[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [6/15] On creativity

In his acclaimed book Out of Our Minds (2001) creativity prophet Ken Robinson describes some essential characteristics of the creative process:

We begin with an initial idea of some sort … The idea takes shape in the process of working on it – through a series of successive approximations [emphasis mine].  … Creativity is often a dialogue between concept and material. The process of artistic creation in particular is not just a question of thinking of an idea and then finding a way to express it. Often it’s only in developing the dance, image or music that the idea emerges at all. (134-135)

In the act of creation, means and ends are intermingled in a very pragmatic way. It is by handling the material that an idea emerges. The idea materializes through and in the, well… material. What I shape, shapes me.

But is what we create more creative, the more ideas it holds? Creativity is about exploring new horizons and using imagination, about breaching boundaries and connecting things that do not seem to belong together. But how effective can an idea turn out to be in the light of the material concreteness? Does an artefact need to be rich in ideas in order to excite us? The short answer is: no.

Piet Mondriaan's "Apple tree in flower", The Hague, Gemeentemuseum

The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague houses the biggest Mondriaan-collection in the world. The work of Piet Mondriaan, to my mind, is a brilliant testimony of two essential aspects of creativity: the dialogue with the material and the focus on one particular idea – taking that idea as far as possible. While De rode boom ‘The red tree’ (1908) is still very recognizable as a tree, a series of successive approximations shows Mondriaan’s evolution towards a radical cubism. While in his De bloeiende appelboom ‘The blossoming apple tree’ (1912) Mondriaan had reached a typical cubist’s abstraction, with figurative elements still present, he was not satisfied with this, and went on to take the abstraction into the extreme – resulting in what he is now most famous for: compositions with rectangles in red, yellow and blue (Warncke 1990). Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [6/15] On creativity”

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [5/15] A communication that reflects a topological research approach

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. Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [5/15] A communication that reflects a topological research approach”

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [4/15] Academia & writing

If the term artistic research is used “to denote that domain of research and development in which the practice of art […] plays a constitutive role in a methodological sense” (Borgdorff 2006: 21), then writing about artistic research should create the opportunity to show how this constitutive role of artistic practice actually takes place in the strategies and outcomes of the project as a whole. It is doubtful whether classical academic writing is suitable for this purpose. If ever there was such a thing as ‘classical academic writing’, it would be represented by characteristics such as clarity, honesty, neutrality and authority. Because of this requirement for neutrality, for instance, the use of the first person in academic texts is rather unusual. Gianni Vattimo expresses this in the first few lines of his book ‘Belief’ (1999: 20): “But what if I were to take the liberty not just to pun but to write in the first person? I am aware that I have never written in this way except in debates, polemics or letters to the editor. Never in essays or texts of a professional character, whether critical or philosophical.”

Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [4/15] Academia & writing”

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [3/15] “Words are important because they are not the most important”

„Words are important because they are not the most important“

In the debate on artistic research, the points of view on the what, why and how tend to be highly divergent. Although this divergence can be considered as a sign of the discipline’s youth as well as its methodological potential – to some it is not even clear yet whether ‘artistic research’ can actually grow into a bona fide discipline at all – the need for a common methodological ground is urgent. This is not the place to explore this ground in depth, but some considerations on the subject may be useful for a better understanding of the way in which to consider musical creativity.

One of the recurring issues in the world of artistic research is the status of the so-called tacit knowledge that artistic practice may hold, and the ensuing question of if and how this tacit knowledge can be revealed. Central to this discussion is the complex relation between on the one hand, the artistic praxis itself (artistic research and development, creative processes, eventual outcomes) and, on the other hand, the language employed to delineate what happens throughout the different stages of the artistic praxis. Confronted with the task of writing on the complex world of a musician’s creativity, it is challenging to try and overcome the restrictions of verbal language. One method of doing so has been described by Aslaug Nyrnes in her (2006) article Lighting from the side. Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [3/15] “Words are important because they are not the most important””

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [2/15] Augustine & Bowie

Towards the end of his life, around the year 427, Augustine of Hippo set out not only to catalogue all his works (in total more than five million words), but also to revise, correct, amend and even reconsider them. In addition, he described some of the circumstances in which he worked, making the Retractationes one of the earliest testimonies of – dare I say – an artistic research, in the sense of a deep and self-aware reflection on one’s own practice: „Let those, therefore, who are going to read this book not imitate me when I err, but rather when I progress toward the better. For, perhaps, one who reads my works in the order in which they were written will find out how I progressed while writing. In order that this be possible, I shall take care, insofar as I can in this work, to acquaint him with this order.“ (Augustine [ca. 427] 1968: 5)

It is this idea of the reiteration, revision and reconsideration of earlier works, thoughts or opinions that I want to explore in these contributions. Augustine’s re-thinking and even re-writing of texts reflect the typical workings of an agile mind. Likewise, every musical performance can be anything between the reiteration and the reconsideration of the composer’s original idea, of the performance itself, of the performer himself or herself. The act of reconsideration is natural and vital to the creative performer, who may constantly have second thoughts, develop new insights, change habits and rephrase opinions. Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [2/15] Augustine & Bowie”

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations – Aspects of a performer’s research into late medieval plainchant [1/15]

In plainchant – that reverend and revered godparent of the Western musical tradition – words from the Bible and other religious writings are endlessly cited and recited. Simply reading a liturgical text out loud to a large audience is a difficult task when done with due respect and without microphone. The best option is to sing the text: singing as an elegant way of shouting. Down through the centuries, and starting in the earliest days of the Christian church, many musicians have made creative and innovative contributions to the development of what is now to be considered as one of the most effective text rendering formats in music history. Precisely this aspect of plainchant is considered in this series of small blog contributions (fifteen in all, issued each thursday at 3pm). Considered and reconsidered not in a historical or liturgical way, but through the artistic and creative potential it holds for the present-day performer of plainchant. Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations – Aspects of a performer’s research into late medieval plainchant [1/15]”

\\ Artistic practice as research tool

In the research approach to the issue of the performance of late medieval chant presented here, basically two paths have been followed. On the one hand, there was a simple desire to gain substantial theoretical and practical knowledge about the historical performance practice of plainsong, and how this practice has or has not found its way into the manuscripts. On the other, the concern was to become more aware of the way in which chant in general, and particularly the chant of the fifteenth century can be approached by today’s voices, in present-day settings, and how it can find its way to the hearts and minds of today’s public. Continue reading “\\ Artistic practice as research tool”

\\ Et la porte de paradis luy est ouverte [ENG]

Funny, in a way, that the March 2000 concert at which the baptism of little boy Charles was recalled, also acted as a kind of baptism of the ensemble Psallentes itself. A maiden concert. What’s more – and how coincidental can you get – this happened in the Saint Bavo cathedral, which at the time of the historical event of March 1500 was simply called the church of Saint John … the Baptist. This concert definitely marked the beginning of a new phase in my career as a musician – and in a nicely symbolic way too, although I only got to realize that quite some time later.

As a teenager I was very much into medieval music. I too had my portion of romantic longing for the idealized Middle Ages. I devoured youth novels set in medieval times, and there definitely was an obsession for medieval manuscripts. I distinctly remember visiting the exhibition on Flemish miniatures at the Gruuthuuse-museum in Bruges not once, but many many times – it was in 1981, I was fifteen. And whenever I had some money I went to the record shop to buy an LP with medieval music. It did not really matter what it was, as long as it had something to do with the Middle Ages. Although I played the piano from my early childhood, and eventually turned out to become a professional pianist and piano teacher, my love for and interest in medieval music and manuscripts had/has never left me. In order to keep in touch with the medieval music scene, I started to sing – rather late. Being a pianist occupied with nineteenth-century music and the like, singing (mainly of plainsong) was the best thing I could do to keep my chances open of one day entering the magical world of the Early Music. With the founding of Psallentes and the connections we made with other ensembles, I was finally able to move further into that universe of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, the Codex Calixtinus. “Et la porte de paradis luy est ouverte.”

Hendrik Vanden Abeele

Fragment from the Ordinaire des Chrétiens, with (on the third last line, beginning third last word) the sentence 'Et la porte de paradis luy est ouverte'

Tota pulchra es [NL]

Tota pulchra es - Psallentes, Arnaud Van de Cauter - Composition Jean-Pierre Deleuze - Manuscrit Cambrai

De titel, Tota pulchra es, amica mea, verwijst naar de eerste antifoon van de Eerste Vespers voor het feest van Maria Tenhemelopneming, volgens het Antiphonarium ad usum Cameracensis eccelsiae (1235-1245) van de ‘bibliothèque municipale’ van Cambrai. Het eerste deel van het concert evoceert dit officie, waarbij verschillende fragmenten uitgewerkt zijn tot tijdeigen organum en discant, zoals het zich destijds, vaak geïmproviseerd, tot eenvoudige polyfonie liet ombouwen.

Centraal in het avondvullend werk staat een Magnificat voor zes mannenstemmen, orgel, cornet en electronica. Dit Magnificat, in een buitengewone muzikale zetting, grijpt polyfoon terug naar, en contrasteert met het oorspronkelijk gregoriaanse materiaal, de samenklanken van het mesotonische gestemde orgel en de cornetto (zink). Daarenboven spelen ook de door het “Centre Henri Pousseur” gesamplede klokkenklanken van de Kapellekerk Brussel een belangrijke rol.

Het laatste deel van het concert, als synthese èn als besluit, opent met de antifoon Nigra sum, sed formosa, afkomstig uit het Hooglied (1,5) – net zoals overigens Tota pulchra es, amica mea. Deze twee fragmenten uit het Hooglied vormen doorheen dit laatste deel een rode draad: tien recitanten spreken de tekst uit, eerst in het originele Hebreeuws, dan ook in het Grieks en Armeens. Om zich vervolgens via vele talen, zoals ze door allerlei gemeenschappen (in Brussel of andere meertalige samenlevingen) gesproken worden, te vermengen met de stemmen van Psallentes, de instrumenten en de spectrale klanken van de klokken, hiermee teruggrijpend naar het begin van het concert.

Bezetting: zes zangers (Psallentes), orgel (Arnaud Van de Cauter), cornetto (Eva Godard) en electronica (Centre Henri Pousseur – Liège)

Duur: ongeveer 75 minuten zonder pauze

Programma: Avondvullende compositie van Jean-Pierre Deleuze.

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