Maria Sundin, lecturer on Astronomy and Physics took the next discussion. Once again, there was a great contrast in style compared to the previous talk. This one was also very dynamic and educative but didn’t rely on any visuals until the end. The discourse however was very understandable and inspirational. She spoke about collaboration between Art and Science in very simple terms.
My favorite part was when she was talking about the challenge it is to be an astronomer stuck on planet Earth. She said it’s like “being a tree at the end of the forest, and trying to figure out what and how the entire forest is“.
As a science practitioner, her beliefs and a-priori have greatly changed. At first she didn’t seek any of that collaboration, but by a fortunate encounter, she discovered an artist who had the same interests as her with a radically different approach. Their discussion made them compare the movement of the stars with dancing, which ultimately resulted in some joint projects.
A taste of immensity
However, she stated that collaborating with artists doesn’t make her work progress as such, but rather it helps her think differently. The communication effort especially relates to my experience as student, in particular programming. Trying to explain something specifically so that non-specialists understand it is a well-known activity, which can help debug (rubber ducky technique) or explain. However it seems that her point of view might evolve and that she will discover some new insights beyond this.
Artistic Ducky ?
After all, maybe explaining the same problems to us or children might be as useful for that purpose, if we overlook the passion of the people she met for the same topics. I guess the artistic work has some tremendous potential for stimulating thinking in general, and possibly broaden the field of ideas conceivable. Drawing parallels. Far from the triteness of rubber contraptions, the specific insights of an artistic view can help uncover new possibilities when least expected. Great discoveries were made by chance, and it seems being an artist is all about taking every possible chance…
Finally, the seminar welcomed the eminent cellist Johan Stern from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. This was a wonderful event, not so much by its worded content but by the evocative power of music. It was a peculiar sight, that the cello was relentlessly handled, caressed, fiddled with and cuddled by its joyful owner. This made me think of a puppeteer, who can’t possibly appear in public without his mascot.
Johan Stern and his sonic puppet
Quickly, the musician opened the audience by playing the “shortest piece of [his] repertory”. A very gloomy and dark minute and twenty seconds created by Åke Hermanson, called Hymn till Saltö. The Swedish piece instilled a rested tension, the strange sensation of being warm inside and contemplating at cold grey weather outside. It echoed in the audience with a thought-oriented atmosphere, grave and solemn.
The discussion moved on to the origins of the Cello, its qualities, and the technical maestria required to build and design it. After all, it successfully passed the test of time without changing much in shape or in concept, which is quite remarkable. Johan took the opportunity to take a shot at other more popular stringed instruments like guitars, scorning their often poor material quality…
The playfulness of the presentation resumed, when he started to speak about the communication and formalism behind music as a professional practice. He showcased a few pictures of different musical notations in time, and how they adopted different codes and reflect the preoccupations of their time. If i recall well, he showed some ancient medieval notations, some renaissance traditional music scores up to modern experimental notations.
One of the enigmatic slides about John Cage
Especially those would become relevant towards the end of the presentation: they showed not only which notes should be played and their duration, but also beyond the notes, what gestures, body postures and sounds to produce with the instrument’s wood and archer. Some screeching sounds, knocks, foot trumpling or voices should be performed as well according to such notation. I think he cited John Cage as one of these more experimental examples. Cage has explored the potential of sounds, and has written strange scores for unconventional instruments such as a tape recorder. See some examples at this address.
By that, he conveyed how important a degree of scientifical rigor is useful to allow synchronisation of many musicians. And the way an artistic perspective can allow new collaborations by inventing new communication codes. He further illustrated this point by showing an art picture, which became a score for the audience to play. Improvised conductor, he assigned some volunteer people with voices, and others with hand claps. By his stick was hanging the dimension of time, and by his gestures he indicated the notes’ departing.
The musical score and the audience
As is not very obvious from the picture, there are horizontal black rectangles and vertical ones. The horizontal became the voices, and the vertical some claps. The global reading orientation was decided from left to right, and the hilarious performance could begin! As predictable, the absence of information about harmony led to a very chaotic result, however the beginning was surprisingly homogeneous and listenable. With the advent of unsynchronised clapping, the performance took a different turn. Still, I guess the point was successfully illustrated ~~
After a good laugh, the audience was ready to receive the final present of Johan Stern: a performance from George Crumb, who incidentally created haunting music. Haunting to the point that it made its way in the original soundtrack of the popular movie “The Exorcist”… The piece, i think, was titled “Ending Parade“, and belonged to the Black Angels set of compositions. (the Exorcist one). However, after doing some research and listening to some modern renditions of these compositions by the Black Angels String Quartet, I couldn’t find the Ending Parade.
If anything, this particular piece didn’t have the shrilling bone shattering scare factor of mutliple dissonant viola, but seemed very much intended for solo playing. It appeared coherent, structured while very complex. There was a sense of regularity, strength and a sexual impulse behind it. The performance was incredible of melodic candy, and gestural virtuosity. The swift and assured movements were a testimony of virtuosity, which showcased the inventivity of Crumb in the best possible light: noises, hitting the wood of the cello and shrilling out-of-this-world archer choreography graced the audience and left it speechless.