Music For Shuffle

Sketch #14

This one’s mostly involved with with thinking about how to embed shuffle mode in other contexts – say, notation for live performance, visuals and so on. It’s written for piano, vibraphone and two cellos playing a drone, and each part is meant to be displayed in a web browser. The idea here is that with screens and software, notation can continuously change, shuffle around, and interact with the performer. Perhaps all the performer has to do is play what they see.

I’ve decided not to make a video or share MP3s of it yet. I’d prefer to write a load of this sort of stuff, then get some players together and film them having a go at it. Much more interesting! For now, all that exists are the parts.

Writing for collaborative performance between people and computers

I haven’t indicated tempo, meter, note duration, dynamics or phrasing, and there are no barlines. All of that’s up to the performers, and how they choose to interact. The only things I’ve really specified are pitch and phrase duration – the parts change every 15 seconds or so. There’s room for a lot of improvisation, but hopefully things will stay within some sort of accessible tonal framework, avoiding a free jazz screaming session, man.

Other things are left up to the software. The order in which the phrases appear is decided by a bit of Javascript. And overall, each part is completely independent, subject to the whims of the screen or software used to display it. Graphics capability; network delay; processing power, and so on – what does it mean to explore these things musically?

I guess this sketch, when played, is really a loose collaboration between me, the performers, and some software and hardware: in one way or another, all of us share in the musical decision-making. Lots of meat there, maybe.

How to present it

I need to think more about how it could be performed. It’d be easy just to whack each part in a browser on a Kindle or iPad, then stick each device on a music stand in front of each player, maybe spaced around a room or something. That’d be a bit boring, though. If it doesn’t really look any different than a normal gig, what’s the point in doing it?

I guess I’d like the audience (if I ever get that far) to enjoy the processes at work here. Modularity; chance; the players’ decision-making; the behaviour of the software, and so on: these are just as musically important as the sounds themselves.

Anyway. I’ll write a few more, then find some willing volunteers, have a go, and see what happens.