Research

Welcome, and thanks for visiting this page outlining my research. I am currently researching music performance as a PhD student at The University of Hull under the supervision of Peter Elsdon and Toby Martin. Funding for my research is courtesy of the North of England Consortium of Arts and Humanities.

The best place to start is stating my working title:

“An examination, through thesis and performance portfolio, of improvisatory interaction and interplay in the piano trio performances from Chick Corea’s Rendezvous in New York concert series.”

I would like to take a moment to deconstruct this title and explain, in no particular order, some of the elements.

Examination


What do we mean by ‘examination’ in a musicological context? Moreover, what are some of the implications of committing to specific strategies and methodologies? We could interchange ‘examination’ for ‘analysis’, but that does not necessarily make things much more precise. Without going into great detail concerning the evolution of musicology, and the changing philosophical outlooks and thinking of the discipline, it is useful to think of analysis as a spectrum of approaches. These range from a ‘close’ consideration of the music (this might entail looking closely at the musical details, i.e. notes, phrasing, structure, etc.), to a more contextual account (maybe examining political, cultural, sociological, and historical influences and meaning). My research is aiming to sit in the middle of this continuum, providing a close but suitably contextual examination.

Interaction and Interplay


For the non-improvising musician or layperson, these terms might seem ambiguous and confusing. I would like to draw upon a common metaphor used to discuss improvisation: music is like language. In this sense, we could view improvisation (and the resultant interaction and interplay) as a spontaneous—but detailed—conversation between people. Consider how the discussion might evolve, how each person might listen and respond, how the pace of the conversation ebbs and flows, how contributions might converge (or indeed diverge), how each person’s individual and unique syntactical, semantic and linguistic characteristics might manifest. All this occurs within a framework, both with respect to the structures and syntax of the language being used, and the topic being discussed.

Although the above metaphor has a tremendous amount of utility and explanatory power it is also, to some extent, fundamentally flawed. Charles Seeger, in his book (rather a collection of essays) Studies in Musicology 1953–1975, outlines a deep epistemological problem which he calls the ‘linguocentric predicament’. This predicament is rooted in the differentiation between music and language regarding the cognitive perception of reality; ultimately there is something fundamentally untranslatable about musical experience, no matter how compelling or useful the metaphor.

So where does this leave my research? Straddling some reasonably esoteric topics! Nonetheless, I am drawing on the excellent work of scholars—such as Ingrid Monson, Robert Hodson, and Paul Berliner—who have considered, in detail, interaction and interplay in jazz improvisation to build an innovative analytical framework enabling a careful examination of the trio performances of Chick Corea. This framework will draw particular attention to the concepts of ‘convergence’ (coming together musically) and ‘divergence’ (moving apart musically), and how they evoke a heterogeneous musical landscape of multifaceted, multimodal, and multidimensional interaction.



Chick Corea’s Rendezvous in New York


I shall avoid a detailed biography of Chick Corea at this stage, however, if you are interested in discovering a little more about him do check out his website by clicking here. Rendezvous in New York is a ten-disc DVD (and in fact, a two-disc CD) detailing Corea’s 60th birthday celebration during December 2001, at The Blue Note in New York. This series of gigs featured many of Corea’s past projects and celebrated a career of fruitful, and musical, friendships. These projects range from a duet with Gary Burton to performances from the Three Quartets Band and Origin project. My research is focussing on the three trio ensembles from this series: The Now He Sings, Now He Sobs Trio (featuring Miroslav Vitous on double bass, and Roy Haynes on drums); The Akoustic Band (featuring Dave Weckl on drums, and John Patitucci on double bass); and Chick Corea’s New Trio (featuring Avishai Cohen on double bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums).

Performance Portfolio

How can music performance inform research? Why bother doing this element at all? There is some debate in musicological circles about the utility of performance-led research. Some argue that the object-subject dichotomy is useful, while others posit that auto-ethnographic insight from the performer provides greater understanding unattainable through traditional discourse. This debate notwithstanding the programme at the University of Hull affords the researcher a great deal of flexibility, insomuch that the connectivity between performance portfolio and the thesis is very fluid. At the current stage of my research, I am uncertain as to the extent of this connectivity; it might be that there is merely an experiential relationship between the two elements or the two strands of research might converge more substantially.