Guest Post: 3 questions for practice-researchers: Falk Hübner
- Can you briefly outline your research interests and their context in, or link with, your practice?
FH: My main research interests at the moment are connected to the projects I am involved in, and all of them are in one or another way connected to artistic research. These projects concern the use of live video in music theatre, the pedagogy of practice-based research and the concept of artistic research as “integrated practice”.
The first one is the most “personal” research project, so to speak, and is most closely connected to my artistic practice, even if I consider research and teaching/educating as just as important “practices” of my professional identity – but more on that later. The artistic research project investigates the use of live video in music theatre and is directly derived from my artistic work. This feels like the most natural extension of questions and fascinations that arise from my artistic practice. I experiment with musical instruments, live instrumental actions and gestures as input for one or more webcams. This input is then further processed in computer software and projected as an additional meaning making layer, or even a projected stage design, in experimental music theatre performances.
My work about the pedagogy of artistic research is maybe the most self-explanatory of three mentioned earlier, as it perfectly integrates my work as researcher and educator, and I am always interested to find effective and inspiring ways for students to spend their time investigating what fascinates them. This also corresponds largely with what virtually every teacher in research – at least at Dutch conservatoires and institutes for higher professional education – works on. The one thing that I find worth mentioning is that in my educational practice, I continuously move more and more towards a hands-on approach of teaching research, as far as possible. In my experiences students have not so much use for general models of methodology, “rules” for writing research papers and the like, but need to get to work themselves. This is where fundamental questions and challenges about “how to do research” come to the fore, plus that ownership is immediately connected to the students themselves.
The last of the three research interests is the one that might require the most work in the nearer and longer future and at the same time feels most relevant on a somewhat larger scale: the concept of artistic research as integrated practice. I like to see research integrated with our artistic, educational and societal activities on a much deeper level, without actually seeing it as something external or too distinct from these other areas. I can feel this in my own practice very much, in which I tend to switch rather fluently between the different roles of artist, researcher and teacher. I love to create strong connections between two or three of these identities, merge them and let them to be fruitfully influenced by each other, while at the same time beneficial for the students.
I am convinced that the model of the artistic researcher, in all its varied forms, can offer a lot to areas outside of the arts as well: utilising both artistic as well as cooperative/collaborative forms of research can offer different ways of understanding creativity, or approaching larger societal questions. A fascinating area are transdisciplinary projects in which artists work together with professionals from outside the arts, such as medics, lawyery, and so on. If artists can also act as researchers in such work, fascinating fields open for transdisciplinary research, an area that can still be explored much further.
- How does research inform your practice, and how does your practice inform your research?
FH: Since I had finished my doctorate in 2013, I have had the luck to be in work position where I could constantly develop a very much integrated way of looking at research and practice. In fact I remember pretty well what the professor said who invited me to work at the University of Arts Utrecht: “What you need is a place where you can teach, where you can create artistic work and where you can publish your research.” This made it very easy and natural to experiment and work on the relation between practice and research.
I think I developed an attitude that makes the one hardly possible without the other. As mentioned earlier, since quite some time I try to link my artistic work to research, in particular because any work or performance that I make, is experimental in nature and is a process of research on its own anyway. As soon as new ideas for artistic works pop up, I tend to look for all kinds of sources; artistic work of other artists, approaches to technology that might be relevant for what I plan to develop, or literature that might be useful for the context or the field in which the artistic work is situated. From this point on, both research and the artistic process are continuously developed further, sometimes directly influencing each other, sometimes continuing to develop autonomously. The live video research project is a good example for this: I have just finished a series of laboratory situations, in which I explored basic possibilities of using live recorded and processed video in a small performance, a solo for double bass. One result of these experiments is the preliminary structure and the concept for the work I will make, a performance installation. However, during the experiments one question really came to the fore very explicitly: what is the nature of the double bass as a musical instrument in this work? The bass is hardly played in any traditional way, it is put flat on the floor, and a number of objects are attached to or placed on it. The instrument is largely used as an object, but also as a stage in itself, on which much smaller objects are placed as miniature instruments – all being framed visually through the camera frame. The apparent question is, in which sense is the bass still a musical instrument, and why (or why not). What is the scale in which we perceive an object as a musical instrument, or just an object utilised to produce sound? These and more questions are subject of a number of publications that I will start consulting and that will undoubtedly lead to publishing an own account of the identity of musical instruments, but at the same time influence the creation of the artistic work.
- What do you think practice, and your discipline in particular, has to offer the research contexts of universities? Do you think that this influences the way that you create or document your work, or decide to create new works?
FH: I think the most fascinating experiences occur when true sharing takes place, in a mode that is communicable, which enables others to react, to discuss, to exchange. This is the first step that knowledge, in its broadest sense, is made available and made useful, not only for the one who produced or canalised that knowledge, but especially for others. The huge offer that we as artistic researchers can make is the one of a practitioner account. Naturally, we tend to react from a practice point of view – “does this actually work” – or “how might this work for performer / in the studio?” The inherent thing that we do all the time is to relate very very closely with artistic, or broader professional, reality.
From this point of being completely grounded in practice, and this is the second element that makes our possible contribution important and useful, “we” as artistic researchers are able to build a bridge, most often in language, writing or speaking, between practice and theory. We are able to actually talk and communicate with the academic community, are in fact part of them, and not just in the sense of telling them how it works in practice, but on a much more reflective level as well. In doing this we are often able to switch between different voices, such as the voice of the artist, or more reflective or academic voices.
Falk Hübner, PhD, is a composer, music theatre maker and researcher. He creates experimental stage work which fall between concert, installation and performance. Fascinated by (non-)communication phenomena of the individual, isolated human being in our technological age, he reflects on everyday experiences by translating them into performance frameworks, often staging the relationships and tensions between live performers and digital technology.
In 2013 Hübner finished his PhD research about the musician as theatrical performer. This research focussed on the impact of “reduction” (central elements of performance – such as the musical instrument – are taken away from the musician) on the professional identity of the musician. Shifting Identities has been published in december 2014 at International Film & Theatre Books Amsterdam. Falk’s current research interests are the use of Live Video in music theatre, the concept of Performative Research and the idea of Artistic Research as an Integrated Practice.
Falk is core teacher for research at HKU Utrechts Conservatoire and is head of the research group music and performativity at the Professorship Performative Processes of Nirav Christophe, also at HKU. He is member of various research groups such as the FIRT/IFTR research group for intermediality in theatre and performance and music theatre, and he is a creative director of the Innovative Conservatoire (ICON).