– Edited by Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern
– Edited by Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern
Tom Johnson studied at Yale University, gaining his BA (1961) and MMus (1967) there in addition to studying privately with Morton Feldman. Early works, such as his Four Note Opera (1972), demonstrate a keen interest in use of minimal material: the work, as its title suggests, is composed using only four notes. Later, his Nine Bells (1979), employed a different compositional process: walking through a series of suspended bells, Johnson created music based on his chosen path through them.
Johnson moved to Paris in 1983, there to compose music that would base itself on objective patterns and processes. Chord Catalogue (1986) demonstrates this kind of approach: the piece consists of all 8178 chords possible within the octave. The development of this interest is clear in Intervals (2013), then, which charts a set of possible permutations within a different set of parameters.
Highlighting the importance of the musical process at play, the composer scores the work with an open instrumentation, stating that the ‘intervals and their sequences’ are the musical aspects of primary importance. Johnson draws a parallel between this piece and his earlier work; characterising it as possessing a ‘mathematical intelligence behind its apparent simplicity’. This intelligence and simplicity is also on display in his Counting Duets (1982); despite appearances, the performers do not count musical beats, but simply count ascending and descending numbers.
– Adam Byard, Music and/as Process Intern
– Edited by Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern
Steve Gisby, ‘Things never (always) happen the same way twice: uniform structural process and variable material’, and Leah Kardos (Kingston University), ‘Exploring the temporalities of a musical idea (creative practice research)’.
The two papers presented in this session both explored the ideas behind re-using materials to generate different outcomes. In Steve Gisby’s presentation, the material re-used was in fact a compositional process; his piece ‘SW15’ uses layers of looped sound introduced in a process-based way, before removing them from the built-up texture in a similar manner.
A curious effect of Gisby’s organisation of his materials was that, at several points, a meter became implied or perceptible. One might have expected this meter to be in five, since each of Gisby’s loops were of five seconds, split into five one-second fragments. This was not the case; during the questions at the end of the session, several audience members reported perceiving other meters, quite often three.
Gisby’s focus in this paper was upon how perceptibly different sonic materials can be subjected to the same sorts of structural process to create a distinguishable but related result. After listening to the next two variations of the process, the real interplay between shared structure and differing material became obvious. Here, again, the audience noticed apparent metric aspects that seemed to defy the 5-part organisation of the material.
It was particularly interesting to note the differences between each variation. Despite an identical form and process, the pieces were perceptibly distinct entities, differentiated largely by aspects such as timbre and the implied meter observed during the performance.
Leah Kardos’ presentation examined the ways in which a piece of music can be exploited to maximum effect in order to gain material to work with: she explained her practice of using other versions of particular pieces, referring to their ‘other lives’. Kardos’ economical view of the musical work led to her use of incomplete, inaccurate and adapted versions of her pieces obtained through recording rehearsals, expanding the sense of what ‘the piece of music’ can be considered to be.
An interesting ontological point was made through this process: to what extent can a composer claim authorship of mistakes made by the performer during a rehearsal or performance? Kardos argues that since these sounds come into existence as a direct result of a compositional act, it is possible to take ownership of them and thus expand the musical materials associated with a piece, potentially using the resulting material to create new music.
Both presentations in this session dealt with some sort of economy of usage: Gisby’s by experimenting with the extent to which an unchanging form can produce distinct results by processing audio in a particular way; Kardos’ through examining the ways in which musical materials themselves can be maximally useful. Both composers, in displaying a concern for economising, share a theme with Tom Johnson’s keynote concert: his piece ‘Intervals’, through its maximal use of permutations of only two chords, also established the theme of economy.
– Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern 2014
Nicholas McKay (Canterbury Christ Church University) gave the first keynote of the conference. His paper acknowledged the dialogical processes between subjective and objective hermeneutic windows in Stravinsky’s music, and his interdisciplinary study (semiotics and literary theory) saw that, despite being some of the oldest music discussed at the conference, his approach was current and informed by concepts of contemporary musicology – he acknowledged the heritage of semiotics as a tool for examining music and explained its value with regards to Stravinsky’s music due to its focus on process.
McKay explained the juxtaposition between introversive and ‘conventionally unconventional’ gestures in Stravinsky’s music, such as false relations, tonal parallels (A major vs A minor) and polyrhythms; and extroversive and tropic gestures such as instrumentation and culturally conventional signifiers, the latter of which he went on to discuss further with regards to the ‘paradigmatic pastoralism’ bassoon opening in The Rite of Spring and Oedipus Rex as a stylistic (and ethnographic) trope.
McKay looked at the bifurcation of process (in composition, listening and analysis) in Stravinsky’s music – architectonic (i.e., structure) vs anecdotal gestures: put simply, music for listening vs music for doing.
The talk began with a contextualisation of ideas through illustrative examples from The Rite of Spring before moving on to lesser known (but still popular) Stravinsky works, such as The Solider’s Tale and his Concerto for Piano and Winds. This range of examples substantiated McKay’s ideas in a multifaceted manner.
As a budding semiotician myself, while some names mentioned were familiar to me (such as Nattiez and Hatten), there were many scholars in the field I had not heard of who, since then, I have begun researching (Ratner and Awagu among others) thus, am beginning to gain a wider insight into the methodology. Furthermore, upon first experience of the keynote, I struggled to understand much of McKay’s points, however, after contextualising his theory through research of these scholars, I feel I have more of a grasp on the ideas presented at this keynote.
– Kelly Butler, Music and as Process Intern 2014
René Mogensen (Birmingham Conservatoire/Birmingham City University): ‘Identifying types of musician-computer interactivity in score-based concert works’, and Colin Johnson (University of Kent): ‘Music as Computational Process: Beyond Romantic Algorithmicism’.
The first part of paper session 1b consisted of René Mogensen’s fascinating exploration of the ways in which interactivity exists between performers and computational aspects of a scored concert work. Mogensen expands upon the idea of interactivity as a two-way flow of information, examining the dialogical processes that characterise musical works featuring electronic elements.
Mogensen began by noting that listeners receiving a piece of music with live electronics may experience a difficulty in understanding the processes at play in real-time. In undertaking a data-flow analysis of Saariaho’s NoaNoa (1992), Mogensen mapped all activity contributing to the sound of the piece, constructing a visual representation of the complex interactive procedures. This allows the analyst unfamiliar with live electronics to easily visualise the ways in which the multiple elements required to perform the piece interact.
Interestingly, Mogensen continued by detailing how this type of analysis can lend itself to comparative investigation. By constructing system diagrams for several pieces, he was able to assess similarities and differences between them, paralleling the way in which comparative methods are possible using more traditional methods of analysis.
Consequently, Mogensen proposed a categorisation of interactive types. By comparing multiple score-based works throughout the session, he explained how comparative analysis could form the basis for this typology. By analysing at this abstract level, said Mogensen, comparative analysis becomes easier as a result of removing the complex technological elements, allowing systems to be compared more easily.
Colin Johnson’s thought-provoking presentation centred on algorithmic processes, and the ways in which these might inspire musical composition. Johnson detailed a range of different types of process, employing his background in computing to demonstrate how exactly the algorithms manifest in reality.
The metaphorical comparison of found algorithms to compositional structure was particularly fascinating. One memorable example of Johnson’s involved looking at the pathfinding habits of ants. Faced with a number of options, ants would quickly learn, through placement of pheromones, the quickest route to a food source. Johnson identified this as a stigmergic process: collective action organising a change in the environment.
Johnson’s categorisation of the types of processes that might inspire composers in the future had the aim of confronting the idea of computational process as rigid and unmoving. Johnson’s processes, rather, aim toward interactivity and adaptability: Learning, gamification and search processes are three more of Johnson’s examples that illustrate this sort of approach.
Although both Mogensen and Johnson’s explorations of the idea of interactivity were different, both speakers evoked computational processes. Whilst Mogensen took technological setups and developed an abstract ‘interaction interface’, Johnson began with metaphorical references to algorithmic process – such as the ant colony example – and considered how composers interested in algorithms might use such examples as inspiration.
– Adam Byard, Music and/as Process Intern 2014
Vanessa Hawes (Canterbury Christ Church University) began the first day of the conference with a paper of her empirical study, ‘Understanding structure as process’. Hawes explained the bifurcation of the title: ‘the development of an understanding of structure in music as a process’ and ‘understanding structure in music as a process’ and how her research involves examining learning processes and gradual familiarisation with a piece. Ecological perception (examining environmental aspects that guide or influence an organism’s activity) underpins Hawes’s research in performance, and she suggested a number of possible structural and performative affordances within a score that the singer she has been working with seems to be using to guide her continually developing perception of structure in a song by Schoenberg. When the singer went from studying the score to actually singing it, two possible important affordances that were highlighted were:
Hawes also explained her choice of repertoire was due to tonally constructed music providing too many ‘flags’ in terms of the structure, in terms of tonal resting points and conventional, or balanced, phrasing and harmonic rhythm – the atonality of Schoenberg’s work eradicated these influential elements, meaning that the structure remains ambiguous and, perhaps, subjective. This ambiguity invites the performer, listener or analyst to interpret structure in their own way.
The idea of familiarity with the score was a theme in Vanessa’s paper, and leads to the identification of a process formed through collaboration with the score and text. The overall aim of the research is to develop a picture that illustrates a listener (or performer/analyst) gradually learning to interact with the score, and that it is through this that the processes within the music put there by the composer might be identified, providing a different, performer-led, perspective on the analysis of structure.
The paper ultimately leads to Hawes’s larger ongoing interdisciplinary ‘Hanging Garden’ project, based on external and analytical perspectives on excerpts of Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten.
James Williams (Wolverhampton University) concluded the session with his paper, ‘The role of “musical conversation” in co-composer collaboration’, in which he videoed and analysed rehearsal time between composer Jeremy Peyton Jones and electronic sound artist Kaffe Matthews. He explained that collaboration, in this instance, meant the link between the instrumentation and, by extension, the two composers and their writings. Collaboration was a popular and well discussed theme at this year’s conference, with many other papers examining the notion from different perspectives.
Williams explored the idea that conversation, planning and verbal preparation could be more fruitful that practice-based studying, and that this ‘musical conversation’ (discussing how to tackle elements of the performance and rehearsals) shapes the development of the piece and the relationship between the protagonists. Williams introduced some points of interest from the rehearsal and conversation time he videoed relating to how ideas were exchanged or discussed. He explained the ‘collaborative spirit’ between the composers: they would not create rules or dictate methods, but invite one another to explore an idea upon suggestion or connotation, meaning the work was entirely balanced and there was no leading party. Williams also acknowledges the empirical limitations found in his study, such as how performers and composers working with different genres and specialisms will have different methods of rehearsing.
This paper is part of Williams’ main research and PhD thesis on the interaction between pre-composed acoustics and partially improvised-electronics between Jeremy Peyton Jones and Kaffe Matthews.
A highlights video of Canterbury Christ Church University’s Contemporary Music Ensemble (directed by Lauren Redhead) performing Gino Robair’s “opera in real-time”, I, Norton. Guests include local performers and composers Charles Hutchins and Tom Jackson.
Edited by Kelly Butler
For more information about the work and composer, please visit: ginorobair.com/inorton/inorton.html
We’re delighted to have been offered the opportunity to be involved in the 2nd annual Music and/as Process conference, this year hosted by our institution, Canterbury Christ Church University. As part of our preparatory work for the conference, we have taken part in a short interview about our experiences so far:
Why did you apply for the internship?
A: I wanted to expand my skillset, in a practical sense, regarding using social media and researching effectively. I also want to engage in a wider academic community and be active within it. I see my role in the internship as a continuation of my undergraduate studies, further developing skills I have been honing on the BMus course.
K: I want an inside and in depth look into how conferences work for my future in academia. The knowledge and experience I will obtain during the internship, and the conference itself, provides a stepping-stone between my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Further to this, I will develop my skills in arts and events management.
What has it been like so far? What have you done?
A: We are still in the first week of the internship, so we have been ‘finding our feet’ and assisting in the final preparatory stages while beginning to develop a plan for our own research. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in it all!
K: It’s been a strange but fun experience making the transition between being students and then staff members, albeit for a matter of weeks! The prep work we’re doing is good fun, and it’s rewarding to see everything come together, but I’m looking forward to beginning our research.
What are you looking forward to during the conference?
A: I’m looking forward to getting behind a camera to document the conference, and then editing the footage and seeing it all come together. There are a number of individual talks I’m also looking forward to. Overall, I’m excited to be involved in a project involving so many different aspects.
K: I’m looking forward to completing the variety of tasks we have in front of us over the next five weeks, from laminating to creating critical programme notes! Everything we’re doing is helping develop transferable skills while we, at the same time, help create a really great conference. As well as this, there are some really interesting topics being presented in the conference, so I’m looking forward to catching as many of these as possible.
What kinds of papers are being offered at the conference?
The papers being offered during the conference cover a huge range of compositional style (including graphic, open and ‘conventional’ notation) and musical genre, and cover music form the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the present day. It will be really interesting to see how less recent music is reimagined using more contemporary styles of analysis. Each paper offers something new to the field of process, including how it may be perceived, or created in the first place. These concepts are explored in relation to a huge variety of musical works.
What kind of research will you be undertaking?
We will refer to existent research to fully grasp the subject area in preparation for our own original research. The preparation of programme notes for the Keynote concerts will rely on research of similar works and performances, as well as knowledge of the composers’ earlier works, and the performers’ styles.