Identifying and Developing the Personal Voice in Improvised Music Performance
AuthorBurnett, Fiona Christina
AffiliationVictorian College of the Arts
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Fiona Christina Burnett
This study documents a phenomenological and philosophical enquiry into the nature and dimension of the personal voice (McMillan 1996) in improvised music performance. Utilising heuristic research (Moustakas 1990), a practice-based research methodology adapted for the purpose of this enquiry, this study examines my artistic practice as a musician, composer and soprano saxophonist. This practice is observed through the differentiated stages of the development of musical syntax within improvisation. Works by J. S. Bach and John Coltrane are examined as potential sources of new material for improvised works. Arguably, music history appears to be an additive process whereby each new generation of composers, performers and improvisers add new layers to an existing core of practice. However, when contrasting a relatively new performance practice, such as John Coltrane’s improvisations in the ‘Hard Bop’ genre, against the performance practice from the Baroque era by Bach, the performer may discover that the two music practices, chosen for the purposes of the source materials, share elements and processes. This could contribute to informing new musical language through the process of generative or improvised music performance. This study is significant because, observably, within elite music training institutions and the concert activity of major metropolitan cities there appears to be a rigid demarcation of performance practice. A music practitioner may prioritise interpretive music performance over improvised music or vice versa. While the notion of composer/performer is well understood in contemporary music practice, what possibilities exist for the notion of generative interpretation and the development of the personal voice (McMillan 1996) and individual expression in improvisation? This thesis examines source materials from diverse styles by J. S. Bach and John Coltrane to consider the process and context of the creative process in improvised music and the development of the personal voice (McMillan 1996). This practice-based research project (Barrett and Bolt 2012) is examined via musical practice, assimilation and interpretation, where the elements of music and musical language derived from the source materials are examined, practised, recorded and considered as containing the potential for informing spontaneously improvised outcomes. Musical syntax arising through the process of improvisation is demonstrated via transcription and analysis to understand personal idiosyncratic qualities in the form of musical gestures within spontaneously improvised music. The development and identification of creative and musical influences are examined through the cultivation of an in-depth understanding and assimilation of the source materials. To ascertain the extent of musical influences on spontaneous improvisation, more broadly in terms of implicit style and interpretation, or explicitly in terms of how specific and measurable musical elements such melodic, harmonic and rhythmic material are examined via transcription and analysis (Mulholland and Hojnacki 2013) informing the creative outcomes and the extent and nature of influence that can be measured, within the spontaneous solo improvisations in the context of this study.
KeywordsImprovisation; Practice-Based Research; Artistic Research; Performer-Composer; Soprano Saxophone; Jazz; Composition; JS Bach; John Coltrane
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