David Cunningham (left) with Stephen Partridge at the press
launch of "The Sounds of these Words", Glasgow 1990.
So how does 'Sentences' come about and claim itself as a collaboration?
I can't remember quite when I started working with Stephen. That's a quality of collaboration in the media that we've used; the technology allows the work to be assembled at one remove. Even as long ago as 1974 the sound for 'Interlace' was made in isolation from the picture. Or maybe it's a problem of definition; how and when an informal discussion becomes to a formal piece of work. That's another kind of remove.
There are general assumptions about collaboration that the artists, collaborators or conspirators gather together and plan and plot the work. This about as true as the artist romantic and solitary starving in a garret. Our work and this collaboration is not like that. Stephen shows me work in progress or finished work; I give him tapes. Not necessarily in that order. We usually work at different times in different locations with differing intent. Individual ideas could coincide later. Sometimes years later. The informality is crucial. This ties in with one of my working principles- to create a situation that makes me do something that otherwise wouldn't have occurred to me.
The only time I can remember sitting down together with Stephen to write a formal proposal for a piece of work we emerged with a very silly plan for a minimalist white dot in the middle of a television screen for what would probably have been a long time as we had no other ideas worth talking about. Both of us have a physical relationship with the technologies we work with and always seem to need something to do with our hands. This sentence will be misunderstood.
My work within the various structures of music has brought me into a variety of collaborative situations, all of which require me to play different roles within differing hierarchies: the industrial words to describe these situations; producer, engineer, performer; only hint at a series of fluid working situations of psychological involvement, emotional involvement and the careful process of trying to create and capture a unique moment on tape. Besides having their own formalities, musicians normally have to be in the same room at the same time; that makes interpersonal feedback faster.
Over the years I've seen other collaborations; I spent many years as the music producer within the Nyman/Greenaway collaboration. They didn't seem to conspire much, especially in the later years when the music was often selected by Greenaway from existing work on the Nyman tape shelf often to the composer's (justifiable) annoyance. I do remember Michael's astonishment and delight when he noticed that child on the swing at the start of 'The Draughtsman's Contract' was fortuitously swinging in time with the music.
This of course happened before the 'Sentence' series emerged I made a tape of some ideas for Stephen and filled up the other side of the cassette with takes from a French movie score I was doing at that time. Of course that was the material he used a choice that I could not have made. When I first saw it I was horrified tacky music, I did it for money but after that initial shock I took delight from the way the music shifted this dry minimalist series into a different televisual vocabulary.
We did work together, just once, in a video studio. It was great fun, no planning, not much discussion, just getting on with setting up bits of equipment, microphones and cameras and feedback. It turned into a very curious installation. There was an extraordinary taped result which we immediately mislaid. Something will come of it one day.
Again so how does 'Sentences' come about and claim itself as a collaboration?
Stephen and I have in common that we investigate things by doing the equivalent of zooming in on a tiny fragment and extrapolating the whole. But from that stage onwards we use different procedures, different ideologies. I try to intervene minimally, not to introduce anything external into the work allowing the viewer to make of it what they will. Stephen, on the other hand, performs the observation for the viewer, his approach is more focussed in that way. Perhaps that's an obvious thing for a visual artist to do.
These approaches are complementary, they create work which has a wider palette of rigour, laxity, games, observation and so on than either of us would find ourselves capable of individually. Within 'Sentences' my only formal visual input is a reworking of 'this moment' a work I initially suggested as a collaboration, in part because it has some of the 'look and feel' of the other sentence pieces.
Our roles in the collaboration seem to shift according to the piece of work. The work changes according to the nature of the collaboration. The technology moves on and this is shifting both of us into a different way of working together.
This CDROM brings work from other media into a computer environment. The governing principles behind this work depend on various self-referential structural observations of the medium and the technology with which the work is made. When it comes to applying this aesthetic to computer-based work this approach becomes invalid. Because the very nature of a computer is to deny any intrinsic qualities- roughly speaking it's a complex adding machine, any process of exposure and deconstruction will simply expose the process of the software, the program, not the physical device itself. The strategies are changing.
David Cunningham 1998