Workshop report: Aesthetics and non-lexicals

Written by Agnes Löfgren.

Rehearsals as an aesthetic setting and zone of (re)formulation

Our third project workshop targeted non-lexical vocalizations in settings that revolve around aesthetic practices. The workshop took place between November 13th-15th and started off with a highly inspiring seminar from Spencer Hazel, University of Newcastle, UK. The seminar, titled The pursuit of quality – exploring orientations to aesthetics in arts activities, focused on different performance rehearsals, on a continuum from naturalistic theatre to more abstract expressions, and how the participants in them locally negotiate aesthetic explorations and experiment with iterations of performance. In particular, he focused on how theatre artists’ reformulations of naturalistic events (including recreations of historical events) differ in systematic ways from original recordings or descriptions, and how the differences in the theatrical work do things in an ethnomethodological sense. Very interestingly, Hazel argued that, in theatre, although dramatic dialogue differs from everyday speech (Herman, 1991), the participants build on intuitive (and sometimes explicitly formulated) knowledge of the details of social interaction to create aesthetic effects. Finally, Hazel discussed how descriptions of bodily aesthetic qualities could be managed by vocal and prosodic modulations. The seminar was followed by a Linköping-traditional post-seminar, where we continued the discussions over dinner, and introduced our international visitors to 18th century Swedish drinking songs in harmonies.

Coordinating action and vocalization in rehearsals

The two remaining days of the workshop were dedicated to data-sessions and adjoined discussions. The first day started off with my own (Agnes Löfgren) data from the rehearsal procedure of an opera production. The data-session targeted how song is used as a resource in this particular interaction, although the focus of the rehearsals as such is not musical quality, but rather embodied dramatic actions to be coordinated with the music. The session also targeted how the talking voice can be used as an aesthetic resource in creating the opera performance. We discussed how the participants introduced ideas, assessed them, and incorporated them. Thereafter, Dirk vom Lehn (King’s College, London, UK) and Saul Albert (Loughborough University, UK) shared data from lindy-hop classes. We discussed how a non-lexical vocalization was used to manage difficulties in coordinating the body during the learning process, and Sylvaine Tuncer (Stockholm University, Sweden) noted how the vocalization was neatly timed with bodily practices, which we then analyzed in more detail. Jessica Douglah (Stockholm University, Sweden) continued with data from a modern jazz dance instruction. The teacher in Douglah’s data used non-lexical vocalization to characterize metaphors in the description of dance movements. After a relaxing coffee break, we were reinvigorated enough to take on Marjo Savijärvi’s (University of Helsinki, Finland) data on the emergence of a performance by young adolescents. Savijärvi’s data included a very interesting non-lexical depiction of a door closing, and more generally showed how the adolescents transitioned between being in and out of the aesthetic activity, in this rather informal and explorative setting. Thereafter, we headed to downtown Linköping for a splendid Italian meal, at the local restaurant Le Borgate.

Further rehearsals, and formulations in assessing aesthetic events and objects

The last day of the workshop, Saul Albert began by showing data from a choreography session of two professional dancers creating a performance. Albert’s data, once again, led to a discussion on where the aesthetic activity begins and ends, and how one can conceive of adjacency pairs within the aesthetic activity. After a short coffee break, Sara Rönnqvist (University of Helsinki, Finland) concluded the workshop with data from two settings: a gallery encounter between an artist and an art critic, as well as a focus group of students discussing works of visual art. In contrast to the other datasets of the workshop, Rönnqvist’s data led to discussions on how the material properties of the aesthetic product affected the interaction around it, and the discussion made us aware of how the precise absence of such a concrete object in the performative arts conditions participants to indexical means of creating a bodily-vocal “object”, which allows for joint attention in the conversation and aesthetic exploration. It was also the only data where a clear ‘completed product’ was available for assessment, rather than being produced – at least in the traditional sense of creation and product. The interaction makes it clear how much is still to produce, and how interactional data breaks down and complicates such a distinction. After the final data session, we headed for a concluding lunch at the beautiful Mjellerumsgården, where we discussed possible future collaborations and threads to explore in the emerging work on non-lexical vocalizations and aesthetics in interaction. Over the past three days, the examination of the aesthetics-related settings showed a myriad of ways in which participants coordinated their action, and in ways that raise questions about previous findings in more everyday settings, or at least about the cross-applicability of the same findings to such collaborative workspaces.