Joseph Bisat MarshallDesign Principles2014

The following text is an accompaniment to a project completed during my time at Central Saint Martins. It is a design rationale, compiled from notes written to myself at the time. Much of it formed the basis of later work.

As an exploration of the fundamental design principles that I have theorised as existing across all creative disciplines, this project brings together design, music and literature, as an example of their intimately entwined relationships. This project exists as a collaboration between myself and two musicians. John Cage theorised duration as being the building blocks of music, the only thing that is common to both sound and silence. I have applied this use of duration to design and all the arts, where principally there is space or there is space that is filled.

In the form of a musical performance, three representations of seemingly distinct disciplines are layered together. A percussionist, pianist and writer each contributed a 12 minute improvised piece that existed in the framework of a sequence of ten-second intervals. The potentially chaotic and entirely disparate elements are brought together through the single and powerful act of designing durations.

The origins of the project

The work that I have done on projects that precede this one seemed to gain more and more momentum as the various ideas being discussed started to form more and more links with each other. The Tiny Orchestra continued the discussion of interdisciplinary design that was initiated in my writing on The Ineffable Narrative. I did this through the use of sound and music, which I found to be an appropriate model of what I had been considering. The Tiny Orchestra attempted to, in some way, situate the subject of design within the world; De Profundis naturally progressed to attempt to situate the designer. The Fragmentary Corpus continued both of these ambitions alongside each other, whilst returning to the most interesting of the design theories explored in The Ineffable Narrative, the concept of Apollonian and Dionysian duality. These projects form a body of work that propose various design theories and attempt an enactment of them. What was missing was a project that attempted my own combining of multiple disciplines.

The relationship to authorship

Particularly in De Profundis, I was concerned with attempting to situate the designer in the hazy miasma of definitions and distinctions regarding what constitutes authorship and where design stands in relation to it. This led me to embrace the notion of design as a subject potentially distinct from its content. Marshall McLuhan famously proposed that ‘the medium is the message’. This conjecture, made in reference to mass media, is exactly the same point being explored here. McLuhan meant that the principles of the media remain the same whilst the message alters – content is really a means of distracting the viewer whilst the medium goes about its business. McLuhan gives the example of the light bulb. The content of the light bulb, is relatively unimportant compared to the social effect the light bulb has – in creating spaces where there would otherwise be darkness. As a designer, I have implied that authorship (a sense of ownership) might be achieved by contributing both to the dialogue of content as well as the dialogue of design.

It is generally the medium used to communicate content that changes between the various artistic disciplines; methods come and go, fluid and in flux, whereas the principles of communication remain.

However content is not something that can be removed. Design, music, art, dance, does not exist without the thing that it communicates. I wanted to force content to take a backseat to the structure of design which was to be the same across all of the disciplines included in the piece.

I designed a performance in which music, design, and literature are brought together under a single structure. Any of the arts could have been utilised for this purpose. Each element was a 12 minute, improvised performance completed in isolation – percussion, piano, and a vocal reading. They all followed a pre-defined structure of 72, ten second intervals, which act as Cagean durations. The piece became not about what was being played, but about the space in which it was permitted to play and the space that it was not.

The separate recordings were layered and we found that a new form was created, one that could not have been predicated or achieved through anything but chance operation. The overall piece consists of three threads that move continuously with each other and in moments of absolute bliss, coincide to create perfect rhythmic harmony. The design of structure bridged the gap between disciplines and allowed them to exist together.

Collaborating with musicians

As this project was an illustration of coinciding natures of various disciplines, working with musicians was much the same as working with any other designer, we all had communication as our tool. William Glaser and Mark Lewandowski are jazz musicians trained in, and accustomed to, utilising improvisation in their work. The most rewarding part of this project was undoubtedly the effect of challenging our own preconceptions of music and art. When we layered the first run-through of improvised performances and played it back for the first time, we each sat back speechless at the effect. Improvisation is taught as being wholly about the dictation of interaction between musicians present, yet here was a coherent piece that spoke with all the elements of improvisation and did it very well. The interaction had been remotely designed prior to the performance taking only chance as a further governing factor.

We discussed the reason for this phenomenon at length. Is the performer released from constraints formed by being in the vicinity of another performer, allowing them to concentrate solely on their own sound without being hindered by another? Does the spontaneous nature of the piece appear raw and uncompromising because of the reality of its potential chaos?

Ten second intervals

There are two reasons for designing the performance in ten second intervals. Firstly, I was designing a performance, not a piece of music and I wanted to be clear about that distinction. This project was concerned with the combining of multiple artistic disciplines to create something that was not a version of one of them, but a version of all of them – working in a specific musical timing seemed like a step too far in favour of the musical element. Time, as a general construct made more sense.

The second reason for avoiding typical musical timing is that throughout the piece, it was important for each performer to feel slightly uncomfortable. By using a typical time signature, the musicians would have felt more inclined to return to practiced rhythms – this needed to be avoided in order to create a genuinely new form of improvisation. Needless to say, Glaser, after 12 minutes of continuous improvisation (an extremely difficult act), had not wavered one second from the odd, unfamiliar timing.

The act of designing a pre-defined structure was the absolute basis of the project. This need not have been done in the form of a musical score, however it provided me with a further example of how the disciplines combine. As an independent piece, the score is a visualisation of the design of the structure of a performance. Music is inherent in the process of its design, one that could not have been completed without musical understanding.

Apollonian and Dionysian duality

It was affirmative to find the concept that I had developed in The Fragmentary Corpus was relevant. The pre-defined structure of the piece exists as the Apollonian grounding to a potentially chaotic, inaccessible performance. The moments where threads coincide in perfect, rhythmic harmony are the points where the Apollonian and Dionysian principles are beautifully, seamlessly balanced.

Design principles score, 841 x 594mm, 2014