marking up parts

The instrumental parts for my orchestra piece arrived in the post this week, having been sent back after Tectonics by the BBC Music Library. As I tell all my students, look at what the players write on your parts as it will tell you a lot about what they need to know. Mostly, in this […]

alternate between attention and ease

We had a great rehearsal yesterday with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov. It was a long trip (Parkinson 398 miles, Saunders 374 miles) and an early start, but great to get the piece sorted with the orchestra, who were lovely to work with and very patient. I was really pleased with how […]

do the best you can

I’ve been thinking more about games over the past week as I’m working through Mary Flanagan’s Critical Play, and trying to finish my orchestra piece. The thing which draws me to games as a basis for music (apart from the fact they are fun) is the sense of purpose they present. The last couple of posts […]

end condition

Since beginning to tag my pieces, I’ve been looking at which of them might qualify as games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s very few: only three. Although I’ve been investigating games a lot over the past year, I’ve not really translated some of the core requirements for the pieces to fit any of the common definitions. I […]

series, groups, tags?

I like to categorise and organise things. I like groups of related items, and looking at the features that they have in common and those that distinguish them. For me, this is a useful creative strategy. When applying it to pieces, it helps me think about what I’ve already done, and what a small change […]

finding word associations

I’m trying to find a satisfying set of words and sounds to use as cues for my orchestra piece at the moment. Each cue needs to be the name of something that makes or describes a sound, and then I also need a sample for each sound. For the past month I’ve been thinking through […]

new orchestra piece nearly done (probably)

I don’t have a title for my new orchestra piece yet, but it explores cognitive load and the way we remember associations between pairs of unrelated elements. Cognitive load is the amount of mental effort needed to remember things in different situations. An example of it in practice is the children’s party game where a tray […]

values and motivation

I’ve been reading Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum’s Values at Play as I’m exploring the ways in which theory developed through game studies might be applied to music. At the moment my interest is in how games can provide motivation for players as this is not always explicit in music. Of course there is a kind of […]


I’ve been reading a lot of game studies texts at the moment that are suggesting some useful ways forward. In particular, applying the frameworks of play, purpose and values developed by game designers and academics to music has presented me with some useful ways to begin thinking about how to develop open scores that rely […]

notebook angst

My notebook is about to run out of space again. I am finding myself hanging around art shops and stationers with a slightly nervous need to buy things. I don’t know whether to get a refill – it’s a modular notebook folder that I can refill – or do something different for a while. It’s […]

#030501 [1-2] / #200501 [1-3]

#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders #[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders #[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders #[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders These versions were made for Apartment House for their two-date UK tour, organised by BMIC Cutting Edge. This was an offshoot of the series in London at The Warehouse the previous autumn. The ensemble comprised Anton Lukosevieze […]

phone off

I decided to stop using my phone so much. It’s got to the point where it’s probably accurate to say this is one of my principal daily activities. It is not good. About a year ago I deleted all the games and switched the internet off. It’s been good on the whole, but a couple […]

giving better instructions

I’ve just been reading Jack Sheen’s interview with Jenny Walshe for ddmmyy and, amongst the many essential observations, I was struck by Jenny’s thoughts on text scores. Near the beginning of the interview she says I do think that a great deal of text scores don’t take advantage of the fact that they’re made out […]

#080401 / #300501 / #310501

#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders One of the most satisfying aspects of working on #[unassigned] was the opportunity it gave me to work on new pieces for friends on a regular basis. The first of these was #080401 for Steve Altoft in his duo with Lee Ferguson, duo Contour. Steve and I studied together as undergrads in […]


#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders #010401 was written for Andrew Sparling, Darragh Morgan and Anton Lukoszevieze for a performance organised by Tim Parkinson at Jackson’s Lane Community Theatre near Archway, just down the road from Mark Wastell’s shop Sound 323. I was commuting to London on weekends during the 2000-2001 academic year as my wife Becky […]

thinking about pitch again

I’ve kind of relegated pitch as a principal focus in my music for nearly 15 years. That’s not to say it is unimportant or irrelevant, just that I’ve had other things to concentrate on, whether that was timbre and texture in #[unassigned] or the relationship between people in my more recent pieces. Pitch was often a […]

#180700 / #091200

#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders #180700 was the first performed version of #[unassigned], although it was not given that title when it was played by Suono Mobile in Darmstadt on 18 July 2000. It emerged out of an approach to writing very short pieces which I had been exploring from 1996-2000, and was the last […]


#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders / Mathew Adkins This is one of two collaborative versions of #[unassigned] I made with Monty Adkins, combining his work as an electronic composer with my acoustic material. We made this version for Huddersfield’s annual Electric Spring festival for cellist Anton Lukoszevieze and tuba player Melvyn Poore. The piece uses processed […]


#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders One of the principles of #[unassigned] was that each performed version was somehow different. I wanted each configuration of modules to be unique, such that they all presented a different view of the system. I was interested in the relationship between individual versions and the unattainable metapiece which framed them and […]


After making the first two versions of #[unassigned] – #180700 (repeated as #091200) for Suono Mobile and #051000 for Apartment House – I began working on new versions that were requested for early 2001. The first of these was a solo piece for violinist Darragh Morgan. The previous two versions had been for small ensemble and duo […]


This week I’ve had pieces played in a couple of concerts, firstly at 840 in London on Saturday, and then at RNCM on Tuesday. The performances gave me a chance to think about some of the variables in the work I’m making at the moment, especially in relation to their status as games and the […]

pointing at things and naming them

I was talking to Paul Whitty on Monday and he commented that if people look back on some of the work being made at the moment they will think we have an obsession with isolating things, pointing at and naming them. He’s right: there are lots of pieces that do this very literally (see my playlist!), but more […]

unassigned > assigned > reassigned

This feels a bit like mining the back catalogue, but I’ve just made the first piece in a new series that uses the old modules from #[unassigned]. In the original series the particular configurations were only performed once, like bespoke compositions, and then after concluding that project I made some of those versions available as assigned, and […]

assigning old material

I’m just thinking through some new possibilities for the old modules I made for #[unassigned] at the moment. I’ve got this whole archive of material which I still rather like, and have also been thinking about finding material to use in more recent pieces that focus on processes. So on reflection there does seem to be a […]

they are always different, they are always the same

The new piece for Lutherie Urbaine is beginning to take shape finally. Despite my previous post about modular rules structures, that idea has not really materialised at this point. What it did do though was get me thinking about card games again, which has been an endless source of fun, but less directly focused on […]

material or no material?

Most of the pieces I’ve made over the past four years have offered performers a relatively high degree of choice as to the material they can use. The reason for this is that the pieces present processes that tend to transform basic elements, or deal with relationships between categories of sound (or action). Presenting fixed […]

modular rules

Just before Christmas I met with some colleagues at Bath Spa who have an interest in games. We’re beginning to do some work together, bringing together disciplinary interests in psychology, education, gaming cultures and creative computing. At the end of our last meeting I asked if anyone had some recommendations for good family games as […]


#[unassigned] (#180700–#201201) by James Saunders This was the first proper version of #[unassigned] I made, following the Twelve Pieces written for Suono Mobile that were performed at Darmstadt in the preceding July. The earlier piece was performed under the original title, but the process was essentially very similar to what I began using in #[unassigned] so I subsequently […]

new books

I’m very pleased with my Christmas and birthday present books. I’ve made a start on Sebastian Deterding and Steffen Walz’s The Gameful World and Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s The Game Design Reader. Although I’ve already had a dip into both via our library copies, it’s good to be able to spend more time with them. Both […]

time to tidy up: work to do

My room is now a bit of a mess after Christmas. It’s mostly because we’ve just dumped everything there every night and left it. Although I cleared a load of things out today, it’s still not conducive to doing any work so tomorrow is going to be tidy up day. I’ve got a big desk […]

slightly preposterous titles

I’ve just made a couple of new pieces in my series things to do and the semi-descriptive titles I’ve been using recently are, perhaps, getting a little cumbersome. The two new pieces are titled we cannot say the things we are allowed to do and we gradually have more things to do and fewer things to say. They […]

ultimate notebook solution

It’s been nearly four years since I bought a Whitebook notebook, and I’ve finally filled it up. Of course, I haven’t really as it’s a modular folder containing four separate notebooks, so I just need to replace one, but those original books are now full. In the meantime I’ve also found a really good paper/digital […]

new #[unassigned]

I’m working on the first new piece to stem from my previous #[unassigned] project since 2009. Simon Reynell asked me to make a long version for a future another timbre release, working with Apartment House. We’ll be recording in Huddersfield in the middle of April in a session which will also include pieces by Joseph Kudirka which […]


It’s taken a while but I think I’m beginning to find a solution to the problem of generality and specificity which has been bothering me for a while. I posted on generality last year, and gave a talk about it at Goldsmiths in October, but essentially the concern is that as a composer I make a […]

on generality

I find myself always trying to find the most general way of framing a piece at the moment. When planning a piece, there are so many ways in which the basic concept could be articulated, normally through specifying certain parameters, durations, actions, or sounds. When considering these possibilities, I am always conscious of their arbitrariness. […]

new notebook

I think I’ve finally cracked the notebook situation. Since filling my MUJI B5 ringbinder notebooks a couple of years ago I’ve been struggling to find an alternative system. I posted previously about looking for another modular system which worked for me, settling in the end on A4 sheets and a folder as a way of […]


I’m always looking for the best way to organise notes and ideas when working on new pieces, or thinking about possible future projects. When I was working on #[unassigned], I had a great B4 format ring binder from MUJI which laid flat when opened. Given my interest in modularity, I found a ring binder very […]