“What Is The Work?” Thoughts On Cross Disciplinary Art

“What Is The Work?”

It’s not a question we really ponder much as musicians, even though it’s one we would answer quite differently if we delved into the language we use. ‘It’s all about the music, maaan!’… yes, but what is the music?

Live music? That’s the main thing?

Or is it the recordings? Are recordings the thing, and if they are is it making them, or experiencing them? Do we make them to be amazing standalone art, or do we make them to be amazing experiences? Does the theatre of experience (for example, shifts in how and where people listen to music) change the work? What role ‘purist’ thinking in this?

Or is ‘the music’ the songs? Are the songs the thing, and if they are, do we just love recordings and gigs because they bring them into our lives? What of music with no songs?

Is it the experience of playing it? If so, what’s the purpose of an audience? Just money so you can keep playing?

And after all that, what about all the rest of it?

  • The artwork
  • the words on the sleeve
  • the metadata attached to the digital file
  • the video
  • the fan-art
  • the live video
  • the posters for gigs
  • the t-shirts
  • the associated fashion…?

Is that the work? Are conversations about music part of the work? Do we make music to stimulate interactions around music? That’s certainly a big part of the purpose of house concerts for me… Not just the music itself, but the interactions around the music. Music as catalyst.

Are all of those things mere decoration within the capitalist aim of selling the music? Are they the role of marketers or artists? Or artists who do marketing? How has the final say over your work? What is YOUR work as opposed to THE work?

This is the stuff that fascinates me, confuses me, delights me and keeps me awake at night, in a good way 🙂

So, following on from my thinking about cross disciplinary art, here’s the first public thing from a brand new and v. exciting project: a collaboration with Poppy Porter, painter and jeweller, who has synaesthesia. We met up at the London Bass Guitar show (she’s a bassist too!), and Poppy commented that my music triggered a lot of strong images in her synaesthesic brain…

So I did what I always do and suggested we collaborate on a project. The idea for a live show with art and music happening simultaneously and influencing one another was an easy one to conjure, but the logistics of it are a little more tricky, as well as the exploration into what else this might mean, what it makes possible, the bigger story it tells – that question of What Is The Art? It could be so many things!

So we met up for a play (I was SO tired having had a v. late night the night before, and Poppy was v. patient with my general wobbliness) and quickly saw that there was
a) LOADS of potential in the project, and
b) a huge open playing field of exploration to dig around in.

Straight away, it became apparent that I play v. differently when I’m thinking about ‘triggering‘ images. The back and forth conversation about what sounds look like shaped the way I played, the way I brought ideas in and out… not a usual compositional path. The music here is definitely a co-creation between Poppy and I… there’s a whole fascinating exploration here about the nature of authorship, and the degree to what real time interaction changes our understanding of influence vs co-creation…

For Poppy, there’s a whole other area of ‘woah!’ – that of being a ‘private producer of finished work’ suddenly getting (having?) to view her process as performative. There are time constraints, spacial considerations, interaction… myriad layers to consider that haven’t previously been factored in.

So, the work? Is it the performance? The music and finished image? What value the unfolding nature of both? What value the interaction? How best to represent that outside of actually seeing it? What’s the story of the finished pieces of music and art? How to tell that story and couple it to that bit of the work? What role science in the conversation about synaesthesia? Does this tell a different story about the nature of creativity and the degree to which we understand certain artistic leanings and activities as ‘a gift’?

…or will it all end up as jewellery? 🙂

We’ve got a whole load more things we’re talking about, discussing, experimenting with, and I don’t want to give away all the magic now – the sketch in the image here is the beginnings of one of the drawings from that first session (I don’t actually think it was from this piece, which will mess with poor Poppy’s head no end!)

This is a really exciting experiment for me, and I can’t wait to do more of it 🙂 Please do check out more of Poppy’s work at http://www.poppyporter.com

5 Replies to ““What Is The Work?” Thoughts On Cross Disciplinary Art”

  1. Thanks for these thoughts Steve; good to hear the initial results of this process. I like the thought that our paths cross with those of others we meet and snake off in unexpected directions as a result.

  2. Glad to ‘see’ you doing some work like this Steve, it seems like a natural thing to do, visual artists and musicians working together, look forward to hearing and seeing more.

  3. Sounds very like Zappa’s description of the ‘Project/Object’ and ‘Conceptual Continuity’ – it may not be immediately clear how a 12-tone symphonic suite sits alongside a doo-wop love song and a series of groupie recordings, but as you immerse yourself in the whole oeuvre (from albums, concerts, movies, books and beyond) the pattern starts to show itself and takes the whole experience to another level.

  4. A part of this hit the mark: “What value the unfolding nature of both? What value the interaction? How best to represent that outside of actually seeing it? What’s the story of the finished pieces of music and art? How to tell that story and couple it to that bit of the work?”
    This is often what I’m missing in the dematerialized nature of sharing music through videos and audio files on the web… Even if the interaction in my collaborations with Mariusz is differed because of the distance, there still is all this communication, interaction, and mutual adjustments file after file as the song grows… and this I often would like to transmit as much as the final product. There is the true value of the live rendition, no matter if your audience is one or one thousand people: all this communion of souls between the artists adds something to the art itself.

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