Renotations workspace (PILL)

Hi! This thread will be the workspace, log, repository, etc. for the “Renotations” PILL Project.

“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.”

The full original proposal can be found here: PILL: Renotations (or, a musical alternative interpretations kit)

Several guiding research questions are entangled in the background of this proposal and its possible kit byproduct:

  1. How can musical notation be understood as a protocol?

1-1. (or works of music, music writ large, or art writ large?)

1-2. What novel observations may arise from relating it to protocols studies as opposed to pre-existing studies in musicology, theory, artistic research, etc?

1-3. Does reframing artistic experimentation in terms of protocols have benefits for moving it beyond specialist environments?

  1. If we understand works of art as protocols, what do they offer the development of protocols that interventions in technology or policy cannot?

2-1. What is the relationship between aesthetics and protocols?

Work on this project will involve reviewing literature, analyses of select musical works, ‘sketches’ for kit design, and general journaling.

I come to this project as a composer, improviser, curator, and scholar (more on what I do can be found on my website). I’m especially interested in this project for a) the chance to explore these ideas outside of the usual context of academic arts research; b) greater flexibility of process and result (and commitment to open-source sharing through this thread as a resource and idea dump).

Would love to hear reactions or suggestions in replies!

Working index of posts:

To start, and to keep things clearly related to the proposal at first: some reference material:
One brief example of an intervention on notation: “Immortal Bach”

This piece by Knut Nystedt involves a set of instructions for extending a line from the J.S. Bach chorale Kom, Susser Tod – timing instructions are assigned to subgroups of singers that override the given note durations. The resulting harmonies are a ‘blurring’ of the chords, suspended in a manner that retains familiarity but also is closer to ambient music and modern choral repertoire alike.

What’s interesting about the piece is that it does this with relatively limited material:
-The notation and explanation take up a single page.
-The explanation is written, instead of realized in notation.
-Only the element of time/duration is intervened upon (dynamics are proscribed, but not altered because none are present in the original Bach material).

This piece could be seen as an exercise or ‘first step’ in understanding how pre-existing material can be reworked, in this case through the written ‘sub-protocol’ of Nystedt’s instructions intervening or overlapping with broader interpretive protocols (the regulative assumptions of Western classical music and notation practices). The ‘sub-process’ is fairly simple, since singers just have to count a fixed number of seconds per note, and a fair degree of constraint is still at play.

Just how more ‘difficult’ is it, though? And is it possible to compare the effect of the straightforward chorale with that of the extension (whether as a performer or audience member)?

There are many more examples, but this is a rarer case because of its concision and application to notation. A more complex “re-interpretive protocol” example would be Christopher Hobbs’ “Voicepiece” which makes a distinct performance system for interpreting a phonebook.

In considering the possibilities of a kit, the factors I’m considering include things like:

-What is the level of cognitive load any intervening protocol can bring to bear on its user? What forms of directive increase or decrease it?
-How many parameters are there, or how many can be addressed?
-What might the perceivable relationship to the source material be?
-What is the affect of the change, and how does it impact the feeling of ‘flourishing’?
(this last one is in reference to “A Phenomenology Of Protocols” which I want to write on more shortly)

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NB: I was in a big car accident last week which has really impacted my schedule and capacity (physically alright though!) – combined with travel and teaching, my hope is to really ramp up posting and thinking and tinkering next month.

As another interim bit of sample material, this video is on my mind a lot when it comes to the broader nature of notation and protocol adoption:

Which goes into all kinds of histories and criticisms and criticisms of criticisms.
Among many interesting points:

-c. 51’10": “Pictograms are generally more immediately intuitive than symbols because symbols are abstract…But it’s precisely this abstraction that give musical symbols so much power.”

As other cases go on to point out, a certain amount of ambiguity, latitude, or symbolic abstraction (or even abstraction leaks?), is what facilitates acceptable variation of interpretation which we consider expression. Perversely, some of the examples in the video that go on to more precisely define musical information make them harder to actually use and adopt.

Less than a ‘sweet spot’ of ideal efficiency between leakiness and stability, what seems to be at play in musical-notational systems is a constant give-and-take, or thinkable space defined by the movement of overlapping protocols. Drives for clarity are undermined by drives for expression, or put into a highly productive friction.

Art systems, presumably much like most other systems, are set into motion by overlapping protocol friction, but perhaps unlike others, the priority of these get to rest much more on an aesthetic or affective level. That affect might be conventional musical ‘beauty’ or the appreciative reaction of such, or frustration, or interest (as an affect of difference).

So in the act of PILLing, and swapping up our abstraction systems, which might we (I) want to prioritize, or where on the spectrum do we balance them? And how do we want that to FEEL?

There’s a reel that went around that I can’t find, but it basically plays Happy Birthday but uses a new clef and tempo value for every note–the minimal-effect-maximum-effort humor of the gimmick.

I guess if there was a 2x2 of this, it’d something like a range of each of these:

But even the felt impact of each of these can be very different. I’ll leave it here with the open question of how we want a protocol to be affectively experienced, or maybe more precisely, how we want their change to be felt. Can there be ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ protocol frustration?

(or more broadly, are aesthetic procotols useful/interesting in that there is a greater tolerance or adaptability for ‘inefficiency’ in their processes?)


I feel reluctant posting a comment in your workspace thread that I would have tagged as an “idle protocol musing”. I’d be happy to delete and raise elsewhere if you prefer. Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on our brief and interrupted chat on Zoom the other day. On a protocol flexibility spectrum, I see western musical notation nearer to the strong protocol end, whereas guitar tabs are towards the weak protocol end. If I understood you correctly, I think you said you disagree and you would consider Western musical notation to also be a weak protocol. Reading through your notes, I can start to see the connection. However, there’s an aspect that relates to the encoding and decoding process I’d like to explore.

Given a piece of music, I lack the knowledge to encode it using western musical notation. So from an encoding perspective, musical notation is a strong protocol. However, I would likely be more successful translating it into guitar tab format and improvise if I encounter something I’d not encoded before. I can appreciate your perspective, I think, in the decoding process. As a guitar player without formal musical training, guitar tabs provide a useful form of information compression that helps me quickly get started learning to play a piece of music. But even with limited knowledge, a musical score would also give me clues on many aspects of the music such as its complexity, tempo, etc. Although I can’t converse in this stronger protocol, I can, by applying knowledge gained through experience, pick up aspects and then layer my own interpretation on top of that, in the same way I would do with guitar tabs. So, from a decoding perspective I can appreciate both musical notation and guitar tabs can be viewed as weak protocols. A rough analogy is how different digital audio workstations render MIDI information, some include musical notation options, but there are also other (default) layouts.

An open question for me is if we imagine all musicians were somehow compelled to compose music using only western musical notation, would it lead to broader cultural expression?

It’s going to be interesting for me to see how your PILL project unfolds.