The creative process in contemporary polyphonic music (Hans Roels)
There are three main parts in my dissertation: first, a study is made of the creative process of eight composers, producing a short composition that was commissioned by the author. This group study focuses on the main activities in the creative process and the influence of the commission on this process. In the next part a self-study follows, in which I research loose or more independent composition activities and focus on the interaction between these activities and the production of compositions. In the third part I reflect upon the influence that the previous research activities have had on my own compositional practice.
One of the main problems which my dissertation deals with, is the different and incomparable activities that emerge in studies of the creative process, whereas it is unclear whether these differences are caused by the compositional processes or by the research methods (data collection methods, foci, choices in terms of the sample of studied composers). In the group study the main activities of eight composers are studied using the same method and a designed analysis framework. Another problem arises as (mostly non-academic) literature suggests that compositional activities, such as sketching or developing software patches, take place without a clear connection to finished compositions. However, in the existing empirical studies that collect real-time data on the dynamic creative process, such more independent compositional activities had not being studied yet. Questions on the appearance and frequency of these activities, their relation and influence on the creative processes of finished compositions had been largely unanswered. This dissertation is part of a much wider field of qualitative studies to which the creative process in its naturalistic setting is pivotal. However, as studies do have different views on what constitutes the 'real world situation' of music composition, a more elaborated and mature paradigm of naturalistic studies of the creative process is needed, whilst it is also important to study how the research design itself may influence the compositional practice. Consequently, in both the study of the eight composers and my own practice, I design a method to examine the influence of the research on the artistic practice. In the self-study this method is based on creating an evidence-based overview of the own artistic practice. In other self-studies of music composition researchers/composers have often concluded at the end of their research, that their research method hindered them while composing and that they could not fully compose as they wanted to. In the self-study I aim to design a comfortable method that collects both explanatory and factual data to create this overview of my compositional processes. A reflective pre-study to individualize the research methods proved to be indispensable to reach this aim.
The main characteristics of the design and method of the group study and the self-study are: a naturalistic setting: within both studies the composers could compose in their usual, preferred environment, manner and time schedule.
The results of the group study disclose the differences between influences exerted by the task and the explicit restrictions (instrumentation, duration, performers) of the commission. The influence of the task was most noticeable in the beginning of the creative process, when the composers developed initial ideas. There were two extreme cases in which the task's influence was very dominant or almost non-existing. The explicit restrictions resulted in three strategies adopted by the composers: some recognized an artistic challenge or affordance in these restrictions, some accepted them neutrally and for others they formed a problem, although a minor one that did not constitute an obstacle for their creative process. In general, all composers were clearly influenced by either the task or the explicit restrictions. Other results show that the configurations, the selective presence and order of the four main activities – exploring, planning, writing and rewriting –, create the largest differences between the studied creative processes. These configurations disclose how the same compositional activity can have a different function and meaning. The rewriting activity appears in three forms, first as structural rewriting where the structure of a composition is recursively adapted, second as revising where local characteristics are adapted and third as 'scaffolded rewriting' where the complexity of a full score is gradually built up, layer upon layer, starting from a 'simple' writing process. Finally, two phenomena detected in individual creative processes confirm results on 'inter-opus' compositional activities, more specifically the composition of cycles. In one case, reflective theorising took place which influenced future actions and retrospective explanations about drafts and compositions and in another, reapplication of existing procedures, that were most likely generated in previous parts of the cycle took place.
The results of the self-study confirm the view of the creation of loose ideas as a relatively autonomous process. The ideas with an unique content that only appear once – the 'really loose' ideas – and the chains of loose ideas without a connection to the finished compositions – the persistent ideas – are the clearest examples of this autonomous status. At the same time there are many relations within loose ideas, and between loose ideas and other compositional processes. The loose ideas are not a scattered collection of singular ideas as there appear to be several (often overlapping) groups of related ideas and processes, as noted through the analysis of the (real-time) direct links and the (retrospective, content-related) coded themes. The processes to which the loose ideas refer are in general not older than two years. The loose ideas also appear as the most innovative process, most new themes in my compositional practice emerge out of loose ideas. Compared to the other compositional processes, the loose ideas also give the most complete and diverse image of the (content related) themes in my global compositional practice. In the analysis the function of the loose ideas was described as a selection procedure of compositional ideas. The creation of loose ideas forms an exploratory phase through which their potential, implications and relationship to my personal preferences is discovered and elaborated outside the creative process of a finished composition. The contribution of the loose ideas to problem finding and solving in the finished processes is small and this contrasts with the larger role of the theoretical processes, a second category of relatively autonomous processes. In general, the two studied theories provide a framework for problem-solving, although the contrast theory has a more creative and productive role compared to the supportive one of the synchronization theory. The two theories can be coined as individual, long term knowledge for music composition that initially is constructed deliberately, but is partly taken over by experience as time evolves. In my reflections on the influence of the research on my artistic practice, I discovered effects in several domains of my practice: a higher awareness of activities, problems, practical issues and organizational matters appeared, and in a following phase this higher awareness changed the broad orientation of my compositional practice, in which the potential of past ideas and processes started to play a bigger role. The research also led to new creative and inspirational ideas that were used in compositions and finally, the experience and verbalisation of my own and others' creative processes changed. More attention for the retrospective experience and the theoretical activities were the two main expressions of this change of experience.