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Controlled Indeterminacy in Text Scores

(1): Nomi Epstein


Posted on May 21, 2015 by jennie

I’ll be posting several interviews over the next couple of weeks about a commissioning
project by the a.pe.ri.od.ic ensemble that deals with controlled indeterminacy in text scores.
There are four participating composers: Ryoko Akama, Nomi Epstein, Sarah Hughes, and
Tisha Mukarji, and there are two upcoming performances of the four pieces, one by
a.pe.ri.od.ic in Chicago on May 31st, and the second at Dog Star Orchestra in Los Angeles
on June 1st.

So maybe I’ll just start off asking how this project got started with the four commissions.
What was the thinking behind it?

So one of the things that I’ve been really interested in with a.pe.ri.od.ic is text scores. We
perform almost entirely text scores, and in researching text scores, I have a very strong
interest in text scores that have a good amount of specificity in their notation and in what
the composer would like the sonic outcome to be. They still all have a great deal of
indeterminacy, but there’s a sound world intention, which is more specifically laid out, I
would say in these scores more than in a number of other text scores. I’ve done a good
amount of writing about this interest and have given papers on this type of text score
before. I’ve found when I’m researching text scores for programming a.pe.ri.od.ic concerts,
it’s these kinds of score I’m most interested in performing—the ones that have a little bit
more specificity to them. We’ve commissioned just two pieces before, but they weren’t on
the same concert. We commissioned Michael Pisaro to write a piece, and then we
commissioned Kenn Kumpf [from the ensemble] once to write us a piece. Kenn’s going to
write us another one actually for Make Music this year. So for this concert, I wanted to do a
whole concert of commissions. But what I was also really interested in was finding a group
of composers who were sort of multi-artists, meaning that they are not only composers, but
improvisors and curators as well, and also performers outside of being improvisors. I
started researching, and wanted to find a group of composers all around the same
generation, but having grown up in different places. So that’s where this commissions
project came from.

Was the idea initially that there would be two performances, one by a.pe.ri.od.ic in
Chicago and the other at Dog Star in LA?

The commissioning project started before the Dog Star connection. After performing
together on the Wandelweiser Festival in St. Paul last fall, Michael and I were waiting in
the airport for our planes. I was telling him about some projects I had coming up and I
mentioned this one, and he was really excited about it. He knows Sarah Hughes and he
knows Ryoko Akama, and of course he knows me. At that time, Cat Lamb was going to be
the fourth composer, though she had to step down because of some scheduling conflicts. He
suggested doing this program on the Dog Star festival.

You talked about how much you value text scores, and how you’ve gravitated towards
them. What are some of the things you find tend to be more possible with text scores than
with standard notation or graphic or other forms?
I think what I most value in the kind of text score that I’ve been talking about is that there is
a kind of a sound world intended, and how it’s realized, how the notes line up or the sounds
line up, it’s so alive, and it’s so dependent on that moment of performance. There are so
many different ways that it can go. It’s really exciting to listen to and to perform, because
of the variations and possibilities. I suppose I’m pointing to the indeterminate elements in a
piece. I think what can be really fascinating is just how the composer chooses what aspects
and when those aspects will be indeterminate. These can allow for these kind of systems to
play out with each part within the ensemble, and I love how/that they happen to line up or
interact with one another.

The use of text scores often goes hand in hand with elements of indeterminacy. Certain
things are defined and others are less so. It sounds like text is used to delineate what is
more defined and what’s less defined, too. And so it’s interesting that in the description of
the project, you talk about both control and indeterminacy. It seems like a sort of push and
pull.

Yeah. That idea of push and pull, I feel constantly as a composer. I think I’m always trying
to figure out what is controlled and what is not controlled, or what is predetermined and
what is not predetermined. I always have something in mind that I want. It’s a texture or a
sound world that I want to create. But it doesn’t have to be made up of elements fixed in
space, a pitch space or a time space. So that notion of push and pull, or control and
freedom, or predetermined and indeterminate, those two sides are something that I
completely enjoy as an inner battle.

It was really interesting to see these differences between the four scores. There are certain
things that tend to carry across, but then the way it’s done is very different between them.
One thing I noticed in your piece in particular is that duration, so the number of seconds
that things happen seems especially important. And I guess my question is whether that
sense of how long things take, how long sounds are produced or silence, or whatever it is,
if that is fundamental to the sort of sound world that you’re imagining.

Yes, definitely. I think of those as more of a controlled part of my composing. But in this
piece especially, I feel that I’m setting up two things. One is like a loose system where the
performers kind of navigate through these various sound types that I’ve set forth. For these
parts of the piece, I’ve created the interaction between parts. But then there are other parts
where they create or mold the system of interaction. They have to interact without me,
without something that I have kind of curated, I would say. So with those moments where
I’ve indicated the duration, although I usually give a range (for example a duration of 3 -10
seconds), it’s a way of me controlling the density of the texture, and then again, there are
moments built into the piece where I won’t really have that control, where I’m not even
ultimately sure of what’s going to happen. An example of this would be the moments
where they have to listen to one another and create a composite number of sounds.

It was interesting to see how there are certain sections that line up, so like the I section.
Everybody is playing I at once, right?

That’s right. The I sections are the ones where one listens to another but somebody else is
listening to them. And together, these pairs, which turn into—
They’re kind of like love squares.

Yeah, exactly. Like unrequited love squares. [laughter] That’s exactly what it is. These
unrequited love squares where one— Well, it’s about more than unrequited love squares.
It’s more about communication, something that I think a lot about, and something a lot of
my scores (both traditionally and non-traditionally notated ones) as of late have been
dealing with. But this is communication in a more systematic way, where we each hear
differently. We focus on other things oftentimes when we’re listening to one thing, and
others hear us differently than we hear ourselves, etc.

There’s an importance of listening, always listening to one but being listened to by another.
And I think you’ve just answered my question. Is this a metaphor somehow?

Yes. I’m not trying to replicate a real life situation, but I think it can be just about listening
in general, and also about communication, although maybe they’re the same thing. For
some people, maybe they are the same thing.

It depends how much they listen.

Yes, exactly. But it’s also this reliance on somebody else or something else in order for you
to know what to do next.

So it sounds like you’re building that indeterminacy more deeply into the premise. As I
looked through your piece, I started wondering, how would this piece be different, with the
same number of players, if there were grouping of two, or one group of eight, rather than
two groups of four, or if there were irregular groupings somehow. Is that something that
you thought about, in terms of it being four plus four?

I did think about it, and why did I settle on this? I liked the small containment. But I like
the idea of it being kind of a smaller, contained group where the person you listen to is in a
different direction from the person you play to, or who listens to you. And so there’s
something about the directionality of your sound production and your listening that I was
interested in.

I was just imagining a circle of eight rather than a circle of four, where you’re listening
from your left but performing to your right.
Right. But then it’s different. What I do like about this is that it’s front and side, as opposed
to left and right. And then they’ll line up, I think be very different depending on where the
audience is placed in relationship to them. But I think with the long line, also the listening
to somebody far away, I don’t know. I was interested in the directionality.

But could you imagine it being split, like being just one group of four?

Yeah, I could. I don’t think it would be as effective, but on the other hand, I could imagine
there being another group of four involved. But there wouldn’t be counterpoint with the I
sections if we only had one group of four, or rather as interesting a counterpoint between
the groups when their sound events come in. So it would be more cacophanous if there
were twelve players, or any multiple of four beyond eight.

It seems like it’s a counterpoint of textures probably more than other elements, both the
pitched and unpitched and the short sounds and the longer sounds. That seem to be a really
important facet of your music generally, that carries over from the more traditionally
notated work. This is pretty fully notated for what it is, too.

Right. And that’s something that I really like to do with text scores, is have them be fully
notated. I love notation, and it’s I think a really neat challenge to create a piece which I
think can have variation in texture, and certain sound worlds, and can be really manicured, I
guess, still without using traditional notation. That I find really exciting and fun.

It’s interesting to me with the instructions that go along with this score in particular, that
it’s natural to underline things like listening. It’s an instruction, where it’s implied in
traditional notation, for example, that you listen to cue. In this case you’re explaining
exactly what to do and how to do it, and what the responses are. It’s like the form of the
notation allows for greater clarity about the intent of the work. It’s right on the surface,
and it’s part of the value system of the performance.

Levels of specificity are not often talked about in text notation, even though I think that’s a
really important part of a score, or something that’s not included in the score or not part of
the score.

I think so much is handed from or performed by the composer, so they’re involved with the
rehearsals. There’s a lot in experimental music generally that goes un-notated.

And I don’t want it to be like that. I know there are still things that I didn’t notate that I
could have, should have. But I do want it to be something where anybody can pick up, and
once they read the directions, can perform and put together accurately. It is a an unfortunate
tendency with text scores, or I think even just with any notation that’s not traditional
notation, to take too much liberty, or on the other hand, to follow, like what you were
saying, in the performance practice that they believe a piece comes from.

That probably has to do with your experience with a.pe.ri.od.ic as well, performing or
actualizing a number of these text scores. You’ve probably come across questions along the
way.

Yes.

And it sounds like that’s affected your work.


I’ve also performed a lot, and I’ve sent the recordings to various composers, and without it
being in the score, have received very clear intentions about its performance that we did not
capture.

That doesn’t tend to be found out until after the performance.

Right, exactly. I think something that’s very common, even in traditional notation, is that
we forget to notate things that we intend. So it’s just as common with text scores, or maybe
more common with text scores, because we’re intentionally leaving things to be decided by
the performers, or at the time of the performance.

It’s been really interesting for me to look at how the piece is constructed and the types of
descriptions you’ve given, and the types of contingencies you’ve set up. That balance, that
push and pull, seems really compelling. I’d be interested, since you’ve received the other
three pieces now, what you have found in the range of responses you’ve gotten to this
project.

I think that we have a range of approaches to the text score, which I really appreciate, and
I’m really happy to see. Like Ryoko’s, I think is very poetic. I’m really looking forward to
delving into all of these. It’s a nice range of approaches to text notation. They say
something about each of the composer’s voice, and their experience with text scores. And I
like that… a lot.

It’s really interesting to see. I think the one thing that they have in common is that there are
time blocks.

I think it’s even interesting, because from a notation point of view, we’re dealing primarily
with words, although there’s lines and rests and fermatas in Tisha’s score. Its fascinating in
the same way that although we all learn how to speak, nobody tells us how to form each
sentence we speak. We’re constantly composing how to verbalize our thought, and we do
that all day long. Nobody told me how to set up this sentence I just said. On the other hand,
we have a very specific way that we notate in traditional notation. We have measures. We
have different staves for various instruments. We have meter. We have note values. We
have pitches. We have dynamics. There’s all of this. We have a tempo, and so on. And then
when it comes to this notation, we don’t have a standard at all. So, it’s utterly fascinating to
see how everybody set their own score up, even visually on the page.

They’re all totally different.

Yeah, they’re just completely different font and size, and Tisha’s looks like some
handwritten, and portrait versus landscape, and I just think it’s so fascinating. And it looks
like Tisha’s notes are after the score, and her notes about how to read the score are after the
score and vice versa for others. It’s just a completely different way of putting information
on a page.

And literally what’s on each page. Sarah’s is in parts, right?

Yes, exactly.

And with yours, everyone is going to be looking at the same page, where with Ryoko’s, you
sort of have to inhale it and then exhale it. It needs to be processed, and then probably
there would be some notes from that that would be used for the performance, because it
doesn’t make sense to spread those pages across the stand. It’s really interesting how they
came out. If you’d had 100 to choose from, you probably could have picked these four to be
a diversity.

I’ll have a score exhibit at the a.pe.ri.od.ic concert so people can see how different the
approach to notation was.
Controlled Indeterminacy in Text Scores
(2): Tisha Mukarji
Posted on May 22, 2015 by jennie

Following from my previous post, here is the outcome of an email exchange with Tisha
Mukarji about the piece she wrote for the a.pe.ri.od.ic ensemble’s commission. Tisha is
based in Berlin, and she is active as a composer, an improviser, and a writer. Her primary
instrument is inside piano. Her scores tend to have a highly developed and characteristic
visual component, and Fugitive Counterpoint is no exception, as you will see in the images
from the score that I’ll include below.

Transitions and relationships seem very important here: “a silence falls” –


gradual/abrupt/impossible silences; tonal relationships are to flicker/quiver/disturb. Does
that relate in some way to your experience with improvisation? For example, conversations
or relationships between players in the moment.

Re: Tonal Relationships: Simply put my interest in tonal relationships: one note in relation
to another, is what I like listening to, notes being tuned. Every note when played in relation
to any other note produces a relationship (besides the obvious harmonic one) – and here for
this piece I’ve mentioned 3 possible categories for these relationships. Where the notes
flicker, quiver, and/or disturb one another.

For me it’s such a beautiful way to suggest music, since each word will be an indication
and an instruction.

One could of course provide the exact ratios of what I’m after but where is the fun in that ?
I’d rather listen to suggested angles than ratios. (oh I might get into trouble here….)

I don’t think you’re about to get into trouble over your tuning comment. These are two
different methods of transport within a very wide territory.

I like how you put this, as methods or modes of transport, I wonder if you also envision a
destination with that? What would it be? Where would it take us?

Relationships are indeed important, this is a big question.

In a way yes there is a link to improvisation, but only in the sense of how I approach it,
when I improvise I often try and disturb the tones in one way or another, so a note can be
played and I will follow it and perhaps play it tuned slightly to produce beatings, or I find
that my role is one where I punctuate the main flow the music is taking. So this I think has
more to do with music rather than to the performers per se.

Of course there are many possibilities to approach improvisation and they often shift during
the music. There are certainly many improvisers who don’t approach it at all in the sense
that they don’t plan anything in advance…so I’m a bit of a cheater…I see improv as a
space where the main question is when to play.

I’d be interested to know the significance of the dedication to Jean McGarry.

Jean McGarry (a wonderful, marvellous writer) whose interruption in my life has provided
the foundation of the piece and in fact every part of the piece has some connection and
resonance to her. Under her many influences I started reading Proust’s In Search of Lost
Time – which inspired the title, and the idea of combining the ear worm as an interruption
and an obsessional listening.

(I could go on and on here….but I stop for now)

Now I want to read some Jean McGarry. Is there a story you’d suggest reading first?
Maybe something to do with this ear worm?

Ah yes…difficult question…where to begin? There isn’t a story that I’ve come across (yet)
that mentions the ear worm. It was in a particular setting that I could observe her absorbed
listening. During a residency in Italy, a beautiful castle, incidentally, Civitella Ranieri.

What I find incredible about her writing is its density. The prose is incredibly compact and
presents different angles simultaneously. Reflective angles that dance back and forth,
overlap and collide.

(Do you know Hanna Hartmann’s music ? It has some resemblance to McGarry’s structure
– the multi layered, compact compositions yet
Controlled Indeterminacy in Text Scores
(3): Ryoko Akama
Posted on May 25, 2015 by jennie

Here is the third interview for the Controlled Indeterminacy in Text Scores project,
introduced here. Ryoko Akama is a performer, composer, and sound artist currently based
in the UK. She is co-editor of Reductive Journal and runs the melange edition label. Her
work invites an introspection that feels very fresh to me. As I’ve started to look at it more
closely, I’ve become more and more curious about the thinking or attitude behind the work.
Keep reading…

I’m so interested in the way you chose to present the score of acorn. I could imagine a
performance version of the score that has most of the instructions on one or two pages. Can
you talk about what would be lost if it were presented in a more direct way? (I know a lot
would be lost! I just am curious to hear how you might say it.)

– in terms of the performers’ engagement with the piece


– in terms of their understanding of your intentions
– in terms of the sound world that it suggests
– in any other way you might think of

You are absolutely right in saying that re-typing and squeezing all texts into a page or two
will result in a different score, or at least it would not propose what I want to propose.
Empty space is something that proposes. We don’t ask Malevich’s black square painting
series or Bob Law’s castle series; ‘well, let’s collage these empty areas into one piece and
exhibit that’. Space is idea, aesthetic and revelation of many things. In performance, it can
mean silence, continuity, eternity, contemplation, contrast etc. The employment of space is
a specificity that can not be ignored in its performance situation – a transformation of visual
absence into temporal experience.
My score changes its appearance depending on how I assemble ideas and structures. I am
currently working on a series called ‘a proposal’ (which I have made four so far and am in
the process of making the fifth). ‘a proposal’ series do not carry out a visual sense of
emptiness as much as acorn but the exploration of space/silence is still examined in relation
to numbers, texts, visual sketches etc. How each performer perceives and receives my
‘proposal’ and replies to it is like a personal letter exchange. For me, when a score is
created, a part of my work is done. The next part is that a performer perceives it – a
performer’s engagement begins here when (s)he visually and perceptually deals with the
piece. And then, an event takes place that actualises a situation, composes a space or
juxtaposes different approaches into one structural experience on the base of the score.
Throughout, the property of absence is as crucial as the property of object.

I do not think that having areas of absence is an ‘indirect’ approach. It is the idea, form,
reflection and the engagement with ‘the moment’. On the other hand, informative
instructions and writings could be quite indirect and poetic. Employing limited amounts of
objects/materials do not conclude as ambiguity. It can be the most concise and direct way
of communication. When you look at scores by Manfred Werder, Taku Sugimoto or Sam
Sfirri, my statement comes alive and truly. acorn quotes a Haiku by Ayako Hosomi. I have
been fascinated by the system of Haiku recently and started integrating it in my practice. A
constraint of 5-7-5 must be applied to a Haiku poem as well as an implementation of at
least one seasonal word within the piece. Haiku form is the simplest and most absent
description of seasonal life that fully comprises a composer’s intention. I like how text and
space sculpt aural experiences altogether and I feed myself with many influences by visual
art, literature, music and film.

There should be diverse (or subverted) approaches and possibilities to acorn performance.
Once Joseph Kudirka said to me that the absence (of information) creates performer’s
responsibility, not freedom. For me, this is where ‘listening’ becomes important. I ‘share’
ideas and ‘provoke’ listening situations in performance where performers reflect
themselves upon my intention seeded within space. Space is so transparent and reflective.
Once you recognize it, it is always there to examine through. Here, music becomes such a
brilliant application as these examinations are expanded into the omni-dimensional
structure, where one can be within, around or out of that sculptural field. Space in my
scores may suggest silence but also happening. I am looking forward to hear how
a.pe.ri.od.ic will read my space and text in the coming week.

There are a lot of “how many” indications in the score, as well as only’s (“only once” –
“just once” – “sometimes twice” – “no more than three” – “only once in fifteen
sections”), and a sense of really caring about each sound, especially that last one I quoted.
For you, does the act of counting these actions, and especially of having few of them, make
them more valuable? Or maybe there’s a better word than valuable. I’m also thinking of
the title of your journal, Reductive Journal.

The title of the journal was decided by the co-editor Daniel (del Rio) so I have nothing to
say about that. It is controversial to use ‘reductive’ in many ways and I am not good at
arguing these things.

Here I make ritual indents in time that demonstrates one’s perception of time. I like a
personality of individual pace or rhythm pattern that identifies a current self. I use ‘you’ a
lot in recent scores in order to work upon a relationship. As an ensemble, each performer
relates a personal scope of temporality to that of the others. Communication/relationship
determines almost everything in the world. How things are related spontaneously and
relevantly, in time and space, remains as a central tenet in my compositional activities. All
matters are responsive and corresponding, but they maintain individuality too. In my works,
I tend to deal with each element (performer/object etc) on its own, which as a result, crafts
the wholeness.

Listening is very important in my creative practice. Where something is not performed is as


important as, sometimes more important than, where it is performed. I like the contrast,
transformation, uniformity or existence of ‘there is’ and ‘there is not’. It is beautiful to hear
an occurrence of performing ‘just once’ when this ‘just once’ happens unintentionally but
very intended… like a quiet experience in Turrell’s Skyspace.

There are also a lot of indefinite words and phrases, like maybe, could be, almost,
approximately, slightly, optional, “does not have to be definitely” – and also the questions,
like “do we hear it?” and “while performing?” and “what does ‘quite’ mean in your
culture?” Would it be right take these all together (as well as separately) as a kind of
performance instruction to ask rather than tell, to be unsure, to work at thresholds instead
of in more definite spaces?

Yes, very true. Can we be sure to be unsure? Can we perform unintentionally with
intention?
This comes from my interest in culture that maintains different nuances and idiosyncrasies.
In Japanese culture, we tend not to give straight answers but ‘beat around the bush’, which
is our cultural ways to answer or respond, so there is a strong connection between indirect
references and actual answers. I used these cultural nuances as notations in acorn. These
phrases such as maybe, almost, slightly etc. may appear inconclusive and cryptic, but at the
same time, they do mean what they mean.

Take an example from acorn – ‘audible / but slightly inaudible / yet absolutely absent’. –
This is not indirect at all but a simple indication, quite defining of my intention. On the
other hand – sometimes twice – optional – arbitrary / no more than twice – authority – This
implies two facets of communications; determinacy and indeterminacy. I think acorn is
quite a straightforward piece to perform. I throw a ball that contains my thoughts, concepts
and ideas. How one catches it and returns a ball is entirely independent but I would like to
receive a ball back somehow, maybe, definitely, perhaps…
These sentences with ? are brutal because it is both ‘me’ and ‘you’ asking questions. acorn
is commissioned by a.pe.ri.od.ic and we do not know each other well. Therefore, I wanted
to become a little expository, friendly, psychological, poetic, imaginary etc. with them
through the text. My scores always play with language. In acorn, you can see
CAUSE/beCAUSE, here/hear and so on. In other works, I produce different word-plays. I
love language because I see myself as a no-lingual speaker. I speak ok English and ok
Japanese. No Korean though my dad is a Korean. I have struggled and suffered from
language and will forever, and this is why I play with it. For me, language is visual, literal,
aural and contextual simultaneously. It is material, object, form and content. Some rules
and constraints make my creativity blossom when I compose. Whether I’m doing a spatial
or temporal composition, what I do does not change too much.
Controlled Indeterminacy in Text Scores
(4): Sarah Hughes
Posted on May 26, 2015 by jennie

This is the last post in the series of interviews supporting the “Controlled Indeterminacy in
Text Scores” project commissioned by a.pe.ri.od.ic. Sarah Hughes is a composer, artist, and
performer based in the UK. She is a founding member of The Set Ensemble, co-editor of
Wolf Notes, and co-founder of the curatorial platform Compost and Height and the
publication platform BORE. (Take a look at Wolf Notes #8, a print edition that was just
made available yesterday. It looks like a great collection, and I’ve ordered myself a copy.)

A reward is given for the best inframmary fold will be performed in Chicago on May 31st
by the a.pe.ri.od.ic ensemble, and a different version of it will be performed in Los Angeles
by Dog Star Orchestra on June 1st.

Often stopwatches are used to synchronize activity. In this case it seems like they are being
used to make sure that the sections are not synchronized. There seems to be a deliberate
lack of alignment between the parts. Was that your intent? There are not many
simultaneous entrances or exits, and each player has a very different pattern of when they
are playing/not playing.

This score is a reworked version of a composition that was written for solo zither (I Love
This City and its Outlying Lands, 2014) and has here been broken down into different
sections for a quintet, with fairly significant changes along the way. It was originally part of
a commission to accompany an exhibition of work by Fernand Léger at the Musée des
Beaux Arts de Nantes. The original score involved a fairly long process of deciding what
should go where and how that could be written as something to be read and understood in a
live situation. I decided to rewrite the score for this commission as I’m interested in how
things get translated from one medium to another, and a different set of instrumentation is
like working with a different set of materials. The position of each section contributes to the
overall composition, so whilst they aren’t synchronised the qualities of each section are
contingent upon the activity that surrounds it. I wanted the composition to sound
improvised whilst being tightly structured and for the score to hold together and to sound
composed, but as an emergent activity.

I Love This City and its Outlying Lands, 2014. Commission for composition written in
response to exhibition of Fernand Léger’s work at Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes.

Are there other examples you can give of translational/reworking processes in your work?

The translation/reworking is present in most of my work, and filtering through an idea by


reworking it a number of times is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. This
could be reworking sketchbooks as screenprints, using the same sculptures in various
installations or using the same sections to rework a composition. These are becoming more
and more interrelated. A recent exhibition with David Stent (Objects of Conjecture)
intentionally played with the role of a sculpture, image and text in a similar kind of way,
and I’ve just been appointed composer-in-residence at South London Gallery which should
provide a good platform to play with these kind of ideas even more. I’ve also been in touch
with Basil Beattie recently and had a good conversation with him about re-working his
Janus Series into a series of compositions (either sound or sculpture, likely both). Then
there are things like Joseph Clayton Mills’ recent release on Suppedaneum – Sifr. Joseph
composed a piece of music and then sent it to a number of composers to write the score for
its realisation. Seven scores and the original audio composition are available as one release.
This reversal and multi-realisation is exactly what I’ve been interested in recently.

Objects of Conjecture 2015. Hardwick Gallery, Cheltenham

The material that each player is interacting with is shifting somewhat unpredictably with
the stops and starts of sections around them, and also with the intervals of activity within
each of those sections. Is that structuring something you set in motion to call for a high
level of responsiveness/contingency?

The composition is a conceit to a certain extent. In order to sound improvised a certain


level of unpredictability needs to remain in place, yet the the structure and sounding events
are outlined beforehand – the situation set up between the presence of the performers and
the composer is crucial. The composition will have been rehearsed ahead of the live
performance and the performers will know what to expect. The indeterminacy in the
performance comes from the level of contingency written into the score. As much as
informing the performance of the composition, indeterminacy (which was outlined as a key
part of the commission) is central to the writing of the score itself. For example, how a
composition changes according to the performers and instrumentation available, limitations
to duration etc. Since this score was written as a piece for solo zither it has been rewritten
as a solo for Ryoko Akama, and now two versions have been written for the
‘Indeterminancy in Text Scores’ concerts organised by a.pe.ri.od.ic, premiered in Chicago
and then performed by the Dog Star Orchestra in Los Angeles. The series becomes
discursive as each rewriting of the score creates a very different, indeterminate, realisation.

There is an interesting balance struck on a number of levels in this piece:

– between part and whole: each player is playing from their own part, but the playing
qualities of parts 3, 4, and 5 are very much dependent on what is happening around them.
(“loud enough to weave the other sounds together,” “must not overpower,” “sitting
beneath”)

– between text/visual image and sound image: the relationship of the title and list of
phrases on the third page to the rest of the piece introduces an interesting type of tension
into the performance process. One question for a performer, I imagine, is how those texts
should inform their performance choices. Is that a question you’d like to keep as open as it
currently is, or is there anything you’d like to say about it?

The forty-nine phrases at the beginning of the score came about as a result of renaming all
the of paintings in the Fernand Léger exhibition, for which the original score was written.
Each time the score is rewritten it will be given one of these phrases as a title, and the list
will feature in each score as a constant. There is nothing written in the score that would
enable these phrases to be used directly in the performance, so its clear that they are there
are something to be considered, reflected upon, used to inform the attitude of the
performance, etc. The title of each score is listed so one may assume that the score they are
performing is one in a series of variants which echos the interrelationship of the qualities in
the score – between the part and whole.
– between structure and indeterminacy: section start and stop times are given, and pitches
and general playing instructions are given, but the players have a fair amount of latitude as
far as when to play and for how long within each section. Is that type of relationship
between more fixed and more fluid elements resonant with your other work? I was looking
at your Architectural Model Making project on Another Timbre just now and it seems very
relevant, though the framework is quite different. (I’d be interested to know about how this
structure/indeterminacy relationship connects or doesn’t to your work in other art forms as
well.) I know it’s also part of the commission for this piece, so of course that plays a role.

Yes. The play between improvised and composed is pretty central to my work. This is true
of performing and composing, and in my sculpture / installations. The process of working
is much the same for each, and the different media creates different opportunities to explore
the tensions and resonances that result. It’s important for me to have something to work
with, this could be a performer, artist or architectural space – the relationship between me
and this other figure is always roughly similar:

The performance of a score is most successful when it retains the character of the composer
and the character of the performer(s); an improvised performance is most successful when
it retains the character of each performer (I don’t usually like to improvise solo, when I
have done this successfully it is in a space that has an acoustic quality that can be
considered a second performer. The recording of Criggion on Accidents of Matter or of
Space (Suppadanum 2013) is a good example of this); an installation is most successful
when it takes into consideration the architecture of the exhibition space.

The work is always contingent, and in that sense is always subject to a certain level of
indeterminacy.

Is your experience playing in ensembles (Set Ensemble, Loris, others) something that you
consciously refer to in making a piece like this, or is it something that sits more in the
background?

I refer much more to how I work with physical materials in installations and sculptures. I
consider the different sections in A Reward is Given for the Best Inframammary Fold as
very physical things. The duration of the score is much like a physical space that is filled
with these materials and when this space seems (to me) to be well composed the piece is
finished. In this sense the compositions are very much like architectural models for a
temporal event (hence the title of the Another Timbre project). I visualise the composition
in space before I can imagine how it sounds in time. When I’m writing compositions I’m
normally working on a visual counterpart. I have a number of prints/sculptures in progress
(Bums, Fannies, Tits and Tongues) that correspond to this composition and they may come
together at some point.