Today we started working on challenging and enhancing the underlying theoretical framework of the digital score. As introduced in a previous post and outlined in detail in The Digital Score book (2019), the existing theoretical framework is built on 3 underlying principles:

  1. music is a creative activity and therefore we adopt Christopher Small’s notion of musicking. Here he states that ‘to music is to take part’. Small writes that this can happen ‘in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what we call composing)’ (Small 1998).
  2. meaning is to be found in the creative acts of taking part, specifically through the relationships that are created within such acts (Vear 2019, p28). Small states that ‘the act of musicking establishes in the place where it is happening a set of relationships, and it is in those relationships that the meaning of the act lies’ (Small 1998)
  3. meaning is understood from the perspective of the musicking musician. Emmerson clarified Small’s principle of ‘meaning’ to infer the ‘what-you-mean-to-me.’ (Emmerson 2007), this subtle shift circumvents the significant issues of value and who is doing the evaluation of meaning.

Therefore, meaning (or the what-you-mean-to-me) is to be found in the relationships formed between the new creative acts of musicking and the technologies and media of a digital score; and these are different from the relationships stimulated with traditional music scores.

The existing basic framework structure presents two domains with which to study meaning:

  • Taking-in: how the perceived affect of the technology and media of a digital score is reaching out, suggesting, offering and shifting through the tendrils of affordance and experience and makes connections with the musician(s) through notions of a) Liveness, b) Presence, and c) Interaction.
  • Taken-into: how the digital score can establish a world of creative possibilities through embodiment and the flow of the domains of a) Play, b) Time, and c) Sensation.

Today we discussed how successful this approach was to get to a baseline of understanding the what-you-mean-to-me of digital score musicking. But that it could be enhanced and extended to cover more types and domains of relationships and meaning that are generated in musicking.

The ‘I’ at the centre of musicking: A Phenomenological Approach

A central question here, is from which perspective are we to study these relationships? as there are several ways this could be achieved: e.g. observations, quantitative measurements, musicological analysis of time, texture and tonality. To position the research in some philosophical perspective I adopted a phenomenological approach. In essence, this will study meaning-making in the relationships inside musicking from the perspective of the musician who is musicking.

At a basic level, phenomenology is the study of the direct experience of ‘phenomena’. It places the musician’s experience centre stage, and structures their experience of things, environments, feelings of who-I-am, by virtue of its received content or meaning to that individual. Therefore, the perspective of study is from the musician’s sense-of-self as they become a musician, are immersed within musicking, and how they perceive meaning of the things they encounter, experience, meet or collaborate with. Given that we seek to find the meaning inside the creative acts of musicking, observational or quantitative perspectives alone would not lead to a rich understanding of ‘what is going on inside musicking’, hence the phenomenological approach.

This approach studies the transformations of how the musician’s understanding of their sense of “who I am/ what I become”, shifts while deeply attuned to their music-making, AND the communicative aspects of the digital score. It presumes that when a musician musicks, they shift/ transform/ vaporise into some other form of being. This other form is still understood from their sense of self, or “I”, but it is not the same being as if they were walking down the street to a shop.

This shift/ transformation/ vaporisation into a musicking-being happens after many, many years of development as a musician. In a metaphorical sense, they move beyond a human-being playing an instrument and into a new type of sensing creature that is primarily a sound-being. When musicians make music it is not a process of outputting sound into the world, but an embodied experience of becoming the sound they create in the flow of music-making.

We are probably familiar with the notion of musicians “speaking through their instrument” i.e. they embody their musical instrument to a point where there is no felt separation between their understanding of them-selves and the extension of their self through this instrument. But, there are further embodiment processes that happen in the flow of musicking.

Firstly, they reach out and bring into their bodily sense of experience the music that is produced (the music-world, and the things in that world). And secondly, when they make music with other musicians (human or machine), they are equally reaching out to feel the presence of these others as sound, and to bring that back into their bodily experience. This embodiment processis a dance of sorts: to touch, to feel, to sense, to work with, to play with, to hide and seek and flirt and subvert, with others through the flow.

As such, their sense of “I” can be

  • extended through the instrument with which they use to communicate with the music-world, and through the things they relate to inside each music-world
  • enacted through a new range of skills and engagement activities through intuition, training, or inspired by the collaborative ‘dance’
  • embodied with a new sense of space that is created inside the music, or stimulated inside their minds
  • embedded in the cultures, personalities, behaviours and voices that is spread across the things they encounter and relate to inside the music-world

The proposition to the challenge – and relationship-proposing phenomena

From my perspective and experience, and from what I understand from other musicians that I have spoken with, the relationships encountered/ emanating/ stimulating/ generated/ imagined/ etc inside musicking is messy. And there are a lot of them, especially when we introduce a digital score.

To me it looks like the image I put on the front cover of The Routledge International Handbook of Practice-Based Research (2022). An ecosystem of relationship-proposing phenomena. Here, each coloured line representing a different thing that has the potential to make a relationship with the musician. But this image only represents one moment in time, and in realtime these lines would be animated, and the nodes (the dots) would shift and change as new connections are made.

We recognised that the existing theoretical framework as outlined in The Digital Score (2019) has two areas that could be enhanced:

  • first, that the 2-way phenomenon of taking-in the affectual properties of a digital score and the taken-into worlds established by a digital score, can be perceived as an axiom or linear scale. This is not the case, but by presenting only 2 domains it can easily be mistaken as such, when in fact it is dealing with the simultaneous presence of these 2.
  • Second, that the theoretical framework needs to make sense of this messiness and abundance of inter-relationship (see above), in order to arrive at usable data that can lead to meaningful propositions for the advancement of this research.

In part 2 of this post I will outline the basic expansion of framework, which itself will be challenged and expanded upon over the coming years.

For further reading on this I would recommend:

Bhagwati, S. (2019) Writing Sound Into the wind:How Score Technologies Affect Our Musicking keynote for the German Society of Music Theory Conference 2019

Emmerson, S. (2007) Living Electronic Music, London: Routledge

Gibson, J. (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception, Boston: Houghton Mifflin,

Ihde, D., (1976) Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound 

Nijs, Luc & Lesaffre, Micheline & Leman, M. (2009). The musical instrument as a natural extension of the musician. Online. Available

Norman, D. A. (1988) The psychology of everyday things, New York: Basic Books

Small, C., (1998). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening, Hanover: University Press of New England