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The patch as an indeterminate music score
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next [all]
Author The patch as an indeterminate music score
___tomk
Hey everyone, looking for some feedback on this idea.

Been studying music composition at a university in town here, and I'm doing a paper/talk for a musicology class that compares indeterminate musical scores (Tenney, Cage, Penderecki, Braxton, Applebaum, others?) to the modular synth patch.

I think it's pretty clear (obvious) that a patch is a visual representation of musical potential within the modular eco/system, and that the aural results of a patch are never 100% identical from session to session. To me, therefore, a patch is in a lot of ways as much of a "score" as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.

Hoping to generate some discussion to inform my paper. Anybody on board? Any critiques, analysis, opinions? Anybody hate the idea of integrating modular into the study of academic composition?


Cheers! w00t

P.S. Also very interested in any resources/links if this has been covered somewhere.


*edit* Updated thoughts:

- notation has historically been a way to document musical information as a means of communicating that information to other people, in order to perform the notated musical ideals in a way that accurately represents the ideas of the composer.

- traditional notation has limitations, and has evolved to suit the will of the music/composer in a multitude of ways, over generations. cage, zorn, braxton, applebaum, saariaho, tenney, ferneyhough are a handful of examples of this. happy to state specifically per composer if anyone has questions on that.

- at the most elemental level, notation is an agreed upon format of exchanging musical ideas using extra-musical objects, be it symbolic or physical object

- the patch is an extension of the circuitry of the modules themselves. tudor might argue the circuit is a score.

- while a patch doesn't explicitly instruct the performer how to act over time, it does explicitly instruct/dictate the flow of electricity through the system.

- notation is *not* music, rather a representation of musical potential which is to be realized. we might say that modular grid is a library of modular scores.

- a couple connections i like: the piano reel of tenney's spectral canon for conlon nancarrow is a lot like a patch, in that it is a form of notation, and physically instructs the player piano how to operate (bonus points that the traditionally-notated score becomes illegible); and Mark Applebaum's Metaphysics of Notation comes with no instructions by design: however you interpret the visual elements, whether it be in a linear or non-linear fashion, is an accurate interpretation of the score.

- some things i also like but may have nothing to do with score similarity: comparing voltage and module function to every acoustic sound parameter.
subbasshead
presume you have seen this epic thread of graphic scores?

http://llllllll.co/t/experimental-music-notation-resources/149


re your comparison, i am generalising but most graphic scores (even indeterminate ones) to me usually evoke a timeline of some kind
- a duration and a structure for what happens within that duration...
And in many ways that is its most important role or function - to provide direction to the performers to interpret the composers intentions

By comparison a patch may or may not provide any insight at all into duration,
or how a performer should interact with it, or what structure the piece of music is intended to take.
It could and it may at times, but it also may not at all...
___tomk
subbasshead wrote:
presume you have seen this epic thread of graphic scores?

http://llllllll.co/t/experimental-music-notation-resources/149


re your comparison, i am generalising but most graphic scores (even indeterminate ones) to me usually evoke a timeline of some kind
- a duration and a structure for what happens within that duration...
And in many ways that is its most important role or function - to provide direction to the performers to interpret the composers intentions

By comparison a patch may or may not provide any insight at all into duration,
or how a performer should interact with it, or what structure the piece of music is intended to take.
It could and it may at times, but it also may not at all...


Haven't seen that thread yet - thanks!

Good points all around. Scores do tend to suggest that musical events happen with a duration of time in mind. I have a feeling there are a fair amount of pieces which leave both duration and trajectory of lines up to the performer, which is why I'm really drawn to looking at a patch in my system in a similar way.

*edit* took a quick scroll through the thread and theres a bunch of good stuff in there. Thanks again!
bucketbrigade
When I think about this stuff I think less about scores and more specifically about Reich's process music... modular makes it very straightforward to develop processes and set them loose. Pretty much any process you could imagine is right there- chance, repetition, all very immediate and gratifying.

So I think it would be easier to compare works by Stockhausen and Steve Reich to a patch than some of the people you mentioned, but I'm not familiar with all of them, just dipping my toes into this stuff lately.

There's this quote from Reich: ""I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music. ... What I'm interested in is a compositional process and a sounding music that are one and the same thing."

That sort of stuff is what modular is all about, to me.
GuyaGuy
Graphic scores aren't the only form of indeterminate music, of course. It can also be music that is structured but leaves room for interpretation or chance--Riley's In C, Reich's Pendulum, etc. I supposed the modular equivalent here is a predetermined patch that a performer improvises.

Or it can be completely structured but composed via chance elements--like Cage consulting the I Ching. The modular equivalent here could be using random sources, self-generative patching, etc.
GuyaGuy
bucketbrigade wrote:
When I think about this stuff I think less about scores and more specifically about Reich's process music... modular makes it very straightforward to develop processes and set them loose. Pretty much any process you could imagine is right there- chance, repetition, all very immediate and gratifying.

So I think it would be easier to compare works by Stockhausen and Steve Reich to a patch than some of the people you mentioned, but I'm not familiar with all of them, just dipping my toes into this stuff lately.

There's this quote from Reich: ""I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music. ... What I'm interested in is a compositional process and a sounding music that are one and the same thing."

That sort of stuff is what modular is all about, to me.

Reichian process music is a different approach from indeterminacy altogether. Although there can be overlap like with Pendulum, for the most part Reich's process music is 100% organized, with little room for chance or variations in the composing or performance. There aren't that many modular artists who approach process the same way Reich did phase shifting or Sol LeWitt did wall drawings.
pianoscope
___tomk wrote:

I think it's pretty clear (obvious) that a patch is a visual representation of musical potential


Like a Violin.
felixer
pianoscope wrote:
___tomk wrote:

I think it's pretty clear (obvious) that a patch is a visual representation of musical potential


Like a Violin.

looking at a violin isn't going to give you a clue how it sounds. most modules don't allow that either ... controls are usually marked 1-10. of what?
i think the time of 'the score' is over. that was at a time there weren't any recordings. nowadays it is much easier to simply record what you are doing. and as an instruction to the player most scores leave so much in the dark ... only by knowing (how?) what the composer wanted can you recreate the sound he/she had in mind ...
Muzone
felixer wrote:
........only by knowing (how?) what the composer wanted can you recreate the sound he/she had in mind ...


I think the idea is to interpret a composition rather than reproduce it, and that's why a score (either traditional, graphic or more abstract in form) will always be a relevant manner of communicating ideas.

For me, appreciating the difference between reproducing a scored piece and actually playing it was a very important step in my musical journey grin
felixer
Muzone wrote:
felixer wrote:
........only by knowing (how?) what the composer wanted can you recreate the sound he/she had in mind ...


I think the idea is to interpret a composition rather than reproduce it.

in that case i wouldn't call it a composition, but rather an idea/proposal. and then comes the problem of credits: how much is that worth?
but then i never liked the idea of an indeterminate score: what's the point? there are some pieces (like stockhausen's 'zyklus' and 'sirius') where the player only can change the form (where to begin and end, what part to include and what to drop), but most of the stuff, say, morton feldman wrote sounds very much the same: i think that is because the first interpreters made a certain 'sound' that all the others imitated, thinking 'that's what it's supposed to sound'. so you kill all possibility for surprise and change. which i think is one of the objects of having an indeterminte score in the first place: get away from a piece sounding the same every time it is played. and the point comes where the player should receive composer credits/payment. but the real problem prob lies in the fact that in the classical world there are a lot of excellent players with wonderful technique and a lovely sound that don't know what to do with it. because they were never tought/stimulated to be creative ('none of our business, that's the job of the composer'). in jazz that would never happen. and in fully improvised music obviously there is the danger of 'getting stuck' (happened to me) but then you only have to change something (another player, another instrument/sound) to get some change ... and that makes sense ... just as comedy is a very serious business you have to work at to get any good. just a funny face/walk isn't going to cut it in the long run, change is something that doesn't happen automatically, although you might think so as change is all around us and nature never repeats itself exactly ...
Yeggman
___tomk wrote:


Haven't seen that thread yet - thanks!

Good points all around. Scores do tend to suggest that musical events happen with a duration of time in mind. I have a feeling there are a fair amount of pieces which leave both duration and trajectory of lines up to the performer, which is why I'm really drawn to looking at a patch in my system in a similar way.



There's certainly numerous graphic scores without directions for duration. Earle Brown did this a often:

4 Systems

December 1952

Can't get much more abstract than that!


If you draw that line and follow it, you'll get to Fluxus, and things like La Monte Young's Compositions 1960.

Cobra by John Zorn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobra_(Zorn) - the brackets in the url confused the forum hyperlink function) is another pretty famous example of a piece with explicitly indeterminate duration (and performers, and instrumentation, etc).

Jennifer Walshe's This Is Why People OD On Pills /And Jump From The Golden Gate Bridge is a more modern example of this kind of thing, too - it does specify a minimum duration, but beyond that duration is to be determined by the performers.


I can definitely see parallels between indeterminate / open form scores and a modular patch, although I tend to think a patch would actually be rather more concrete / defined / closed form than a lot of the deeply open form works that have been done - certainly there's more predetermined within a typical modular patch than in most of the pieces I linked above.

Another comparison that comes to mind are the "musical dice games", where pre-composed material was structured randomly using dice: Musikalisches W├╝rfelspiel. This is somewhat similar to a patch in that a patch is basically a determined set of possibilities, and which/how/when those possibilities are enacted is determined through other means. (Of course, this is also just true of any instrument - the design and construction of an instrument, and the skill of the performer, define a set of possibilities, and then how the possibilities of that instrument are used is determined through other processes, ie "composition").

You might also say that a patch is similar to a process like preparing a piano - determining what possibilities are available on the instrument.
pianoscope
felixer wrote:
pianoscope wrote:
___tomk wrote:

I think it's pretty clear (obvious) that a patch is a visual representation of musical potential


Like a Violin.

looking at a violin isn't going to give you a clue how it sounds.


That was my point.

The patch is a factor of the composition, the score an instruction designed to realise the composers intent.

They are not the same.


the failure of electronic music to develop any kind of agreed scoring system is interesting.

Graphic scores irritate the F*** out of me, especially the nice looking ones
felixer
well, graphic scores can be extremely precise. check out some of the xenakis scores. not much left to chance there! and he had to go that way with all the glissandi and extremely complex rhythms.
but then there is the nam june paik symphony: it lasts a few centuries and is obviously a 'conceptual piece' ... nothing to do with reality or performance practise ...
___tomk
Happy to see varied opinions and insights on this. I'll be able to respond to specific points in the coming days. Certainly there is a blurred distinction between modular as strictly an instrument with inherent musical possibilities (like a violin), and modular as a group of instruments (modules) that are instructed to work together in specified ways, to indeterminate results. GuyaGuy's comment about random as a chance compositional device was particularly interesting.
pianoscope
felixer wrote:
well, graphic scores can be extremely precise. .


re Xenakis I wasn't aware he used graphic notation. I would be interested to see them.

Which compositions?
___tomk
bucketbrigade wrote:
When I think about this stuff I think less about scores and more specifically about Reich's process music... modular makes it very straightforward to develop processes and set them loose. Pretty much any process you could imagine is right there- chance, repetition, all very immediate and gratifying.

So I think it would be easier to compare works by Stockhausen and Steve Reich to a patch than some of the people you mentioned, but I'm not familiar with all of them, just dipping my toes into this stuff lately.

There's this quote from Reich: ""I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music. ... What I'm interested in is a compositional process and a sounding music that are one and the same thing."

That sort of stuff is what modular is all about, to me.


Great insight. I think realistically, and again probably obviously (which is to an extent what I'm going for here - what are the obvious things that we are looking at, as well as the not-so-obvious, and where can we draw some distinct lines?), there is a some of column A and some of column B at play when we patch.
___tomk
pianoscope wrote:
___tomk wrote:

I think it's pretty clear (obvious) that a patch is a visual representation of musical potential


Like a Violin.


Yep. That's a big one staring this idea right in the face. Isn't a patched modular the same thing as a prepared piano? I definitely would not disagree with that statement, but I also have this gut feeling that there is something more there. So I suppose I have to ask the question to everyone:

In what ways is a patched modular synth more like a musical score than it is like a prepared piano?
___tomk
felixer wrote:
pianoscope wrote:
___tomk wrote:

I think it's pretty clear (obvious) that a patch is a visual representation of musical potential


Like a Violin.

looking at a violin isn't going to give you a clue how it sounds. most modules don't allow that either ... controls are usually marked 1-10. of what?
i think the time of 'the score' is over. that was at a time there weren't any recordings. nowadays it is much easier to simply record what you are doing. and as an instruction to the player most scores leave so much in the dark ... only by knowing (how?) what the composer wanted can you recreate the sound he/she had in mind ...


Had a conversation about this recently and it's a really interesting thought - is notation really necessary anymore? Ferneyhough comes to mind on this one, wherein the nature of the score's complexity demands the player interpret it, which effectively keeps humans engaged with the interface between score and performance of an idea expressed as score. I personally don't believe notation will ever become obsolete, if only because of the amount of potential information to document in any given piece. We could argue that the ability to rewind/replay sections of music in order to transcribe eliminates the need for score, but even that process has its shortcomings.
___tomk
Muzone wrote:
felixer wrote:
........only by knowing (how?) what the composer wanted can you recreate the sound he/she had in mind ...


I think the idea is to interpret a composition rather than reproduce it, and that's why a score (either traditional, graphic or more abstract in form) will always be a relevant manner of communicating ideas.

For me, appreciating the difference between reproducing a scored piece and actually playing it was a very important step in my musical journey grin


I agree. Especially when we consider that there really is no way to "reproduce" works which were never recorded (pre-recording technology), the role of the conductor, etc.
___tomk
Yeggman wrote:
___tomk wrote:


Haven't seen that thread yet - thanks!

Good points all around. Scores do tend to suggest that musical events happen with a duration of time in mind. I have a feeling there are a fair amount of pieces which leave both duration and trajectory of lines up to the performer, which is why I'm really drawn to looking at a patch in my system in a similar way.



There's certainly numerous graphic scores without directions for duration. Earle Brown did this a often:

4 Systems

December 1952

Can't get much more abstract than that!


If you draw that line and follow it, you'll get to Fluxus, and things like La Monte Young's Compositions 1960.

Cobra by John Zorn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobra_(Zorn) - the brackets in the url confused the forum hyperlink function) is another pretty famous example of a piece with explicitly indeterminate duration (and performers, and instrumentation, etc).

Jennifer Walshe's This Is Why People OD On Pills /And Jump From The Golden Gate Bridge is a more modern example of this kind of thing, too - it does specify a minimum duration, but beyond that duration is to be determined by the performers.


I can definitely see parallels between indeterminate / open form scores and a modular patch, although I tend to think a patch would actually be rather more concrete / defined / closed form than a lot of the deeply open form works that have been done - certainly there's more predetermined within a typical modular patch than in most of the pieces I linked above.

Another comparison that comes to mind are the "musical dice games", where pre-composed material was structured randomly using dice: Musikalisches W├╝rfelspiel. This is somewhat similar to a patch in that a patch is basically a determined set of possibilities, and which/how/when those possibilities are enacted is determined through other means. (Of course, this is also just true of any instrument - the design and construction of an instrument, and the skill of the performer, define a set of possibilities, and then how the possibilities of that instrument are used is determined through other processes, ie "composition").

You might also say that a patch is similar to a process like preparing a piano - determining what possibilities are available on the instrument.


Gah, how could I forget to mention my favorite, Zorn? Thanks for the input here, and the Earle Brown/Fluxus/La Monte Young reminders, as well.

It's becoming clear that the big issue for me to look at is how is modular like an instrument, how is it like a score, and where is the distinction between those two things?
felixer
___tomk wrote:

In what ways is a patched modular synth more like a musical score than it is like a prepared piano?

i don't see any similarities. and 'a patched modular' could be anything ... apples and oranges and peaches ...
felixer
pianoscope wrote:
felixer wrote:
well, graphic scores can be extremely precise. .


re Xenakis I wasn't aware he used graphic notation. I would be interested to see them.

Which compositions?

https://graphicnotation.wordpress.com/tag/graphic-notation/
https://www.google.de/search?q=xenakis+graphic+score&client=firefox-b- ab&tbm=isch&imgil=L8QgF918ZkK17M%253A%253BWOClV3u72NFf3M%253Bhttps%252 53A%25252F%25252Fgraphicnotation.wordpress.com%25252Ftag%25252Fgraphic -notation%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=L8QgF918ZkK17M%253A%252CWOClV3u72N Ff3M%252C_&usg=__C1ZijCbzOtdLfHNIjO2EYX_1GlQ%3D&biw=1410&bih=743&dpr=1 .25&ved=0ahUKEwiq6d7Oyo7TAhUDuRQKHc6OAyAQyjcILg&ei=8IzlWKqxOoPyUs6djoA C#imgrc=L8QgF918ZkK17M:
___tomk
felixer wrote:
___tomk wrote:

In what ways is a patched modular synth more like a musical score than it is like a prepared piano?

i don't see any similarities. and 'a patched modular' could be anything ... apples and oranges and peaches ...


Would you mind unpacking that one a bit? I think I know what you mean when you say 'could be anything' but for sake of clarity...
mckenic
Very interesting - I'm doing something similar for university at the moment but coming at it from the angle of improvisation, so my thinking is the process of patching (before even turning the modular on) is my method of composition.

That way (for me), there are areas of possibilities I can go or call on and more importantly change completely on the fly. JUST discovered Zorn and Cobra - where has my head been all these years!!! Bailey's Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music was a wonderful read for me and Im currently in the middle of Sloboda's Generative Processes in Music.

Haven't 100% fully formed thoughts yet but very excited to learn more and possibly develop a reproducible system to allow me to musically chase rabbits down holes... best of luck with the paper, would love to hear your thoughts when your done!
___tomk
mckenic wrote:
Very interesting - I'm doing something similar for university at the moment but coming at it from the angle of improvisation, so my thinking is the process of patching (before even turning the modular on) is my method of composition.

That way (for me), there are areas of possibilities I can go or call on and more importantly change completely on the fly. JUST discovered Zorn and Cobra - where has my head been all these years!!! Bailey's Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music was a wonderful read for me and Im currently in the middle of Sloboda's Generative Processes in Music.

Haven't 100% fully formed thoughts yet but very excited to learn more and possibly develop a reproducible system to allow me to musically chase rabbits down holes... best of luck with the paper, would love to hear your thoughts when your done!


Happy to read your post, and know that there are others out there who are exploring similar ideas. Zorn is a truly an iconic example of blurring lines between composition and improvisation, which in itself tells me that there is a blurred area to explore in the world of modular. I agree that there is a compositional process involved in the act of patching, and while it may be similar both philosophically and literally to preparing an instrument (like prepared piano) there is another aspect to that suggests the patch sets up conditions for processes within the system to play out.

Perhaps the element of electricity could be something interesting to think about.
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