Artistic Research and Music & Practice

DOI: 10.32063/1000

Erlend Hovland

Erlend Hovland (1963), is currently professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM), Oslo. After music studies, mainly orchestral conducting, in Trondheim, Oslo, Paris, Basel and Salzburg. Hovland defended his thesis on the orchestration of Gustav Mahler at the University of Oslo, where he later worked as a post doc. fellow on contemporary opera. He has been the head of the PhD programme at NAM and led research groups in artistic research and practice studies.

by Erlend Hovland

Music & Practice, Volume 10


As a journal, Music & Practice is entangled in the ambivalent and knotty history surrounding the term ‘artistic research’. During the first decade of the 2000s, EPARM, a working group under AEC, (European Association of Conservatoires) held annual meetings where researchers, teachers and administrators from European music conservatories discussed the development of doctoral programmes for students and practitioners in the conservatories. The labels applied to the research could vary, but the terms ‘practice-led research’, ‘practice-based research’ or simply ‘performance practice’ were frequently used. Two positions, however, unified all the members of EPARM. First, a critical take on conventional musicological research. This was partly by necessity. The conservatory-trained students could not be expected to meet the same academic standards that were developed through years of university studies. But even more decisive was the view that musicology did not address the issues that were most relevant to the reflective practitioner. The second shared position was the need to advocate politically and institutionally for the creation and continuing support of independent doctoral programmes in the conservatories. Finding the best political strategies were important, and interestingly, this soon led back to the labelling of the research in question.

Over the years, the term ‘artistic research’ gained momentum. As a term it aptly promoted the particularity and novelty of the intended future research, which helped the argumentation vis-à-vis the governing and funding political institutions. By opting for ‘artistic research’, one established a common cause with other fields of art and education, and not least, one followed the political lead of the so-called Bologna process. And yet the rhetoric strength and clarity of ‘artistic research’ hid its conceptual underpinning in a way that the previously used terms (i.e., practice-led research, practice-based research or performance practice) did not. Were the musical and artistic practices initially the content of research, it now became less clear what was to be researched under the epithet of ‘artistic research’. This was not necessarily a bad thing, but the definitory openness of the term added more complexity and opaqueness into the mix.

Today, artistic research is institutionalized to such a degree that it may conceal the fact that both the term and its institutional implementation are of recent date. As a term and ‘turn’, artistic research manages both to defend its uniqueness (i.e., it is based on artistic competence), and to argue for its difference from the search for new processes, techniques, materiality and ideas that great artists have always undertaken (i.e., it is not simply a search but a research). Still, its main strength lies in its opposition to conventional academic research. Presenting itself as the ‘other’ – and thus benefitting from a principle of binary oppositional thinking – has created a ‘power term’ that seemingly is self-explicatory: There is academic research, and there is artistic research.

Now, why present this short, surely sketchy, if not skewed, history of the use of term ‘artistic research’ in relation to music? The harsh critique of artistic research in the 2020 Manifesto of Artistic Research (ed. Henke), takes its point of departure in the claim that artistic research has been politically driven. Undeniably, there is some truth in this. In the context of EPARM, the administrators – those who in the end implemented the necessary institutional changes – tended to be less concerned with questioning what this ‘thing’ (eventually) called artistic research really was. In fact, the less one had to deal with the ‘thing’ itself (in capacity of teaching, supervising or doing research) the clearer the ‘thing’ became. And maybe for good reasons. In politically driven campaigns, nuances and differing perspectives may derail the process. Today, however, we must dare to ask more challenging questions and to include other and possibly dissonant voices in the discourse. The institutional battles are mostly won, but the thing we want to defend is still too opaquely and intangibly presented in many on-going research projects. Clearly, the promise implied by the use of the term ‘artistic research’ is not fulfilled. Severe epistemological challenges are very much present, and these challenges cannot be met by imposing group thinking or creating echo chambers. But this is great news, and hardly an argument against artistic research, but rather the best excuse for us to dive in from all quarters and walks of art and research. A truthfully joyous science of art is waiting in the aisles of the art institutions.

Music & Practice is the brainchild of this sketchy history. The title of the journal was proposed at an EPARM meeting in Amsterdam in 2008, where the plans for launching the present journal were first presented. What most of the teachers and researchers present at the Amsterdam meeting shared was the ambitions to find new ways for practitioners to develop research projects and to establish suitable platforms for publishing their research (which also included presentations of audio-visual material). But equally important was the resolution to create a venue for further reflection on the epistemological and methodological challenges raised by the turn towards performance, practice and artistic research in music.

These two ambitions and resolution have since the first issue of M&P in 2013 been the focus for the editors and copy-editor (Christina Kobb, Anders Førisdal, Arnulf Mattes, Erlend Hovland and Laura Macy) as well for the advisory board. The philosophy of M&P is rather unpretentious. If you call it research, there must be knowledge developed, and preferably, presented. And for it to be knowledge development, others must be able to relate to it and build upon it. If the epistemological dominance of conventional academic research is to be successfully defied or complemented, we cannot hide or privatize the result of our research; it must be exposed. This simple philosophy has since the beginning brought us to focus on the study of practice, mainly because practice is an activity that can be studied as knowledge, an activity that permits a sharing of competence and an insight into the core of the arts that cannot be obtained by conventional research strategies.

Have we and our excellent authors succeeded in meeting the ambitions and the resolution that were articulated in Amsterdam 2008 during the first 10 years of M&P? Of course not. But we’ll keep asking the difficult questions regarding art, research and practice, as well as moving borders and transgressing conventional thinking.

In the current issue, which is thematically devoted to artistic research, we decided not to apply the three different categories we normally use (i.e., ‘Scientific’, ‘Exploratory’, and ‘R&C’). All the contributions consciously embrace generic hybridity, which made our standard categories i.e., ‘Scientific’, ‘Exploratory’, and ‘R&C’) less relevant. The contributions are either discussing the present situation of artistic research or exemplify on-going research projects within the field.