Description of “Capto Musicae – Creating sonic and musical theatre in a contemporary artistic context”

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Capto Musicae explores new possibilities for cross-disciplinary music theatre, via the compositional tool of extended vocal practice. The goal of the research project is to create musical, sonic and visual works for theatre, developing methods in which texts, sounds, scenic and kinetic elements can come together as equivalent elements.

 

The research is historically grounded, first in baroque musical aesthetics, secondly in twentieth century avant-garde and experimental approaches to the voice in performance, and thirdly in explorations of voice within heavy rock, post punk and noise/industrial influenced music. This is an arena in which the development of my own aesthetic has taken place, and in which I intend to work as a researcher. The experimental tradition, including the work of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Meredith Monk, Christian Wolff, Heiner Goebbels, Peter Maxwell Davies, Luciano Berio and others, in expanding the possibilities of sound in performance art, and in extending the range of vocal ideas and techniques is crucial background for my research. My research asks how can we work from this now established experimental tradition to create cross-disciplinary performance for a new century.

 

As a classically trained counter-tenor I connect my artistic work to the castrato period (approximately from year 1550 to 1800), which had its peak in the first half of the 18th century. As a counter-tenor with a timbre and pitch range from soprano to bass-baritone I am interested in extended voice technique as a powerful vocal instrument, as well as in the exploration of masculinity/femininity and androgyny in vocal expression.In my artistic work as creator and performer I challenge expectations and conventions related to gender and voice timbre, both in terms of tonal range and in aesthetics.

The counter-tenor voice, with its complex associations, has recently become of greater interest to contemporary composers, and is an area of rich potential research in voice based music theatre, which I want to explore.This includes approaches to composition which also explore the relationship of visual and scenographic elements, challenging the conventional place of music in theatre as an accompaniment to action. My research is situated, therefore, within a theatre context. My scenic works of art will be created through the eyes of a singer/performer/composer, where I let the voice, the space, the light, and the kinetic elements play their equivalent parts in a musical whole, as the parts in polyphone or homophone musical work. The research is performer-centered, using myself as a singing/performing subject, and engaging with other artists through participation in collaborative practice. I will place my practical skills, experience and methods (developed through my own practice as a performer and composer) in the context of the contemporary performing art scene. Through studies and collaboration with significant artists and their methods and skills will I develop further my own creative voice and my compositional and conceptual sense, and develop practice skills and methodology in a research context. I will develop music in the theatre, from inside and out, in close relation to the general scenic idea. I have a trans-disciplinary approach to my work, in the sense that I let the music emerge through the various disciplines, let it mold in relation to what occurs in the meeting between the spatial, visual, textual, and kinetic elements.

 

Historical background to the research

In the modern art history of music and theatre there were no major developments in how voices were used in the first half of the 20th centry. Greater requirements for the strength of the voices within music grew along with the accompanying orchestra size. Within the theatre, use of the voice was stuck in an exaggerated pronunciation and projection, a style that sprung from the need to be heard at major venues. When microphones began to be used in music and theater, a slight change was generated in the prevailing aesthetics, but it was not until the 1950’s, through the groundbreaking work of vocal coach Alfred Wolfsohn we saw a revolutionary new direction in the methods for use of the voice.

 

In the 1950s, Alfred Wolfsohn’s ideas and methods were groundbreaking in developing what we refer to as «the extended voice technique». He was of the opinion that all current voice training was bound by socially constructed boundaries for how the voice could be used. The sonic possibilities of the human voice were, according to Wolfsohn, constricted by society, and limited emotional access shaped through upbringing. Wolfsohn developed methods of voice training that did not distinguish between training for singers, and training for actors. His work went against the prevailing “beauty” ideals, which had two directions in voice: Singing Voice and Shakespearian Voice. He also broke down the vocal limitations that are associated with gender, voice range and sonic expression.

 

Within the postmodern theatre, Alfred Wolfsohn’s most influential student, the South African theatre artist Roy Hart, is a central representative of a wider use of the voice in the theatre. Hart was a London-based actor who recognized that, despite his great success as an actor, he was not emotionally anchored. The characters he played only represented a small part of his self. While a student of Wolfsohn, Roy Hart finished his work as an actor, and went into an extensive research work. With the extraordinary sonic possibilities of his voice he developed new musical expressions together with several composers. His most famous is probably “8 Songs for a Mad King” composed by Peter Maxwell Davies and «Spiral» by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Roy Hart’s continuation of Wolfsohnian methods of voice training became over time put into a cohesive theatrical form based partly on “extended voice technique” and he formed The Roy Hart Theatre. Some years after Roy Hart’s death in 1975, the ideas and traditions of his theatre began to cohere in “Pantheatre.” This theatre has an extensive network of operations today and has main base in Malerargues in France, in the same place as The Roy Hart Theatre once was, and shares facilities with The Roy Hart Art Center.

 

I see a kinship between my thoughts on cross-disciplinary musicalizing and the aesthetic of The Roy Hart Theatre. As part of my research project it is my plan to gain deep insight in the voice-based technique and aestetics of the Roy Hart tradition, through collaboration with Linda Wise and Pan Theatre. Linda Wise, a director, voice performer and former member of The Roy Hart Theatre, will work with me as an advisor and an artistic collaborator. She is an expert on the field, and on the technique and style developed from Alfred Wolfsohn.

Other periods and artistic movements I will mention that form the historical basis for my research project:

  • Dadaism ca.1916-1922. This art movement that also came out after the 1st World War as a revolt against western civilization, blew former artistic conventions, and opened up for artistic expression continued in surrealism, the avant-garde, in pop art and performance art.
  • Baroque. The period’s musical and visual aesthetics, and its deviation from our own times gender normativity which at its most extreme led to the widespread practice of castrating young boys, is an important historical background for my own art practice.

 

Methods and methodologies

 

Through artistic work and through reflections I will show the connections between my various historical sources.

In my own lecture to students at the Norwegian Theater Academy, I said: “…Behind its worship of facade, the Baroque is veiling tragedies, suffering and disease.

One of the ways I now let the Baroque influence my contemporary oriented work is that I pick up debris, trash, excess, and traces of the omitted from this period.

I look for opportunities to build bridges between my sources. Imprint I use from the baroque extravagance decadence and decay, I try to put together with the remains of language, visual characteristics, and the 16th – to 17th century body. Dust from the layers of makeup, the disease the turmoil, and a fragile beauty from the Baroque to break forth among oral sounds produced by abstraction of words and phrases in different languages. As a travel over large areas, without direct foundation either in time or space, a seeking sound that makes sense in the face of the listener.”

The research project operates as a dialogue between music and theatre, and as such it both works with and responds to history in both fields. My methodology is cross disciplinary, situated in theatre, moving equally between theatre and music, building on my expertise as a musical performer, and my field knowledge and practice of contemporary approaches to composition. The research considers ‘composition’ as a term within music and within theatre, in contemporary and in historical contexts.

 

My working methods are based on dialogue with peers in the field. In artistic dialogue and laboratory-based work with artists and composers, as well as with performers and with student artists, I will engage in practice-based research developing theatrical events. Among the artists I intend to include in this work are the composer, musician, and performance artist Sxip Shirey, the director and performer Birgitte Fjeld Bjørsvik the Choreographer Jill Sigman, the visual artist Janne Hoem, and the theatrical singer, improviser and avant-garde jazz composer Phil Minton.

 

Throughout the fellowship, I will work with various forms of reflection. Moving between writings about my art processes and findings, to forms closely related to my artistic expression. This might take forms as performance lectures, or multifunctional reflection scores that can be read on different levels.

 

I will engage myself in historical, library-based research into notation, especially the graphic notation tradition that sprung out from the New York School composers such as John Cage and Christian Wolff. I will let myself be influenced by historical approaches and apply the findings within my own instances of experiments with scoring and notation of my sonic theatrical works.

 

I will also observe, and generate collaborative events with artists and with student artists, ranging from performance moments to larger-scale works, and critically reflect on my findings in new publicly presented works, and in written papers and presentations.

 

Motivation for my research, and product of the research

In a theatre reality where the boundaries between genres and disciplines are becoming more blurred, the mixture of artistic expression is emerging as a distinct art direction. I see it as highly important and relevant to explore and develop new and different musical possibilities in the interdisciplinary arts than what currently exists.

 

The academic and intellectual context for this work combines philosophical and aesthetic approaches, which might be described as ‘ungrounding’ the voice. The sonically and linguistically nomadic and rootless voice that picks and works with the traces of the past is a source to create unknown and infinite possibilities. My scenic music work is often gathering vocal data concerning vocal aesthetics and linguistic sounds from the ports of the world. Sometimes merged in noise, free tonal, disharmonic structures, cracked and screaming voices. You may hear traces of e.g. gregorian chant-aesthetics, phrases in Latin, or in «black talk», or non-sense language borrowing the linguistic sounds from the travels through time and space. In the same way, melodic and harmonic structures is appearing in, and deriving from a rootless sweep through history.

 

Through this research a goal is for me to imagine a future music set within theatre, which can draw on the history of voice and on the past of music in different ways than what has been previously possible; or the sources were not available to past composers, even in recent history. By replaying and rethinking a wide range of works, both historically and in terms of expression, by responding to the past, the voice sonic multitude can be untied from its historical spaces. Through my methods, and by developing new methods and approaches I intent to generate modern sonic aesthetics.

 

An important outcome of my project, beyond the purely artistic will be to contribute to a larger conceptual framework of integrating music and musicality on stage in different forms of theatrical work. By linking myself to selected creators nationally and internationally, within complementary fields of art, I will incorporate new experiences and knowledge in my cross-disciplinary research. In “Norwegian Artistic Research Programme” I wish to contribute to a fruitful discourse and debate around the role of interdisciplinarity and artistic research in music theater. Through my artistic production, lectures, workshops for students, and written reflections I hope to contribute to the field as a progressive voice.

 

By linking myself to professionals and academic environments in other countries I also facilitate an international professional networking. I will present artistic work outside Norway in the research period for the same reason.

My works and performances will be made available through video and audio documentation.

 

The Academic Context.

The academic context in whitch my project will be included takes place both internationally and nationally. The Norwegian Theatre Academy with its contemporary approach and expertise in theatre and performance art, with their substantial network of nationally and internationally outstanding artists of considerable relevance to my project.

 

International profiles that are currently highly relevant in related artistic fields include aforementioned Heiner Goebbels, with his innovative interdisciplinary work that challenges and moves conventions, expectations and perceptions of what stage art can be. Meredith Monk, who through her  diverse and seminal work as a composer and performer since 1960s, has contributed to a fusion between extended vocal inventions and scenic /visual work. Each of these are artistic researchers in their own right. Among Norwegian artists in related academic fields I will mention Erik Dæhlin and the ensemble NING. They have, since 1997, challenged the limits for concert performances, and moved more and more into an extended and inter-disciplinary form of music theater. The recently concluding research fellow Morten Cranner and his project The Acoustic Act, where he develops theatrical projects where actors are playing on sound-producing scenography, is an artist, and a project that clearly has relevance to my own project. Furthermore is several performers and creators informing my project in different ways:

Maja Ratkje with her explorative vocal work, including live elecronics.

Diamanda Galas, who through her explorative and at times extreme use of voice has been influential for decades.

Trond Reinholdsen through his innovative work as a musical and theatrical composer and singer; Not the least through his artsitic research fellowship project “The Norwegian Opra”

 

My project has a strong pedagogical aspect, for students of theatre and of music theatre, and will also I hope have applications in the history of music theatre.

 

 

 

 

The Programme of Research

The programme of research includes:

  • Studio research, consisting of: Technical and compositional experimentation with solo voice, voice and instruments / other sound source , voice and body / space. The studio researh will be carried out by me alone, as well as a collaborative research with artists and students.
  • Archive and library research.
  • Producing solo, duo and ensemble works from my findings. Experimenting with scoring and different forms of notation.
  • Composing music for the production “Den usynlige fienden” at Nord Trøndelag Teater.

 

Through my artistic research period, I will complete the following theatrical works:

  • Solo Performances with a visual and musical approach where I develop concept, content and staging. Based on my research and methods, and on collaboration with my network of artists. One concept connected to this will be created in collaboration with the visual artist Janne Hoem; a Video work with the starting point in the old Norse poem “Skirnesmaal”Performance in collaboration with the New York based choreographer and dancer Jill Sigman. In this production with the working title “Decadence and Decay” In this project I draw lines from the baroque era, and the castrato tradition through dadaism, postmodernism, including post-punk and noise- art. A clear objective will be to develop interdisciplinary understanding of musical and vocal integration.
  • Creating and staging a theatre production at Norwegian theatre academy through trans-disciplinary leadership in collaboration with the director and performer Birgitte Fjeld Bjørsvik. Here will experiments with notation methods be tested as a part of the prosess. We will be working with performers and creatives from the student body of Norwegian Theatre Academy. There will be a point that this performers is not specialized musicians, working in a musical play focusing on extended voice work.
  • Final performance where I draw on the methods and material developed through the research period. I may use elements from the projects mentioned above in the construction of the final production.

 

Some of my works may be made available as notated scores. I will make available the process and reflections of the development of the works.

 

I will write one academic paper where I put forth the methodology developed through the artistic work, with concrete suggestions for methods and techniques. This will be aimed at the creative arts field.

 

I will make my experiences, discoveries and artistic results available in several ways:

  • Creating a blog / website where I post audio, video and written reflections.
  • Holding lectures and workshops for students in the performing arts.
  • Documenting artistic results after lab work, solowork and work with other artists.
  • Keeping open presentations of completed works, and “work in progress” Both nationally and internationally.
  • Give public presentations of a larger stage work in partnership with other practitioners and co-director.
  • Publish academic article
  • Public presentations of my artistic research in progress

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