MP 2014: Keynote: Jane Alden, ‘Form as possibility’

Jane Alden (Wesleyan University) presented her keynote talk, ‘Form as Possibility’ (from Cecil Taylor’s liner notes from his album Unit Structures (1966)) as the penultimate event at the conference. The presentation took the stance of performative process and served as a truly informed pre-concert talk before her ensemble Vocal Constructivists took to the stage. Alden acknowledges that performers inject form into musical process due to learning and engaging with the music and the score, be it notated or graphic. Further to this, she explained that there is no one way to perceive form, structure or process in a performance, or in a score, as informing the performance is not one-dimensional itself, and Vocal Constructivists are proof of this.

Alden gave historical context, detailing that process dates back to 15th Century and the mensuration canon. She exampled the Agnus Dei from Josquin’s ‘L’homme armé super voces musicales’ where a main melody is imitated but at different speeds (or mensurations – this term, however, refers to early music: ‘prolation’ is used in reference to more modern music). Alden then went onto explain the elements of music making that have been probed since the late 20th Century, due to chance, determinacy and, therefore, “elements free of human agency” (like aleatoric sound objects). By extension, then, the roles of composers, listeners and performers are also no lo longer set in stone.

Alden gave an overview of Deep Listening (, developed by Pauline Oliveros, a regular composer for the ensemble whose piece was premiered in the concert following the talk, detailing the method of “slowing down musical time” so minute details within the music become forefront to the listener, promoting a new and more organic way of listening. This was in the context of not just her music, but the presence of ancillary (necessary) noises and sound objects within any piece of music.

With the end result pertaining to discipline of a ensemble and a performance due to the process that they conceive within it, Alden concluded that discipline is not necessarily conforming to a form or structure, but to work together efficiently and with articulate initiative.


Jane Alden is Associate Professor and Chair of Music as Wesleyan University, CT. Her research includes music notation and visual culture from the medieval era to the present day, as well as British and American experimental music. She has been published multiple times on themes spanning her research fields, and in 2011, she form the Vocal Constructivists ensemble that specialise in realising graphic, open and text-based scores.
– Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern

(Edited by Adam Byard, Music and/as Process Intern)