Original Intentions

An overview of the project’s trajectory may demonstrate the barriers which emerged through the composition of video scores and the impact upon the project. Expanded explanations and details of the issues outlined below can be found within the discussion of the portfolio.

The initial intention for the project was to compose video scores using found footage of instrumental performance to facilitate live audiovisual performances. I intended to create a notation to deal with sounds which were impractical to notate using the ’two-dimensional lattice' (Wishart, 1996, p. 23) of conventional five-line staff notation. Video had already proven to be a powerful medium in the evolution of the graphic score, moving from static images on paper to digital videos designed to guide the intuition of an improvising performer (Dean, 1989; Pancake, 2011; Smith, 2011; Vickery, 2012). My use of found footage was an aesthetic choice inspired by plunderphonics, collage and décollage.

Several of the project’s initial objectives were prompted by Pancake’s (2011) research into spontaneous improvisation guided by video scores. I wanted to encourage a performer to draw on their personalised knowledge of the instrument and codified frameworks of the world through inspection and introspection of a video score (Bollas, 1987; Whiten, 2000; Krathwohl, 2002). I believed that distorting, altering and rearranging the images within found footage which depicted instrumental manipulation would facilitate the desired levels of introspection.

Musical and physical gestures formed part of the initial premise of the project with embodiment and motor schema communicating potentialities for musical sound and gesture through video footage (Godøy & Leman, 2010). Specific visual instrumental information, such as the exact fingering used on a stringed instrument, was obscured using post-production video editing techniques to provide the performer with an indication of a gesture rather than full and explicit detail. Employing a model of prepared improvisation, rather than Pancake’s (2011) use of spontaneous improvisation, was intended to provide the performer with the tools and space to investigate the score and generate strong audiovisual connections (Sági & Vitányi, 1988). A further objective of the initial premise was to project the video score within the performance space to subvert the private dialogue which exists between the performer and the score (Foss, 1962; de Haan, 1998; Godlovitch, 1998; Hope & Vickery, 2011). This political aesthetic may have yielded a dynamic performance element for an audience through the real-time delivery of intrinsically connected visual and sonic information.

As a musician and composer who had only ever worked with sound I immediately approached video in much the same way as I did a composition of sonic material. I considered the contrasting and the sympathetic elements within parameters such as structure, rhythm, tempo, dynamic range and the performance space. Crucially, I wanted to compose without hearing any of the audio from the original video files themselves as I intended to compose from a position divorced of heard or expectant sound. This discipline was maintained throughout the portfolio as I began to create my own silent footage. The result was the piece Portals, performed by Kanno in concert at the University of Huddersfield.

However, following the completion and performance of Portals I began to realise that conventional systems of notation, such as the five line staff, may actually have provided a more effective method of notating the sounds which resulted from a performance of the video score. The images used were so strong they encouraged a performer to try and copy them exactly. This was troubling as it signalled that my approach did not take full advantage of the medium and failed to move away from a conventional approach to notating sound, as had been originally intended: I wanted to create sounds which would be difficult or impossible to notate using systems designed to deal with a ‘lattice of discrete values’ (Wishart, 1994, p. 106).

A Realisation and a Change of Direction

There followed a turbulent period fuelled by uncertainty around my ability as a new researcher, let alone a fledgling composer working with an alternative medium. I persisted with experiments into video scores, creating my own video material in the search for an approach and footage which would be less likely to generate literal sonic representations of the images as was the case in Portals.

Following an opportunity to discuss my work with Ablinger in late February 2016 I began to question my original intentions towards video. By mid-March the portfolio had shifted towards an investigation into composing video pieces, rather than scores, as a composer of sound. Had I pursued the video score project it may not have yielded a ‘new aesthetic ontology of performance’ (Newton, 2014, p. 4) as I had desired, but instead may have led to the creation of audiovisual pieces which would ultimately sound as if based upon a ‘finite set of possibilities’ (Wishart, 1996, p.7). However, the time spent creating original video material in the continued pursuit of scores was far from wasted: I had engaged in experiments with the physical nature of video and issues relating to content creation, such as lighting and camera angles.

A playlist which comprises 28 drafts, experimental pieces and prototypes, made from December 2015 to March 2016, may further demonstrate my changing approach to video. I also share most of my handwritten notes which detail forlorn and realised ideas, sketches, experiments, trials, problems and solutions as these may provide the reader with further insight into my work and may be ‘more interesting than the final product’ (LeWitt, 1967, p. 14).
© 2016 James A. Fox Contact Me