How to create a good project
CEMPE aims to train the students in structuring their own artistic projects to allow them to become outstanding and independent musicians. A project can be large or small, but in many cases the students act as their own project managers. Master projects are an example of this. So, how best to approach these processes?
The little questions
After three years of research as part of the Artistic Research Fellowship Programme at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM), Christian Blom is nearing the end of his research project on transmedial composition. During this period Blom believes he has learnt something important in terms of creating a good project: no question is too small. You may start out with a grand and wide-reaching plan, but it can often be more interesting and rewarding to drill down into a more limited subject. This notion can be transferred to projects of all sizes.
“No question is too small.” (Christian Blom)
Projects tend to take on a life of their own. Blom experienced major turning points right at the end of his project, while Pernille Mogensen, a producer for Verk Produksjoner, describes decisions being made as late as three hours before a premiere. This tells us something about the flexibility required in an artistic project.
Asking the relevant questions
Håkon Stene recently finished his research project on the same NAM fellowship programme and has now taken up a postdoc position at the Academy. He therefore knows a thing or two about what it takes to design a good artistic project. As well as motivation, patience and integrity, Stene also points to another success factor: “It’s important to ask questions that are relevant to the history and development of the field you’re working in.”
Stene gives an example by going 100 years back in time. At that time it was relevant to ask whether there was room in Western art music for creating a new musical language by taking apart the tonal structure of a scale and affording all 12 chromatic notes equal value. This paved the way for 12-tone music. Today the question of whether music can be atonal is no longer particularly relevant to the art music discourse, Stene says. The key is therefore to identify those questions that are of interest to the present day, that can give us new perspectives on things we already know, or that make the project innovative.
“It’s important to ask questions that are relevant to the history and development of the field you’re working in.” (Håkon Stene)
Taking artistic risks
It is also important to take artistic risks, according to Stene. His research project, “This Is Not a Drum”, was based on two dogmas: 1) striking things was not permitted, and 2) traditional percussion instruments were not permitted. For a percussionist this involved an obvious and considerable artistic risk.
Although this was a doctoral project, it can be extrapolated to artistic master projects. It is equally important to leave your comfort zone when working on a master project and take the risk of trying something new.
“Some decisions were made as late as three hours before the premiere.” (Pernille Mogensen)
Finding the right words
As a producer Pernille Mogensen is closely involved in the artistic process, although her task is to structure the process in the best way possible. For example, she will create a timetable for rehearsals, and she will help draw up project applications. This means that part of her job involves finding the right vocabulary for the different parts of a project phase.
There is a distinction between those who are capable of managing their own project and those who are not, according to Stene. If you are applying for funding to record an album, it is very important to be able to formulate a description of the project. This can also result in heightened reflection, something which can work to the artist’s advantage in today’s job market. The Master of Music Performance programme at the NAM also involves a much higher degree of innovation, structure and reflection than was the case only a few years ago.
Five years of thinking – one week of writing
In response to an audience question, Stene and Blom concluded the seminar by sharing their views on the process of creating a good project under the Artistic Research Fellowship Programme. Blom argues that it can be a good idea to take time out after graduating to do some freelancing. “It’s good to venture out away from the institution for a while to allow you to see your knowledge in a new light,” Blom says. Stene agrees that the idea phase of such projects takes time. “Broadly speaking, you could say it’s five years of thinking and one week of writing,” he says.