Thinking Artistically. Thinking Scientifically.

11/06/2017

I am often asked how I balance music, archaeology and art; the implication being that I cannot possibly focus completely and to the furthest extent within

 

each discipline. Perhaps it seems incredulous that art and science can function equally. And my answer to such queries is simple. They are not separate from one another. By this, I don’t even mean that I view them as complementary, correlated or symbiotic; but that they are wholly one and the same. I have much trouble distinguishing the nodes of their association so articulating this will be a challenge, but I will endeavour to!


As an archaeologist my research interest lies in prehistory and evolution; particular cognitive analysis (which includes abstraction and symbolic thought) with my focus allowing me to work with the techniques of archaeo-acoustics (the reconstruction and analysis of space and sites using sonic analysis and noise mapping). Also (quite conveniently) I am trained as an archaeological illustrator, which combines thinking scientifically to capture the precision and detail of artefacts and an element of artistic ability. It’s actually a technique that I bring into all of my visual arts. Archaeology is one of the only disciplines that are so multi-disciplinary in its practice that it straddles the intersection between the sciences and the humanities. Therefore, I suppose here you can see how this links to my compositional and artistic practice are possible throughout archaeology from a technological perspective.


So now it comes to me consciously thinking about my practice. When approaching a new work; composition, artwork or research paper I look at the various modes of thinking and techniques. I’m going to say it now, I will never 100% know what I am doing and I sincerely hope that I never do. I won’t say too much as I am constantly thinking about exploring new ideas, whether it is better understanding multiphonics on a Bb Clarinet, trailing stationery for a new illustration or trying to wrap my mind around Hodder’s Entanglement theory.


My approach to projects for all disciplines stem from the same (arguably moronic) ritual – shaping out a piece, pouring over publications, listening to new thoughts and sounds, general mess and pencils (yes, I still handwrite everything). I often describe my studio wall as that of a sociopath’s, disturbingly covered in collage of paper, notes and images.

 


Funnily enough, I once received odd advice by a fellow young composer that to be an “original” artist one needs to stop listening to music altogether to ensure that your works will be as “original as possible.” A completely preposterous notion – it would be like telling a writer to stop reading or an artist to stop seeing. But this will be a topic (or rant) for another day.


The singular, major thing I do that ties in everything is research. Being a musician or an artist is not without research and sometimes those in the scientific community (or at least some of my peers) imply that it’s an “overly emancipated” occupation, often making it easier to be flippant about an artist’s life’s work (as an aside, how many times have we heard contemporary artist’s works being accused of having a lack of technical proficiency?). Every musician will tell you that it’s the rigor of practice and desire to devour (through study, analysis and extensive listening) of scores to achieve and understand their practice. Perhaps it is because art is often mistaken for decoration or as a decorative pursuit rather than what it actually is. Much like science, art is about perception and exploration, whether expressed sonically or visually. This often means, like many people from either world, a whole load of reading. Not just publications, scores and books relevant to your topics of interest but reading intensively and widely. It sounds incredibly pretentious and even blatantly obvious that I’m talking about reading. However, I’ve found it a limitless resource of ideas and “metaphorical collaboration” (with physical collaboration also being a topic for another time) that mediate the occasional discrepancies between my fields.

 

Perhaps I thought that writing down the madness that is my thinking would be a good idea. No doubt I will come back and look at these ideas in the coming months and my perspective will have developed, or even shifted.


Ultimately, it is all about being human and understanding the world in which we inhabit through the lens of the past and the present. Art and science explain the world(or worlds) we live in. Science with modelling and technology; Art with abstraction and expression.

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© 2019 Victoria Pham. Composer. Archaeologist.

Sydney, Australia. 

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