Sonic Borderlines

Metaphorical Cultural Perception and Cognitive Dissonance in Sound and Music

The “Note”- Project with the former Ensemble Extrakte – EE (now Third Orchestra Berlin)

February – April 2023

EE was awarded a grant from the deutsche Musikfonds to pursue the Note-Project with myself as Musical Director.  in EE Players come from multiple backgrounds and some did not even read conventional staff notation or in some cases only did so very rarely. Represented were experimental improvisers, Chinese classical musicians, Arabic classical musicians, Indian classical musicians, Armenian folk musicians, a Japanese classical Shakuhachi player, a blues musician and New Music players.

What we did was the following:

  1. Each player met with me and Elke Moltrecht individually and played two pieces each that were familiar repertoire for them taken from their “home tradition.”  I had each musician undergo a process where they described in words their thought processes in two ways during a particular performance of one of the pieces during their past life: one, in which they described the thoughts they had about how to achieve their goal in the piece technically, the other describing other feelings and thoughts more generally about the situation in which they were performing.  Then I had them apply a set of etudes to the pieces to isolate certain note-metaphor behaviors:
    Note Etude 1: they were required to “play” one of their chosen pieces only in their mind but select the most important notes for the structure of the piece from a certain length of time as an isolated occurrence that they would play out loud in this field of otherwise silence.

    Note Etude 1a: the musicians were then instructed to put these most important notes they discovered in the first etude together in rows of continuous successive onsets in the manner of a new melody or phrase.

    Note Etude 2 and 2a: the same procedure was repeated but this time with notes that they player considered the most nuanced, inflected or “idiomatic” for the chosen piece.

    Note Etude 3 – extending idiomatic playing 1 – cultural metaphor: the players were then instructed to use an imaginary model stemming from a corelated cultural object (literature, landscape, food, or activity) and choose notes that illustrated a traversal of the process of enjoyment, or story of that object. The same temporal procedure distributing the chosen notes was followed from Note Etudes 1 and 2.

    Note Etude 4 – extending idiomatic playing 2 – compression and homogenization: the players were instructed to play all the notes of the piece but instead of with different rhythms, each note should be time-compressed to take only the duration of one “quarter note” or “pulse” wherein all the original notes’ characteristics and nuances were compressed into a series of such pulses of more or less equal duration.

Note Etude 5 – extending idiomatic playing 3 – exaggerated life memory:  using the notes chosen in Note Etudes 1&2 the musicians were instructed to improvise a piece about the memory playing their chosen piece in the past which they verbally described before. Three of the important chosen notes would be used as the basis of an extended passage (beginning, middle and end of the retelling) elaborating and exaggerating on feelings and memories brought about through how they retold it verbally.

I recorded all of this to analyze the pieces for their detailed nuances and qualities.

  • After having recorded all of this and analyzed the music they played to a certain extent to understand the idiomatic nuances I distributed these analytical findings to the group. In a series of ensemble meetings individuals taught their musical material to other members of the ensemble using their differing notations and transcriptions and the other members attempted to learn these pieces with note-nuances and approaches as close to the original as possible, even attempting to overcome the technical restrictions of their instruments in the process to the farthest extent possible.

    Because unfortunately  the ensemble members could only be present simultaneously in the last rehearsal and dress rehearsal these meetings divided the ensemble into smaller ensemble groupings wherein combinations of only 2-3 specific traditions or approaches were combined and revised/ reinterpreted into new forms given the experimentation previously undergone (not, as the research plan originally called for, a study to integrate all of the material at once to put the ensemble into one group relation and aesthetic).

    given the results of these sessions I designed or composed  new “comprovisational” forms, a mix of specific and improvised music based on these group studies for the final concert on 16.04.2023. The players gave their feedback to adjust and amend these forms to improve them according to group discussions and rehearsals.

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