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Creating a Virtual Heart

Arts practice with a defective mind

I am a composer, and this study documents an individual perspective on two very personal, and almost inseparable themes - a musical life and the impact of Asperger's Syndrome - upon it. Asperger's Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder on the Autism Spectrum with which I was diagnosed in 2005. By their very nature these themes are strongly loaded with personal subjectivity, bias and experiences that are normally hidden within the individual. The resulting analysis of this effects first, foremost and strongest, the researcher and composer himself (myself) and offers a window through which the reader may glimpse another reality. This research explores music-making from the point of view of a person with Asperger's Syndrome. Conversely, it has also provided a musician's view of Asperger's Syndrome, using new forms of methodology for conducting and presenting research in the creative arts. These themes are explored via autoethnography, telling stories, observing the self. Autoethnography is quite new in the field of music research, perhaps reflecting the great fear that many musicians seem to have of losing their mysterious powers to the spotlight glare of research.

This document, the product of five years of interdisciplinary work in Griffith University's Doctor of Musical Arts program, constitutes an innovative approach to a subject that is not well represented in the literature on either music or autism. The manner in which a person with clinical deficits in empathy, emotion and communication skills, deals with collaborative music making is largely unexplored and this study aims to make contribution to this field.

To these various ends, the presentation takes the form of a semi-linear multimedia document based in Web technologies, incorporating both evocative and analytical text, images and photographs, music, audio and video material where these elements are presented as integrated data rather than merely illustrative or ancillary. I have used a combination of table of contents, designated related posts and relevant links generated by WordPress, designed for active web-server operation. The text is divided into "analytic" white pages, and "evocative" black pages, the first of which appears to the right of this column, thus presenting two complementary "voices" in the study. Post assessment the website has become live on the Internet, a "living document" in a format that allows and encourages commentary and interaction, and could itself become a source for further investigation.

The title of the thesis came from Stavros Halvatzis, a colleague and friend with whom I was discussing the process of defining an internal emotion through cognitive processes. I said I was trying to think how to feel, he said I was

Creating a Virtual Heart.

Every Head is a World

Dear Reader

Welcome to my world. I am the Other, and it is the world in my head that I invite you to explore. I am a musician and composer and I have Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the Autism spectrum of disorders. According to the criteria for diagnosis, I am impaired, I lack, I have failed to develop, and my behaviour is inappropriate.

Apparently, I have a defective mind.

I do not consider myself defective, and I use the term ironically in the title of this thesis, but Asperger's Syndrome makes me different to you in ways that you may not see easily, in ways that I did not fully know or understand, before undertaking this doctorate, but these differences are not so rare that you will not recognise yourself.

What is it like to be someone else, to think like someone else, to make music like someone else? Conventional wisdom suggests that the more similar the Other is, or the more familiar, the more possible it is to imagine and understand their world and to call on that spontaneous understanding of the perspective others that is known as Theory of Mind. We are exhorted to "walk in the other man's shoes" and enter the world in their head, to have empathy and sympathy for others as a part of being moral human beings.

To do this we rely on a combination of observation and assumption. If the Other is similar to us, perhaps they will experience and respond to situations in a similar way. But if the Other is different, the relationship is more difficult because there are less common experiences. Cultural differences may generate false assumptions, as may gender and sexuality, education, language and experience, but we can negotiate this by observation and through first hand accounts of the Other's experience, modifying our assumptions and making allowances for a wider range of possibilities.

In this study I have offered my first hand experiences, my music, my thoughts and my visions. I have tried to present them using the multiple layers and links of this website as a reflection of my own mind, in a way that is active and experiential, and to give thoughtful discussion of their meaning. It is a story of self-discovery with music as its driving force.

Proceed to Introduction