EXPLORING THE LANGUAGE OF COLLABORATION

Posted 1 year ago by John

EXPLORING THE LANGUAGE OF COLLABORATION


JL WILLIAMS:      
We have been collaborating for years, making music and poetry together. What comes to mind when you think about collaboration, ours or otherwise?

 
JAMES:                 
I think for myself and many musicians collaboration comes as second nature -- exchanging ideas, editing, negotiating and refining until there is a final product that is ready to be heard by an audience. What I’ve learned from writing music with bandmates is that when things work well (they don’t always) it’s possible to make something that combines the sum of each participants' unique talents, which can be very special. I don’t really view a music and poetry collaboration any differently than writing with another musician. The raw materials are different, but the creative process is the same, for me at least.
 

JL WILLIAMS:      
I love that idea… I think the fact that musicians so often work in groups (more so than writers), collaboration is more likely to be second nature. You’re really a composer as well so that puts you in the position of writer, but more like a playwright or a librettist, writing a piece that comes to life when it is performed. Having said that, I know you usually perform your own compositions so it’s very much a collaboration within your own multitudinous mechanisms of expression. I feel that when I write and read out my own writing, or even write and then edit my writing – it’s as if I am managing a collaboration between different parts of myself. We talked a lot when we first started working together about the idea of making music and poetry in which one wasn’t a backdrop for the other, but creating pieces in which both forms had equal status and supported each other’s expression. Do you still feel that? Do you think we achieve it?

 
JAMES:                 
I’d like to say yes, but this is sometimes challenging, and can depend on the format or instrumentation of the music. For example, in the past we have performed pieces where the music is comprised of a solo instrument (e.g. guitar or frame drum) and in that scenario it’s far easier to achieve a sort of parity -- especially when improvising, where I can freely moderate the tone / volume of the instrument to complement the natural rhythm and intensity of your voice. Other more complex pieces that contain layers of instrumentation require a lot more forethought to create a musical landscape that is not too dominating and has enough space to accommodate your words. The challenge here is to maintain a musical flow, as opposed to falling into the trap of making a repetitive ‘soundscape’, which could become dull for the listener. Having said all of this, I’ve recently started wondering whether it’s always useful to aim for an equal input between voice and music... perhaps having some pieces where one or the other takes centre stage is absolutely fine, although I definitely think these are still valid considerations, especially when writing a new piece. It’s a part of maintaining a healthy collaboration.

 
JL WILLIAMS:      
We’ve talked about exploring tracks where the words are sometimes lost in the music and vice versa, which I think could be wonderful if done right. There can be a misconception about collaboration; that it means perfect equality between performers/instruments/forms/thinkers, et cetera… however I often find that collaboration is really more about compromise and hanging on to what is most important to you while letting the rest go to make room for the other(s). Certainly when I have written libretti for opera, a form which involves so many collaborators starting with the composer and expanding massively from there, I have had to offer a contribution at the start and then let it go, let it be free to be used by the other artists involved. It’s a little different when I work with the artist Catherine Street (https://catherinestreet.net/)… we tend to write back and forth to each other, building a collaborative text over time and continuing to respond to one another’s words and energy. I like that in our collaborations we can explore both ways. What should our next experiment be? 

 
JAMES:                 
Recently I’ve been imagining a sound experiment in which your poetry, without any other instrumentation, would become the music. I have a few ideas about how this might work. It would necessitate some electronic trickery, but I’d like to write something that could be performed live. The difficulty would be preserving the poetic form, without turning your words into a ‘song’. Like all experiments, it might fail (as a molecular biologist I am familiar with this!) but then again it could lead somewhere unexpected and exciting.

 
JL WILLIAMS:      
Let’s try it!


 

A conversation between JL Williams (www.jlwilliamspoetry.co.uk) and James Iremonger (https://jamesiremonger.wordpress.com/listen/), who perform together in the poetry and music band Hail of Bright Stones (https://hailofbrightstones.com/). 

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