Interview with Dejana Sekulic on artefacts of presence

Key Insights

-violinist’s connection to the piece through the sensor

-narrative of the piece coming from the total package of everything surrounding the piece (the audio/video/archives/pdf score/live interaction through sampling and with a sensor)

-interesting moments emerged through interaction with a sensor – an exciting way to interact with the music of the piece

-violinist’s embodied movements in a constant feedback loop making her immersed with all the other parts of the piece but also learning about the importance of minuscule movement changes

-comfort with the piece – degree of embodiment growing overtime with many performances, not just one

-dialogues on many levels: of time (past and present), of cultures,  of instruments (what is an instrument) technology(analogue and digital media), archives (social element)

In this interview with the violinist Dejana Sekulic, I tried out some questions relevant to the 6 Es that Craig Vear and I have been exploring in our theoretical framework for the Digital Score project. The 6 Es are evolutionary, emergent, embodied, extended,  embedded and enacted. These qualities expand on the previous framework of Taken In/Taken Into that Craig developed in his previous digital score[1] research referring to the state of musicking that a musician could be immersed in as they perform with a digital score. The questions that I asked Dejana on her state of musicking in my piece artefacts of presence for violin, live electronics and video relate to the 6 Es of the theoretical framework that we are currently exploring.

Background on artefacts of presence

In artefacts of presence the score is both ‘live’ and ‘animated’ to create a conversation between mediated fixed parts and live parts of the digital score with the violinist on stage and the media included in the piece. The violinist follows a notated part as well as media parts in which she should sync with the material to have a musical interaction with it. The material was based on archived video and audio from the Ukrainian folk archive in Edmonton, Alberta. In creating the digital score, I was thinking of how to make archived material interactive, playful, re-interpreted – to take the old footage and make it lively and interesting for the audience and the performer. I was also thinking about translation in a musical sense: the pitched material of the video transcribed to violin playing, as well as cultural, Ukrainian folk tunes, were interpreted in Canada and then brought back to Ukraine for the premiere of the piece. An element that created an added layer of interaction in the piece was an accelerometer sensor that was attached to Dejana’s bow which tracked her movements, it was enacted towards the third part of the piece starting from 5:25[2]. In this part, Dejana is interacting with the archived audio sample by controlling the speed of her playback with her bow while also responding with sounds from her violin.

Questions about the 6 Es and their responses

I formed questions around the 6 Es, thinking about Evolutionary, Emergent, Embodied, Extended, Embedded and Enacted qualities of the digital score as well as the musician’s experience on stage. Evolutionary refers to the experience of going through the narrative of the piece, relevant to the performer’s organisation of the musical material through time. Thus, I asked Dejana to comment on the narrative that she created for herself, both conceptually and structurally. I was happy to hear that her drive through the piece was connected to the media elements, the background of the various archived parts, its qualities and history influencing her interpretation of the notated part of the score. Here, Dejana considered all the elements of the digital score which informed her interpretation and not just the notated part.

When thinking about emergent parts of the score, which are less linear and provide elements of surprise, we discussed two parts in which interactions with the audio and video media created unpredictable moments. The first one came from the opening of the piece; the part was based on the audio sampling of the violin material she had just played that she had to respond to in real-time. Through our conversation, it became apparent that she had to adopt a chamber music approach of ‘listening in from outside’ which encompassed anticipating, being present and attentive to respond to the sampling parts that were played back to her. Additionally, these parts were sometimes manipulated by me through an external midi controller, adding another layer of surprise and unpredictable musical behaviour.

Another emergent part in the piece came from her interaction with an accelerometer sensor starting from 5:25[3]. Dejana found interactions with a sensor exciting and novel in the context of the piece. In particular, she found the feedback that the sensor had on her bow movements translated directly to a feeling of corporal engagement with the entire medium of the digital score. This sensation provoked her to immerse further with the piece and to become “one with all the elements of the digital score”[4]. This opened up a conversation where all the other qualities of the digital score framework seemed to benefit from the presence of a single physical medium like the accelerometer sensor on her bow. 

When thinking about the extended quality of the score, I will refer both to the physical medium of the sensor and to the extended abstract qualities of the digital score like audio playback and cognitive extension of the performer as facilitated through engagement with the digital score. I will first discuss the accelerometer sensor as a physical extension which, as the performer describes, is a “crucial element to understanding the connections with the digital elements of the piece”[5]. The connection between audio and video that the sensor facilitated created a perceived relationship of playing with someone from another time in the archived video as well as creating a perceived relationship with the media parts that were fixed and not interactive. Through these connections, the performer felt like she was one with all the elements of the piece.

The sensor was also a bridge to extend to other abstract musical and cultural qualities of the score which could also fall under the embedded such as cultural connotations of Ukrainian fiddle-playing traditions and the archived video and audio media. In Dejana’s words, the digital score of the piece created dialogues on many different levels by joining the notated part and the archived video and audio footage in the same piece. She felt that the cross-cultural conversations and the way that the piece was written did not make it seem odd as to the contemporary music environment in which the piece was performed. Overall, the performer felt that the digital score with various archived, physical and digital media facilitated the meaning-making process for herself and the audience. From our conversation, it seemed like the enacted qualities were facilitated by the notated part itself, prompting the performer to engage with various material of the piece by following instructions on how to line up and respond to the digital and analogue audio and video of the piece.

The overall system of the digital score proposed an environment for the musician to create in, perform, musick, and embody to make a successful performance. Thus, embodied qualities of the score came with different aspects such as embodying the performance space as a trained violinist, negotiating presence between different media parts and her instrument, and embodying bow movements with a sensor accelerometer. Overall, Dejana’s embodiment of the piece grew as her comfort level increased with repeat performances; she came to fully embody all the elements of analogue, digital, physical and notated media of artefacts of presence.

[1] Vear, C. (2019). The digital score: Musicianship, creativity and innovation. Routledge

[2] https://youtu.be/yDgFdBsdN9A

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dejana interview 2021

[5] Ibid.

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