This chapter presents an overview of
Coalesce, a cycle of compositions which came to existence in the light of this research project. The cycle investigates various performance practices in regard to electronics performance. Throughout this cycle, which is comprised of 6 electro-acoustic compositions, the computer musician slowly evolves from a disembodied, invisible entity, only manifesting itself through computer programming, to an embodied performer, playing ‘the instrument’ in a real-time performance environment. Hereby, this cycle doesn’t only attempt to demonstrate the necessity of the computer musician’s presence on stage during live electro-acoustic performances, it also aims to establish a notion of artistry, originating from and presented by the computer musician. Although the evolution proposed in this cycle has some importance in the context of this thesis, this chapter mainly serves as a guide to the actual performances which will take place during my defence’s lecture-performance and concert. Throughout this chapter the applied performance practices will only briefly be commented upon. All pieces will be presented separately, each time accompanied by an instrumental model and a parametric analysis of the related computer musician’s performance practice.

The idea of applying a parametric space analysis to electronics performance practice was developed my Marko Ciciliani1 in an answer to failed analysis attempts on the subject using a fixed typology. Ciciliani distinguishes two oppositional tendencies of performance practices, which he refers to as the centripetal- and the centrifugal-model (see fig. 1). These (gravitational) tendencies are each characterised by a set of parameters.

The centripetal-model is characterised by:
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  • a centripetal disposition, meaning that the performer is at the centre of attention;
  • visibility of performer;
  • high transparency of bodily action and sonic reactions;
  • events that can be related to the physical actions of the performer;
  • sound source in the direction of the performer;
  • correspondence of body and sound;
The centrifugal-model is characterised by:
  • a centrifugal disposition; the performer functions as a controlling rather than enacting entity;
  • performer is in a rather hidden position;
  • little or no correspondence between actions and sonic results;
  • there is no causal connections between the performer’s actions and the occurring events;
  • sound sources are decentralised and/or spread out;
  • independence between the performer's body and sound; (Ciciliani, 2014)

Although this type of analysis was developed for analysing a single performer’s performance practice I found it particularly useful for the analysis of performance practices used in the proposed compositional cycle, in which most of the pieces require multiple performers present on stage during performance. I should note that the parameter visual media is used to project the visual animations of the monome grids (orientated towards the audience) used during performance. For a detailed overview on the constituents of the parametric space analysis, please read: Ciciliani M. (2014), Towards an Aesthetic of Electronic-Music Performance Practice and Ciciliani M., Mojzysz Z. (2015), Evaluating a method for the analysis of performance practices in electronic music.

As proposed in the previous chapters, the software environment used throughout the cycle is comprised of a combination of Cycling 74’s
Max and Ableton Live which, in regard of the embodied computer musician who uses external control interfaces during performance, provides understandable yet extensive mapping and routing solutions and holds the capacity to create complex music software, tailored to his or her needs as a composer/performer.

Coalesce [1] score | software

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Coalesce [1] - for monodic instrument and electronics is the first step in the proposed evolution of the computer musician. This semi-improvisation is built around Ultomaton5, a Max patch which uses 'Conway's Game of Life' to calculate and automate random effect changes based on the input volume and force of attack applied by the acoustic performer. The electronic soundscape generated by Ultomaton can be regarded as the consolidation of the invisible, disembodied computer musician, which exists only in the capacity of a programmer throughout this composition.

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Coalesce [2] score | software


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Coalesce [2] - for 2 pianos and electronics shifts away from the arbitrary and generative approach applied on the electronics part in Coalesce [1] and moves towards a completely predetermined, composed environment. During performance, the audio generated by the acoustic performers is picked up and sent through a custom designed Live Set which applies effects and launches samples on fixed moments in time. Although the aleatoric component (present in the first piece of this cycle) has been strongly diminished, the computer musician still has no control over the electronics during the performance of the composition. However, as Coalesce [1], Coalesce [2] reveals a link between the activities of the composer and programmer in the contemporary realm of electro-acoustic (and electronic) music. It is from this vantage point that the notion of multi-threaded performer starts to emerge; a performer performing his own compositions, utilising his own software, playing his own instrument.

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Coalesce [3] score | software

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Coalesce [3] - for alto saxophone, percussion and electronics is the first composition in the cycle that incorporates the use of real-time, on stage performed electronics, be it without a dedicated performer. Throughout the composition, both the percussionist and the saxophone player occupy an active role in performing the electronics, alongside the preprogrammed, automated effects which occur on fixed moments in time. Coalesce [3] can therefore be regarded as a hybrid composition in the evolution towards an embodied computer musician, applying both composed and real-time performed electronics in the same compositional context, in which the acoustic instrumentalists perform the electronics. In other words, there’s no designated electronics performer on stage.

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Coalesce [4] score | software


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With Coalesce [4] - for piano and live electronics I initially decided to incorporate a tried electro-acoustic duet: piano and tape. This original setting soon gave way for a real-time performative approach, guaranteeing the proposed evolution of the computer musician from a disembodied to an embodied performer throughout the Coalesce cycle. Converting the electronics from tape to live electronics presented a problem: How can I condensate the extensive tape part in to a performable live electronics part? It became immediately clear that it would’t be possible to perform every aspect in real-time. According to previously conducted research on gestural behaviour during performance4 and audience understanding of live electronic music performance, I decided to perform the most noticeable effect changes in real-time and relegate the (perhaps not so) proverbial background noise to samples, which, nevertheless, are launched in real-time. With this conversion, not only the transformation of the disembodied computer musician to a full-fledged electronics performer is completed, the computer musician has also taken full form of the formerly introduced multi-threaded performer.

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Coalesce [5] score | software

Preparing Coalesce05

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The problem which presented itself while converting the electronics part in Coalesce [4] led to composing Coalesce [5] - for alto saxophone and live electronics. In an attempt to bypass the notion of a multi-threaded performer I set out to create a neutral score which contains some typical issues regarding live electronic performance, thus tackling performance issues from the composer’s point of view rather than the performer’s. As a result, Coalesce [5] turned out as a study for computer musicians rather than a programmatic electro-acoustic composition. Although it might not be possible to perform every aspect of the electronics score without the use of automation, the computer musician’s objective should always be to perform as much ‘actions’ in real-time as possible, as precise as possible. The computer musician is free to choose which control interface and what type of software should be used for performance, as long as he/she approximates the instructions set in the performance notes/score. This also implies a certain freedom in performance strategy for which the goal should always be to create an understandable communication model between the performer and the audience. Preferably the piece is performed in a duo setting (sax-electronics). However it is possible for the computer musician to perform the piece as a soloist.

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Coalesce [6] score | software


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With Coalesce [6] for BCF2000 and live electronics the evolution of the computer musician towards an embodied performer is complete and his capacity of multi-threaded performer is consolidated. The piece is conceived as a guided improvisation with a score that only holds a couple of remarks regarding structure and dynamics. Furthermore it is built upon a Max patch called ‘CollidR’ written for monome grids (128 or 256), which uses the basic idea of ‘Newton’s Cradle’; Upon collision of two moving elements on the grid, an ‘action’ occurs after which the elements move away from each other, only to collide at a different place and time. These actions are translated in to control changes which manifest themselves as moving faders on a BCF2000, a control interface by Behringer. The sounds produced by these motorised faders serve as a sound source for real-time sound manipulation. Contrary to Coalesce [4] and [5], Coalesce [6] is constructed solely on the principle of real-time sound manipulation.

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  1. Ciciliani M. (2014) Towards an Aesthetic of Electronic-Music Performance Practice. http://markociciliani.de/media/texts/Ciciliani_Aesthetic%20EM%20Performance%20Practice.pdf (last accessed July 2016)
  2. See chapters ‘Instrument’ and Communication’
  3. See video below for a demo of Ultomaton