Yesterday my painter co-artist and I went up to the Las Platas. We walked partway up the trail head road after becoming anxious about protruding stones on tires, and panting from high altitude we sat in an alpine meadow and had lunch. After lunch I sat and wrote in my journal, and Leslie scrambled and crawled around 'shooting' rocks and grass and things.
I wrote and drew stick figures in my journal. And I became fixated on one of the pictures. There are two stick people holding a circle split in half, and they represent to me the idea of collaboration.
Collaboration to me, is at least two participants, each fully present in all that they bring to the table - as people, as professionals, as thinkers, as doers, as questioners... holding an equal part of an undertaking. The circle split in half is the 'ation' of collaborate. The acting/making, the process of whatever topic, goal, or aim is on the table.
To me, true collaboration is only possible to the extent that the participants involved hold the same fraction of the circle. ( More to discuss on that in a future PHD I hope... )
Scientist, I don't think you have seen my half of the circle, and I'd like to tell you about it...
Scientist, my side of the circle is yes, about me as the hiker, the one that's afraid of snakes, the one that is quiet a lot and wears a red bandana sometimes, the one that asks simpler questions about your job and needs a kid definition of those geologic words I can't remember, the one who held the camera clicker for you... but there's also that part of the circle that says ARTIST; the part of the circle that says CELLIST, the part of the circle that in this residency you are labeled to be interacting with...
Scientist, I think you might actually be interested in more of this part of my circle...
Actually, I don't really think its important if you are interested, but it is important for me to show up with my entire half of the circle and there is a big chunk of my half that you haven't seen.
Last night I declined an invitation to a party. I'm not really a party person and I wanted some quiet space. I also wanted to do some work. Work for me last night meant going to the museum and sketching shapes from the ceramic work that inspired me, sitting in the Englehart exhibit with my Nascam and earphones to transcribe music I had already recorded, working on emails to contact parents and set up performance dates for my work in Rochester, and finally sitting down with Scubba the cello.
When I sat down with Scubba my hands felt awkward and achy from all the hiking, dehydration, and lack of working out and stretching. I played some scales, worked out my left thumb muscle for a bit, tried to improvise and got irritated, and ended up working on a little project I started my first week here.
My project is to explore hand shape possibilities in microtonal music.
It is rooted in topics including pythagorean chains of ratios, anatomy of the hand, sound waves... In current traditional western music the octave is split into 12 semitone intervals. These intervals are represented for cellists in two basic hand positions. We call them open and closed, or regular and extension. In the regular hand shape we have semitone steps between each of our fingers pointer to pinky. In extension, we have two semitone steps between pointer and middle and one semitone between the other fingers. These two positions form the basis of the way we approach music physically in first to seventh position. It seems to be the best way to avoid injury, and the most effective way to get around the instrument.
In microtonal music the scale is split into other divisions rather than 12. The microtonal set I am working with splits the octave into 24 pitches. While I have played music which included notation for "quarter tones" it was never clear to me which pitch division the composer had in mind, and more practically, how I was supposed to play those notes with my hand. Usually the method used is some kind of pitch bending- a loose method of playing slightly higher or lower than the 12 tone pitch. I wanted to explore how I could cohesively finger pitches within a 24 note division.
Last night I discovered that for quarter tone spaces, within the same physical distance there are multiple hand shapes possible. This sort of blew my mind. To spend 24 years studying the management of two hand shapes and then to discover that there are at least 5 (I'm still working on this) was pretty amazing. I'm not sure what research is out there about this, but look at this quote from wicki:
"Bowed string instruments (notably violin/viola/cello/bass) can easily and almost unlimitedly play microtonal music, and in fact are easier to retrofit due to the lack of frets. Unfortunately, most trained players of the instruments are going to be finnicky about playing in any way other than the way they're used to, thanks to the pedagogy. There are two important tools in making microtonal string music work, scordatura and fingerboard marking." ( In other words the only way to play other pitch sets is either to re-tune the strings, or draw a line on the fingerboard so you can find the spot. )
I'll have to talk to cellists about it and see who is playing microtonal music and how they are fingering it, if anyone has ever written the pedagogy of this stuff down...
There now, Scientist, I feel better because I've told you about what I did yesterday. I'm not sure this actually makes any difference to you, and it may just be me trying to prove that I can be smart and sciency too, but maybe I feel better because my part of the circle went from an eighth to a quarter.