Leonardo Music Journal, Volume 20 | Leonardo/ISASTwith Arizona State University
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Artists' Statements

  • Free Play Meets Gameplay: iGotBand, a Video Game for Improvisers
    Joshua Pablo Rosenstock
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    The author presents an experimental musical video game called iGotBand. Fans are central to the game's narrative, capturing a feedback loop in which the audience shares responsibility for performance.

  • Whistle Pig Saloon: Performing Technologies
    John R Ferguson
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    The authors discuss their practice of technologically mediated improvisation while exploring questions about the relationship of performers to technology.

  • In Strange Paradox: Rationalizing Improvisation
    Nick Fox-Gieg
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    The authors discuss improvisation in music and accompanying real-time graphics, providing historical examples and a discussion of their performance group, In Strange Paradox.

Artists' Notes

  • Multidimensional Scratching, Sound Shaping and Triple Point
    Doug Van Nort
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    The author discusses performance utilizing his greis software system, which is built around the principle of a “scrubbing” interaction with roots in the recording industry and the paradigm of scrubbing tape across a magnetic head.

  • Playing into the Machine: Improvising across the Electronic Abyss
    David Rothenberg
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    Two musicians who have focused on playing acoustic wind instruments into electronics for the purposes of enhancing their original sound reflect on how the use of such new technologies inherently pushes “old technologies” toward a new aesthetics of improvisation.

  • New Polyphonies: Score Streams, Improvisation and Telepresence
    Michael Dessen
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    The author discusses “score streams,” a compositional method in which notations are displayed dynamically on computer screens and interpreted by improvisers. These works are informed by contemporary explorations in telematic performance and by the many methods devised over the past half century in composer-improviser traditions, where works by individuals are understood as catalysts for profoundly collaborative real-time acts of creation. Referencing polyphony both literally and metaphorically, the author points to a richly generative dialogue between recent histories of improvised music and new forms of digital networking technologies.

  • Programming Machines and People: Techniques for Live Improvisation with Electronics
    Chapman Welch
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    Many performers of new music do not come from an improvising tradition, and the addition of live electronics to works written for these performers may be intimidating due to their inexperience with improvising and/or working with technology. Although inexperience may be a problem, it can be overcome. The author describes techniques and strategies for creating rule-based improvisation environments with live electronics.


  • “Comprovisation”: The Various Facets of Composed Improvisation within Interactive Performance Systems
    Richard Dudas, Simone Bonetti
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    This article discusses the balance between composition and improvisation with respect to interactive performance using electronic and computer-based music systems. The author uses his own experience in this domain in the roles of both collaborator and composer as a point of reference to look at general trends in “composed improvisation” within the electronic and computer music community. Specifically, the intention is to uncover the limits and limitations of improvisation and its relationship to both composition and “composed instruments” within the world of interactive electronic musical performance.

  • Strategies for Managing Timbre and Interaction in Automatic Improvisation Systems
    William Hsu
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    Earlier interactive improvisation systems have mostly worked with note-level musical events such as pitch, loudness and duration. Timbre is an integral component of the musical language of many improvisers; some recent systems use timbral information in a variety of ways to enhance interactivity. This article describes the timbre-aware ARHS improvisation system, designed in collaboration with saxophonist John Butcher, in the context of recent improvisation systems that incorporate timbral information. Common practices in audio feature extraction, performance state characterization and management, response synthesis and control of improvising agents are summarized and compared.

  • Piano+: An Approach towards a Performance System Used within Free Improvisation
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    This article explores the author's strategy for developing a computer performance system designed for free improvisation with acoustic instruments following a non-idiomatic approach. Philosophical considerations on potentiality and personal and social space and research into the psychology of motivation and behavior have inspired and enabled a different approach to integrating technology with improvisation. The technical realization of a parameter space, in particular utilizing contingent behavior emerging from the convergent mapping of a mixture of controller types, has proven effective for the spontaneous creative decision making required to extend the sonic potential of an acoustic piano while minimizing direct computer operation, as applied regularly in practice by the author.

  • Seeking Out the Spaces Between: Using Improvisation in Collaborative Composition with Interactive Technology
    Sarah Nicolls
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    This article presents findings from experiments into piano and live electronics undertaken by the author since early 2007. The use of improvisation has infused every step of the process—both as a methodology to obtain meaningful results using interactive technology and as a way to generate and characterize a collaborative musical space with composers. The technology used has included pre-built MIDI interfaces such as the PianoBar, actuators such as miniature DC motors and sensor interfaces including iCube and the Wii controller. Collaborators have included researchers at the Centre for Digital Music (QMUL), Richard Barrett, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay and Atau Tanaka.

  • Bow Wow: The Interactive Violin Bow and Improvised Music, A Personal Perspective
    Jon Rose
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    Bowed string music has always existed as an aural culture with improvisation considered as a prime focus of expression. It is the author's strong belief that experimentation is the natural state of all string music. This paper concentrates on recent history: bows that have incorporated interactive sensor technology. The central narrative deals with the author's own experiments and experience at STEIM since 1987. How reliable and practical is this technology? Are the results worth the trouble? Are there new modes of improvising only possible with an interactive bow?

  • The Building of Boutique Effects Pedals—The “Where” of Improvisation
    John Fenn
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    Based on 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork with builders of boutique music effects boxes, this essay explores the ways in which improvisation figures into the creation of music technology. The author argues that expanding the rubric of improvisation to encompass the processes of designing and building effects boxes pushes scholars to understand relationships between music and improvisation as existing beyond the boundaries of performance. Ultimately he posits that improvisatory behavior and exploratory engagement with material at hand is central to building pedals, and should be assessed as part of the continuum of social-aesthetic practices composing music making.

  • Music of Its Own Accord
    Aura Satz
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    The disembodied hands of spiritualist sittings touched people and levitated objects but also strummed guitars, rang bells, played closed pianos and accordions in cages. Likewise, the mechanical music machines of the time (orchestrions, pianolas, etc.) seemed animated by invisible fingers. Highlighting the historical and haptic parallels between these manifestations, the author addresses the lack of a visible performing body, which remains implicit through the invisible animating agency. She looks at the moment before music became abstracted into the grooves of the gramophone, when music still looked like instruments, though without the gestural presence of the performer. The article is illustrated with images from the author's project Automamusic.

  • Blowin' in Birdland: Improvisation and the Australian Pied Butcherbird
    Hollis Taylor
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    This paper challenges the assumption that improvisation is a process unique to humans. Despite the general reluctance of biologists to consider birdsong “music,” they routinely comment on improvisation found in the signals of songbirds. The Australian pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) is such a species. Analysis (including transcriptions and sonograms) of solo song, duets and mimicry illustrates their remarkable preoccupation with novelty and variety, and traces improvisation's role in the creation of their complex song culture. The author suggests further zoömusicological case studies for the relevance this research could have to other human (musical) capacities.

  • Let's Dance Architecture: Improvisation, Technology and Form
    Jonathan Impett
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    The author considers the technology-enabled improvisation of musical form—the projection of the dynamics of structure on the unfolding of improvised performance. Improvisation with technology has been largely concerned with its potential for more complex activity in the present. He proposes reclaiming the radical potential of technological improvisation by subverting the “permanent present.” Technology importantly affords a dynamical temporal prosthesis. Following a re-examination of times and forms in music and performance, the imagining and projection of future events is predicated on the same architecture as memory. Finally, brief consideration is given to the technological challenges of such an approach.

  • SOLA: Sustainable Orchestras of Laptops and Analog
    Perry R. Cook
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    This paper describes a series of investigations into the use of sustainable methods for powering electronic musical instruments and perhaps ultimately a large ensemble such as the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, a collection of 15–25 meta-instruments each consisting of a laptop computer, interfacing equipment and a hemispherical speaker. The research discussed includes the development of instruments specifically designed for solar power, as well as the use of solar panels and/or batteries to power more conventional devices such as computers and amplifiers.

On-Line Supplement Section

LMJ20 CD Companion: Sounds Like Now: Improvisation + Technology

CD Contributors' Notes

2010 Leonardo and Leonardo Music Journal Author Index

Leonardo Network News


Leonardo Music Journal, Volume 20

December 2010