Blog for the JISC-funded Kultivate project

Capturing Process? Practice Research within the Creative Arts

Anne Spalding, Repository and Digitisation Officer at the University for the Creative Arts, and Kultivate Project Officer has provided the following account of the ‘Capturing Process’ symposium, held on 29th June, to celebrate the launch of the Practice Research Unit at Kingston University. The programme for the day is available, although the website won’t be formally launched until autumn 2011:

The event began with an introduction and welcome from Professor Matthew Pateman, Dr. Helen Minors, and Professor John Mullarkey. This included references to the current economic times and an impassioned plea that it is now more vital than ever to promote the validity of the arts.

Session One: Capturing Process
The session began with Michael Chanan (film/music) talking about reflection within the research process, which was a recurring theme for the day. He also spoke about the important relationship between the creator/performer and the audience. There is an unspoken dialogue between the two and it is not always easy to capture the reaction of the audience to the creator/performer. Yet it is this feedback which is important for the impact in the REF, so how does one record this? The contact with the audience is not formalised or quantified. In addition the creator/performer never sees their own work in the same way that an audience outside of that work views it.

John Irving (music) introduced his current research and explained that he was recording all aspects of this research. The research output for this project is a CD of the recording of a selection of Mozart’s keyboard works and also a web based documentary resource. Before undertaking the performance of the musical works John spent a month developing the ‘clavichord touch’. A different technique is required to play a clavichord as opposed to a fortepiano and this learning informed the performance. John also spoke about the technical challenges of trying to capture performance on an instrument that had a personality of its own and in an oval room in which it is difficult to record in because of the acoustics. The clavichord could not be removed from the room for legal reasons.

Simon Ellis (dance) discussed the huge amount of material that is produced in order to document the research process and performance. Processes may not be relevant to the project yet there is pressure to document everything. There are questions about where to put this information, who will use it and what is it for, how is it valuable? It is important to be able to assess this information. Simon also mentioned the many roles researchers may have:

In my various roles as choreographer, video-maker, teacher (what Cat Harrison calls a “slashie” as in dancer slash maker slash …) I seek collaborations.

Reference: (accessed 30.06.2011)

Defining Practice: Rehearsing Applied Strategies
The next session demonstrated the work of three researchers working in the areas of: digital media, Maria Mencia; film, Fiona Curran; and music, Oded Ben-Tal.

Maria Mencia explained how her sonic poem ‘Birds singing other birds songs’ had been adapted to suit different exhibition venues. In the process of adapting her work she discovered its versatility.

Fiona showed her film ‘Clean’ in which ten women were shown cleaning their faces. The soundtrack to the film gave clues to the characters of the women but the audience were not privy to this information.

Ben explained how his collaboration with his performing partner worked because their shared a vocabulary, they each possessed different strengths which complemented each other; they viewed mistakes as opportunities and took time to develop ideas.

After lunch the keynote address was given by Robin Nelson (Central School of Speech and Drama). Robin gave a very clear and concise view about Practice as Research. Reflection on your research was absolutely key in his experience; building in time to do this only enriches your research.

Round table discussion
This covered the guidance on the weighting in PhDs for the practice and written context. Essentially this varies between universities and countries but in the UK this balance can be negotiated. There is a relationship between practice and theory which will never go away. A lively debate followed on whether recording research interferes with the spontaneity of developing the research. It is difficult to decide at what point to turn a camera on or off, a theme which had also been discussed earlier in the day. The final point was around ownership of the work and the wish that IPR issues were less complicated and that all material for educational purposes was exempt from such restrictions.

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