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Traces of Expressivity: conception of a high-level, universal hybrid score in music-based interdisciplinary works

Alireza Farhang

This project aims to formalise a technique tailored for score creation and develop the technology of notation in the context of music-based transdisciplinary works. Drawing upon in-depth theoretical research, it examines of the process of composition itself, focusing on semiological issues in both graphical and real time electronic scores. The objective of creating a high-level notation is not to merely bundle together a choreographic score, or the annotations and graphic sketches of the director, with the musical score; rather, it seeks to provide high-level and abstract information which allows any artist from any other discipline to develop his/her own interpretation, in other words a ‘second-level’ score.

Digital technologies have given rise to new forms of expressivity, allowing art and science to enter into a symbiotic relationship, hence an erosion of the conventional boundaries between different branches of art. However, Art is unique. Nowadays artists navigate flexibly between music and theatre, video and dance, in order to express more complex ideas. The logical manifestation of this is closer collaboration between artists; hence, there is a real and practical need for a lingua franca between artistic disciplines such as music, theatre, dance, as well as performances, installations and digital art.

In a music-based interdisciplinary work such as a choreographic piece, the musical discourse created by the composer is perfectly notated (and thus preserved) by the traditional system of notation that has been developed over past centuries by composers and theorists. However this syntax is ill-suited to preserve and transmit most ideas regarding non-musical as well as technical aspects of an interdisciplinary work in cases when the piece includes music alongside, for example, electronics and dramaturgical dimensions.

We have witnessed attempts by composers to transmit their artistic intentions through graphical symbols. However in none of those attempts do we observe a universal notational system allowing communication of both the musical and non-musical intentions of the composer. The lack of a universal system of notation (that limits the act of score writing to describing musical details) encouraged me to undertake an in-depth research project on the conception of a high-level, universal hybrid score, that attempts to evolve in the junction between practical, empirical and theoretical investigations, as well as new technologies. My findings might reinforce my performance practices and creative techniques, or might pose challenges to my present ideas and opinions. In fact the impetus behind my research arose out of a combination of factors: my empirical experience as a composer, my various close collaborations with performers, dancers, light and stage designers, as well as my own general reflections about composition.

Three research questions will lead me over the course of the programme:

  • What are the relevant semiological parameters for the various art facets of musicbased transdisciplinary artworks?
  • How does the notion of gesture facilitate the process of composition and the analysis and interpretation of the notation?
  • In what way does the hybrid score establish a balance between instructional and suggestive aspects, considering the subjectivity of those semiological parameters?

An important dimension of this research project focuses on the conception of an electronic score which provides a real-time data-stream as a source of formalized sound and gestural information. The data-stream score should be able to convert the audio signal from the music that is being performed by the instrumentalists, as well as their physical movements (gestures) into data. Thus gesture recognition is in the heart of this process. Through an artificial neural network, as well as Gaussian Mixed Functions the interface of data stream score trains, learns and labels gestures in a flow of audio signals. As output we will have all the acoustic features of the gestures that can be used by another artist (for instance light or video). So the conventional elements of music (pitch, rythme and harmony) give their place to gesture (distribution of energy), which is a more abstract way to express musical ideas.


University of Côte d’Azur - UCA JEDI - Laboratoire CTEL (under Jean-François Trubert and François Paris)
and University of Antwerp - ARIA (under Kurt Vanhoutte)
and Royal Conservatoire Antwerp (under Frank Agsteribbe)