A communication that reflects a topological research approach
Nyrnes (2006) suggests talking about art research in spatial or topological terms, where “creativity is a matter of being aware of the topoi in order to choose new paths”. Subsequently, three topoi of artistic research are presented. First, there’s the ‘own language’ topos, where the storytelling and the use of metaphors make language precise in a sensuous way. In this topos, artistic research concerns consciousness about how we develop our personal language (in the artistic practice itself, and in the talking/writing about it). Second comes the topos in which ‘theory’ is accepted as a systematic, general language, where other people’s practices become the context to relate to. Third is the topos of the ‘artistic material’ itself, which probably forms the energy centre of the artistic research: the material itself is in command, has its own laws, makes us think, makes us do things.
The order in which these topoi are presented is of no importance. For essential to a topological approach is the lack of a fixed starting point, and the free moving around between the topoi. There is also no fixed progression from one topos to another. The moving around between the three topoi actually forms the method, and here Nyrnes warns about two possible pitfalls, when there is not enough balance between the different topoi visited: the writing can become too general (“lukewarm”), or the discussion of theory is cut short (from the standpoint that “too much theory damages art”), and things become blurred. Thus, in using a topological approach, the research presents itself as the dynamic process it is, in which analytical work is embedded in fantasy and emotion.
Considering this approach within the present subject of the development of a creative and present-day performance practice of late medieval plainchant, the three topoi become easily discernable in the work of the researcher and his communication of it.
The chant group Psallentes was founded in 2000, initially with the intention of developing a plainchant context for fifteenth and sixteenth century polyphony. A thorough study of manuscripts and other sources was set in motion, not (only) as a theoretical study, but (rather) as a practical matter, aimed at addressing the many performance problems that emerge when confronting late medieval plainchant. To put it in topological terms: there is a topos where the ensemble’s own language is developed, where the group’s signature style emerges; there is a topos where this language and style is confronted with other people’s practices, with theories and contexts; and there is a topos in which the artistic material itself models and is modeled.
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