Video: 70 Crowdsourced Scores Performed in 9 Hours

On June 13, 2015 I collaborated with a team of nine students and nine musicians on a project I directed for Northern Spark, an annual, all-night, art festival In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. We titled the project, Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music and the intent was to engage the audience into instantly writing musical compositions for an ensemble of improvising musicians.

I discussed the concept here in-depth and also announced the project last June. I had no idea what to expect, but was thrilled with the outcome. Around 115 crowdsourced scores were entered into a database via our mobile application. During the nine hour performance we interpreted nearly 70 of those pieces for the audience.

ICMLM Sandwich Board

This video should give you a sense of what went on that night, but no media can fully represent an event like this. I can say that it wouldn’t have happened without the student collaborators, our collective of excellent musicians, the Northern Spark organizers, Art Institutes Minnesota, and the hundreds of people in our audience willing to engage in the process. Please see the video for the full project credits.

Meta Composition Lets Audience Compose Text Scores


Now that I have announced my upcoming project Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music (ICMLM) it is only fair that I share a little bit about the thought process and inspiration behind the piece. The inspiration comes from Pauline Oliveros’ instructional scores, sonic awareness, and deep listening practice. Oliveros explains in a very matter-of-fact fashion in an interview with Darwin Grosse that her text scores are instructions for the musicians or a soloist to follow. Often allowing for broad interpretation and improvisation, the scores rarely include musical symbols or notation.

Much of my own recent work involves the exploitation of chance: duets with traffic, trains, and the Singing Ringing Tree for example. ICMLM surrenders chance to the audience by resigning the writing to minds free of the context concerning the concept, preparations, and development of the “outer composition.” In this way ICMLM is a meta composition that allows the audience to compose within parameters predefined by the artist. However, the limitations placed on the compositional tool provided are not meant to confine participants.


The most simple implementation of this concept would be a text area where the author writes whatever they want. I didn’t do this in part because I wanted to make the process engaging, inviting, and user friendly. It is not my intent to intimidate the audience. This is an experiment and we will not dismiss what anyone chooses compose for the ensemble. The process of composing happens within a webapp allowing the composer to specify instrumentation, tonality, dynamics, mood, tempo, length, title, and author. All the choices aside from instrumentation and length can freely be entered as any word or phrase the author chooses. In some cases optional choices are offered from a context sensitive menu, but in “mood,” for example, the author must use their own words.

What this means for the “outer composition” and the ensembles constructed for each piece is that the scores are almost entirely unpredictable. Scores might take the form of a Mad Lib when the author chooses to insert nonsense or humorous terms and phrases. On the other hand fascinating challenges might arise as thoughtful and provocative language is used to inspire the improvising musicians. Whatever happens a large part of the motivation and excitement about this project for me is not knowing what will happen until the piece is performed. I am looking forward to collaborating with the minds of our audience through the musical and sonic interpretations of their ideas.

Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music

Instant Composer: Mad-Libbed Music

Northern Spark 2015 is June 13, 2015 and once again I am excited and honored to be taking part. This year I am directing and producing a project designed to directly involve audience participation in an all night long musical performance piece. Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music (ICMLM) is in collaboration with a group of my interactive media students at Art Institutes Minnesota and an ensemble of improvising musicians from the Minneapolis and St. Paul, community.

ICMLM gives the audience a visceral connection to the ensemble because they will be choosing the members and composing the music! We have designed a mobile web application that allows the audience to write a piece of music that will be played by an ensemble within minutes of composing it. The compositions are textual or instructional scores popularized by Pauline Oliveros.

Pauline Oliveros is an American composer and accordionist who is a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music … Oliveros has written books, formulated new music theories and investigated new ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of “Deep Listening” and “sonic awareness”. — Wikipedia

In five easy steps visitors will write their piece and submit it for its debut. The app allows participants to choose the instrumentation, tonality, dynamics, tempo, and length without needing to know any musical terms or techniques. The scores are like a Mad Lib, so we anticipate humor and transgressive play, but this will only make it more challenging and interesting for the ensembles.

The event is being held rain-or-shine on June 13, 2015 inside the historic Mill City Museum on the banks of the Mississippi river in downtown Minneapolis. It is free and open to the public and runs from dusk until dawn (9:00pm until 5:26am).

Participating students include: Ariel Marie Brooks, Michael Brooks, Renae Ferrario, Meg Gauthier, Abram Long, Valeria C. Sassi, Adam Schmid, and Steven Wietecha. The musicians include: Chris Cunningham (guitars), Jon Davis (bass, bass clarinet, saxophones), DeVon Russell Gray (bassoon, keyboards), Rajiah Johnson (flute), John Keston (keyboards), Donnie Martin (violin), Thomas Nordlund (guitars), Cody McKinney (bass), Graham O’Brien (drums), and Adam Schmid (drums).