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Archive for February, 2014

This is an account of working with Catarina Domenici, a Brazilian pianist and academic. It is based on looking at of how we worked together, and uses the terms for different types of working relationship I have written about before. This blog gives a detailed example of how those definitions can be used to gain a better understanding of how a working relationship is operating.

Collaboration itself I define as sharing a task, while working no hierarchy. If a task is shared but one person makes the final decision, I call that consultative working. If people carry out separate tasks as equals, I call that co-operation.

Catarina and I met at an academic conference in April 2013 in Cambridge, and we agreed to work on a piece together, and also to work on a joint paper analysing the process. I agreed to travel to Brazil to work with her in January.

Meanwhile, we worked on ideas for a new piece of music. This work went through several stages. Our communication was initially by email and later by Skype. The stages were that:

  1. I proposed some material based of some speech rhythms I had notated. She commented by email ‘I’ve just played through the ideas for the piece. They seem alright. I seems to me that the most interesting part will be the next step – how you are going to work out all those motifs. ‘
  2. In October I sent a verbal description of a concept for the piece, as follows. ‘I began to think of a babble of voices/motifs as a way of beginning the piece, and composing a structure whereby there begins to emerge some sense of coherence, only for this to be lost again, for the coherence to re-emerge, to be lost again, and then for the fragments to fade out to a sparse conclusion with increasing amounts of silence.’
  3. She did not respond directly to this suggestion for the piece. I felt at this point that I was inviting her to collaborate in developing the musical concept, but that she wished instead to respond as a performer being consulted about a sketch or draft piece. This was a protracted but helpful stage of the process since it clarified the nature of the working relationship between us. It should be seen in the context of her view that the performer becomes a co-creator of the musical work through the development of a performance and a performance tradition, a view I agree with.
  4. Over the next couple of months I made 6 different sketches of ways of starting the piece and sent these to her. Each sketch was based on a complex set of procedural rules, aiming to create a sense of chaos and confusion, with a dramatic process of the diminution or increase in the confusion as the sketch progressed.
  5. She commented that the sketches would not necessarily be experienced as chaotic since the performer would find it it hard to engage in notation with no sense of order to it, and that audiences might be alienated when hearing music with which they could not engage. She commented that the way I had notated the music did not make effective use of the piano as an instrument. The nature of the working relationship therefore changed, and her response was that of a performer who might be faced with the task of co-creating the piece by developing it as a performance. Her response of to the 6 sketches I wrote was the same. 
  6. I decided that my suggested concept of the piece should be abandoned. Instead, I made three short sketches for possible pieces. These were based on a combination of allowing my subjective preferences to influence my choice of material, rather than having any prior concept of the nature of the piece, and aiming to make use of particular qualities of the piano as an instrument in each sketch.
  7. I developed these three sketches further on arrival in Brazil, and we workshopped them. Our working process was then for me to spend each subsequent day producing a complete draft piece, with a workshop late each day – while dealing with extreme heat and tropical thunderstorms.
  8. In each workshop I presented a draft which she played, and she gave me technical comments. I would describe this as consultative working. Second, she asked me questions about the sense of each piece, at one point asking about the poetic concept embodied in one of the drafts. This seemed to me a reflection of her process as the interpreter seeing her role as the co-creator of the piece through performance. While I was reluctant to explain the poetic of each piece in words, I did suggest ideas.
  9. However, at points she suggested changes a the piece or asked questions which led to my making changes. As a result, the notated music, and not just the potential performance, reflects her input. At points therefore we came close to collaborative working. However, throughout it was left to me to decide whether to incorporate suggestions or to respond to questions, and therefore the element of hierarchy remained.
  10. The effect of this working method was that I did make use of almost all of her suggestions, and I did seek to address any problems which she identified. The resulting music would have been quite different had I developed the three sketches into short pieces without the involvement of a performer, or with the involvement of a different performer. I would describe our working method as consultative almost throughout, but with the emphasis on what I would call consultation in good faith – I took all her suggestions seriously and used almost all of them.
  11. Drafts of all three short pieces were completed over the four days of my stay, and I returned home with two fairly satisfactory drafts which needed some further work, and one draft which needed considerable further work.
  12. At this point my role as a composer seemed complete to me. I had written a set of notation capable of being interpreted in public. Before the piece would become music, she as the performer had to develop a performance and to perform it, therefore becoming a co-creator of the piece of music. I see this as an example of co-operative working. I carried out my task as a composer of producing notation, and she would then carry out her task as a performer of turning this notation into music.
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