Digital Musicianship meeting  – university of Oporto, February 2022

between Craig Vear with Eduardo Magalhaes & Gilberto Bernardes (Department of Informatic Engineering)

Key Insights:

  1. the division between “composer” and “performer” is no longer helpful or supportive of digital musicianship
  2. Notions of the score need to focus on communication of ideas and frameworks for experiences of others, rather than long-term historical positioning of the individual
  3. Expressivity through interaction is an important aspect of digital musicianship, and the emerging area of intelligent co-operative agency a particular focus
  4. Theoretical and cultural awareness should expand beyond normal musicology silo’s offering permission for expanded creative thinking
  5. Sound practices are central to developing identity and skills
  6. Digital instrument <-> digital score is a useful continuum
  7. Improvisation is a key skill
  8. core software now goes beyond Max/MSP, Pd, Supercollider and now includes Unity game engines, python programming, machine learning and AI

1. During the discussions in Porto one main theme was raised on several occasions, that of the significant detrimental issue of splitting HE music education along the two pathways of composer and performer. For the digital musician this binary delineation can squash and contract creative development and supports an older way of thinking about digital musicking. Those involved in this theme of the conversation had all experienced such a prejudiced separation in their primary, secondary, and higher education, and felt that if they had had exposure to a wide range of digital music skills, awareness’s, and experiences, then they would have arrived at their current practices quicker. A noteworthy example was given by Eduardo when he described how he has worked with his young daughter to expand her performance studies by designing and creating with an interactive environment for her bass. It was clear that this experience gave his daughter permission to think of modern musicking in different ways, and her role as a creative musician beyond the silo of orchestral contra-bass.

2. Following on from this, a discussion on the role and relevancy of the “score” developed. Classical notions of the score as being a masterwork by an individual composer, should be superseded by the communications of musical ideas and frameworks for experience; critically situated in the now. As such, the “score” can be free to be obsolete or deprecated due to software updates or technological advancement.

3. Developing expressivity through interactions with a range of electronic and digital systems is a key skill and awareness factor in digital musicianship. A particular focus is dealing with autonomous, intelligent, or cyber- systems that collaborate or co-create with human musicians. The inference was that the human musician is not at the top of the hierarchy of order in terms of needs, contributions, value and meaning. But as a counterargument the intelligent agency should strive to be human-centered and stimulate a creative encounter.

4. Much of what was discussed around the underlying theories of their teaching and awareness did not focus on the traditional canon of musicology. Areas that were touched upon were the phenomenology of experience, understanding perception, audience studies e.g. intention-reception, composing with sound, understanding the language of game and film, digital creativity, media studies, presence and liveness in electronic music. It was also mentioned that trans-disciplinary discussions and key theories/ movements from across a range of disciplines greatly benefit creative and critical thinking. And that practice-based research methods and systematic approaches are a vital skill in UG and PGT so as to maximise PbR in PGR and post-grad workplaces.

5. It was clear that at UoPorto sound studies is central to their teaching in sound, media and music. As such, areas such as sound design, sound composition, acousmatic and spatial composition, mixed-media production, game design, creative coding. In fact, the notion of the digital auteur was introduced into the conversation meaning that students are coming into HE with a raft of media-production and digital creative skills that are across many areas and fields.

6. The differentiation outlined by Simon Emmerson between the continuum of closed and open system being a useful indicator as to the differentiation between digital instruments and digital scores, was discussed during this visit. It was highlighted that this continuum is a useful framework with which to teach and explore the relationship between a digital instrument and score.

7. It was highlighted that improvisation was a key skill in digital musicianship especially with open system and digital instruments, and as a critical method of analysis and evaluation in the development of ideas. This was framed within an agile method from software development, and augmented with notions of body-storming and rapid prototyping.

8. when visiting the sound and music labs it was clear that Unity was the predominant platform for experimentation. While this can be attributed to the focus on spatial audio, VR/ XR, continuous interaction, Unity has many tools and functions that are useful to the sound and media creator. Furthermore, the possible integration of Pure Data and Python into Unity makes it a useful platform to combine these areas of digital musicianship.