duet.

During in the thick of the first lockdown, I reached out to a friend of mine with a beautiful tenor voice; deep in tone with mellifluous inflection. Our singing compatibility was decipherable at first vocalisation. We had been singing together leading up to the first lockdown, circumnavigating our tonalities and blending our styles to reach a collaborative vocal equipoise. The intention behind our pre-lockdown practice was to facilitate vocal performances to young Londoners at a bi-weekly community event. Once this incentive was obscured and problematised by COVID-19, I recognised that the incentive for collaboration between us existed beyond the outcome of performance. We re-connected online to explore our voices as vehicles for the externalisation of the felt internal realities of COVID-19.  The abrupt techno-cultural shift that transpired alongside the intensification of COVID-19 facilitated new grounds for creative collaboration, however the terrain was at times unfamiliar and unsteady.

Drawing by Indira Lemouchi

Moving our practice online meant that we could not intuitively sense and emotionally decode each other the same way we would in person. The distance carved out between us through this virtual sphere meant that we had to invest time in facilitating each other’s emotions and experiences, before attempting to sing-out these feelings. Singing-out would be an awkward semi-synchronistic effort at first; it entailed attuning to each other’s sung emotions as well as attuning to the disobedient radio-waves and networks that punctured the musical flow with robotic discontinuity. However, it became apparent that during such discouraging and psycho-somatically divisive times, the ethic of sharing was an important feat. We played into the notion of everyday ‘musicking’; our sonic re-convergence transpired not through musical formalities, but through recalling the sonorous and emotional lures of our collaborative nature, drawing on the importance of ‘doing’ music.

Rather than immediately assuming musical productivity, our first online interaction involved developing an emotional rapport. Though building an ethics of exchange we cultivated expressions of empathy and mutual trust by sharing personal experiences. Divulging our experiences in-common around COVID-19 meant we were able to develop lyrics and a concomitant melody from this free-flowing dialogue. It also involved enrolling our feelings into a shared forum, whereby we could co-opt and mirror each other’s states. This technique aligns with Rudd’s (2013) assertions around ‘a supportive self object’, marking the reflective properties that music upholds which re-orientate the musicking subject towards their ‘inner self’. In a creative musical context, inner emotions are perhaps dealt with more fluidly and openly. Namely, as people encounter their feelings through sonorous affects derived from their in situ creative expressions, alternative emotional modalities emerge as mutating and in flux. In order for us to re-encounter and musically re-imagine our feelings, we needed to discuss our subjectivities and bring our emotions into a shared virtual domain.

Through affixing this verbal emotional relation to a creative practice, emergent sonic expressions and gestures arose that further enriched the emotional mutuality we had fostered. Words began to take shape through rhythm, tonality and inflection, affording them new meaning. Overtones further enhanced the collaborative state of the music as harmonies re-enlivened the lyrics which became shared by two voices. This duality maintained synchronistic unity whilst simultaneously holding space for individual yet complimentary melodic divergence and harmony. By creatively revising our shared dialogue, new emotional states transpired as we responded to the real time production of music and the (re-)production of the ‘inner self’. The outcome of the finalised song wasn’t the greatest success of this musical interaction, it was the novel ability to encounter ourselves through each other’s eyes and to develop a reflective sonic response to these states. By enrolling our ‘inner selves’ into an sonic-emotional commons, we decoded the digitised of distance and discontinuity; we worked within a set of constraints that actually facilitated a deeper integration of spoken dialogue and exchange which enhanced our musical empathy and collaboration. Sense making of feelings had to be undertaken in different ways in order to cultivate a safe collaborative creative space. Here, the prerequisite of musicking involved a mutual act of verbal sounding and listening which evoked musical iterations of the same relation; we were both audience and performer unto one another.

This is one unfinished sounding of our digital collaboration in song form

Bibliography:

Dissanayake, E. (2000) Art and intimacy. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Ruud, E. (2013) ‘Can music serve as a “cultural immunogen”? An explorative study’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 8:1, 20597.

Freeman, J. (2010) ‘Web-based collaboration, live musical performance and open-form scores’, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media6(2), pp.149-170.

Gabrielsson, A. & Juslin, P.N. (1996) ‘Emotional Expression in Music Performance: Between the Performer’s Intention and the Listener’s Experience’, Psychology of Music, 24, pp.68-91.

Hawkins, H (2011) ‘Dialogues and doings: sketching the relationships between geography and art’, Geography Compass5(7), pp.464-478.

Stevanovic, M. and Frick, M. (2014) ‘Singing in interaction’, Social Semiotics, 24:4, pp.495-513.

Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Press.

van Goethem, A. and Sloboda, J. (2011) ‘The functions of music for affect regulation’, Musicae Scientiae, 15(2), pp.208–228.

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