4.4 Timeline reflections

During the introduction chapter I raised research questions that highlighted the development of my sound signature and how it affected my working in other cultures as composer and producer. Further, I ask: what challenges and processes emerged during recording and performances of my music? Finally, and not least: what kind of cultural and ethical issues emerged in this form of artistic research? I will now review the following four sections in light of these questions.

  1. Reflections on sound

The timelines present an in-depth view on the artistic processes in my dissertational work. The studio settings worked out as a cultural meeting space (Meintjes, 2003) combining on-location and online recording sessions with digital tools and communication and studio as a musical instrument (Bell, 2018; Eno, 1979; Frith & Zagorski-Thomas, 2012; Howlett, 2009, 2012; Zagorski-Thomas, 2014). The timelines demonstrate a development from the more controlled studio settings towards an aesthetic preference recording acoustically live in concerts. I now prefer to record in a concert hall rather than an artificial staging of performances in a virtual studio environment (Frith & Zagorski-Thomas, 2012). Live acoustic recordings mirror the sound aesthetics of how the actual instruments sounds. The post-recording phase still includes an extensive editing in studio although less, or to say no, possibilities to re-record to replace separate instrument tracks. This due to the sound leakage in every microphone on stage where you can hear several instruments. As sound engineer Jon Marius Aareskjold remarks, I have a typical jazz approach: To let the music itself be the center of attention. As a performer touring for many years I acknowledge the impact in such situations which has influenced my choices in both recording and aesthetics.

My specific way of voicing harmonies as a pianist extends into my compositions as an intertwined sound signature. The sound of the compositions and arrangements includes microtonality and goes beyond the idiomatic limitations of the grand piano or guitar, as identified by Moore (2001, pp. 59-60). My harmonies are voiced in a way that naturally opens up a space for microtonal instruments as demonstrated in the albums and timelines. The global signature emerges collaborating with traditional artists and musicians.

  1. The albums and the compositional processes

Throughout these artistic processes I have acquired musical knowledge in different genres and musical cultural competence. In line with this I will argue for how my compositional signature has developed and changed. The first two studio albums were recorded layer by layer in different locations. As the compositions developed, I re-recorded, re-arranged and tried out different solutions in my laptop studio, band rehearsals in Norway and studio and concert sessions with Savy and Theara in Cambodia. A major change was in the decision to expand with a string orchestra. The string recording was compressed to a concentrated four-hour session with no room for mistake, the opposite to how I previously worked: Straight from the music scores directly to recording. In many ways it was a gamble. The whole process took several years, and a parallel process were the planning of a live concert recording with Asian and Arabic musicians in Norway. This meant I had to learn how to write for Arabic traditional instruments. The meetings with Abeer were important for my understanding of maqams. Still, most of the musicians met on stage for the first time two days before the concert, so there was little time for changes and adjustment.

Now the compositional processes were similar to more traditional western classical methods, writing in solitude then directly from score to concert. Working with musicians and artists from different parts of the world made it impossible for all to meet for rehearsals before these two days due to the limitations in my budget for this project. In the first two studio albums the compositorial approach were more cyclical. Gaining experience, I took more chances, especially with the live recordings. I was back to a more performance-based aesthetics with live interactions between the artists and musicians on stage.

One reoccurring comment from colleagues and recipients was the strong signature from the vocalists and the question as to whether I had a signature or draw more on the artists’ signature. This was an important factor in my decision to explore my sound signature further through an instrumental album. Having spent considerable time in Southeast Asia I now wanted to focus more on Arabic instruments. Replicating the compositional approach, I spent most of the time writing the music in solitude. Contrary to the first live album, the last album Dawara (Haaland, 2018) had several technical challenges recording live. First, the change of sound engineer in the last minute. The microphone settings from the previous sound engineer were not ideal so this effected the sound quality of the recording. Secondly, massive digital errors in the files complicated the editing in the studio. Third, additional studio recordings with Istanbul Strings created a challenge combining studio and live sound regarding the virtual placement in the soundbox (Moore, 2012). We tried to mimic the textual space from the live sound and apply it on the strings. This sounded out of context to me as the Arabic sound aesthetics diminished. In the end I decided to apply the sound aesthetics from Arabic pop music and kept the Arabic strings in the middle of the mix contrasting the more reverbed live sound in the other tracks.

 The compositions on the album Dawara (Haaland, 2018) were intended to work with Southeast Asian instruments as well. For that to happen I first needed to learn more about how to compose for Arabic instruments, then prove this in a live recording (Dawara, 2018). Following a live performance with Thai traditional instruments (4.3.3) Working in different regions and time zones provided logistically and practically challenges as well.

The same process is relevant developing the new approach reharmonizing Arabic maqams and improvisations, first emerged improvising with Abeer (4.2.1) in 2015. I repeated this approach both in Bethlehem with four Palestine artists in April 2017 (4.3.2) and one month after with Abeer collaboration on new (at this time) unpublished material. Only when repeating and testing this approach gathering empirical data, I became convinced it worked. I even tried out this approach improvising with the Thai traditional obo (4.3.3). Here I adjusted the harmonies towards the pentatonic scale. My work has generated new knowledge on how to reharmonize Arabic Maqam improvisations with Arabic instruments and vocals (4.3) expanding on the Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s work. I combine a wide range of different compositional methods and musical genres not limited to one culture. The “thick” understanding (Geertz, 1973) of Southeast Asian and Arabic music traditions helps me to do so. My diverse background as musician, arranging and lecturer working with different western musical styles adds to this knowledge base.

  1. Methodological considerations

In this dissertation the main qualitative methodological elements have consisted of artistic research in combination with autoethnography. The latter applied through self-reflection as it builds on my personal experience in the artistic processes and cultural interactions. For me it has been a way of structuring unstructured events wording tacit knowledge.

The timelines have contextualised my artistic practice into on-going artistic research sharing compositional knowledge. Furthermore, the web page design and construction offer additional contextualisation as artistic research (Borgdorff, H., Peters, P. & Pinch, T, 2020). One of the strengths of artistic research combined with autoethnography is the artists voice into the discourse documenting expert knowledge. However, an obvious obstacle is the closeness to the material and the emotional connection to the music. Could I have conducted my research more in line with the artistic-researcher (Crispin, 2015, Stévance & Lacasse, 2018) separating the reflective and artistic processes? There are elements of this approach in my work but not equality of written vs artistic material. In addition, Crispin advocate for a stricter methodical approach. Research-creation do provide a practical pedagogic framework on how to conduct the research. Still, the challenge from my point of view is the separation itself and reduction of the value of artistic processes and output. However, in this dissertation I apply an interpretation of the term artist-researcher, or artist-doing-research, more in line with Bordorff´s view with flexibility in terms of equality and critical reflection.

Of course, this is a challenging field of research, namely, to combine to be an artist on a high international level and on the same time to be an international scholar in this expanding field within popular music studies. Responding to this challenge, Howlett writes: ‘To look back now—29 years later—and try to understand the reasons for my actions and choices has the benefit of hindsight’ (Howlett, 2009, pp.2-3). How much distance in time is necessary to make a convincing discourse? Hindsight have an advantage in terms of sharing more processed reflections, though the accuracy in details may be more precise closer in time. Finding myself within the object and artistic processes made it a constant challenge to step out of the object and analyse. Conversations with supervisors, colleagues and research fellows during the dissertation were one way of obtaining an outside view into my research. These more suggestive advises differs from the stronger entanglement collaboration or cooperation project found in research-creation.

  1. My music in relation to broader cultural themes

Combining cultures and intercultural collaboration connects my work to other similar projects such as the Silk Road project, founded by the cellist Yo Yo Ma in 1998. The Silk Road project focus on explicit goals like global understanding and a more inclusive world, according to their webpage. In this doctoral dissertation, and in line with Said (1978), I would argue that by working interculturally my music can be interpreted as a political statement towards the polarization in societies and fear of Otherness. Through these collaborations I want to draw attention to the sound of Arabic and Southeast Asian languages by presenting these cultural musical meetings as documented in the present four albums. Musically, the trans-national Silk Road project draws on musical traditions from Asia, Europe and The Middle East playing melodies in unison by instruments and some counter melodies with no particular focus on harmonies. It is a multi-cultural collective of 50 musicians bringing together traditions.

A similar project is ASEAN-Korea traditional Orchestra (2009) with 51 traditional instruments from Southeast Asia, again focusing on melodies in unison rather than harmony. Theara and several of my Southeast Asian colleagues plays in this orchestra. 

In 1981 the legendary group Fong Naam were formed by the American composer and classical trained pianist Bruce Gaston together with his Thai traditional master of the instrument ranat, Boonyong Kethong. This group was the first in Thailand combining western harmonies, western band instruments and Thai traditional instruments. In meeting Gaston in April 2019, he shared his view on the philosophy behind his compositions rooted in Buddhism. It became clear to me that his knowledge both in Thai history and performance makes him a master of both western classical as well as Thai traditional music. Bruce was kind enough to provide me with his (at this time unpublished) autobiography and it confirmed his rooting and deep understanding in Thai traditional opera and musical remakes. Providing a balance based in deep insight in all musical cultural traditions is in my opinion very important when collaborating interculturally.

An example of trans-national musical work in the Middle East is the Lebanese composer and pianist Ziad Rahbani, one of the first in this region combining a western jazz band with arabic traditional instruments like the Nay, heard in his tune Houdou Nisbi (Rahbani,1985, track 2). He applies advanced harmonies and jazz improvisation.

Indian composer and sitar player, Anoushka Shankar presents an innovative way of including the Indian sitar and elements of Indian raga in more diverse and variated harmonies and popular music styles played by western instruments. In the album Breathing under Water (Shankar, 2007) Shankar co-compose with the American DJ, film composer and tabla player Karsh Kale. They combine sitar with acoustic and electronic elements. The title track of the album is an instrumental theme with sitar and strings followed by Sea Dreamer–a vocal version with the artist Sting (Shankar, 2007, track 4). The latter sounding more Western with English lyrics, guitar, drums, bass and sitar. Listening to the two tracks exemplifies how a melody and arrangement may change in a musical trans-national frame moving from Indian towards Western. I draw on these experiences as it connects to how I present a tune in different languages and artists (4.2.2). In addition, I strive for a basic attitude of equality in meeting with musicians from other cultures similar to these projects.

My artistic processes are the result of creative experiments both musically and culturally. The empirical data from all the studio sessions and rehearsals are massive and the timelines only present selections. The reason for not revealing and dwelling on the errors is an ethical obligation I have towards all the artists and musicians that trust me with this material. Studio sessions and rehearsals is an opportunity to try out ideas, improvise and at times fail. Most of my collaborators are well-known artists with careers. Releasing “errors” in the name of scientific transparency would be an abuse of my power and disrespectful of the mutual trust in these projects.

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