The role of composers in on-line work. : LUSENET : Finding Time : One Thread

How do you see the composer fitting into on-line collaborations?

-- Finding Time (, February 27, 1999


The essential problem in many time-synchronous Internet projects is that of clarity of communication and coordination. Projects that rely heavily on improvised input from multiple performers quickly become muddied and confused due to the inherent time delays in data transmission. Such delays should not be seen as limitations to overcome, but as an essential characteristic of the medium that can lead to new musical approaches. However, in order to do so I believe that we must make use of other coordinating systems that utilize different media - the most obvious of which is visual materials.

As a composer I am interested in seeing performers as interpreters of visual information. The composer can thus be seen as creating, or utilizing, a symbolic language that the performer "decodes" while playing the piece. Such a system may rely on conventional abstraction, such as the Western staff, or may outline new visual symbols that are often specific to a certain composerms approach or vision of a specific piece.

In this light, composers might have much to contribute to on-line collaborative work in terms of approaches to group coordination, but only if they are willing to address the characteristics of the medium. Such a process would ultimately give back to the composer involved, as they engaged with visual artists that are not limited by the strict boundaries of possibility inherent in most musical scores. I am continually struck by the blandness and strict avoidance of color in a score. What might an expansion of the visual palette do for music as a whole?

-- Jesse Gilbert (, February 28, 1999.

Until now, I have not really seen composed musical efforts on the web. I've witnessed live improvised collaborations, or spontaneous composition, but this is a different thing. It's not to say that it's not out there, I'm sure it is, but it's definitely not as common as the "one player here, one player there" phenomenon, which yields about the same percentage of interesting music as it does when both players are in the same space -- that percentage being precisely hit or miss and entirely dependent on the parties involved. The obviously lacking element to these situations, however, is the exploitation of the idiosyncrasies of the medium. This is a place where I feel a composer can be of good use. A prior examination of the situation, and a conscious manipulation of the circumstance in order to express the uniqueness of the musical interaction can be sounded through on-line musics, but it must be actively arranged, or predetermined in some way. That way is of course as various as composers themselves, but depends on the abstracted critique that a composer can bring to a given situation. This is intentionally vague as I will be speaking more specifically about the music below.

Another function of the composer in this context is that of a liaison between the music, the musicians, and any other collaborators. The very nature of the web begs multi-media collaboration. The use of more than one media forum to express a unified statement. Sound, image, text, movement, can all be combined, and eventually, interacted with (more truly than contemporary notions of 'point and click' interaction) in a way that previous mediums do not allow. Acknowledging that nothing will ever replace the physicality of the real, we must also acknowledge that the computer, and the Internet in particular, offer expanded options to certain common aspects of the arts. In on-line collaborations, the composer may discover a new role less as a writer of black dots to be traditionally interpreted, than a coordinator of sonic, visual, social and geographical materials to be individually perceived. There will undoubtedly be both a loosening and tightening of controls in various realms, as priorities are rearranged, limitations are accepted, and possibilities are imagined.

-- Scott Rosenberg (, February 28, 1999.

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