Last month I collaborated with the Northern Irish poet Scott Annett on a poetry response to a few tunes by the intercultural duo “Follow the Rats“. As I was doing so, an idea music student Andrew Goldberg had floated at a seminar was lingering in my mind: “Notes are just shadows of performance, but a lot can be inferred from shadows.” In a similar way, Scott and I attempted to infer something from the sounds by the two Follow the Rats musicians, Cassandre Balosso-Bardin and Phil Alexander. This all took place at a recent Building Interdisciplinary Bridges Across Cultures [BIBAC] international conference public event which was part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. The performance was a meaningful experience for us as performers, poets, researchers and teachers. We felt the audience enjoyed it too and realised that ‘estrangement from oneself’ emerges both in the creative and intercultural process.
The BIBAC international conference, was convened by Dr Pam Burnard and Valerie Ross. It was a result of the Commonwealth Creativities in Interational Arts Network, founded and convened by Dr Burnard to advance and facilitate collaborations in intercultural arts practice, research and policy and to reconceptualise intercultural creativities in education. In a diverse programme, there were keynotes by Dr Alan Blackwell, Professor Liora Bresler and Professor Jaideep Prabhu. I was also moved by Liz Mackinlay’s reminder on ethical research. Reflecting on interdisciplinarity, she stressed: “Laurel Richardson’s assertion that anyone who thinks the ‘creative and analytic are contradictory and incompatible’ is a dinosaur waiting to be hit by a meteor.”
The process of A/R/T/ography
The performance embodied the concept of A/R/T/ography, the multiple identities of ‘Artist’, ‘Teacher’, ‘Researcher’ that follow our personal and professional life journeys. Initially, Cassandre was just a name on an email to Scott and m. This enhanced the ‘apprehensive appeal’ of the unknown which is present in intercultural encounters. The three pieces of music Casandre sent us, a Barrel Organ Set, a Klezmer Set and a Galician Set, were our shared resource. A Galician Set sparked an interesting response. Both in Macedonia and Northern Ireland the bagpipe is used in traditional music. Subsequently, Scott and I stumbled upon the cultural stereotypes surrounding this instrument in the places we come from and we consciously tried to move past them. Afterwards Cassandre, who organised the 1st UK International Bagpipe Conference, pointed out that there are over 130 types of bagpipes in the world producing many different sounds.
Working with Scott and sharing poetic sensibilities, we discovered passions for fluidity, repetitiveness and sound-driven syntax. Surprisingly, we enjoyed the comic elements that pervaded the melodramatic sadness. Scott listened to the music repeatedly while I anticipated it by writing before listening to it and then did some automatic writing after hearing it. We both agreed on a prompt without discussing the meaning we attributed to it.
I contributed a poem in which Cassandre and I go backpacking, end up on a rooftop bonding over her late night bagpipe performance with the neighbours threatening to call the police. Scott’s poem showed his internal poetic and cultural dualities and the influence of Seamus Heaney’s writing. We both interrogated our cultural positionings – Scott’s from Northern Ireland and mine from Macedonia. Yet we were challenged by the Eastern-European Jewish music of A Klezmer Set and found it impossible to give up our cultural baggage, even temporarily. To this confused response, Alan Blackwell programmed a visual art response on his laptop which sparked a discussion on ‘liveliness’ – the difference for both performer and audience between a live performance and a filmed one or recording.
To sum up, our attempts to overcome intercultural stereotypes confirmed their presence in our lives. After accepting this, the intercultural collaboration gave us new ways of considering what is beautiful and how we demarcate or melt the boundaries between our A/R/T/ography endeavours.
*Afrodita Nikolova  is doing a PhD in Education. Picture credit: Golowan Festival Penzance June 2005 Mid-Argyl band2. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0-uk via Wikimedia Commons.