Ensemble: Residency with Sound and Music and the Music Hackspace

The Music Hackspace at the start of my residency

Ensemble is collaborative project I am leading with members of the Music Hackspace community as artist in residence involving the creation of a large sound installation and some unconventional musical performances to be showcased next summer. It’s about musical collaboration, its role within the music hacker community and the power of music to create a single collective identity out of individual expression.

We’re exploring this both in what we make and the process through which we do so. Each of us is creating an individual component of this installation over a period of nine months. Every month we meet to demonstrate and present our progress, and experiment to see how our contributions work together and understand the role our work plays within the group. The final piece of musical interfaces will encapsulate the different personalities involved and the collective identity that emerged. Behind the scenes, a little bit of technological magic will help to bring this alive to our audience…

Creating music with others is an opportunity to express ourselves and individual identities without all of the fixed literalness of speaking. But it is also an act involving submission — rather than simply acting as individuals we all adapt our actions to the common discourse of the group. At the most basic example, think of singing in unison. In doing so we signal a willingness to work together, but also demonstrate the power that is formed when we act in unity. Think singing the national anthem, singing in church or when you’re drunk and out with friends. These are acts that can make you feel the strength that comes with being a part of a group.

Making music together also provides a safe place to explore different relationships with each other and roles within a group. Following on the earlier example, think now of singing or playing together in harmony with others. Here, as well as demonstrating the power of acting towards a single purpose, we feel the effects of adopting different roles, letting some form a foundation whilst others take the lead, perhaps taking it in turns to have the spotlight. Some musicologists (e.g. Christopher Small) have taken this idea further and argued that musical practices reflect and reinforce our ideas of how society should work (consider the specialisation, authority and planning of an orchestra, the idolisation of rock stars or uncontrollability and lack of authority in the rave/free party scene).

Musical hacking is a scene and there are undoubtedly similar conclusions that can be drawn. There is a huge amount of individual originality and grassroots activity, and often an unwillingness to specialise as you might do in a band. Hacking together original mechanisms to create music is as much an expressive musical act as traditional composing. But responding, reacting and resonating with each other is fundamental to music. The Ensemble is an exploration into how these aspects of music can happen during the hacking and preparational stages of creating interactive sound works.

I’ll post more here as the project progresses. There’s more documentation available on the Music Hackspace website.