Collaboration as Experimental Laboratory

When truly collaborating with other artists, you open yourself up to suggestions about how to imagine or conceive of the work in ways that are informed by other kinds of knowledge. Your collaborator may have different interests or experiences, even if in they’re in the same discipline. If they’re from another discipline, you can be introduced to radically different conceptual approaches to creation. I’m interested in creating art that’s informed by a broad variety of forms of knowledge, and so I find this very satisfying. The potency of tapping into this surprised me when I first started working in collaborations, and it has absolutely become something I rely on. I’ve discovered, too, that it can be the foundation for experimenting and developing ideas that can generate and inform a lot of different work. My work with Pat O’Keefe as part of Willful Devices is a collaboration that results in its own work, but also serves as an experimental laboratory for approaches to creating sound, interactive-electronics programming and composition in general. I receive commissions to write pieces for performers and ensembles that are not collaborative in nature, and I’m able to draw on my collaborative and improvisational work in Willful Devices to inform these more traditional compositions, where the expectation is to provide a finished work that is ready to rehearse and perform. Of course, it’s in my nature to approach these types of commissions as collaborative opportunities if at all possible, to work with the performers or ensemble prior to the performance and fine tune the work so that it plays to their strengths and brings their perspective in to the process. But having developed a long-term collaborative relationship provides me the ability to experiment with material and compositional approaches in an environment where I get honest and immediate feedback, both in terms of my being able to hear and evaluate sound and also as criticism from a friend and musician whose opinion I value and place a lot of stock in. The video posted with this blog is an excerpt of a performance Pat and I did at the Spark Festival in 2008. The total performance was 20 minutes long, an improvisation exploring some interactive programming I was just starting to experiment with at the time. We had one rehearsal to get a sense of how some the programming would behave and agreed on a general idea of what to do for 20 minutes. I’m very happy with how this performance went, but it paid dividends for some time. For instance, the basic premise of this improvisation would become, a year and a half later, a new structured-improv piece, haiku, interrupted, which we released on our first CD. The programming itself, thanks to our experiments, went on to become an important element in another composition I wrote over the next year, Lovely Little Monster. The success of this approach does have to do with the fact that in electroacoustic music, and especially real-time electronics music, much of what you do is a form of instrument building. If you consider how old many traditional instruments are today and that we are still able to coax new sounds out of them and explore new music with them, well, a brand new electronic instrument has quite a bit of a lifetime ahead of it to be explored. I think that for many young composers, one of the biggest challenges to overcome is a sense of need to reinvent the wheel and start utterly from scratch each time you compose. I’m not advocating writing the same piece over and over again, but there’s often a lot more to be discovered with a sound or a program for producing sound than one piece reveals. And while it can be plenty fun exploring the possibilities alone, I find it even more enjoyable and productive to collaborate with other artists who have a sense of adventure about experimenting with the new and the unknown. Approaching collaboration as a shared exploration, a process of revelation, is probably one of the most rewarding artistic experiences I can think of.

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One Response to Collaboration as Experimental Laboratory

  1. Good composers borrow, great composers steal, and people like Scott work with and get to know a person before downloading ideas from his or her brain. I like it.

    There is nothing more humbling than struggling for days or weeks with a single compositional problem, only to find the answer in a fleeting exchange with another artist.

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