Composing (in) contemporary South Africa theoretical and musical responses to complexity

Huyssen, Hans Heinrich (2015-12)

Thesis (DPhil)-- Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis explicates a perception of music as complex phenomenon and, accordingly, the comprehension, creation and performance of music as complex tasks. While its immediate field of investigation is the composition of music, it proposes an understanding of musical composition that exceeds the conventionally confined acts of conceiving and notating music, by effectively including the acts of performing and perceiving music as inherent to the process of creating music and, in fact, as crucial to complete this creative process. This inclusion does not suggest an attenuation of the specialized skill of musical composition but, to the contrary, advocates the necessity of a heightened awareness for the complexity of this task, which will following from an understanding of music as systemically interrelated and principally inseverable set of (inter)actions encompassing its conception, performance and reception. In support of this approach an extensive introduction to complexity thinking is presented. For reasons of the intrinsic complexity of this topic and taking into account that complexity thinking has not yet formally been related to music studies, this section exceeds the scope of a preliminary preamble. Instead it constitutes one of four equally weighted sections of the dissertation. It offers to the musically trained reader not familiar with the topic an overview of historical developments leading to the theory of general complexity (Chapter 1) and a subsequent characterization of general complexity traits (Chapter 2). From here a link to musical considerations is established by means of a thorough reassessment of four terms – difference, identity, contexts and novelty – all of which are central to discourses in complexity, as well as in music studies (Chapter 3). From this basis an initial set of musical consequences arising from a complexity perspective is proposed (Chapter 4). One of the hallmarks of complex phenomena is the permeability of their boundaries. Following this insight the second section is dedicated to reflections on specific environments and circumstances acting as musical contexts, as well as a reading of musical responses with regard to the emergence of external contexts as internal subtexts. The first chapter in this section focuses on HIP (historically informed performances) as a complex methodology of transforming intangible historical evidence into tangibly different musical interpretations (Chapter 5). The second and third chapters are assessments of the effects of local circumstances on compositional activity in South Africa; one is based on empirical data obtained from a survey (Chapter 6), the other is of a very personal nature and reflects my own recent experiences from working as musician in this country (Chapter 7). The final chapter in this section expounds the core tenets of my personal compositional approach, framed as musical response to a subjective reading of South African circumstances perceived as equally challenging and enabling musical contexts (Chapter 8). Complementing the purely ‘theoretical considerations’ of these eight chapters, sections 3 and 4 contain ‘practical responses’, thereby fulfilling a requirement of the format of an integrated practical Ph.D. The practical research outputs are contained in a portfolio of four compositions (submitted both as scores and CD recordings in a separate volume), which represent my recent work of deliberate musical engagement with specific contexts framed from a South African perspective (Section 4). Preceding the portfolio, Section 3 contains a discussion of each of the respective works, linking the compositions to the theoretical reflections of Part One, thereby integrating practical and theoretical work and demonstrating the reciprocal influence and interaction between both sets of interventions. The discussion of The Songs of Madosini revolves mainly around the question of musical differences that emanate from intercultural collaborations (Chapter 9). The reflections on the Proteus Variations hinge on the issue of diversity, perceived not quantitatively, but as quality principally elevating the notion of variation to replace that of single dominance (Chapter 10). EisTau affords the opportunity to reflect on a musical response to the global crisis of climate change, as well as an engagement with the complex of music’s communicative, narrative and even semantic propensities (Chapter 11). Finally, the question of relational identity (determined by biographical, geographical and musical relations and thereby implying reflections on place, presence, absence and the ‘other’), are central to the elaborations on the Concerto for an African Cellist (Chapter 12). Interspersed between the twelve chapters are fourteen ‘Parentheses’. These are relatively short sections (distinguished from the ordinary text by grey background shadings) providing additional and somewhat independent reflections on topics that pertain to the main text. The preface to the thesis offers a brief introduction to PBR (practice-based research), which informs the integrated structure of this work.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie tesis word musiek as komplekse verskynsel beskryf, waarmee bedoel word dat die begrip, skep en uitvoering van musiek as komplekse aktiwiteite beskou word. Die werk ondersoek in die eerste plek die komposisie van musiek (in Suid Afrika), maar met 'komposisie' word meer verstaan as slegs die aspekte van musikale konsepsie en notasie. Hierdie wyer begrip behoort nie as ‘n afwatering van ‘n gespesialiseerde kompositoriese vaardigheid misverstaan te word nie; dit is, in teendeel, daarop gemik om ‘n skerper bewussyn te skep vir die kompleksiteit van komposisie wanneer musiek as stel van onderling verbonde sistemiese interaksies verstaan word wat die onlosmaaklik samehangende aspekte van skepping, uitvoering en resepsie behels. Ter ondersteuning van hierdie benadering begin die tesis met 'n breedvoerige uiteensetting van kompleksiteitsdenke. Omdat hierdie onderwerp kompleks is en omdat dit nog nie vantevore op musiek toegepas is nie, bestaan hierdie gedeelte van die tesis uit 'n omvangryke omskrywing van kompleksiteit in vier hoofstukke. Dit bied aan die musiekgeletterde leser 'n oorsig oor die geskiedkundige ontwikkeling van kompleksiteitsdenke (hoofstuk 1) asook 'n karakterisering van kompleksiteitskenmerke (hoofstuk 2). Vervolgens word daar 'n brug na musikale oorwegings geslaan d.m.v. verwysings na vier onderwerpe wat in beide musieken kompleksiteitsdiskoerse 'n sentrale rol speel: verskil, identiteit, konteks, nuutheid ('novelty') (hoofstuk 3). Hiermee is 'n basis geskep waarvan daar 'n eerste stel musikale gevolgtrekkings vanuit 'n kompleksiteitsperspektief getrek kan word (hoofstuk 4). Een van die fundamentele kenmerke van komplekse stelsels is die deurlaatbaarheid van hulle grense of skeidslyne. Indien musiek as 'n sodanige stelsel aanvaar word, volg dit dat spesifieke omgewings of omstandighede 'n invloed as musikale kontekste kan uitoefen. Omgekeerd beteken dit ook dat musikale reaksies op eksterne kontekste as interne subteks gelees kan word. Hierdie wisselwerking is die onderwerp van die tweede hoofseksie, waarvan die eerste hoofstuk op historiese uitvoeringspraktyk fokus. Dié benadering word hier verstaan as komplekse metode om historiese gegewens in nuwe vertolkings van vröe musiek in te span (hoofstuk 5). Die tweede en derde hoofstukke fokus op ondersoeke van spesifiek Suid-Afrikaanse omstandighede en die wyses waarop dit die skepping van musiek in die land beïnvloed. Die eerste van hierdie hoofstukke is gebaseer op 'n meningsopname onder Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste (hoofstuk 6), terwyl die ander hoofstuk baie persoonlike ondervindings tydens my werksaamhede in hierdie land reflekteer (hoofstuk 7). In die laaste hoofstuk van hierdie deel verduidelik ek my benadering tot komposisie n.a.v. my subjektiewe persepsie van Suid-Afrikaanse kontekste wat ek terselfdertyd as bemagtigend en problematies ondervind (hoofstuk 8). Aanvullend tot die eerste deel se ‘teoretiese oorwegings’, bevat die tweede deel artistieke uitsette wat as ‘praktiese intervensies’ beskryf kan word. Met hierdie jukstaposisie word ‘n strukturele vereiste ten opsigte van. die formaat van ‘n ‘geïntegreerde Ph.D’ vervul. Die uitsette bestaan uit vier komposisies wat in die vorm van partiture en CD opnames in ‘n aparte volume ingedien word. Dit weerspiel my onlangse werk met sy doelbewuste musikale refleksies op spesifiek Suid-Afrikaanse kontekste (seksie 4). ‘n Breedvoerige bespreking van elke werk (seksie 3) lei die portfolio in, verskaf ‘n skakel tussen die teoretiese en praktiese werk, bewerkstellig die integrasie van die dele en demonstreer sodoende die wedersydse wissselwerking tussen die twee verskillende vorms van intervensie. Die hoofstuk oor The Songs of Madosini handel hoofsaaklik oor die vraag van musikale verskille wat tydens interkulturele samewerkings (soos deur hierdie werk vereis) na vore tree (hoofstuk 9). Die onderwerp van die refleksies oor die Proteus Variasies is diversiteit, nie ten opsigte van die kwantitatiewe aspek van hierdie verskynsel nie, maar ten opsigte van veelvoud as ‘n ‘kwaliteit’ op sigself, wat aan die beginsel van variasie voorkeur verleen bó die van 'n enkele oorheersende tema (hoofstuk 10). EisTau verskaf ‘n geleentheid om oor die moontlikhede van musikale response op gobale gebeure te besin, soos in hierdie geval op die persepsie van die uitwerkings van klimaatsverandering. Boonop word die geskiktheid van musiek om te kommunikeer, uitdrukking aan narratiewe te verleen of om selfs semantiese betekenis oor te dra in hierdie ondersoek belig (hoofstuk 11). Die kwessie van musikale identiteit is sentraal tot die bespreking van Concerto for an African Cellist (hoofstuk 12). Identiteit word hier verstaan as kwaliteit wat – behalwe uit inherente eienskappe – tot ‘n groot mate uit bepaalde verhoudings voorspruit. Op hierdie wyse word biografiese, geografiese en musikale verhoudings met mekaar in verband gebring, asook kwessies van plek, aanwesigheid, afwesigheid en die vreemdheid van die ‘ander’. Altesame veertien so-genoemde ‘parenteses’ is tussen die twaalf hoofstukke geplaas. Hierdie kort seksies word deur middel van ‘n grys agtergrond uitgelig en bied bykomstige (semi-onafhanklike) refleksies oor onderwerpe van spesifieke belang op ‘n gegewe moment in die bespreking. Die voorwoord (Preface) bied ‘n bondige opsomming van praktyk-gebaseerde navoring (PBR: practice-based research), wat die akademiese format van hierdie proefskrif bepaal.

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