Performing the Algorithm: Open Form Scores Notated and Structured as Visual Programming Interfaces - Luciana Perc

This study examines two algorithmically structured open form scores for strings, drawing upon Boulez's concept of aléa, Cage's aleatory composition approach, and Xenakis' heteronomous music, using object-based software from the 1990s to address chance in acoustic instrumental scores.

Presented by: Luciana Perc

This practice-based study examines two open form scores for strings structured as algorithmic visual programming interfaces. Both works were created upon revisiting the concept of aléa introduced by Boulez (1964) which denotes superposable structures articulated by junction points, platforms of bifurcations, and mobile adaptive elements, as well as Cage’s approach to aleatory composition focused on the theatricality of music performance and the acoustic and visual context of the musical event (1961), and Xenakis’ (1971) heteronomous music, introduced as a type of stochastic composition informed by game theory that sets rules for a competitive game between simultaneous performers. The cases of musical practice here considered offer a compositional response to such research concerns set out in the 1960s and 1970s by drawing upon object-based software developed in the 1990s that run algorithms to treat musical form (Open Music, Max/MSP, Pure Data) to address the use of chance within acoustic instrumental scores.

This study looks at two works composed by the author. A Performing Monkey Game (Perc 2022) for string trio examines Pierre Boulez’s comments on John Cage depicting him as a “performing monkey” and is thus informed by experiences undertaken in the 1960s in which gorillas were taught American Sign Language. The gorillas learned to understand and respond to both signs and spoken words, meaning they could decode aural elements of language. The score offers a structure for the performers to navigate an aleatory form upon playing by way of making audible decisions and listening to each other’s choices and modes of playing. Diffraction (Perc 2023) for string quartet invites players to alternate playing their instruments with winding up and ticking mechanical metronomes as an aural cue for collectively articulating the overall form of the performance. This work engages with Ligetis’ (1983) fascination with faulty machines to bring an additional chance variable that creates a poetic tension with the performers’ choices. Both works explore notions of intra-action (rather than interaction) enabling what I introduce as new materialist listening, experienced as a diffractive philosophical exercise suggested by Barad (2007). This research expands the application of technofeminism in music performance, with focus on algorithmic interactions, contributing to both the use of chance in music composition and the development of devices for human participation through computer-based algorithms.

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