PILL: Renotations (or, a musical alternative interpretations kit)

Another post here states that “The history of IT is a history of decoupling,” and arguably, a similar trend was characteristic of mid-century Western art music composition, especially evident in the increased parametric approach to sound qualities by serialist composers (e.g. Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen) and a subsequent generation of musicians applying these principles to performative gesture (for one modern example, Wieland Hoban’s “when the panting STARTS”, a piano work with a stave for each of the player’s fingers). Decoupling and other notational complexities are one of many strategies that could be considered characteristic of an ‘avant-garde’ protocol in Western art music composition, but as a ‘pilling’ procedure the overall reception is highly uneven in its distribution (a specialized “new music” community” alongside the bastions of traditionalists).

As a means of standardizing communication, musical staff notation has been a highly effective protocol, in no small part due to its capacity for leakiness (‘expression’) and adaptability making such standardization enormously asymptotic. So where ‘pilling’ can be concerned, my hope is to make connections between explicit protocol research and musical experimentation through a “musical alternative interpretations kit” — a ‘meta-score’ providing a means for individuals or ensembles to re-read, or decouple-recouple, the symbols of conventional musical repertoire while retaining a collective yet emergent understanding of this new interpretation.

Faced with the challenge of balancing a new symbol system and the pre-existing “virtual structure” of the musical work, indeterminate spaces may emerge which provide novel opportunities for actions that are improvisatory in their moment-to-moment nature, yet model the balance between novelty and shared legibility of extensions of possibility afforded by virtual musical structures (thus providing new insights into the original structures and the situation of instantiation itself). If, for example, an orchestra uses the score of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to make a cohesive sonic experience that sounds nothing like the previously-agreed conception of the symphony, what does that say about a) the orchestra, b) the symphony, c) the legibility of such a protocol for aesthetic function or beyond?

This project entails the creation of a ‘kit’ which provides sets of instructions, suggestions, and tools for reassigning the various information in a musical score, one which should ideally be agreed upon if realized by a group. Past precedent for such work include the use of transparencies by composers such as John Cage and Anthony Braxton, or the “Popular Classics” methods of the Scratch Orchestra.

By bringing an artistic research project into the sphere of protocol research, my hope is that a productive dialogue can ensue that gives greater clarity to the language and protocols of the former. On the other hand, coming in here as an artist, I also hope to offer an instance demonstrating the viability of ‘non-technological’ performance projects as ‘safe’ spaces for prototyping methods of shared legibility.


Hi @Zvibes, as I was reading your post I couldn’t help but think about the interplay between improvisation versus arrangement. The former is purportedly done “on the fly” or “in the moment” while the latter is predetermined prior to execution. And then I thought about how a score can both be re-arranged prior to, and improvised upon during execution. It seems you and I are tracking in terms of improvisation, especially where you mention the “moment-to-moment” nature. Are we on the same sheet of music (pun intended) as far as it concerns score arrangement and “shared legibility of extensions”? Lastly, is the kit that you’re providing meant as a way for individuals or ensembles to extend beyond more traditional forms of musical re-arrangements? Interested to see where you go with this.


I like how this idea is such a specific proposal to reform an aspect of our culture (ie. musical scores) which are a protocol that many people have encountered at some level (at least casually or in school) and now take for granted. Right now the pitch reads like it’s written for an academic audience, and it might benefit from leading with more protocol-specific discussions.

The historical background that you mention would be compelling in the right setting (like maybe it’s used as background info. in a text you write up as part of your final project), but for the pitch it could likely be collapsed into a much shorter portion of your writing which would be easier for people unfamiliar with musical history to read through and get your main intended takeaways from.

In general I think this project’s potential benefits for SoP are a bit buried right now; my feeling is that the main benefit for this audience is that a new kind of musical scoring system would be another example of protocol development in a new domain. Your project could still be used to advance your more academic conceptual ideas, and maybe that angle is a way to promote the project to musical audiences, but reviewers reading the pitch may not understand why it’s mentioned there.

You can also take out the line justifying the non-technological nature of your project, since so many of the SoP projects up to this point in time have so far been non-technological.

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Hi @Lenz ! I guess if we’re keeping score (heh), it seems like there’s definitely synchrony between our conceptions where improvisation is concerned. Investigating, though–arrangement and improvisation aren’t binaries in your take, correct? The space between them occupied by various practices or individual pieces is what particularly interests me, whether those are analogous to protocols or fully protocols in themselves for time-striated decision making in performance. Different systems/works place different parameters of sound & performance in pre-planned or improvisatory frameworks.

And yes–the goal for such a kit is to hopefully offer an introduction into such extensions, modeled in the language of protocols but with reference to this ‘conventional’ practice. There’s material and references I might have for this that serve both educational (“performative diagrammatics” kits I’ve worked on with arts scholars in my city) and ‘purely aesthetic’ purposes (the Fluxkits made in the 60s, among others). Honing the intended audience is probably a key next step to make it tangible.

Thank you for the precise and helpful feedback @chenoehart – definitely in the process of unlearning some academic habits (or protocols, as it may be). Your assessment of audience needs feels very apt. Might take a stab at reorganizing the original post if that’s acceptable by the RFC guidelines.

i was reminded of the Schillinger system which was pretty protocolic

but there are a lot of ways to draw information out of musical scores, wondering what’s your criteria and where a protocol approach might be advantageous at?

Correct! Arrangement and improvisation are not binaries from where I’m sitting. I’m equally excited about the interplay between both. I’d like to see reactions of those who are used to the “conventional” practice, especially to what extent they’re willing and able to adapt (extend?) themselves towards your proposed approach.