Distributed Composition and Musical Metacreation (2014)

It is with great pleasure that I have curated Computer Music Journal’s 2014 Sound and Video Anthology. I decided upon a theme of distributed agency in digitally mediated performance. In particular, my interest here is to showcase a multiplicity of ways in which shared agency manifests between human performers, as well as between human and machine performers. The collection begins with “Part A: Distributed Composition”; this section presents audio/video documents that highlight five unique approaches to distributing and sharing expressive voices between composer- performers. In these works, the resulting compositional voice does not reside in one central location, but rather is a product of collective co-creation, at varying levels of spa- tial and temporal remove. This set includes a work by Chris Chafe and colleagues, wherein large-scale com- positional qualities are influenced by global sea levels as well as by a live audience, resulting in a piece that

is not only artful but consciousness- raising at the same time. In contrast to this “outsourcing” of the details of compositional form, the works by Pedro Rebelo and The Hub both present two very different takes on “net- work music”: Rebelo’s work defines a global feedback network whose sonic character and overall shape are the product of a large-scale interconnection of disparate acoustic spaces and performers, whereas The Hub— the fathers of “computer network music”—present us with a canonical example of their ever-groundbreaking approach to composing for shared, living network structures. The piece by CLOrk (the Concordia Laptop Orchestra) eschews the classically calculated and precise world of the laptop orchestra in favor of the messy and risky world of interdisciplinary improvisation. The result is a work whose shared agency is a product of listening for gestural engagement across forms (kinetic, sonic). Finally, Bill Hsu and Chris Burns present a piece that intersects this world of cross-media improvisation with shared control at the level of their interactive performance systems, resulting in a document that demon- strates the possible richness discov- ered when sharing gestures across media, between human performers, and with the system itself.

This sharing of system-level gestural and compositional forms is the focus of “Part B: Musical Metacre- ation.” This section highlights cutting-edge machine improvisation systems in performance with two top-level human improvisers: Paul Hession on drums and Finn Peters on flute and saxophone. Hearing these disparate systems at play with the same performer begins to hint at the stylistic differences of their composer-designers, as well as the virtuosic flexibility of the human players. In order to bring focus to- wards listening to these differences, I have decided that this section should be audio-only. Each of these excerpts comes from a single concert of the same name that took place at Cafe OTO in London in July 2014. The curation of this concert was the work of Ollie Bown, and so the excellent selection of the included systems is purely to his credit. Aside from being privileged to take part in the concert, from a curatorial point of view I sim- ply had the good sense to incorporate these works into the in-progress curation of this collection, both because they fit so nicely with my chosen theme and because I could feel the strong improvisational musicianship on the evening of performance. I will leave the description of each system and piece for the program notes; taken

as a whole, I feel that these works create an excellent counterpoint to Part A by virtue of their cohesion
as well as a concentrated focus on both stylistic engagement and sonic gestural forms (as compared with the expansive and organic crossing of media and expressive types found within the first set). As a collection, I hope that you will find the diver- sity and quality of these works as compelling as I have, and that they might provide for a moment to reflect on the creative insights that may be gained when one “loosens the reins” on one’s own artistic control, instead distributing it among a collective of listening and expressing performers, be they present or tele-present, musical beings or meta-musical machines. -Doug Van Nort


A1 Chris Chafe – Polartides
A2 Pedro Rebelo – Netrooms: The Long Feedback
A3 The Hub – Multiple Issues
A4 CLOrk – Dancing with Laptops
A5 Bill Hsu, Chris Burns – Xenoglossia/Leishmania
B1 Paul Hession, Isambard Khroustaliov – Anything In Any Order By Anything At Any Time For Any Reason
B2 Paul Hession, Arne Eigenfeldt – The Indifference Engine versus Paul Hession
B3 Paul Hession, Doug Van Nort – Hession (Percussion) / Van Nort (FILTER System)
B4 Finn Peters, Ollie Bown – Zamyatin (software by Oliver Brown) with Finn Peters (sax)
B5 Finn Peters, Nick Collins – Finn Peters—Sax, Nick Collins—FinnSystem
B6 Finn Peters, Shlomo Dubnov – Finn Peters—Sax, Shlomo Dubnov and Greg Surges—Software
B7 Michael Young – piano_prosthesis
B8 Finn Peters, Paul Hession, Matt Yee-King – Finn Peters/Paul Hession/the Matt Yee-King simulator