Alright! Last post!
Over the course of this residency, I have been playing with different ways of implementing the ideas I have found through my reading. Something that would allow for artists to engage in performative making, systematic composition, and experimental art. After a couple of false starts, I settled on the Systematic Scoring Method (SSM), a new way to score live performances of all kinds (as well as break down existing works into their systematic components).
A detailed description of this method, along with examples, can be found below. However, I feel that the best way to understand this work is to see it in action. On May 13th, Boston Hassle, FTAM, and Project Zero will be hosting the first ever SSM showcase at Deep Thoughts JP, featuring five artists (myself included) who have all created new works using the SSM. You can find all needed information here- https://www.facebook.com/events/215970298761295/
So without further ado, here’s the Systematic Scoring Method (see link below for a blank template.
The systematic scoring method (SSM) was developed in direct response to the opaque nature of many performing arts productions, as well as many other types of media. More often than not, audiences experience the final product in an artistic process, leaving them to disaggregate the many elements contained within a work without the guiding hand of the artist’s intention to aid in this process. Deconstructing the work becomes further complicated when, as is the case with some theatre productions and musical performances, the artists recreating the work do not fully understand all of the elements that create the totality of the “final product.” A script may call for an actor to cross a stage at a certain point and piece of sheet music may instruct a musician to play a certain note at a certain volume, but why did the writer or composer make that choice? Does the act have a larger significance within the piece, or did the original creator include this as mere ornamentation?
To help reduce these problems, the SSM encourages artists to break down a full performance into those foundational and significant elements that serve the larger themes in a production. Artists should think of these performances as a system: a collection of interacting, artistic parts (text, action, lighting, music, character, etc) that form a larger, complete whole. Artists utilizing the SSM should only include those elements that are needed for the performance to exist and leave ample room for artistic interpretation. For example, if Shakespeare were to rewrite Hamlet using the SSM, he may have replaced the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy with some general talking points and removed any indication that the play was set in Denmark. Removing either of these elements does not undermine the larger themes in the play. However, if Shakespeare did not include the scene where Hamlet stabbed Polonius, the entire nature of the play would change.
Essentially, the SSM acts as an outline for future performers or fans to follow. It ensures that the most essential elements of a piece remain intact while encouraging the voice of the performer in future productions. Moreover, it provides an artifact for those studying a given work to thoroughly deconstruct the components most valued by the artist.
COMPOSING WITH THE SSM
Composing with the SSM involves three tasks. If developed thoroughly and with intention, these components should fully and robustly define a work, along with that work’s themes, without restricting a performer’s voice. Please note that these steps do not need to be completed in a linear fashion (or in a literal fashion for that matter):
- Thematic Image- This step involves deciding on the main theme (or themes) to be explored in the piece and matching that theme to a specific image (or images). This theme can range anywhere from a specific, concrete moral to an abstract feeling the artist hopes to convey. The artist should then attach this theme to an image that represents this theme. Again, the definition of image remains purposefully vague. A specific visual, interactions between characters, a repeating gimmick, a musical phrase, or a task performed on stage could all serve as a thematic image. This image or collection of images should be written down in the first box on the score.
As an illustration of what this could look like, both Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony hold clear examples of thematic images. Vladimir and Estragon waiting in vain for Godot pretty much sums up the entire play, along with its themes of absurdity and meaninglessness. The iconic “BUM BUM BUM BAAAAAAHM” from Beethoven also serves this same purpose, summing up the power relations and impending doom that builds throughout the entire composition.
- Parts- In the middle section of the score, composers should collect the elements of the work outside of this thematic image that build on or support this theme. This should include larger components that “fill out” the rest of the performance. Set design, sound design, lighting, characters, costuming, text, or dialogue could all be included in theatrical pieces. A collection of specific instruments could help define musical works. However, less traditional parts could define an artistic system as well. For example, an artist may want to focus on objects, interactions, and space. A single system could also be defined in multiple ways.
- Subsystems- The lowest section of the score allows artists to define what goes into each of the parts listed above. If an artist decided that “Objects” would serve as a part in the artistic system, they should define what objects would be used and any details that help describe these objects. Again, these details should only describe the most essential components of a work. It may be important that one of the objects in a performance is a vase and that object holds significance for the overall performance. But it may not matter what type of vase a performer uses
To return to our previous examples, one of the “Parts” in Waiting for Godot may be the text itself and one element of the text’s subsystem would include Lucky’s speech filled with gibberish. This monologue definitely reinforces the larger themes of the play and removing this part of the script would dramatically alter the work as a whole. However, the actual specifics of the gibberish seem to be less consequential. Beethoven may have defined the string section as one of his parts and one part of the subsystem being the continual echo of the iconic phrase mentioned earlier. The repetition of the act helps define the notion of power within the work. What that echo sounds like, however, does not define the piece.
As an example, please see PCRV’s work “Big Sky” attached below (which will also be performed at the SMM Showcase. This work is a musical piece, an audio representation of Montana, the artist’s home state he will be leaving right before this show happens.
Another example by Greg Kowalski, who will be using film and performance to explore the moment when Georges Rouault torched a treasure trove of existing paintings.
So there you have it. Hope the research presenter in this blog has been helpful in some way. Hope to see you on May 13th!