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.

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