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Credits: Jenny Nordlund

Doing things together in music theater

#guestwriter #musictheater

Annika: It was wonderful to get to know you in our symposium in October and hear how you had come up with a lucid analysis on the premises for processes that we artists never are able to articulate and show the way towards new ways of working together and thinking of how to work together. Could you tell us in a few words what your main findings are. 

Iñigo: I wouldn’t say I have any specific, final findings I would want to share, my intention was rather to bring the aspect of cooperation to the front of our discussion as artists: a lot of time is spent these days in art schools experimenting with new formats and hybrid disciplines, but we barely (or at least, that has been my experience) reflect and speak about the many different forms of cooperation that can take place among different participants in a given project. In the talk I gave for you I tried to outline what could be some aspects that we could take into consideration when trying to decide how do we want to structure a certain collaboration, or also what to expect when we find ourselves in a more-rigid-than-usual-for-us structure for example, and how we might want to try and cope with that. Ultimately, I don’t think there is a specific structure that trumps all others, I believe we must find appropriate working structures for specific needs. Ideally the work structure would almost reveal itself out of the artistic goals of the project, so to speak. Of course, the world is less than ideal in many ways, which makes it even more important, I think, to gain a deeper understanding of the options we have before us. 

Annika: Could you give some examples of this, for example when an independent group works with an ensemble in an institution, or when artists from different disciplines meet and try to collaborate within a non-hierarchical flat structure?

Iñigo: I discussed some general aspects which would be interesting to consider in the talk. In the case of the ensemble and the institution I think it would be wise, from the part of the ensemble, to understand broadly how the mechanisms work in the institution, not necessarily to abide by all of them, but to know how to cooperate with them. This kind of cooperation usually will mean changing certain aspects from both sides of the equation (so both the institution as well as the group will probably have to adapt their work structures, of course the institution being more rigid and so probably giving less way in this aspect). This is a case of making the best of a potentially complicated situation, because the institutions in our cultural map weren’t created to suit all different kinds of work structures.

As far as the different disciplines coming together, my experience (mainly personal projects and art education) is that the default choice is the non-hierarchical, which is (in my opinion) a very complicated matter, all the more so when people don’t know each other before the given project, which is usually the case in these situations. I would encourage artists meeting together to work in a non-hierarchical structure to first take some time to get to know each other, their work, their influences, their experience in these multidisciplinary settings… this is also a good time to understand each other’s language when discussing your artistic discipline; I have found this to be a problem, specially when crossing disciplines: people are used to speaking about art in certain terms that aren’t necessarily self-evident to artists from other disciplines. Then I would also encourage them to openly discuss how to proceed with the project, organization-wise. “Non-hierarchical” can be very vague when you’ve never worked together. Depending on the kind of result you’re aiming for, different artists might need to take different steps at different times (for example, a video artist or a composer could be slower in producing output than dancers or actors, who might be more familiar with improvisation): take a look at what a timeline could look like that would take everyone’s times into consideration. Maybe you meet for improvisation sessions and then every artist makes a proposal based on what was tried out or discussed. Maybe you divide the project into different parts and make every artist main responsible for one of these parts. There are many ways in which to structure a project, depending on how much time you have and what the result is. If your aim is to work in a non-hierarchical structure, you will probably have to work harder in terms of defining how it is supposed to function. 

Iñigo Giner Miranda in Together in the Universe of Sound giving the keynote 
“Materials and people interacting on and off stage in Musiktheater”
The talk presented a framework for analyzing different interdisciplinary projects (mainly concentrated on Musiktheater sub-genres), both from the perspective of the result as well as through the actual creative process.

Annika: I would like to hear more about the differences in how vision versus sound work, which explains a lot about the different universes that meet on stage.

Iñigo: I mentioned in my talk the area around acoustic and visual perception and understanding their differences as central when dealing with interdisciplinarity, as these are, generally speaking, the two most fundamental senses most people rely on (although if we have to rank them, we humans would probably have to put vision first). I can talk about some specific differences, but I would refer the reader to books like for example Audiovision by Michel Chion, which does a very good job of laying the foundation for this kind of analysis. There are of course a number of other books and studies that devote themselves to visual or acoustic perception and these are also interesting to anyone who wishes to know more. All this purely to say, I’m really not a scholar in these matters and there are some great people out there you might want to listen to more than me 😉 

One of the most important differences of vision vs hearing in the context of a live performance or event, especially if there isn’t a stage that concentrates all the attention, is that hearing is “360°” whereas vision is focalized: imagine I were to step into a room full of speakers. I could instantly hear all of these speakers (unless of course some overpower others). If the room was instead full of small screens, I could never see all of them at once, in fact I would have to specifically choose specific ones to focus on, and watching some would necessarily mean I miss out on others. The fundamental experience of these rooms is incredibly different, in the sense of what I “receive” as an audience member, as well as to what I am likely to do: I would posit the screen room would “invite” people to move around more, as they try to find out what all the screens are showing, and the speaker room might “invite” them to pause and listen (ultimately this will of course depend on the artistic goal; if all screens show the same, I will understand relatively fast that that’s the case and maybe not move around. If the speakers play very soft sounds, I might wander through the room trying to hear different ones). We remain relatively unaware of this difference because in the most usual of our performing arts setting, i.e. the stage performance, both our hearing as well as our vision are directed towards the stage, and this focus is clear from the start. This difference, however, becomes very important in the context of installations, exhibits and generally speaking formats that do not have an explicit focal point of attention. This focalized aspect of our vision is also very much diluted by the fact that we see a lot of these performances on video, which really gives us the illusion of being able to look at a complete stage; a video screen is something we can usually see in its entirety with one gaze, and so we don’t have the feeling of moving around from focal point to focal point. I encourage you to inspect how your perception of a stage differs from that of a recording next time you’re in a theatre or concert hall.

Another important difference is our hearing has a “higher resolution” than our vision: we basically hear “faster” than we see (which is the whole point of moving image, since already at 12 frames per second we do not see individual frames but more or less fluid movement). 

These differences I just mentioned have important consequences if we want to, for example, create rhythms out of purely visual material: it will be interesting to pay good attention to where the different visual sources are positioned and how much can I as an audience perceive “in one look”, and the rhythms, if we want them to be perceived as such, will invariably have to be “cleaner” (simpler) than the rhythms we might use with purely sounding material, since complex visual rhythms will dilute much faster into a sort of movement we cannot understand as fundamentally rhythmic.

I’ve kept this all relatively abstract, but maybe just as a note, whenever we deal with visual stimuli, of course, there’s always a number of layers interacting at once: If I’m seeing someone, the appearance of this person, what they’re wearing, certain positions or movements, will have a lot of connotations that will interact with everything else going on. I still find it important to establish fundamental perceptive differences.

Annika: Could you describe “heterarchy” in the context of working together?

Iñigo: There’s a very wide number of work structures, and of course these are all in the abstract realm, in reality the structure itself is likely to be some sort of combination or hybrid. A heterarchy could be considered the opposite of the hierarchy, in that it is composed of a number of elements which are either un-ranked or all could be ranked in a number of ways.  It also opposes a traditional hierarchy in that there are usually several connections among every element, whereas in the traditional hierarchy every layer only communicates with the contiguous layers. This is usually the kind of structure that groups that have worked together for a long time kind of develop. It is usually understood to have a much greater potential for creativity, since it allows many more people giving input, and at the same time, in the case of long-standing groups at least, some of the more poignant flaws can be diminished, such as it maybe not being the most efficient structure.

Iñigo Giner Miranda is at home in a number of places – not only geographically speaking, but also artistically: classically educated as a composer and pianist, he works regularly as concert designer, composer or performer/musician in concert halls and theaters all across Europe. He lives in Berlin.