Room 1 Session 3 (14:00 – 15:30) [BACK TO PROGRAM]

What influence do our workflow and/or the tools we use have on our ways of thinking about or ‘doing’ music? How do musical tools (instruments, notation, DAWs etc) embody and create representations of music, musicking and musical thought?

Each presenter’s video ‘paper’ can be viewed below – the video immediately below is the conference discussion

Joe Bates (University of York)

How can composers build an embodied relationship with tuning using electronic instruments? In this paper for the “Workflows and tools” panel, I will present a custom synthesiser prototype, discuss its implications for my practice and the affordances of electronic music for intonation.

Since the microtonal explosion of the 1920s, composers have sought ways to model complex tunings. Recently, musicians have developed new digital software, to explore novel sounds and better reflect non-Western music practices. Examples of these respective approaches include Oddsound (designed by Aphix Twin) and Leimma/Apatome (designed by Khyam Allami). Both use a keyboard-focused, scalic approach, detuning MIDI notes to create modes outside of twelve-tone equal temperament.

Mira Benjamin argues that, for string players, intonation is best considered as an ‘embodied practice,’ while ‘microtonality’ is a conceptual modelling of pitch relationships. Scale-tuning software facilitates this microtonal modelling of pitch relationships, but bypasses pitch embodiment. The software tunes for you, allowing an easy virtuosity of intonation through standard MIDI interfaces. My way of knowing about intonation is thus one-sided; I wanted a more embodied, aural approach to tuning.

Hyasynth is my response to this problem. It is a custom-built Arduino controller, using four digital oscillators controlled by large dials. This novel interface allows me to find complex intervals by ear and enables a new focus on pitch detail, using acoustic beats to better understand the character of various intonations. Ancillary features, such as the parallel and contrary motion of oscillators, unlock an interactive understanding of other theoretical constructs, such as the musical geometry of Dmitri Tymoczko. It is a powerful teaching and rehearsal tool, allowing for the demonstration of complex pitch constructs. In my presentation, I will illustrate these possibilities amidst the broader context of microtonal pitch production, unpicking the implications of different approaches.

Georgia Denham (University of Cambridge)

With many believing moving house is on of life’s most stressful events, I have a new perspective as a composer. I recently moved house and notation software in the same month, and through these simultaneous changes saw a correlation between them. Whilst in changing software, we are not moving physical possessions, there can be a painful packing and unboxing of our musical ideas from the familiar to a new unknown. Fundamental shifts to the workflows we have embodied within our practice; shortcuts we have taken for granted; creative routines we can no longer fall into. Whether through necessity or choice, transitioning notation software – and how successfully this is managed – has a tangible impact on a composer’s creative health and their ability to communicate ideas. There are endless resources available for a successful house move, and yet:

What holistic frameworks do we have to navigate a software

transition in an artistically secure and considered way?

Whilst there is a traditional expectation that notation software should only be a tool, this perspective diminishes the reality of many creators for whom it is deeply ingrained in their practice. With ever-widening participation in contemporary music, it is essential that discussions around software and workflows reflect the experience of underrepresented groups and those with neurodiversity. Often what may in fact be poor UX design on the part of a developer, can easily be taken as a personal failing.

I would like to examine what resources are available to support transitions in notation software, how practical and accessible they are, and compare it with models for similar transitions in other fields. I intend to interview composers about their experience in these transitions, and what they believe would help. Collating these findings, I will outline a possible framework. Through this work, I hope to help others in settling into their new musical homes.

Leon Clowes (University of West London)

In the late 1980s to early 1990s, by way of coping with the societal shaming of being a young queer living during the times of the AIDS crisis, Section 28 legislation, and an unequal age of consent in the UK (Baker, 2022; Todd, 2018), I made electronic pop music that documented and responded to these issues. I did this through using an Elka synth and a Roland drum machine, recording these songs on a Tascam Porta One.  

Re-emerging as a transdisciplinary artist in my early 50s, it has taken several years to rebuild confidence in using the technological tools now available for music making. Perhaps paradoxically, the relative ease of use and the myriad of choices, for me, have initially been creative inhibitors, not enablers. Add to this the positivity paradigm of Gay Pride that shields as ageism (‘Gay men don’t get old’. Todd, 2018, p. 30), I have been contemplating the challenge of how, and if there is any value, in revivalist presentation of electro pop songs made with analogue machines written at a different time with a youthful mindset. Should these works remain as the emotionally charged demos with tape hiss at the bottom of my cupboard as has been the case for the last thirty years? Using a framework of artistic, pragmatic, and activist categories of music practice research (Zagorski-Thomas, 2022) and a Deleuzian sense of becoming, through this presentation I will consider if there is value in revisiting lived traumas of several decades previous, and how a DIY ethos might be recaptured in a vastly different technological and political environment.