NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Perspectives of Artistic Research in Music

By Associate Professor Robert Burke and Dr. Andrys Onsman — Criticism of the scientific methods of doing research has increasingly pointed out that all experimental research involves some sort of creative leap. In the performing arts such creative leaps are fundamental to artistry.
Internationally, a great deal of effort and discourse has propelled artistic research in music into new areas of academic authority, authenticity and autonomy. Borgdorff, de Ruiter, Nettle and Pressing have all championed performance and practice-based research as legitimate ways for creating new and innovative music. Concurrent with the development of experimentation in music has come the legitimisation of making music as research. Interestingly, criticism of the scientific methods of doing research has increasingly pointed out that all experimental research involves some sort of creative leap. In the performing arts such creative leaps are fundamental to artistry but at the same time extremely difficult to evaluate using traditional quantitative methodologies.

In 2015 we convened a symposium to learn more about artistic research in contemporary Australian music practice and scholarship. Our initial idea was to assemble the leading proponents of artistic research in music to discuss what we were doing, what we were thinking and where we were heading in terms of our research. We wanted to identify what we had in common and where we diverged. The commonalities we anticipated would provide the basis for a joint positioning. The divergences we hoped would provide directions for future development. Our aim was to collect the presentations into an edited volume that would serve a dissemination purpose. All these aspects have been or are in the process of being realised.

For those of us who came into academia after substantial careers in music, the move necessitated new ways of approaching how we experimented, and analysed our performance and composition. Our previous ‘evaluation process’, in which our creative output was evaluated by ourselves, our peers, our critics and our audiences – all people we had direct and immediate contact with and whose feedback had direct and immediate influence on our practice –  shifted to one with ingrained systems of research evaluation and accreditation. It is hardly surprising then that the accommodation of conservatoriums and schools of music into universities has not been without contestation and dispute. Academics who come from and continue to work in the music industry are caught between needing to satisfy the demands of academically acceptable research and their needs as creative artists. At the forefront of these issues is the question of what constitutes legitimate research.

The question of where artistic research in music sits in the academy in terms of legitimacy and status of outcomes was predominant in the symposium presentations. The majority of presenters were both academics and practitioners; they discussed and questioned how their artistic output might be considered as research outcomes. Another issue was the way practitioners might best go about observing, articulating and analysing specific aspects and factors of their performance or composition, and how such analyses might be synthesised into coherent and cohesive theoretical frameworks that other artistic researchers may access and utilise.

. . . by taking an insider’s perspective, the research comes from the creators of music. It is subjective and exists in a space that includes the researcher’s practice as a musician, as well as the analysis of a particular performance, composition or musical event.

The symposium had a number of important outcomes. In the first instance it provided an opportunity for the leading practitioners of artistic research in music to articulate both their current practice and their future potentials in a congress of like-minded people. Participants agreed that the opportunity to discuss the issues that were central to their own self-conception as performing musicians and composers in an academic environment afforded them the opportunity to speak freely and purposefully. The process of collecting papers into an edited volume, and the conversations between authors, editors and publishers allowed presenters to develop ideas and re-consider their presentations in consequence to the discussion they generated in the symposium. This is central to the edited volume to be published internationally by Lexington (Rowman & Littlefield) in 2017. The core focus of the book is that by taking an insider’s perspective, the research comes from the creators of music. It is subjective and exists in a space that includes the researcher’s practice as a musician, as well as the analysis of a particular performance, composition or musical event. Through presentations at major conferences in the UK and Czech Republic, we have been able to share Australian perspectives of artistic research in music. The symposium and the book make substantial contributions to the development and understanding of artistic research in music both in Australia and overseas.

Download the Perspectives on Artistic Research in Music symposium program

Dr Andrys Onsman (University of Melbourne) is a music educator and performer. Highlights of his teaching include working with young disenfranchised Aboriginal children, allowing them to perform on stages around the country. As a commentator on music, Andrys’ work has appeared in the mainstream media including newspapers and magazines, as well as in a wide array of social media, including CD liner notes and program notes. Academically, his research output in the area of artistic research and non-literal language communication is substantial: according to Scholar Google, his academic papers have been cited more than 500 times. He has PhDs in Cognitive Psychology and in Aboriginal Studies.

Associate Professor Robert Burke (Monash University) established Jazz and Popular music at Monash University in 2002. From 2011 – 2014 he served as head at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music (Monash University). An improvising musician, Rob has performed and composed on over 200 CDs and has toured extensively throughout Australia, Asia, Europe, Brazil and the USA. He has also released 11 CDs under his own name performing/recording with seminal international jazz artists such as Dave Douglas, Enrico Rava, George Lewis, Kenny Werner, Hermeto Pascoal, George Garzone, Ben Monder, Mark Helias and Australian musicians Paul Grabowsky and Tony Gould. Rob’s area of research is focused in practice-based artistic research (improvisation/jazz).

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