Voice Lab: Songs of being as embodied philosophical inquiry

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Brennand, John (2017) Voice Lab: Songs of being as embodied philosophical inquiry. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This PhD by Creative Project consists of three distinct but interwoven parts – the development and investigation of a wordless vocal performance practice with volunteer participants, a culminating performance ‘product’ which creatively documents, elucidates and illuminates the investigation, and a written exegesis which contextualises and complements the investigation and culminating production. The project sets out to cultivate an original voice practice and performance practice philosophy through an innovative re-interpretation and application of established practices and ideas. I locate the core generating propositions of the project in three recurring themes derived from the articulations and artistic life of Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), around the potential of every person as artist, the notion of artist as shaman, and the notion of creativity sourced at its spring point. I both concur with and diverge from Beuys through these themes in the cultivation of a practice and practicing philosophy that speaks of my desire to acknowledge and engage with the invisible yet emergent forces inherently available in inspiration, emotion, instinct, intuition, and perception, as implicit in the multi-resonant possibilities of voice, and as material for art practice and creative agency. The research project proposes that this immersive experiential performance practice can provide creative methods that broaden the constituents of knowing via the expansion of each individual’s perceptual and expressive palette, in relational creative engagement. The thesis is conducted through, for, and into, performance as art practice and generative method, as process and outcome via a practice led research methodology. The performance practice explored in the project is the primary site of embodied knowledge production. The practice drew upon, synthesized, and developed from a very broad range of established body, perceptual, meditative and theatrical voice and breath-based practices. This includes influences and melding of practices from Ilse Middendorf (Perceptible Breath), Paul Newham (Voice Movement Therapy), Karlheinz Stockhausen (Composition “Stimmung”), Yoga (Prana and Nada), Chi gong, voice for actor training of Zygmunt Molik and of Michael Chekhov, the extended voice work of Linda Wise, and includes methods that have evolved from my own dedicated practice over several decades. The complementary exegesis performs as a map of the evolution, contextualization, and imbrication of the practice towards performance and performance philosophy, and comprises 30% of the overall creative project. The exegesis will be provided to examiners immediately following the performance. The creative component of the thesis comprises 70% of the project and included conducting voice workshops with two groups of volunteer participants from Melbourne and Adelaide spanning a period of one year. The heart of the creative project involved conducting intensive monthly four-hour workshops with participants in two groups - one in Adelaide, one in Melbourne - over a period of one year. These workshops evolved through the process of applying, and building upon, techniques drawn from the practices listed above, and included reflective journaling. This workshop process was followed by a systematic collection of individual improvised vocal recordings, and interview/conversational recordings from participants over a further four months. The journals were exclusively used as a resource for the participants own reflections, which they were able to access and review during the audio recording process. At the end of the recording phase of the project I asked the participants to fill out a questionnaire regarding their personal experience with the practice and the project. The intention of the questionnaire was to provide reflective space and bring to the surface any additional insights and reflections regarding the participants’ experiences. This information is integrated to the exegetical writing regarding the experiences of the participants in “Participants’ Experiences and Insights” (p. 82) and provided in full in Appendix (p. 103). The culminating multi-modal performance uses audio recordings from the participants’ engagement in wordless improvisation collaged with recordings of interviews with the participants about the effects and affects of the practice. The multi modal performance of orchestrated pre-recorded audio, visual projection and live solo performance is a creative documentation and applied extension of the practical philosophies cultivated in the project. The performance itself is designed to provide reflective space for the audience to have individual generative subjective responses, in alignment with and as an extension of Beuys’ notional potential of ‘everyone as artist’ and as an extension of the project’s intention toward inviting subjective perceptual agency. The development of the performance draws propositional dialogic ground from the work and ideas of artist Susan Hillier and her notion of ‘Voice as body’, which suggests that the ‘truth’ of the body is found in the voice as non-representational extension of the body as opposed to body represented by image. I also propose a multi-sensory embodied perceptual reading of the performance by drawing alliance and constructively imbricating Maurice Merleau–Ponty’s assertions on synaesthesia as performative philosophical ground. The thesis questions the ingrained and pervasive logocentric world-view that prioritizes the rational and seen over the invisible but perceivable felt. Instead of the Cartesian dictum of “I think therefore I am”, as a practice based researcher I suggest a notion of resonant embodiment that shifts and broadens the locus of self and knowing, proposing a more relational dictum of “I resonate therefore I am in 4 active concert with all that is becoming”. This project creatively addresses the knowledge gap inherent in dominant scientific academic epistemologies arrived at through verbal argument and deduction, by focusing on the acquisition of wordless tacit generative ‘living’ knowledge evoked through engaging experiential emergent and creative endeavour, to discover ‘what works’, while inviting insightful rhizomatic perspective, and asserting multiple ways of ‘knowing’. This project, through both the performance and exegetic components, suggests that engaging in the experiential process specific to this performance practice offers transformative meta-value for those that participate, and is analogous to and builds upon Beuys’ notion of the expanded concept and function of art to enliven individual and interconnected creative capacity.

Additional Information

Doctor of Philosophy (by Creative project)

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/36763
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > College of Arts
Keywords artist, creativity, Joseph Beuys, performance practice, performative art practice, voice practice
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