Collaboration is a defining element of my artistic identity; it has been since I was a student—more than twenty years, now—even if I didn’t think of it that way at first.
My interest in collaborating with performers and artists from different disciplines comes in part from my strong interest in a variety of art forms, but also because I enjoy the shared sense of purpose it provides and the fact that it creates a critical feedback loop early in the creative process. Perhaps it is because I view the artistic act as a fundamentally social construct; I enjoy doing things with other people and I value getting feedback on the development of my music as I do it.
I’ve been involved in many different collaborative projects, some wildly successful and rewarding, and some that could have gone better. My longest collaborative relationship is with poet/spoken-word artist Philippe Costaglioli. Since 2000, we have been developing experimental performance pieces with various video-artists, including a concert-length work, Shape Shifting, with the ensemble Zeitgeist. That collaboration led to a continued relationship with the ensemble and the development of a collaboration with Zeitgeist’s woodwind artist, Pat O’Keefe. Pat and I perform as Willful Devices, a real-time electronics and clarinet/bass clarinet duo, with which we explore interactive-electroacoustic music and improvisation. The collaborative relationship that I have with Philippe, Zeitgeist, and Pat are all based on friendship, a shared sense of artistic purpose and complementary visions of the kind of art we would like to create.
There are different approaches to collaborations. Who your partner(s) are and what kind of work you’re trying to create is obviously important to determining the best approach. But all collaborations depend on honest communication, and the more that there is a shared professional or personal bond, the better. Social discourse founded in listening, sharing, and intellectual curiosity is critical to success and an important element early in the process for defining goals and approaches to accomplishing them. In some collaborations, a tremendous amount of shared, hands-on work is required to realize the project. In others, the process can be done by trading back and forth work that is completed in response to the others’ contributions, more of a networked approach to creation. There’s often a degree of time-consuming, technical work that one or another collaborator needs to do, and is probably best done by themselves. This helps define the division of labor, and also allows for those times together with collaborators to be spent focusing on big picture issues and broader aesthetic concerns. Maximizing the ability to work out things in broad strokes when together seems to be the most productive approach to working with other artists, so I always try to have a palette of options I can quickly demo and work with in a variety of ways when meeting with collaborators mid-project.
It’s also good to work with other artists who have a strong sense of their own artistic vision, and who are comfortable taking turns in different roles, sometimes providing leadership, sometimes stepping back and providing criticism, and sometimes taking direction and providing what’s needed. In the end, I suppose success all comes back to collaborations between a group of friends or colleagues comfortable working towards a common goal or artistic vision, comfortable offering and accepting criticism, and open to learning how to imagine creating something in a way that never would have occurred to them outside of the collaborative process.
Next week: Collaboration as Experimental Laboratory