Capto Musicae – Creating sonic and musical theatre in a contemporary artistic context

Øystein Elle, Research Fellow at Østfold University College, Norwegian Theatre Academy

My project explores new possibilities for cross-disciplinary music theatre, via the compositional tool of extended vocal practice.The goal of the research project is firstly to create musical/sonic and visual works for theatre, developing methods in which texts, sounds, scenic and kinetic elements come together as equivalent elements. Secondly, to develop a contemporary model for notation and scoring music theatre that can be used by artists across performance disciplines.
The research is doubly historically grounded, first in twentieth century avant-garde and experimental approaches to the voice in performance, and secondly in explorations of voice within heavy rock, post punk and noise/industrial influenced music. This is an arena in which the development of my own aesthetic has taken place, and in which I intend to work as a researcher. The experimental tradition, including the work of J. Cage, M. Monk, H. Goebbels, P. M. Davies, L. Berio and others, in expanding the possibilities of sound in performance art, and in extending the range of vocal ideas and techniques is crucial background for my research. My research asks how can we work from this now established experimental tradition to create cross-disciplinary performance for a new century, as well as how to develop new kinds of notations and scores in which the visual and scenic can also be scored, read and performed.
As a classically trained counter-tenor I also connect my artistic work to an older and quite different historical tradition, the castrato period (approximately from year 1550 to 1800) As a counter-tenor with a timbre and pitch range from soprano to bass-baritone I am interested in extended voice technique as a powerful vocal instrument, as well as in the exploration of masculinity/femininity and androgyny in vocal expression. In my artistic work as creator and performer I challenge expectations and conventions related to gender and voice timbre, both in terms of tonal range and in aesthetics.
The research is performer-centered, using myself as a singing/performing subject. Through studies and collaboration with significant artists and their methods and skills will I develop further my own creative voice and my compositional and conceptual sense, and develop practice skills and methodology in a research context. I will explore musicality itself, and develop music in the theatre, from inside and out, in close relation to the general scenic idea. I have a trans-disciplinary approach to my work, in the sense that I let the music emerge through the various disciplines, let it mold in relation to what occurs in the meeting between the spatial, visual, textual, and kinetic elements.
The research project operates as a dialogue between music and theatre, and as such it both works with and responds to history in both fields. The research considers ‘composition’ as a term within music and within theatre, in contemporary and in historical contexts.
My working methods are based on dialogue with peers in the field. In artistic dialogue and laboratory based work with vocal artists and composers, as well as with performers and with student artists, I will engage in practice-based research leading to theatrical events.
I will engage myself in historical, library-based research into alternative notation e.g the graphic notation of the «New York school» composers. I will apply their approaches within my own instances of experiment.
My research will include extensive analysis of the works by several historical composers, and theatrical composers, and of significant composer artists currently working in the field, whose own work operates at the point where vocal experiments meets theatrical innovation. These will take the form of several case studies on living directors and composers who comprise some of the leading contemporary and historical figures in musical-vocal theatre events. This exploration will include new performances of their work, as an aspect of research exploration. These re-staging events will also be critically discussed and evaluated. I will make sure to achieve methodological and artistic knowledge through artistic and academic meetings with several of these artists.
I will also observe, and generate collaborative events with artists and with student artists, ranging from performance moments to larger-scale works, and critically reflect on my findings in new publicly presented works, and in written papers and presentations.
The academic and intellectual context for this work combines philosophical and aesthetic approaches, which might be described as ‘ungrounding’ the voice. The sonically and linguistically nomadic and rootless voice that picks and works with the traces of the past is a source to create unknown and infinite possibilities. My current scenic music work is gathering vocal data concerning vocal aesthetics and linguistic sounds from the ports of the world. Merged in noise, free tonal, disharmonic structures, cracked and screaming voices. In this work you hear traces of e.g. Gregorian chant-aesthetics, phrases in Latin, or in «black talk», or non-sense language borrowing the linguistic sounds from the travels through time and space. In the same way, melodic and harmonic structures is appearing in, and deriving from a rootless sweep through history.
Through this research a goal is for me to imagine a future music set within theatre, which can draw on the history of voice and on the past of music. By replaying and rethinking a wide range of works, both historically and in terms of expression, by responding to the past, the voice sonic multitude can be untied from its historical spaces. Through my methods, and by developing new methods and approaches I intent to generate new sonic aesthetics.
An important outcome of my project, beyond the purely artistic will be to contribute to a larger conceptual framework of integrating music and musicality on stage in different forms of theatrical work. Through professional discussions, lectures, articles, insights in the process, and critical reflections relating to the work, e.g. through written reflections and video documentations on the website, through workshops and performances of artistic works will I give to sight my investigations, specific discoveries, and the use of my methods. I hope this will open up a wider debate around the topic, and lead to a greater consciousness and thus contribute to increased knowledge. By linking myself to professionals and academic environments in other countries i facilitate an international professional networking. I will also present artistic work outside Norway in the research period for the same reason. My works and performances will be made available through recordings, and through notated scores.

The programme of research includes:
• Studio research, consisting of: Technical and compositional experimentation with solo voice, voice and instruments / other sound source , voice and body / space. The studio researh will be carried out by me alone, as well as a collaborative research with artists and students.
• Archive and library research, and researching case studies on artist-composers
• Producing solo, duo and ensemble works from my findings developing new forms of notation
Through my artistic research period, I will complete the following theatrical works:
• Solo Performance, where I develop concepts and content as well as staging with the aim of achieving a total fusion of theatrical expression.
• Develop duo performances (smaller and larger in scale) in collaboration with a co-creative artist who has its starting point in another scenic discipline than myself. A clear objective will be to develop interdisciplinary understanding of musical integration.
• Creating a larger scenic work through trans-disciplinary leadership in collaboration with the co-creative artist. Here notation methods will be tested on practitioners linked to production from the outside. There will be a point that this is not specialized musicians, but other theater artists and visual artists. As practitioners and visual artists/scenographers I may include students.
My works will be available as notated scores. I will make available the process and reflections of the development of an effective scoring of the works.
I will write two different academic papers: one article will deal with the methodology developed through the artistic work, with concrete suggestions for methods and techniques. This will be aimed at the creative arts field. The second article will be an educational article, with specific suggestions for revision of the current voice training at the performing arts programs to ensure that graduated practitioners are prepared to meet the extended technical requirements and musical understanding.
I will make my experiences, discoveries and artistic results available in several ways:
• Creating a blog / website where I post audio, video and written reflections.
• Holding lectures and workshops for students in the performing arts.
• Documenting artistic results after lab work, solowork and work with other artists.
• Keeping open presentations of completed works, and “work in progress” Both nationally and internationally.
• Give public presentations of a larger stage work in partnership with other practitioners and co-director.
• Publish two academic articles.
• Public presentations of my artistic research in progress