able to collaborate in the formation of a composition comprising an intricate cacophony of audible heartbeats and musical fragments.

Users can listen to the resultant conglomeration of audible heartbeats and musical fragments by navigating a three-dimensional representation of Earth.

Each user can add up to five audible representations of their heart rate with an accompanying musical fragment. Any one of these five recorded heart rates with accompanying musical fragments can be deleted and replaced with new submissions at any time.

Interstice is created by software developer Samuel Halay and composer Alannah Marie HalayMore information behind Interstice‘s conceptual framework can be found here and here.