The Work in Progress

Untitled score (excerpt)
A scan of a small part of the Electric Score

I thought that I should write just a bit about the work-in-progress that my last couple of posts have been referencing.  I’ve tended in the past to work on projects, usually for quite some time, finally producing some sort of finished piece.  Eleven Clouds, with its requirement of producing something monthly, was a fairly new process for me.  While generally there was a lot of behind the scenes work each month some months were fairly major undertakings that normally I’d have probably spent a lot more time on. So in a way that project was a kind of a work-in-progress as the project. Or to put it another way the entirety of the Eleven Clouds content was the actual release and each month was a work-in-progress toward that whole.

Contrast this to my Book of Musical Patterns, which I worked on for two years and then published the book and its two companion CDs. While it was not work entirely in isolation (I released one of the tracks on an i hate music comp)  that is more indicative of my process -long,  slow, contemplative with a final product being released at the end. So for this current project I’m trying to take sort of a middle ground. It will be a long, well thought out process but I thought that I’d put out some of the work as I do it could be seen to develop. The sketches of the previous two posts are the first part of the process I’ve put out so far, but at some point there will be posts on other aspects of the project. It’ll probably be quite some time before I’m satisfied with the network configuration that I’m working toward for the live electronics setup and the sketches probably won’t ultimately be very indicative of the overall sound but I thought it might be of some interest to experience some of how things develop.

This project has three major components to it:

I) An overall structure for the piece that combines an “Electric Score” which is a meta-score used for generating scores that are used with a live electronics setup and a set of companion scores that can be played along with the Electric Score by additional performers. Look for a forthcoming post on “meta-scores” and “electric scores” in particular and the score(s) for this project in particular. The header image is one (tiny) part of the Electric Score for this project.

II) A Network Instrument setup which is said live electronics setup, that is as I’ve written about, somewhat of a score in and of itself. This is what the series of sketches is working through, the attempts to create this “score” that is flexible enough to realize the primary piece. As I’ll discuss in the third point below, this is a long and involved score and the network is not required (or even expected) to be static for each performance, but it should be iteratively developed. So this also is part of the process- developing a flexible network that can evolve as per the score.

III) Performance of the score. The end result of this project is not a recording, or at least not explicitly. The Electric Score (which has been created as of this post) is quite large – the largest score I’ve made since the Book of Musical Patterns. It is expected to be played in parts, though it is not created in segments like the BoMP. The expectation is that in a performance you play a section of the whole, though given sufficient time one could conceive of performing the entire thing. However one performs it it must be played sequentially from beginning to end.  That is to say that it is not a score like, say, Treatise, where you can pick pages to play. Performance does not necessarily have to be public, one could sit down in ones backyard, or living room or studio and over a series of sessions perform the piece. My goal though is a mix of private and public performances until I have played through the piece. When circumstances arise to perform with other musicians the companion scores, which can be played with any portion of the primary score, can be utilized.

This project (as readers of this blog I’m sure have noted) combines a lot of my primary interests: Graphic Scores, Indeterminacy of Performance, Live Electronics and the Network Instrument, Structured Improvisation, Experimentalism in various forms, Long Form Works, Novel Forms of Collaborations and of course a lot more that I’ve yet to get into.  It can be seen in a way as a direct continuation of both the Book of Musical Patterns and Eleven Clouds and certainly as a product of a lot of the ideas that have interested to me for the last five or more years. Of course this is an ambitious project and there certainly is a chance (perhaps even a likelihood) of failure, or of not meeting expectations and these kind of posts can certainly add to that – they can make something seem overhyped, or overworked or less than the sum of its parts. So there is definitely some risk in these posts, but I think it’ll be interesting and informative to myself as well as any readers/listeners.

Anyway to conclude, there will be a continuing series of posts on the score(s) and probably some further sketches as I work on the network configuration and then at some point, I hope, announcements of the performances as they begin.


Still Sketching


This sketch, from the next day of the previous two uploaded, is more concerned with form, though in a somewhat hypothetical way. The material (or material possibilities) from the previous days sketches are explored in how they could be used to construct a coherent piece. It should be noted in live electronics that form often follows material and develops as your setup does. This is a kind of indeterminacy that is of particular interest to myself. These sketches are also for a work in progress that utilizes an overlay score so there are three layers of structuring agency that are considered in these sketches. Sketch 0514.2 by spiralcage


Sketches Sketch 0513a by spiralcage

After a period of inactivity in my own music making I’ve recently embarked on a new major project. This project involves the use of a type of score I’ve been working on that is meant to work in concert with a live electronics setup. Accepting the notion that a live electronics (or Network Instrument) setup is in and of itself a kind of score, this score is meant to work in collaboration with such a score. Thus the score is a priori incomplete – it requires the corresponding live electronics setup(s).  These I’ve been exploring and as I’ve been recording at least some of these explorations I’ve isolated several extracts that I’ve come to think of as sketches. Sketch 0513c by spiralcage

These sketches aren’t necessarily representative of the work in progress but are simply explorations of aspects of a particular Network Instrument configuration. The focus has primarily been on material – can this setup generate sounds that fit the overall project and is able to contribute to the form and structure of the piece.  This project, of which I intend to document as it develops, is ambitious and complex in scope and will require it’s components to reflect that. While each individual sketch may seem somewhat limited in scope they are merely meant as an exploration of sometimes just an aspect of a particular configuration.  While they are more focused on sound than structure there is some attention paid to form and the selected extracts are meant to reflect that. They are also short since they are after all, sketches.

Approaches to Graphic Notation

There’s No Sound In My Head from lateral on Vimeo.

There are many approaches to graphic scores – from those are require the construction of a consistent personal vocabulary like Treatise, to those that have such detailed instructions it is akin to an alternate form of traditional notation, to those that are pictures that are to be reacted to and of course the continuum of combinations and grey areas between these general approaches. This graphic score, The Metaphysics of Notation by Mark Applebaum is enough in the later category so that it was setup as an installation at the Cantor Arts Center Museum on the Stanford University campus (where Applebaum is a professor) and yet it is a detailed construction with repeated and referenced elements that a built up vocabulary would certainly serve well. It was not merely an installation in the art gallery it was presented as a score and it received weekly performances for nearly a year.   
A new DVD on Innova, The Metaphysics of Notation, consists of a 45 minute performance assembled from these performances, and also includes the documentary There’s No Sound in My Head about the piece.  This documentary is also on Vimeo and I’ve embedded it above. This documentary is highly worth watching even if this specific score and it’s realizations don’t particularly appeal. It touches on a lot of the issues that come up time and time again with graphic scores: are they art or music, indeterminacy of performance, comparisons with traditional notation and so on. These issues come up again and again but rarely does one see much in the culture about them, so even if the treatment is only so in depth, it’s interesting to see these questions raised and some answers given from a variety of different people (who present multiple sides of these issues).

The Metaphysics of Notation (excerpt)


Composer and sound-sculpture inventor (not to mention Stanford prof) Mark Applebaum refuses to be fenced in. This time his visually-obsessive music has emigrated from the concert hall to the museum gallery. Mark Applebaum’s cryptic, painfully fastidious, wildly elaborate, and unreasonably behemoth pictographic score, The Metaphysics of Notation, consists of 70 linear feet of highly detailed, hand-drawn glyphs, two hanging mobiles of score fragments, and absolutely no written or verbal instructions. – from the Innova DVD page

I have to admit that I’ve not been super aware of Applebaum’s music. He sort of seems to be in that post-Minimalist, Kyle Gann-ish territory with a generous helping of Trimpin (see his quite interesting looking sound sculptures) and jazz influences. I’m sure that does him a disservice but it’s immaterial when considering a graphic score that has no instruction. One thing that is important to keep in mind with graphic scores of this type is that one can apply a set of meta-rules on the top of the score and still be completely true to the score.  Considering Treatise again when you examine the score in it’s entirety it becomes clear that you have to create your own vocabulary to the symbols. As the symbols repeat throughout the score and are constantly modified, interpenetrated by other symbols and the like it also becomes clear that the score demands consistency and rigor to do justice. This can be down with overriding concerns in place – for instance a very minimalist and quiet approach can be made. Likewise a dramatic and noisy approach could be applied. What matters is that regardless of the concerns of the performers is that their interpretation remains rigorous.

The performers of the piece have ranged from improvisors such as Vic Rawlings, Liz Albee and Gino Robair, to new-complexity composer Brian Ferneyhough, to experimental music percussion ensemble Sō Percussion and many many more. The wide range of these performers demonstrate how you can apply your specific approach to an open score like this. Of course without being able to hear complete performances (and being able to completely examine the score) it is pretty hard to judge individual performances but the overarching point remains. For a fairly extreme example of this consider this performance by the Blum Blum Shub Poetry Coincidence. Cardew often stated that performers of Treatise were co-composers with him and it is this bringing of one’s own approach to the piece – while respecting the score by applying rigor to one’s approach – that is how one becomes part of the piece; a co-composer of your realization of the score. The above documentary ends with the following acknowledgement, that acknowledges not only the various performers of the piece but also this concept:

And above all [thanks] to the intrepid and imaginative performers of The Metaphysics of Notation (who understand that the composer asks for fidelity, not accuracy)


ErstQuake 2 - 34
Sean Meehan at ErstQuake 2 in 2005

It’s going to be a lengthy process but I’ve begun transferring photographs that have been stored on my Spiral Cage site into sets on Flickr. Flickr sets I think have better organization, are easier for people to find, amenable to search and allow me to more or less archive the photos at the resolution they were taken without compromising view-ability.  It’s going to take a long time, since I’ve put up a lot of galleries and I’m trying to hunt down the originals of most of them so that they can be archived at higher resolution.  For those interested in the photos that get transferred the higher resolution should be a plus but also in some cases I’ve put up a few more photos than in the original galleries.   I probably won’t put up a post here every time I move a set, but might highlight some of the more notable ones.

The first up for these was my photos that I took of the ErstQuake 2 festival at Collective: Unconscious in New York City, NY, USA way back in September of 2005. I’d written revews of these shows which I’m ashamed to admit I’d never moved over from the old blog, but have now done so. These can all be found in the new ErstQuake 2 category.  Anyway if interested check out my ErstQuake 2 set on Flickr.

Cosmos at VNM Oct. 21st 2004
Cosmos at Vancouver New Music

Being on a bit of a roll, I’ve also uploaded the pictures I took from a Cosmos set as part of a Vancouver New Music festival in October 2004. Again there was an old blog post which needed to be moved, which can now be read here. All of the photo I took from this show are now in my Cosmos at VNM Flickr set.