This is a combined artistic-scientific dissertation, a specialization in Popular Music Performance with an intertwined written and artistic part, in my case four released albums (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Asian Flow feat. Ouch Savy (2014), Asian Flow feat. Synth (2015), Live in concert (2015) and Dawara (2018)

The theoretical framework I employ is popular musicology, which is as much focused on musical details as it is interdisciplinary (Hawkins, 2002; Middleton, 1990; Scott, 2009). Given that popular music is shaped in its development by sound recording (Hawkins, 2002; Moore 2001, 2012; Zagorski-Thomas, 2014; Wicke, 2009), it is audio recordings that comprise my primary source of empirical data, in addition to field notes and log.

Sound is integrated into the discipline of popular musicology, as well as the music industry and among performers. Exemplifying this is the composer and jazz musician Herbie Hancock (Hancock, 2018) and producer Quincy Jones (Netflix, 2018), both of whom use sound to describe a unique artistic expression. Notably, several scholars and in particular musicologists use sonic markers, digital signatures and technical and stylistic codes as analytical terms seen from the scholars analytical perspectives (Askerøi, 2013; Danielsen & Brøvig-Hansen, 2016; Hawkins, 2002, 2011, 2012, 2016). Sound as it relates to recordings of songs within rock is defined as the primary text (Moore, 2001, 2012). In line with this, as a composer, I have concentrated on the intercultural sound of my recorded and performed compositions. In the timelines (chapter 4) I have applied sound as the text, replacing sentences with sound as part of the answer to the research questions. The combination of written text and sound is a way of contextualising artistic practice into artistic research (Borgdorff, 2011; Borgdorff, H., Peters, P. & T. Pinch, 2020). This artistic approach, applying sound as the text, differs from the method of close reading of the musical text related to musical analyses (Hawkins 2001, 2002; Moore 2001; Scott, 2003). I also acknowledge that the term ‘signature’ designates a degree of uniqueness (Arn, 1989; Dybo, 2002, 2013; Harrison, Burks, & Seiger, 2009; Lilliestam, 1981, 1988). This connects to chapter 2 and 4 where I highlight my compositional framework and artistic practice developing a sound signature.

The artistic research involved in my project has been conducted in different studios, which I analyse from an insider’s perspective as a composer. My position stems from a production-based approach to creative processes – in my case the compositions – rather than the creative output from the point of the observer (Zagorski-Thomas, 2014, pp. 26-29). The albums themselves– the creative output – are essential as a result of the artistic process. Accordingly, my work relates to the discourse studio as a musical instrument (Bell, 2018; Eno, 1979; Frith & Zagorski-Thomas, 2012; Howlett, 2009, 2012; Zagorski-Thomas, 2014). As such, I wish to emphasize that my albums should be viewed as part of the text and not as an appendix to a written dissertation (Borgdorff, H., Peters, P. & T. Pinch, 2020, p. 4), further elaborated in chapter 1.1.

Nowadays, the role of a contemporary pop-producer combines different roles and craftsmanship, such as songwriting, arranging, producing and programming.  Arrangements and hook lines are often made in a digital environment, with plug-in software instruments, before the melody (top line) and lyrics are added by others (Bell, 2018). My approach is more traditional insofar as working with acoustic instruments, drawing experience from classical, jazz, pop and elements from traditional music. Yet, I partly use the studio as a musical instrument or compositional tool, thus creating musical sketches and recording in my laptop studio on-location around the world, as well as working in more established on-location studios. As such, I alternate between the roles as composer, pianist, arranger, musical director, sound engineer and producer. To this end, my research questions are:

  1. How does my sound signature evolve, develop, and adjust to working in other cultures?
  2. What challenges and processes emerge during recording and performing my music?
  3. When conducting this form of artistic research, what kind of cultural and ethical issues emerge?

I am aware that these questions open up a broad field of relevant discussions in regard to music identity, gender, race, authenticity and culture. However, due to my disciplinary grounding, I have decided to focus on the artistic processes including performative elements, in which I argue and demonstrate through timelines with audio, videos and photo examples (chapter 4) that my understanding of other cultures is essential to the compositorial process and the final creative output (albums). Although this is not a cultural studies project per se, a “thick” understanding (Geertz, 1973) has assisted me in eliminating some of the “lost in translation” moments in the studio and has been crucial in live recordings with a limited amount of time to achieve a result.

Much of my musical work is geographically and culturally diverse, in itself global, which begs the question: Is it feasible to talk about a global sound or sound signature?
In this context the term global sound refers to the sound created by the involved musicians and artists from different parts of the world. Furthermore, working in the Middle East and Southeast Asia has in many ways extended beyond the stereotype image of Otherness (Said, 1978, pp.36-37) or exoticism (Taylor, 2007). It has been about acquiring a deep knowledge of Arabic and Asian traditional music and understanding each instrument and the musician as an extension of their cultural heritage. In my experience, this has a major influence on both the process of composing and the musical meetings, in which the final result reflects this knowledge (or lack of in some cases).  The collaborators are carefully selected from my international networks built up over many years, and I seek artists and musicians who have an inner motivation to expand their musical horizon. They are remunerated and credited accordingly to international standards in the music industry independent of cultural background.

From where does a musical idea emanate? Perhaps it is a way of processing impressions and emotions from cultural meetings emerging at a random point (McIntyre, 2005; Sawyer, 2012). My approach to composing is similar to more traditional western classical methods, in writing in solitude as opposed to today’s collective pop songwriter teams (Bell, 2018; Morey & McIntyre, 2011).

Throughout this dissertation I address challenges and processes that emerged during recording and performing live and in studio relating to technical, musical and collaborative concerns. Admittedly, a project of this kind will always run the risk of being “Eurocentric” (my use of quotes here refers to the complexity of the term). I acknowledge this point from the outset, and recognize a dissonance in fields such as ethnomusicology, which relate to the following instances in my study: I compose the core of the music and score it for the musicians. The intercultural part comes into play in the cultural meetings in the studio and live sessions in relation to recording, developing lyrics and the arrangements. I am open to changes, and thus desire the specific musician or artist to internalize the melodic lines adding their own individual sound signature. When vocalists add lyrics in their native tongue and musicians influence the arrangements and performance, it results in a process of musicking which is a collective process (Small,1998; Thomson & McIntyre, 2011). Christopher Small’s term musicking refer to all humans, also the listener’s, involvement (processing) in music making (Small, 1998, pp. 9-12). In my case it refers to the musicians and artists involved. In pop and jazz, there is a culture for interaction and openness for input from participating musicians, while in the western classical music tradition the approach is more hierarchical and instructing. Still, I acknowledge that I have the final word, and that there is inevitably an imbalance of power.

Being involved in the processes as insider researching in and through arts (Borgdorff, 2011) makes it all the more challenging viewing myself from a critical distance. As artists, we acquire artistic knowledge through creative processes and are not assuming or interpreting, but instead are explaining them. This is a different position from the observer and traditional musicologist approach. Publishing as a web page is a way of contextualising acquired artistic knowledge into artistic research (Borgdorff, H., Peters, P. & Pinch, T, 2020). In this respect, I combine a range of music styles in the knowledge that the final results cannot be defined within one specific style. Regrettably, the record industry still clings to the outdated genre definition of “world music”, which says little about the content and where I have to label my digital releases for lack of a better solution.

Within an artistic context, I have been inspired by the Lebanese pianist and composer Ziad Rahbani and Indian sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, approaching western music from their traditional music background. Equally inspiring is pop artists and composers who collaborate with traditional musicians, like Sting and Peter Gabriel. I do acknowledge similarities in my work, e.g., the multi-cultural musical collective Silk Road Ensemble (Yo Yo Ma, 1998) further elaborated in chapter 4.4.

It is important to emphasize that this is not a commercial project, and in every part of the process I strive for the best possible result, both musically and in technical quality. This makes every album expensive, though without the upside of the commercial income from sales and coverage from an external record company and I have covered a major part of the expenses.

The first chapter in my dissertation provides a methodological and theoretical overview, following the outline of a compositional framework in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, I provide an account of the background for the albums. Chapter 4 includes in-depth case studies, where I analyse compositions presented through timelines containing audio, video and photos. In addition, I provide reflections on the research questions and outcomes. Finally, I provide a summary with final remarks. The Appendix consists of the albums, scores, lyrics, fieldwork gallery and paper presentations.

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