MP 2014: Session 1b: Interactivity – René Mogensen (Birmingham Conservatoire/Birmingham City University), Colin Johnson (University of Kent)

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

MP 2014: Session 1a: Empirical Study – Vanessa Hawes and James Williams

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:

  • The difficulty of certain passages in the work
  • The changes in pitch through the song and the physicality of producing different pitch ranges

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.

I, Norton by Gino Robair, performed by CCCU’s Contemporary Music Ensemble and guests

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:

Music and/as Process: Interview with 2014 research interns Kelly Butler and Adam Byard

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.

MP 2014: Final Keynote Speaker: Dr Jane Alden and performers Vocal Constructivists

All proposals are in, and the reading panel is currently looking at the abstracts but we still have further announcements to make!

Our final keynote speaker will be Dr Jane Alden of Wesleyan University. Dr Jane Alden has reserach interests that span from mediaeval music to graphic notation, and she is the director of the group Vocal Constructivists who have performed works by composers including Mark Applebaum, Michael Parsons, Paula Matthusen, Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, Lauren Redhead, and have given the first all voices performance of the entire manuscript of Treatise by Cornelius Cardew.

In addition to Dr Alden’s keynote talk, members of Vocal Constructivists will perform some highlights from their repertoire in a special second keynote concert.


Full details of the programme including the keynote speakers and concerts will be announced shortly, along with details of how to register for the conference.

MP 2014: Keynote Concert: Michael Bonaventure, Tom Johnson Premiere


The keynote talk given by US composer Tom Johnson will be followed by a concert performed by Michael Bonaventure.

The programme will centre on the world premiere performance of Intervals by Tom Johnson by Michael Bonaventure (piano) who will be joined by Steve Gisby (bass guitar). The rest of the programme will comprise short piano pieces by Luiz Henrique Yudo and Gilbert Delor and more…

Michael Bonaventure (b.1962, Edinburgh) is a composer and longstanding advocate of new and experimental organ music. Numerous composers, both at home and overseas, have written for him and he has to date given over eighty premieres of new works and arrangements for the organ; recent collaborations have produced new works from Luiz Henrique Yudo, Rene Baptist Huysmans, Roderik de Man, Huw Morgan, Ian McQueen and Avril Anderson. He has concertised throughout the UK and overseas, on BBC Radio and made many CD recordings, notably the later organ cycles of Olivier Messiaen on the Delphian label and the Contemporary British Organ Music series on SFZ Music. He has composed chamber, solo instrumental, electronic, organ and choral music; recent performances include ‘Rearmost Odd’, given by Lauren Redhead as part of her Sound & Music organ and electronics UK tour, a large-scale ‘In Orbit’ cycle, premiered recently at the Orgelpark, Amsterdam, ‘Green Odyssey’, commissioned by Scottish pianist Mark Spalding in memory of Morris Pert, ‘Aria’, commissioned by Sounds Positive and ‘O Virgo Virginum’, composed for the Merbecke Choir of Southwark Cathedral. Together with composers and organists Lauren Redhead and Huw Morgan he is a member of the composers’ collective AUTOMATRONIC ( which was formed last year to explore and promote new music for electronic media and organ.

Steve Gisby is a bass guitarist, educator and composer. As a performer, he’s worked with members of Kula Shaker, Nelly Furtado, and Joss Stone. Appearances include Ronnie Scotts, the 100 Club and the Edinburgh Festival, and also on HTV (West), Channel 4, and satellite broadcasts to the U.S.A, Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Far East. He works with various ensembles that play all over the UK and abroad.

He’s also an examiner for Trinity College London on their Rock & Pop syllabus, and teaches bass guitar at the Rock Academy: Isle of Man summer school.

As a composer, his music has been performed in the UK, Europe and the US. He’s given papers and presentations at IRCAM in Paris, Furman University in South Carolina, California State University Long Beach, Surrey University and the University of Huddersfield. Steve holds a Ph.D in composition from Brunel University.

When he’s not playing music, writing music, teaching music, listening to music, or reading about music, he can usually be found either drinking tea, cooking, playing squash, traveling, or making a fuss of his cats.

MP 2014: Second Keynote Speaker: Dr Nicholas McKay

We can now announce our second keynote speaker: Dr Nicholas McKay. We’re extremely pleased to be able to welcome Dr McKay to the conference in May, especially as his work in the field of music analysis reveals aspects of process in unexpected places.

Dr McKay’s talk will be entitled:

Introversive and Extroversive processes: rethinking Stravinsky’s music as dialogue between formalist and expressive paradigms

Nicholas McKay completed his PhD on the semiotics of musical meaning in Igor Stravinsky’s music at Durham University in 1998.  He was awarded a one-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2005-06) to work on the semiotics of quotation, allusion and topical reference in Stravinsky’s music and regularly presents papers at international music and semiotics conferences around the world.  He writes primarily on music semiotics, Stravinsky, analysis, opera and music theatre. His work explores the dialogical interface between introversive and extroversive semiotic processes in musical discourse.  He is Assistant Editor of the Journal of Music and Meaning and serves as an elected member of council of the Royal Musical Association.

In September 2013, Nicholas took up the role of Head of Music and Performing Arts at Canterbury Christ Church University.  Previously, he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex, where he worked (1998-2013) as Head of Music (2000-2006 & 2010-2013) and Director [Sub-Dean] in the School of Humanities and University Champion for Creative Arts (2006-2010). Nicholas directed the annual Opera at Glyndebourne Summer School (2009-2013) and has been a regular pre-performance speaker on countless operas at Glyndebourne since 2000.  He has supervised numerous PhD students on topics including Stravinsky, Scriabin, analysis, musical gesture and conducting.

Recent Publications Include:

  • McKay, N, ‘Stravinsky’s Sideward Glance: Neoclassicism, Dialogised Structures and the Reflected Discourse of Bach’, The Journal of Music and Meaning, (2013)
  • —, ‘Dysphoric States: Stravinsky’s Topics – Huntsmen, Soldiers and Shepherds’ in Music Semiotics: a Network of Significations – in Honour of Raymond Monelle, ed. Esti Sheinberg (Farnham, Ashgate, 2012), 249-261
  • —, ‘Ethnic Cleansing, Anxious Influence and Secret Codes: a Semiotician’s Guide to Stravinsky’s Musicological Afterlife and its Archaeological Contra-Factum,’ in Before and After Music, Acta Semiotica Fennica XXXVII, ed. Lina Navickaite-Martinelli (Umweb Publications: Helsinki, 2010), 565-574
  • —‘On Topics Today’ Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie 4, 1 (2007), 159-183
  • —‘One for All and All for One’: Voicing in Stravinsky’s Music Theatre. The Journal of Music and Meaning 5 (2007)

MP 2014: First Keynote Speaker: Tom Johnson

The first keynote speaker of the Music and/as Process Conference will be US Composer Tom Johnson.

Tom Johnson is well known for his catalogue pieces; perhaps some of the greatest examples of musical processes. We are looking forward to welcoming him to speak at the conference, and to presenting a concert of his music alongside the music of other, related composers (more details about this soon).

Countless ways of Counting

Tom Johnson writes: “Everyone remembers how the chorus counts in Einstein on the Beach, and some people remember how Charlie Morrow and I began doing solo counting pieces around the same time. But “Counting Music” has been a major theme for me, developed in countless (almost) ways over the years. I’ll talk particularly about the new Counting to Seven for seven speaking voices, to be premiered by the ensemble Dedalus in October.”

Tom Johnson, born in Colorado in 1939, received B.A. and M.Mus. degrees from Yale University, and studied composition privately with Morton Feldman. After 15 years in New York, he moved to Paris, where he has lived since 1983. He is considered a minimalist, since he works with simple forms, limited scales, and generally reduced materials, but he proceeds in a more logical way than most minimalists, often using formulas, permutations, and predictable sequences.

Johnson is well known for his operas: The Four Note Opera (1972) continues to be presented in many countries. Riemannoper has been staged more than 20 times in German-speaking countries since its premier in Bremen in 1988. Often played non-operatic works include Bedtime Stories, Rational Melodies, Music and Questions, Counting Duets, Tango, Narayana’s Cows, and Failing: a very difficult piece for solo string bass.

His largest composition, the Bonhoeffer Oratorium, a two-hour work in German for orchestra, chorus, and soloists, with text by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was premiered in Maastricht in 1996, and has since been presented in Berlin and New York.

Johnson has also written numerous radio pieces, such as J’entends un choeur (commissioned by Radio France for the Prix Italia, 1993), Music and Questions (also available on an Australian Broadcasting Company CD) and Die Melodiemaschinen, premiered by WDR Radio in Cologne in January 1996. The most recent radio piece is A Time to Listen, premiered by the Irish national radio in 2004.

The principal recordings currently available on CD are the Musique pour 88 (1988) (XI), An Hour for Piano (1971) (Lovely Music), The Chord Catalogue (1986) (XI), Organ and Silence (2000) (Ants), and Kientzy Plays Johnson (2004) (Pogus).

The Voice of New Music, a collection of articles written 1971-1982 for the Village Voice, published by Apollohuis in 1989, is now in the public domain and can be downloaded at Self-Similar Melodies, a theoretical book in English, was published by Editions 75 in 1996.

Recent projects include Tilework, a series of 14 pieces for solo instruments, published by Editions 75 in 2003, Same or Different, a piece commissioned by the Dutch radio in 2004, and the Combinations for String Quartet, premiered in Berlin on the MärzMusik festival in 2004. As performer he frequently plays his Galileo, a 45-minute piece written for a self-invented percussion instrument.

Johnson received the French national prize in the victoires de la musique in 2001 for Kientzy Loops.