A risk project
—We classical musicians are extremely respectful of the composition – and therefore also of the composer – of historical convention, and of traditional interpretation. Music students have somehow got hold of the idea that these things are sacrosanct. Thankfully, this is beginning to change. But of course, things don’t change until you dare ask the questions, says Principal Peter Tornquist in response to the development project The Pavilion.
The aim of the project is to explore new interpretations of musical works in a time and location-specific context. This is about challenging the respectful relationship with the score that classical musicians have grown accustomed to but also their own role and practice, explains Kjell Tore Innervik, a percussionist and associate professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music. He has been in charge of the project together with Maziar Raein from the Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
A film lasting just over seven minutes, A Happening Based on the Music & Architecture of Iannis Xenakis, offers a taste of the three-hour-long musical presentation The Pavilion at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
Impact on musical study
The Pavilion is based on experiences from Radical Interpretations, an extensive three-year-long artistic development project looking at three iconic works for solo percussion. One of those works was Iannis Xenakis’ Psappha. The Pavilion experiments with the music and artistic practices associated with the Greek-French composer and architect.
— Radical Interpretations was actually conceived as an artistic development project. Along the way we’ve discovered how there is potential in it for the students, too. Or to put it like this: if we are to take seriously the questions – and not least the answers – that the project raises, then this will have to have an impact on our education programmes.
A design experience
Behind The Pavilion are students and teachers from the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO), and together they have arrived at the answer to the challenge of creating a space for a new kind of musical experience.
—But The Pavilion is also a design experience; an attempt to make music and design come together in transcendental unity in a space where the students are able to disengage from everyday life, says Maziar Raein, a designer and associate professor at the KHiO.
“It was interesting to observe how the audience were sometimes drawn to the sounds while at other times looking as if they were overwhelmed by the louder and more powerful pieces” (Raein)
A labyrinth of fabric
The one-off, three-hour-long performance, also called The Pavilion, took place at the KHiO one evening in December. Present was everyone involved in the project – teachers and students – as well as other musicians, artists and members of the public.
Together with the teachers the students had created a labyrinth from four-metre-long pieces of white cloth suspended from the ceiling in one of the KHiO galleries. To reach the bright labyrinth, the audience first had to enter a dark tunnel. The idea, Raein explains, was to create a space where the visitors could leave their everyday worries behind in the dark tunnel and then, feeling a little relieved, step into the white labyrinth and explore the musical performance.
Once inside the labyrinth the audience were not only able to get very close to the musicians, they could also listen to pieces of music composed especially for the location they were in. The labyrinth encouraged people both to gather in groups and to have a more individual and intimate experience.
—It was interesting to observe how the audience were sometimes drawn to the sounds while at other times looking as if they were overwhelmed by the louder and more powerful pieces, says Raein.
The evening performance went down very well with the audience, according to the two in charge of the project. The designers and musicians also gained new insights into how alternative and unusual performance venues can challenge the traditional relationship between music and audience.
—Creating something that is specific to a time and place has value in itself. The fact that it happens there and then makes the experience more unique, more fragile, and more precious, says Raein. —We wanted to create something that moved the audience. You could perhaps describe it as a celebration of a kind of micro-utopia where there is a fellowship of exploration and where it’s okay to just be and to move around.
—Also, the pavilion was built for one night only, just for this event, as a space that could be both explored and experienced, a room for creating and reflecting, Innervik says.
“The students need to take bigger risks in order to create something new. The world is changing fast, and the students must be open to the different roles that a musician may have or may want to have” (Innervik)
Students should take bigger risks
According to Innervik and Raein, the biggest challenge associated with The Pavilion was to get close to forty people – students and teachers – to agree on one single artistic project.
— Placing them in a new kind of context where they had to work together to agree on a set of goals and then planning and executing them was a big challenge but also highly productive, say Innervik and Raein. Rewards were also reaped from the mutually respectful relationships between students and teachers, Innervik explains.
— Together we asked questions that no-one had the answers to. That meant placing a great deal of trust in the students but also giving them responsibility. The students themselves have to take responsibility for their artistic development. In The Pavilion they learnt as they went along, and they’ve been forced to be experimental.
— The students need to take bigger risks in order to create something new, Innervik says. The world is changing fast, and the students must be open to the different roles that a musician may have or may want to have, he explains.
The development project The Pavilion is part of the CEMPE focus area Independent Music Careers. The aim of the initiative is to encourage the students to develop innovative ideas and projects to allow them to meet new audiences in new arenas.
This project is one of many focusing on making both students and teachers think critically about their own practices and giving them new insights into what is possible.
— The students spend a lot of time working alone, often on their respective principal instruments. It’s important for them to see what they can achieve when working together with others. Being introduced to other specialisms and new knowledge paves the way for new opportunities, and that’s necessary, Innervik insists.
— Making a living as a performing musician is more challenging than before, he points out. Musicians – both students and teachers – have to find new ways of presenting their music. —Besides, it’s both educational and fun.
— It’s great that the students face up to these questions while they’re still students, according to Peter Tornquist. —Although many of them probably think it’s strange and go along with it just because the music is strange, they will consciously or unconsciously take this with them when interpreting more mainstream works, too. We’re already seeing that happening.