The Music and/as Process: Living Collaborative Processes conference was a well-organised and thought-provoking day of participatory collaborative score investigations and lively idea exchange. Held at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) in London and planned by Steve Gisby (ICMP) and Lauren Redhead (Goldsmiths, University of London), the environment of experimentation, participation, and discussion offered a refreshing conference format and an inspiring way to engage with musical and theoretical processes. In addition, the organisers produced a comprehensive and informative booklet for attendees which was distributed via email pre-conference.
The impetus behind the Music and/as Process study group is Steve Reich’s 1968 essay, ‘Music as a Gradual Process’ in which he wrote, ‘the distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form simultaneously’ (qtd. in the Music and/as Process conference booklet). The day’s musical developments exemplified Reich’s essay, providing concrete and conceptual examples of process-oriented and collaborative musical work. The conference achieved its aim of bringing ‘together academics and research students in the UK and further afield working on issues related to and arising from such a definition of process in music,’ with presenters, composers, and delegates from the UK, Ireland, France, and the US.
Due to the brief one-day format and the array of musical perspectives, it is worth noting the contributions of each presenter:
Zubin Kanga (Royal Holloway, University of London): WIKI-PIANO
WIKI-PIANO is an ongoing collaborative online music and media project between pianist Zubin Kanga and musician, composer, and media artist, Alexander Schubert. From musical intensity to media absurdity, the curated but uncensored work captures the zeitgeist of our internet-laden era. Users may access the WIKI-PIANO site (http://www.wiki-piano.net) and compose, alter, and upload musical notation, text / graphic score-instructions, and media works. Kanga invited conference participants to amend the site throughout the day, and he concluded the conference with a piano, electroacoustic and text performance, and media projection of the most recent version of the work from the website.
Richard Carey (PhD candidate, University of Glasgow): Accents
Composer and filmmaker Richard Carey presented his improvisational choral work in which participants respond vocally to each other and to a projected film. The work explored group dynamics and sensitivity to visual and vocal environments. As a musical piece and a community-building work, Accents (subtitles) is distinctively appropriate for participants with and without musical experience. Carey continues to facilitate the work in a variety of settings and with a wide range of participants.
Mike Fletcher (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire): Picasso(s): Interactions – Part 2: Conduction
Mike Fletcher, inspired by experimental music processes and visual art, used notes from a transcription of a Coleman Hawkins saxophone solo to delve into the possibilities of his conduction score. In guiding the ensemble within his compositional and interpretive framework, Fletcher expanded and discovered improvisational possibilities unique to the contributors.
Misha Penton (PhD candidate, Bath Spa University): Visible Darkness
My own score, Visible Darkness, is a structured improvisational postoperatic work for voice and 1+ instruments. The exploration of the piece included several versions performed with instrumentalists who followed and responded to my voice and original poetics. The sonic atmosphere created by the collaborating musicians supported the vocality and provided a textured and ambient soundscape, achieving my aim of creating a new and impromptu mini opera.
John Hails (Edinburgh Napier University): Nine for ones in nine
With a number of instruments and voices participating, John Hails’ score explored just intonation with the aid of electronic tuners. The work initiated with a single-note drone and performers individually chose pitches from the score in an investigation of the chromatic scale. The collaborative engagement created a performance singular to the given ensemble.
Jason Hodgson (PhD candidate, Canterbury Christ Church University): Musickell
Jason Hodgson and Bez Shahriari shared a music-story game which featured spontaneous contributions from musicians and a narrator. The whimsical card-based score successfully yielded an aleatoric and illustrative ‘tone painting’ milieu to accompany the improvised narration.
Sophie Stone (PhD candidate, Canterbury Christ Church University): Amalgamations
Sophie Stone’s score featured the integration of text instructions and an associated graphic chart. In performance, Amalgamations developed as a subtle and gradually progressing work, designed to encourage the musicians to listen intently as they navigated a relational sonic landscape.
Danica Maier (Nottingham Trent University) & Martin Scheuregger (University of Lincoln): Mechanical Asynchronicity
Mechanical Asynchronicity is a collaboration between visual artist Maier and composer Scheuregger. The score is based on traditional lace-making pattern instructions repurposed and deconstructed to create graphic notation. Musicians pre-planned musical ideas in response to their individual score parts and then performed the work together. The piece is in development and may take the final form of a gallery or site-specific installation with the art work displayed and the music presented in concert, highlighting the relationship between the visual art and sound.
Lauren Redhead (Goldsmiths, University of London): collagemusic
Originally scored for toy pianos or melody instruments, collagemusic features traditional Western music notation integrated with text blocks centrally positioned on the pages. The work is approachable from various angles (physically and conceptually). Using the score as a departure point, the conference realisation of collagemusic included all participants in a collaborative music-making process guided by Mike Fletcher’s improvisational and interpretive conduction process.
The conference concluded with an hour-long concert of select works from the day’s explorations. The gathering was an absorbing and fruitful engagement with process-oriented music.
Misha Penton is a contemporary opera singer, experimental vocal composer, media artist, performance creator and director. Her projects blossom in many forms: live performances, sound and film works, site specific installations, and writings. Recent projects include Threshold, an experimental opera performed at an old grain factory in Houston, Texas, and Medusa Emergent, a media work created for the 35′ high MediaWall at Bath Spa University, UK. Upcoming projects include Visible Darkness, a performance and music film project celebrating the magnificent monstrous feminine; and Misha’s directorial debut with Houston Grand Opera directing a new web opera in the company’s series Star Cross’d. In a return to academia, Misha is a PhD candidate in voice and music at Bath Spa University where she is a member of the Open Scores Lab and is under the supervision of James Saunders (Director of Studies) and Pamela Karantonis (Goldsmiths, University of London). mishapenton.com
Sounds like a mouthwatering display of what it says on the tin: challenging experimental work in process. Thought provoking and thank you for the review
Thanks for reading, Grant!