(In a Forest of Signs)

2.2: Score-making

The project was comprised of three distinct, but related strands – collaboration, interpretation, and intervention (see Glossary, 0.3). In the first instance, I was keen to explore what it means to participate in an artistic collaboration, and how such involvement affects or enhances a participant’s relationship to their community. In the second, I wanted to explore the degree to which a performer participates in the creation of the art event, and how performance might better be considered a collaboration with its community than a rendition of an already finished, fully-contoured work. Lastly, I wanted to explore the role of participation in interrogating its community – how the event of art serves not to entertain, but to bilaterally inform the existing social system.

In addition to the primary question of social function, there comes – within a practice indebted to the long history of scored musical works -  a more pragmatic concern regarding the repeatability of contextual works in general.  When exploring context as much as sonic outcome, it is not immediately obvious which elements of a work would need, or even could, be successfully documented for a future rendition.  Furthermore, since my work prioritises the act of making sense above the invocation of a pre-determined made sense, it would seem somewhat counterproductive to construct a document that already makes complete sense in advance of its engagement by the community.  In attempting to resolve this, I decided to tie all three research areas together by means of a common score, equally applicable to solo performance, collaboration, or social intervention.  Rather than something only of use to other musicians, I wanted to create a document that could facilitate general social creativity, and as such might initiate a painting, a new waying of doing the washing up, or a political debate, as much as it might a piece of music.  I began by documenting a series of physical movements upon an instrument that could then be later applied to a wider variety of situations - be they musical, performative, or mundane.  Given the requirement that the score must be applicable to as yet unknown contexts, I chose an instrument that allowed for a vast degree of expression, but that lacked much in the way of a specific interface or operative rigidity – the modular synthesiser.  Whereas a violin (for instance) requires you to bow strings upon a bridge, and across a uniform sounding body, the modular synthesiser can be re-arranged for each specific instance of performance.  Its signal path is determined entirely by the operator, and its interface can differ even between similarly purposed modules – its analogue circuitry and propensity to be affected by room temperature and variances in the electricity supply of its site often lead to significant variations between ostensibly identical modules.  Lacking both a uniform interface and many of the constraints inherent to more traditional instruments (tuning, timbre, range, size of body), the modular synthesiser is somewhat unique in so far it is incredibly difficult to score - even a scientific description of a module’s settings and inter-relation is unlikely to result in the sonic outcome intended. Many existing modular ‘scores’ amount to technical drawings revealing the signal path, or the arrangement of modules, rather than any expressive or musical qualities of the work produced - which feels a little like scoring for the violin by providing instructions pertaining to felling a tree.[i]  A further advantage of the modular synth is that in its lack of definition it actively courts the notion of Other.  If we can hold certain expectancies as to what an instrument is capable of - the sound-world that it can create - a synthesizer by definition eschews this.  Theoretically, a modular synthesiser can produce any sound imaginable, by recreating electronically the process that produced such a sound in the first place.  Furthermore, the modular synth is comprised of distinct elements whose behaviour can be influenced only by external voltages, carried by the addition of patch cables.  The modules of a synthesiser, as with any community, presuppose both operative closure and a productive distance between its members – individual modules are brought into a mutual becoming through a governance orchestrated by the addition of an external stimuli.

I began to develop a technique of scoring based on poetic, abstract phrases - designed to point towards, but not reify, physical movements across the instrument.  Rather than referencing any explicit quality of the instrument, these movements referenced their position within a wider composition (“suggest a largely ascendant arc or exponential progression, perhaps gaining or shedding definition as it moves forth, return to any point at will”), and yet crucially, attempted to avoid defining any specific, immutable qualities of their compositional context (such as “from a quiet section, move to a loud section over x seconds”).  With the nature of the material that prepends/appends each section thus undefined, the performer is able to move from one fundamentally malleable station to another as the work progresses.  In this way, the potentiality of any section of the score is not bound by specific qualities within the syntax upon which it is based, but is instead shaped by the culmination of decisions the performer has made up to that point.   By focusing on text that, though descriptive, always refers to some undefined quality of its temporal, conceptual, or physical location, a narrative began to develop wherein the score existed in a state of perpetual collapse, its form always pointing to some unknown aspect just out of sight.  In this way, I began to consider the work as a type of what Brian Massumi calls “Semblance” – a document more concerned with what isn’t written than what is, the between of its lines.  For Massumi, “semblance is a form of inclusion of what exceeds the artefact’s reality” (Massumi, p.58, 2011), and my score sought to exemplify this – to focus on language that allowed my interlocutors only enough of a framework to encourage exploration of the potential beyond both prior experience and the limits of the text.  As with my general concerns regarding participation, the score was created to celebrate, rather than transgress, the distance between my original intent and the creative potential invoked by its performers.  As Massumi suggests –

You don’t want to just let them stay in their prickly skins. Simply maximising interaction, even maximising self-expression, is not necessarily the way. I think you have to leave creative outs. You have to build in escapes. Drop sinkholes. And I mean build them in -  make them imminent to the experience. If the inside folds interactively come out, then fold the whole inside outside interaction in again. Make a vanishing point appear, when the interaction turns back in on its own Potential, and where that potential appears for itself (Massumi, p.49, 2011).

The purpose of creating the score is thus twofold – to document a process and to inspire new potential iterations.  Rather than serving merely as a blueprint for an ideal, finished work, this form of open-ended scoring is more what Lawrence Halprin might consider a methodology for collaboration, acting as “a means of revealing alternatives, of disclosing latent possibilities and the potential for releasing total human resources. They are a way of inviting the unexpected; of expanding consciousness, encouraging spontaneity and interaction; in short the score is a way of allowing the creative process to be ‘natural’” (Halprin, in Lely and Saunder, p.206, 2012).  To naturalise creativity in this manner, the score should allow its reader a level of control over the nature of their journey through its text.  As with the notion of Otherness that underpins this research, the text itself was framed so as to allow its reader – via the use of grammatical devices such as polysemy, morphisms and homonyms – to construct meaning on a word by word or sentence by sentence basis, rather than attempting to point to any overarching sense.  Combinations of words were chosen that might provoke multiple significations, depending on the context.  Furthermore, context, drawn from the preceding text, is itself rendered fluid by inviting its reader to move non-linearly through its pages – affording an autonomy emblematic of an epistemological process that deals with a passage through exteriority, rather than the perception of external objects in isolation.  Any sense inherent to the text is made available to the reader only as they move through the conceptual space the words create.  Since the interpretation is open-ended, and the direction of movement autonomous, the sense the text offers is not implicit in the words themselves, but co-constructed by the reader.

The notion of non-linear text is hardly new, and the work was inspired by three key existing writers.  The Fluxus artists, Richard Long’s land-art texts, and Lawrence Weiner’s site-specific text-installations each invoke multiple grammatical devices that allow them to explore physical and conceptual processes,[ii] with each utilising what Douglas Barrett calls “meta-text” – a habit of providing “both more and less than a blueprint of what to do” (Barrett, in Lely and Saunder, p.95, 2012).  Although not all strictly scores – Long’s work in particular, though invoking particular movements across a landscape, is not intended to prompt a performance - the use of grammatical devices such as register, process, tense, modality, mood, voice, and circumstance, allows for a level of indeterminacy that locates its reader not simply as a carrier of another’s creative output, but as a responsible, autonomous creative agent themselves.  Likewise, the use of declarations and imperatives, a focus on non-specific but descriptively rich objects, and the invocation of mental processes, serves to locate the performer in relation to both their cultural, conceptual and physical environment.

Whether scoring movements across an instrument, or interventions through shared space, it was important to avoid language that would exhaust, rather than expand potential.  Words and phrases were chosen that pointed to a multitude of interpretations, allowing equal weight for literal, metaphorical, emotional or allegorical readings.[iii]  The score was constantly re-written throughout its performances, with not only the musical outcomes – which particular combination of words inspired the most effective sound-world - but also the social outcomes being folded back into the text.[iv]   In this way I hoped to create a cyclical relationship between performance and reflection, in which the line between outcome and inspiration was never clear.  Rather than pointing only to movements upon an instrument, or ways of manipulating objects contained within the environment, the text could equally be used to define the overarching terms under which an intervention was to take place.  Passages might point to the mood or structure of the work (“each step more fearful/stringent/weary/hostile than the last”) or expectation of its audience (“for the duration of the performance it would be better if you did not move around too much, or cough”).  Likewise, more abstract sections could be interpreted in a manner that directly informed the space or materiality of the intervention.[v]  In this manner, the score developed not as piece of linear writing but as a form of what Tim Ingold calls “line-making”.  Ingold equates line-making to wayfaring – the unique experience of moving through the world at any specific moment – and sets it in contrast to contemporary ways of reading more readily equated with travelling, which forgo the experience of a journey in favour of a series of destinations.  Scores, like maps, are traditionally objects that have less to do with the conceptual or physical landscape to be traversed, than with arriving at set points[vi] – and though the presence of the performer has been addressed by many contemporary composers, I was keen to produce a score for which physical and conceptual engagement are not so much a path to a successful rendition, as an end unto themselves. From a political perspective, scores (and maps) are all too often concerned with lines drawn upon things or through things from above, not lines traced along things with the body, and as such signify “occupation, not habitation” (Ingold, p.85, 2007).  Rather than encouraging a community to explore their shared environment, such documents are ways of appropriating space irrespective of those that dwell there.  Line-making, in contrast, presumes a symbiotic relationship with its environment, in which both subject and object, self and Other, performer and score, are changed not from above but from within, offering in their mutual, co-constructive movements new ways of perceiving and responding to the objects of externality. The line left by the body as it moves through its community, its performative horizon, is not drawn upon a location but, like the mark of paint upon a canvas, serves to mutually redefine this space in which it operates.

[i] As exemplified by the modular diagrams of Allen Strange (Strange, 1972). 
[ii] Appendix F: Uses of text within the works of Richard Long, Lawrence Weiner, and the Fluxus Movement.
[iii] By way of example – “And lifted child from crib / And wrestled sense from sense / And fired into space / Drawn in yards upon the sea defence” – points to historic, cultural or social narratives (babes in cribs, rockets in space), and the underlying emotive sense that such images contains (love, success, pride). Equally, they point to physical actions and objects (lifting, firing, cribs) that can actually be enacted by a performer within the context of their work. To allow movement between conceptual and physical modalities, the score as a whole thus relies heavily on if and or statements, oscillatory language (such as perhaps), and the use of lists to denote choice (rather than series).
[iv] A section such as – “forgo the tired and redundant gestures / perpetually geared towards a specific brilliance / and attempt instead to deploy that same energy into the far more achievable act of simply being nice to other people for a while” – was developed both as an initial performed undertaking (redundancy, gesture, brilliance) and a cyclical reflection upon the intervention it spawned (in this instance, the collapse of 5 Nights Beneath the Pier (chapter 5.3)).
[v] Such as “a slip between forms that fails to maintain either side’s integrity,” used in The Rights Room (chapter 5.2) to divide the exhibition into two contrasting texts whose validity could be challenged by the participants residing between them.
[vi] The wayfarer may rest at a particular spot before moving on, but for the traveller “every port [is] a point of re-entry into a world from which he has been temporarily exiled whilst in transit” (Ingold, p.77, 2007).  
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