5. Experimental Systems. The Link to Experimental Science

The turn to experimentation (and to experimental practices of music making as instrumental to research) is a ‘stance’ that this project wants to explore and expand. In particular, ME21 methodological and epistemological framework is conceived in relation to ‘experimental systems,’ a term that the historian of science Hans-Jörg Rheinberger suggests to explain empirical research in the sciences in books such as Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube (1997).

Experimental systems are frameworks within which individual experiments are conducted. ‘Technical objects’ are key elements in such a system and are brought into particular constellations so that unexpected phenomena might emerge – so-called ‘epistemic things’ – that will lead to future knowledge. The fixture that comes with technical objects limits the variables in an experimental system making it productive in relation to new knowledge. Whether in the arts or in the sciences, whenever experimental systems are described, it is crucial to pay particular attention to those technical objects that are essential for the system.

In performance practice, we may see analogies. Scores, instruments or tuning systems, a.o., may all be seen as technical objects that are brought into particular constellations (as, for example, the concert), to produce art. However, it is much more difficult to imagine that the performance of a piano concerto, for example, is an experiment, and it is even more difficult to identify what precisely in a performance may count as an unknown entity with an epistemic future.

At the same time, if we reduce the performance qua interpretation to the repetition of the technical object ‘score’, emergent epistemic things may not be recognized. If we want to give credibility to performance as – amongst others – research activity, we need concepts such as experimentation to open up the epistemic potential of performance practice. While it is clear that the concept of ‘experimental system’ as it is transposed into the creative field needs also to be critiqued, it still promises to help further developing methodological and epistemological frameworks for the field of artistic research.

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