Category Archives: Contemporary Art

An Improvisatory Approach to Learning Instruments

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How do we learn to play musical instruments? For those of us who have been through exam systems we are provided with a stepped set route of pieces, scales and graded music. But for the individual who wishes to explore creating their own music this may not necessarily be the only or best way. For the improvising musician the instrument is a means to discover sounds, both their own voice and that of the object. It is double sided, a dialogue between instrument and musician. I own a cheap acoustic bass guitar, to some it might be inadequate, have too many flaws, feedback, rattles and buzz. But to me, I have taken time to discover its peculiarities, its unique sounds. I play with and around those noises and make them my own. Some of the best music lessons I’ve had over the years, have been those which have allowed me to find my individual path on an instrument, my own unique way of playing, my own fingering, my own touch, my own breath.

‘Searching for an individual sound’ is the job of the improvising musician (Frisk, 2014). This involves trying to get away from existing schemas and ways of playing. Discovering new means to produce a sound or turning to a new instrument. The saxophonist Ornette Coleman picked up the trumpet and violin in order to extend his musical resources, deliberately playing instruments he had no or little skill on to explore increasing amounts of freedom. Sometimes playing an instrument that you are unfamiliar with forces you to be more explorative, to move away from the usual ways of playing and to re-learn.

I recently attended the abstract expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Included were photos of Jackson Pollock  dripping paint onto canvas. The photos speak of the artist finding his visual voice with materials, they are dynamic, kenetic and demonstrate the embodied nature of an artist manipulating objects.

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Figure 1 Jackson Pollock painting No. 32, 1050, photographed by Rudolph Burckhardt (Anfam, 2015)

The same process occurs for the musician, trying to tease noises out of an object and through this process of learning the musician becomes embodied with the instrument.

LaBelle writes that in music improvisation the ‘instrument functions as a partner in the unfolding of musical expression, where an individual and object are integrated, becoming a single body driven by choreography of movement and energy, precision and improvisation, skill and its reciprocal gestures’.

Learning to play an instrument as an improviser is so much more than set pieces, regular techniques and sounds, it is a journey of discovery of the self and the peculiar sound world of the chosen object.

References:

Anfam, D. (2015) Abstract Expressionism. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson world of art.

Frisk, H. (2014) Improvisation and The Self: To Listen To The Other. In Schroeder, F., and O’ hAodha, M. (2014) SoundWeaving: Writings on Improvisation.Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 153-169.

LaBelle, B. (2005) Museum of Instruments. Exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde Denmark. September 30-December 18, 2005. Available at http://soundartarchive.net/WORKS-details.php?recordiD=1106. (Accessed November 10 2013)

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Filed under Art, Contemporary Art, learning, music teaching, Music Therapy, Teaching improvisation, Uncategorized

Graphic Scores, Art and Music Therapy (pt.3)

Graphic scores occupy the liminal space between art and music.

A score created from an improvisation can be as simple or complex as you wish. There is a point where the translating of music into visual images becomes art. It is a bit like the mid-point on a see-saw, carefully balanced and slightly elusive.

A major aspect of the 20th century artist Paul Klee’s work was exploring the relationship between visual arts and music. Teaching at the Bauhaus he developed a theory of form relating musical structures to line, in particular the elements of rhythm and time. This became expressed in Klee’s famous phrase, ‘taking a line for a walk’ in which the movement of the linear line embodied temporal aspects. This line illuminated and overlaid with additional marks then became ‘polyphonic’, mirroring the textural nature of music.

In the following extract, taken from a music therapy session, I used the idea of the simple line sketch influenced by Klee (Centre Pompidou, 2016; Bergstrom-Nielson, 2010). The upper line represents John the client and the lower line the therapist. The additional layered graphics correspond to musical events: diamonds (vocal sounds); eyes (eye contact); piano keyboard.

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Simple Sketch Line Drawing for a Music Therapy Session

 

I then ‘illuminated’ this adding more detail.

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Illuminated Version of Line Drawing

The background became blue to represent the blues scale, holding and framing the picture. In a similar way the blues held the structure of the session. I added lines and cross-hatching to indicate the dynamic movement between the two individuals. Colours were added to reflect tone. The picture slowly metamorphosed from a sketch into an art work. In a ouroboros circle it would then be possible to ‘perform’ the score. The art which began as session notes, transformed into art work and then transforms again into a different music.

It is almost as if this is neither art or music, but both. This is what fascinates me about graphic scores.

References

Bergstrom-Nielson, C. (2010) Graphic Notation – the Simple Sketch and Beyond. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 19 (2), pp. 162 – 177.

Centre Pompidou (2016) Paul Klee: Romantic Irony – The Exhibition. Centre Pompidou: Paris.

 

 

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Filed under Academic, Art, Contemporary Art, Graphic Scores, jazz, learning, Paul Klee, PhD, Research Methods, Uncategorized

Graphic Scores and Music Therapy (pt.2)

 

This is the second blog in the series about Graphic Scores and Music Therapy

Understanding how 20th century and contemporary artists have attempted to visualise music can create alternative ways of re-imagining music therapy. It can be useful to incorporate graphics into music therapy reflective notes. This can not only aid memory, but develop thinking and assist analysis.

As an example I would like to use a simple one minute extract of work with a 5 year old boy*.

Clinical Notes: ‘Seated at the piano side by side with John. I played a blues in C major and sang, ‘John and Becky in music now’. He turned round to look, giving direct eye contact. Brief pause of piano music. John seemed to notice the camera and then started sounding the piano using all his fingers at once. I continued playing and singing ‘music now’. He started to use loud vocal sounds such as ‘ra-ra’. I imitated his sounds. There was a real feeling of connection and playing together. After one minute John lost concentration, said ‘oh’ and turned away. He then quickly moved away from the piano.’

This can be illustrated in a box graphic:

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Or on a time graphic:

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Bergstrom Nielson (2010) discusses the idea of the simple ‘line sketch’. Drawing a single line to represent the individual and layering graphics over this to illustrate events and music.

In the extract with John it might look something like this:

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The idea is taken from Klee (Duchting, 2016 ) who, when teaching at the Bauhaus, developed a theory of form and structure in painting related to music. Klee (1953) sought to visualise music, particularly it’s temporal and rhythmic elements. Single flowing lines for Klee represented the temporal in music, and showed movement from one moment to the next. In layering graphics over these lines, he was able to illustrate the polyphonic nature of music.

Drawing  a ‘polyphonic’ graphic related to John’s session, allows me to immediately see the shape, time and structure of the session. The drawing shows there were two main points of interaction, the eye contact after I had initially played the blues introduction and the joint vocalising at the end. The relationships between the two flowing graphic lines illustrates the times of coming together and being apart. The blue background represents the holding and containing nature of the blues structure.

To think about this extract in a wider context, it was highly unusual for John to vocalise and give so much eye contact at this point in the therapy. The graphic score highlighted the closeness of the interaction. This demonstrates that its possible to use a combination of reflective notes with graphic scores which can inform thinking about the work.

I would like to invite you to try out simple drawings to accompany your sessions, and think about if you find the process useful. Please let me know your results.

*The extract is loosely based on actual clinical work, all names and identifying information have been changed and consent given.

 

References:

Bergstrom-Nielson, C. (2010) Graphic Notation – the Simple Sketch and Beyond. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 19 (2), pp. 162 – 177.

Ducting, H. (2016) Paul Klee: Painting Music. Munich: Prestel

Klee, P. (1953) Pedagogical Sketchbook. Translated from the German by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. New York.

Further Reading:

Guy, F., Shaw-Miller, S., and Tucker, M. (2007) Eye-Music: Kandinsky, Klee and all that Jazz. Chichester: Pallant House Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Academic, Art, Contemporary Art, Graphic Scores, learning, Music Therapy, Paul Klee, PhD, Synaestheisa, Uncategorized