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Name: Alex Jovčić-Sas

PhD: Curatorial, Musicology

Thesis Title: Bauhaus and Beyond: Locating Grunow and Oram as Pioneers of Contemporary Electronic Music

 

Thesis Description:

This project aims to evaluate the  musicological legacy of the Staatliches Bauhaus in the context of contemporary cultural institutional practices. The impact of the Bauhaus on contemporary electronic music production will be traced through two theorists and composers, namely Gertrud Grunow and Daphne Oram. Both figures have significant roles in the development of modernist ideas on music composition. Actively engaging with the Bauhaus, both figures look into the materials, and their function and manipulation as the basis of composition (Abadžić-Hodžić: 2016; Dosono, 2018; Loureiro: 2014) while discounting established methods for composing music, namely structures of harmony and tonality. Both figures follow ideas which relate to the utopic ethos that established the governing principles of the Bauhaus, as set out in the Bauhaus Manifesto (Gropius, 1919). This study aims to locate Grunow and Oram within this utopic ethos while analysing their institutional connections through a gendered lens. The study will particularly focus on the ways in which these figures related to the systems of power and autonomy in their institutional contexts of artistic production. The research will contextualise both artists and their work, and aim to bring their theories and artistic visions back into contemporary practice through working with contemporary musicians who produce compositions in response to them.

 

Grunow and Harmonisation Theory

Bauhaus teacher Gertrud Grunow is often overlooked when looking into the legacy of the Bauhaus (Baumhoff, 2001). Grunow’s development of music theory explored the basic relationships between colour, sound and movement (named Harmonisation Theory), which was highly influential in the early development of the Bauhaus educational model (Bauhaus100, 2019; Muller, 2009; Wringler, 1969). Grunow taught the equitable and harmonious use of all the senses, and argued that a person’s ability to express themselves depends on laws rooted in the personal senses of colour, sound and form (Bauhuas100, 2019). This was highly influential on Itten’s preliminary course in the Bauhaus’ curriculum (Muller, 2009). In Grunow’s theory (which capitalised upon the twelve tone structures), all notes of a chromatic scale were given equal importance in a composition, rejecting tonal systems which have been in use in the Western musical cannon since the Baroque period (Carter 1983).

Oram and Oramics

Daphne Oram developed her theory, Oramics, as part of her work at the BBC. Inspired by the oscilloscopes, which produce visual representations of an electronic signal and translating them into sounds (Weidenbaum, 2001), Oram looked to reverse this process, and developed the first optical synthesiser (Mileham, 2011). She designed the first entirely electronic score for the BBC for Amphitryon 38, which ultimately led to the formation of the electronic music department in 1958 (Weidenbaum, 2001). Oramics was based on ‘soundwave synthesis’ through optic means, which, given the right machinery, provided the user with the ability to draw sound. Much like Harmonisation Theory, there is no reliance on tonality, as Oram was working with visual representation of electronic frequencies, not with notes, or their relationship to one another. Oram’s thought process was significantly informed by the Bauhaus and its focus on the experimentation of a material — to be able to understand its individual characteristics in order to be able to fully utilise its functionality (Wringler, 1969), In this sense, Oram reduced musical notes down to individual waveforms, and explored how an optical method can be used to generate different tones through a series of optical processes that can be translated to sound synthesis.

 

Bauhaus’ Utopic Ethos

The Bauhaus manifesto 1919, set out Gropius’ vision for the art school and the principles in which the school functioned as an educational institution (Loureiro: 2014; Abadžić-Hodžić: 2016). One of the main points in this manifesto proposes a liberal framework yet is still informed by a hierarchically gendered dichotomy: “[there is] no difference between the beautiful sex and the strong sex. Absolute equality but also absolutely equal obligation to the work of all craftsmen” (Gropius, 1919). This claim implies that there should be absolute equality for all the artists, no matter their practice or gender within the institutional bounds of the Bauhaus. However, the school did not exercise equality as it might be understood from a contemporary perspective (Baumhoff, 2001; Muller, 2009) and studies have been carried out which explore the subjection of female figures at the school, and shows that the Bauhaus’ ideas of equality were in fact investing in ‘inclusion’ (Ellerby, 2017).  The ways in which female artists at the Bauhaus exercised power and authority over their own work were bounded by a male dominated organisation (Ellerby, 2017), thus, it is not surprising that true equality in this context was never achieved.

This study will aim to take a contemporary reading on this exercise of ‘Utopia’ from the origins of the Bauhaus, and try to paint a picture of how the utopic ethos of the Bauhaus could inspire equitable practises in contemporary contexts. This will be achieved by exploring the Bauhaus’ influence on electronic music production. The contemporary electronic music (CEM) scene will operate as an ethnographic field, and through case studies from within the CEM scene, this study will provide an informed reflection on the current landscape of gender relations in relation to Grunow and Oram, and current female CEM composers who work in institutionalised contexts.

Supervisors and Institution(s):

Cüneyt Calirlar, School of Arts and Humanities, NTU

Danica Maier, School of Arts and Design, NTU

Sam Throne, Nottingham Contemporary

 

 

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