A few weeks ago I received a social media contact from a 3rd year Fine Art student looking for a musician to collaborate with on a new art project. I have collaborated with a few art students over the last couple of years and my details had been passed on by one of them.
Whenever possible I always agree to a first meeting to get more information and to see if I would be able to help. I also find personalities play an important part in the collaboration process and find that a face-to-face meeting is the best way to see if we will be capable of working together. It looked like there would be some technical areas that my son, Pip (3rd year Music Production undergrad), would be much more experienced in so I also took him along to this first meeting.
The first meeting was to allow Amanda to talk us through her project so far and what she wanted to achieve from an audio perspective. This is always a nervous time as one artist bares their soul to another, sharing what is often raw ideas and unfinished concepts. An important consideration at this stage was for us both to be honest about what was required and whether we could achieve what Amanda needed. It is fascinating seeing how different artists approach a subject and how very different perspectives lead to different outcomes.. We left the session with a number of actions to progress the project
The next stage involved interpreting the data from Amanda and assigning musical pitches based on an algorithm I provided. Amanda did this and sent me the output which I then turned into a midi representation in a DAW to see what we had. It was at this point that I realised I had made a mistake in the algorithm and that we would need to look at the data stream again. There were a few points that also needed clarification as they were not obvious from the notes provided by Amanda so it was decided that the refresh of the data should be done together. In hindsight we should probably have taken this approach in the first place. Reviewing the data was not straight forward and we had a few false starts but once we got going it all came together.
Pip and I took the list of notes away, having discussed a few options with Amanda, and Pip set to work getting the new data into the DAW. Pip and I worked on a few variations and produced some mp3s that could be previewed with Amanda.
We then had a studio recording session to capture a spoken word part that Amanda wanted included. We also reviewed the mp3s and discussed where we thought the project should go next. This was a surprisingly productive session and it became apparent that our artistic thoughts were very well aligned which was a relief!
One observation from this type of data driven composition is the constraints that it imposes on the composer. In most of my other work I have artistic freedom to change notes as I wish, but being given a list of notes that are derived directly from the data means that I had no choice about the notes and this added an interesting constraint. Our options were around instrumentation and effect choices rather than notation so it challenged us in a new way.
Pip took the spoken word track and added it to the options we had selected and then we worked on refining the structure to make a suitably engaging piece. As the final product was to be an LP we created 2 versions, one for each side of the LP using different instrumentation on each. It was satisfying to get some fantastic feedback from Amanda once these versions were sent for review and I think we have ended up with a great piece of work.
Collaborations can be challenging, they take you out of your comfort zone and require adjustments to make space for other people’s ideas and creativity that might not fit with your own ideas. Harmony needs to be sought in order to satisfy all parties. Conflict can be useful during the process but this needs to be managed to enhance rather than stifle the creative process.
Personally I find collaboration a great way to explore new areas of practice and it pushes me professionally to look at new processes and techniques. This hopefully makes me a better sound artist in the long run. As far as the work with Amanda goes we hope this will be an artistic partnership that will continue to develop.