Digital Musicianship/ Score workshop  – Bilkent University, Music department, November 2022

With composition students, and music performance students. Faculty participants: Tolga Yayalar, Ülkemin Akbaş, Onur Yıldırım. Special thanks to Saim Gulay for the initial contact and wonderful conversations.

Key Insights:

  1. Digital score concept is both an artistic medium and a performance medium
  2. A clear distinction between digitized score and digital score
  3. Animated scores engaged the audience in a media space leading to expectation and macro involvement
  4. The digital score offers existing composition and performance students the opportunity to move away from the ‘culture’ of contemporary composition
  5. Can a human musician be considered a “score” for an intelligent/ interactive digital score?
  6. Clear lineage from the experimental graphic scores of the 1960’s to the digital score
  7. Unity is being taught at UG level as it’s an important creative space for musicians
  8. Python as a programming language has an increasingly critical place in music education
  9. DigiScore performance requires some different approaches to ensemble dynamics and communications

1. The use of multimedia and digital technology can enhance the creative journey of the musician, beyond paper/ pencil or software such as Sibelius. At the same time, it was discussed that this also enhances performance interpretation and engagement. It was mentioned that as a younger generation comes into composition and performance studies they are keen to express themselves using the technology of their society, culture, and lifestyles. However, understanding how to master these, or what they mean when used as materials for music, is a big challenge that the digital score can help with. The accessibility of digital scores versus traditional paper-based scores was another point that contributed to how digital and digitized scores enhanced music creativity. 

Through a Mentimeter poll, we found out that the audience thought the purpose of the musical score is to communicate musical ideas, second to musical scores shaping creativity and embedding musical ideas. Many interesting words were mentioned on the word cloud about musical scores such as languagetooldatainstructionparameter and communicator. This showed that the musicians in the room were already attuned to the kinds of ideas of the digital score research. Mainly, the musical scores can be a communication interface of the musical ideas from one musician to another enchased by digital technology. In the presentation, it was agreed that musicians as part of the creative process would shape the creativity of the score in which digital media becomes part of this creative language through the various codes and processes that are embedded in software and media.

2. For music students (and some staff) entering into digital score creativity afresh, the distinction between a digitized score and a digital score was a clear stepping stone. The example of the Borromeo ensemble’s transformation of their understanding of a Beethoven string quartet using a digitized version of Beethoven’s original score, contrasted as a clear example of this distinction. In a similar way, Decibel Score player’s Variation I is a digital score since conceptually, it is embedded with Cage’s idea of the kind of calculated choices that the score can produce with each new performance. This is a clear example of an original paper-based score being enhanced by computation. As such, it can be considered a digital score, rather than a score digitized.

3. There was a pronounced experience shift for members of the audience when the student ensemble performed Cage’s Variations 1 using the Decibel Score player. The first version projected the score on the screen; for the second the audience closed their eyes. It was interesting how they preferred seeing the score as they felt that they were watching a rich media theatrical experience full of expectation, involvement, analysis and connectivity to the sounds produced. The student musicians were also taken by this digital score and the audience involvement in a shared experience.

After the first run of the piece, it was remarked that the audience’s and performers’ engagement with the digital score was similar to that of playing and watching a game, thus bringing everyone closer to the shared experience of anticipation and connection to the sounds produced.  Overall, the experience of performing Cage’s Variations I digital score was new to the performers who were not familiar with the original works. Most of them felt uneasy at first but given permission to explore various interpretation parameters became more engaged with the digital score. Questions of how openly the material should be organized provoked further explorations at which point it seemed advantageous to have a Decibel Score player version of the score as many different versions of the same Variation could be easily accessed and performed. 

4. It was discussed by several students (composers and performers) that using digital media and technology as a material for music-making, can be very helpful and supportive in getting them away from ‘carrying a culture’ [of contemporary music], and being more expressive of their cultural ideas. This in turn presents challenges to the current musical education system that this project is currently investigating. Mainly, how to provide the necessary tools to music students with which they can embrace the challenges of expressing the contemporary culture of today’s diverse and mediatized world.

5. An interesting point was raised (by Saim – thank you) that we could consider the perspective of the technology as being the interpreter and the human interaction to be the score that brings the technology into the world. At this point, boundaries of what could constitute a musical score were questioned, however, the performer himself expressed that he took instructions provided to him in order to create sounding relationships between himself and the interactive sound world produced by the digital score. This supports the Digiscore research which looks for relationships created between the musicians and the musical material of the digital score as one of the signs of digital score creativity.

6. The works presented in the practice-based workshop illustrated the continuum of the music score through graphic experimentation to now. This helped the music students to get to grips with digiscore musicianship as something that was connected to their existing practice, and enhanced/transformed by the technology. Rather than something new that needed to be developed from scratch. Thus, the interactivity that is found in digital scores could be thought of as a continuation of the indeterminacy and chance operations present in the paper-based scores of avant-garde composers. 

7. Onur Yıldırım has developed an UG module that includes Unity programming. From the students that studied this, it was evident that Unity and its clear links and application to game design, is an attractive play-scape for them to both make music for games, and to also re-conceptualise music as a game space. This has been mentioned before.

8. There was some discussion about programming skills, and getting away from music-specific software such as Max/MSP and using Python instead. Many new students are coming through with python skills, python has many solid and supported libraries for music-making. But also, the skills inherited by python training can be applied to other languages including Max/MSP. However, the additional skills offered by python training include data management and processing, algorithmic logic, and creativity expanding on their primary studies, and also giving them workplace skills outside of the field of music.

9. For the ensemble of young musicians who engaged in the workshop clarity was required about how they should communicate across the ensemble, given that so much direction was presented to them in the visual portions of the examples. Allowing the presence of musical thought and behaviours embedded inside the functions of these digital scores to be part of the ensemble’s communications strategies was a helpful solution to this challenge. The musicians engaged with this successfully, but it did challenge their existing training.