Leonardo Music Journal Volume 20, 2010

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Leonardo Music Journal is a print journal, published annually. Leonardo Music Journal is edited by Leonardo/the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, and published by the MIT Press.

ONLINE ACCESS: Subscriptions to LMJ include access to electronic versions of journal issues plus other supplemental material, available on The MIT Press website.

ORDER: Subscriptions, individual issues and articles can also be ordered from The MIT Press.

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Visit the MIT Press web site to see full articles, sound files and supplemental materials related to this issue of the print journal and CD..

Table of Contents

Introduction: Improvisation

by Nicolas Collins

This article is available for free download from the MIT Press web site.

Special Section

Introduction: News and Olds from the Electronic Orchestra Pit

by hans w. koch


Free Play Meets Gameplay: iGotBand, a Video Game for Improvisers

by Joshua Pablo Rosenstock

ABSTRACT: 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

by John Robert Ferguson and Robert van Heuman

ABSTRACT: The authors discuss their practice of technologically mediated improvisation while exploring questions about the relationship of performers to technology.

In Strange Paradox: Rationalizing Improvisation

by Nick Fox-Gieg and Margaret Schedel

ABSTRACT: The authors discuss improvisation in music and accompanying real-time graphics, providing historical examples and a discussion of their performance group, In Strange Paradox.


Multidimensional Scratching, Sound Shaping and Triple Point

by Doug Van Nort

ABSTRACT: 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

by David Rothenberg and Ben Neill

ABSTRACT: 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

by Michael Dessen: New Polyphonies

ABSTRACT: 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

by Chapman Welch

ABSTRACT: 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

by Richard Dudas

ABSTRACT: 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

by William Hsu

ABSTRACT: 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

by Sebastian Lexer

ABSTRACT: 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

by Sarah Nicolls

This article is available for free download from the MIT Press web site.

ABSTRACT: 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

by Jon Rose

ABSTRACT: 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

by John Fenn

ABSTRACT: 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

by Aura Satz

ABSTRACT: 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

by Hollis Taylor

ABSTRACT: 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

by Jonathan Impett

ABSTRACT: 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 & Analog

by Perry Cook and Scott Smallwood

ABSTRACT: 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.

Online Supplement Section

Exploring Notions of Control/Interaction in Improvisation Practices

by Koray Tahiroglu

ABSTRACT: The author discusses his LiveImprovS~ and Call in the Dark Noise performances, investigating experimental improvisation as a performance practice with sonic and technological exploration. Through these performances, he introduces notions of control and interaction in solo and collective improvisation. Later in the article, the author describes the potential uses of technology that provide alternative possibilities for solo improvisation as well as alternative channels for participation in the act of improvising, widening the experience of shared control in collective improvisation.

A View on Improvisation from the Kitchen Sink

by Dafna Naphtali and Hans Tammen

ABSTRACT: The authors elaborate on their individual approaches to improvising, music and technology, and how their approaches have been influenced by their history as musicians. They describe the evolution of their software programming for Naphtali's interactive processed sound/noise system and Tammen's hybrid instrument the Endangered Guitar.

Improvising with Spatial Motion: Mixing the Digital Music Ensemble

by Joanne Cannon and Stuart Favilla

ABSTRACT: The authors present research undertaken by the Bent Leather Band investigating the application of live Ambisonics to large digital-instrument ensemble improvisation. Their playable approach to live ambisonic projection is inspired by the work of Trevor Wishart and presents a systematic investigation of the potential for live spatial motion improvisation.

Identity and Intimacy in Human-Computer Improvisation

by Michael Young

ABSTRACT: Artificial intelligence invites a new approach to computing in live music performance. Computers and human performers might collaborate on an equal basis. The perceived identities of participants, both human and machine, are enriched but problematic. The conflicting relationships between these identities impact upon both performers' and listeners' experience. The film Orlacs Hände is a starting point for a speculative discussion about human-computer improvisation, problems of identity, the self and the Other, social intimacy and the therapeutic process.

Musical Improvisation in Post-Literate Society

by Vincent Cee

ABSTRACT: The author asks the reader to consider to what extent Western culture has shed a literate-linear rational positivist world-view, while advancing an electronically mediated post-literate society aligned with Marshall McLuhan's aural-acoustic Global Village. The author proposes that a post-literate society not only yields fertile ground for improvisation of all kinds, but such a society, similar to pre-literate societies depends heavily on improvisation for meaning making in place of reliance on capital "T" Truth.

Improvisation Melody Graphs

Leonardo Peusner

ABSTRACT: The author presents a graph approach for the analysis and synthesis of improvisation lines. The method constitutes a blueprinting technique that allows the application of a mathematical framework to musical aesthetics.

Pitch to Rhythm :: Rhythm to Pitch

by Andrew Lucia with Christopher Lee and Matthew Lake

ABSTRACT: Inspired by two early works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the authors visualize tonal and rhythmic sonic principles utilized by the composer in the pieces Elektronische Musik Studio II and Kontakte. Recognizing frequency as an objective attribute of sonic structure, our studies were inspired by the notions of perceptual rhythm and pitch manipulation present in Kontakte and generative material aspects of additive-synthesis explored in Elektronische Musik Studio II. Approaching this topic with backgrounds in architecture, the authors have interest largely in visualizing the nested spatial and phenomenal potentials of the works.


Sounds Like Now: Improvisation + Technology

Tracklist and Credits

CD Introduction

by Tara Rodgers

(Track titles link to supplementary sound excerpts on the MIT Press web site)

1. f.a.s.t.: dreams of waking
2. Nancy Tobin: DelayToys Berceuses
3. Val-Inc: BlackGhost
4. Nishi Shelton Duo: The Sound Is the Melody 4B
5. thenumber46: The Amen Song
6. Myrmyr: Improvisation at the Meridian Gallery
7. William Fowler Collins: Midday Sunshower
8. English: Maribel (or Butch Firbank)
9. Christina Wheeler: Adventures on the Pink Side of the Moon
10. Doug Van Nort: Playing with Fire in the Gasholder
11. Anna Friz: Our Domestic Radiation II: St. Clarens and Paton

CD Contributors' Notes

Notes on CD tracks by f.a.s.t. (Freida Abtan and Shane Turner), William Fowler Collins, English (Bonnie Jones and Joseph Foster), Anna Friz, Val-Inc (Val Jeanty), Myrmyr (Agnes Szelag and Marielle Jakobsons), thenumber46 (Suzanne Thorpe and Philip White), Nancy Tobin, Doug Van Nort, Christina Wheeler, Nishi Shelton Duo (Aram Shelton and Kanoko Nishi)

2010 Leonardo and Leonardo Music Journal Author Index
Leonardo Network News

Updated 16 March 2011