Arts Without Borders?
Playing with our listener’s expectations
Jeremy Wong Wing Kwan
Whenever we are practicing, listening or looking at art, there seems to be an ongoing process of expectations that our minds constantly work with. Choosing to stretch or limit the expectations of our listener or viewer becomes an important aspect of our interactions with others through our artistic practices. The conference has led me to understand how real this process is. The ways in which this has been communicated to me have greatly enhanced my experiences with connecting multi-disciplinary art forms, and showed me its capability of being a catalyst in connecting people of different backgrounds.
The most prominent presentation in my opinion goes to the opening keynote – The power of cultural disruption, delivered by Helen Marriage. Indeed, one’s expectations of how persuasive and versatile any art form could be is instantly stretched, with vivid images and videos she presented of the large scale projects, still etched at the back of my mind. The 60 minute disruption was a merry one, and I took home more than I could have imagined! I walked out as a musician (like I had been for 23 years) but had also become one that is now obliged to stretch expectations of my own (and of my listeners), with the music I produce, as part of an inclusive listening experience.
A similar performance could also bring great tension and similar challenges to one’s expectations. Such was the performance of extended piano techniques in the multidisciplinary recital – The piano as an ambassador for contemporary music. My expectations were played - from the moment the strings within the grand piano were thrashed (which I felt extremely uncomfortable by visually) - till the moment I felt anticipation and acceptance was formed through a regular percussive pattern that was heard, which lead me away from the uneasiness. I conclude that an interesting ‘expectation-led’ trajectory unfolded, one primarily denoted by the evolving emotions created by my personal expectations, and the actual performance I heard and saw.
The experience of ‘cultural disruption’ begins from within; when one awakens to the needs of the society and begins searching for ways to place his or her art within reach of those who need it.
GO: Organic Orchestra
As a member of Adam Rudolph’s GO:Organic Orchestra project that took place as part of Arts Without Borders, I feel that I, along with all the other Sibelius Academy students who took part, have been through an experience of directly facing the challenges and joys of throwing ourselves musically and artistically into the unknown.
The orchestra included musicians and artists from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences in improvisation, such as classical, jazz, folk, electronic and contemporary dance. The whole experience consisted of a day and an half of rehearsals, which led to the final concert at the Theatre Academy.
Through the unconventional methods that Adam designed in order to prepare and perform basically on the spot; an orchestra repertoire, I came across the realisation that there is no way to make it happen other than with honesty and transparency.
There is no way of cheating in art and in music. Only if you are honest with yourself, with whoever is sharing the stage with you, with the listeners, and above all, with the music itself, can you then be allowing of the magic to take place and connect the above cited, with the participants of the event together as one whole unit.
Through this experience we found ourselves dealing with no styles or categories, but purely with music, seen as a big painting where we all were the painters. That is the approach Adam embraces in his life and in his artistic projects, and that is the approach we had with GO: Organic Orchestra in order to make it work.
He led us to the vision of improvisation as spontaneous composition, where its essential elements consist of listening, imagination and sharing. In my opinion, it is an ongoing creative process where the combination of one’s knowledge and the spontaneity of the moment, hence honesty, takes to freedom.
A reflection on improvisation as connection
Sean Kinley said in his workshop Around the World in 80 Ways that “improvisation is not about being creative, it is about connecting”. By this he means connecting to the self before it was taught in school to sit still and be quiet, and connecting to others by first listening, and then understanding. “There is a great need for improvisation in the arts now” Kinley says.
As a contemporary dancer myself, I love improvising (movement) as a way to connect and explore my body’s accumulated knowledge, and to find new experiences in relation to others and the environment. I enjoy it in performance context as well as for practice’s sake, as a space to play with other artists and fine-tune skills in listening, surrendering, and making choices while being open. So how about improvising together across art forms?
The GO: Organic Orchestra Stefano has described from the inside, was an inspiring display of artistic connection. Beautiful multi-genre musicalities were summoned inside an oscillating soundscape, where there was no chaos but coherence and suspense. The hand sculptures and movements of the single dancer spoke the same language, as visual manifestations of this world under the governance of the dance that was Adam Rudolph’s conducting. All parts involved captivated a space of all ears; the performers and audience alike, listening intently.
I was taken by the orchestra’s interdisciplinary approach. Olga Potapova, a dancer from Theatre Academy who took part said “I use my body like an instrument, I am part of the orchestra in this way. I listen, sense the space and move as one part of the whole soundscape as each instrument is.”
This connection across art forms was inspiring and offered exciting dimensions. It was hard to resist pondering whether the possibilities of improvisation could be stretched beyond the structures of a traditional orchestra. If objects and movement can manifest inside of it, how could a similar transferral happen in the physical nature of the orchestra and its relationship to the audience and space? Could there be cohesive disruption, such as audience interaction, acknowledgement of the sculptures, a shift of space and power whereby fixed roles could unhinge and interchange, challenge expectations and further push boundaries? The project “expresses a creative vision of a world without boundaries: of culture as the vessel for human understanding, empathy and sharing” - an inspiring artistic and social vision for this world that clearly needs it.
Why are not classical musicians improvising more
Agnes Holmberg Lundevall
When touching upon the subject of improvisation while talking to classical musicians, many will get this anxious look in their eyes, and the most common words to arise during the conversation are words like fear or anxiety. Although improvising has been part of classical tradition for hundreds of years, the learning process of today often leaves this out and bases its teaching on printed music without much space for interpretation. This has led to most of us depending on this sheet of paper instructing us exactly when and what to play. It also means that when being asked to improvise many feel afraid to try. Thoughts arise like, what if I make a mistake? How can I know what to play if there are no rules?
The best way to break these patterns and to feel comfortable with playing, not knowing exactly what is going to happen, is of course to try. Finding an environment which makes you feel safe and free to experiment is a good way to start. For me, this took the shape of meeting regularly with a string quartet made up of friends, for example playing improvisatory exercises. In this context it felt safe and fun to experiment with my own playing. It also enabled a stronger feeling of presence in the situation and through this being more attentive to the impulses coming from within as well as from fellow musicians.
The improvisation day of the conference Arts Without Borders was also a perfect opportunity to, in various constellations and concepts, experiment in a very open and encouraging environment. It was great to see how so many different disciplines could meet and have this open atmosphere making it possible to exchange ideas and try new approaches for playing together. I had the opportunity to attend three different workshops where classical musicians were challenged to improvise freely, also expressing in words how this way of playing has had much effect on their play and sense of security also in other more traditional contexts.
Improvising as a classical musician is, whether it will be part of future studies and work or not, an important part of developing as both a solo musician and in chamber music. Improvisation makes way for a more free and natural way of playing, can decrease the fear of making mistakes/playing wrong and also enables getting closer to finding one’s identity as an artist. It forces us to be present and through that makes us more attentive to inner, as well as outer impulses.