it is the behaviour that a system tends towards and encourages that needs to be understood

new piece for KNM Berlin

I finished a new piece for KNM Berlin in November, but it won’t be performed until 2021 (all being well). We will have a little work to do on it during the rehearsals as it’s another one where some surprises are needed, so it can’t be too complete going on to the performance. Good to keep people on their toes.

It’s written for the KNM Campus Ensemble, and hopefully we’ll be joined by CoMA groups from the UK and Netherlands.

some thoughts about the piece

Well, this is pretty much the programme note….

it is the behaviour that a system tends towards and encourages that needs to be understood (2020-21) is a piece that explores the way individual decision-making can invigorate community action to change a local or wider environment. It uses structures and forces found in grassroots and participatory democracy to give the players agency in determining how the piece changes over time.

The title is drawn from Owen Jones’s The Establishment (2015), in which he notes how ‘an ever more unequal distribution of wealth leaves those with power feeling that they have every right to even greater slices of it’. By focusing on a localised decision-making process and distribution of resources and agency, the resulting piece evidences the priorities that emerge from the players as a group and how they might shift over time. The aim of the piece, socially, is to explore how placing decision-making power in local levels of social organisation (individual players, immediate neighbours) might lead to broader consensus. It focuses on participatory decision-making instead of representative decision-making where power is ceded to selected others.

The piece involves an ensemble playing live in the performance space while interacting in parallel in an online meeting. The meeting allows them to form, join, and manage groups, using breakout spaces to form sub-groups. Groups are determined by choices made by the players, and the sonic material articulates these choices through players using the same resources as others in their group. Periodically, the meeting moderator intervenes with group actions. The audience can observe this interaction live, and through a video screen, with a remote audience joining online.

At a time where communities are being separated, divisions are emphasised, and autocratic government is prevalent, my hope in this piece is to explore how people might work together at a local level to generate change rather than have it imposed on them by external forces.

some more material

I’m just beginning to add some more material to the piece as I begin to get ready for rehearsals later in the year. I’m still interested in expanding some of the instrumental material more, in addition to the generic object-based things, but need to find a balance between the specific and the generic given we won’t know who is playing the piece. So there might be a few more stave modules, although they will also use the loop notation I’ve developed so far.

first rehearsal

We had our first rehearsal on Monday, working online with some of the players from Germany and the UK. It was great to get started on the piece to see how it will pan out. We’re using Discord as the environment as the permissions for moving other people between rooms/channels is very flexible and super quick. I was a little worried about how well that would go, but it works surprisingly well. So far we are just working online of course, so the visual aspect of seeing what others are doing, as well as hearing their sounds, is not so clear just yet, but we’re gradually starting to get to grips with it. What was very exciting for me was the “can I do this…” questions from the group, which is precisely what the point of the piece is: what can you do that a system allows you to do, or at least does not prevent you from doing. We’ll see what that turns into as more material gets added in the next rehearsals.

some alterations [29.08.21]

After a couple of rehearsals I’ve made some changes to the piece, drawing on some earlier ideas that were discarded. Although the online organisation was effective in many ways, I think it’s going to be problematic in the space given the temporary wifi. I’ve remade the piece, using some of the original material which is now more pitch-based, and turned it into a fully acoustic piece, albeit with some megaphones. It’s a little closer to the guided sequences I made for Parkinson Saunders earlier in the year, but more expansive and for a larger group, with players giving the cues instead of automated voices. We begin rehearsing next month ready for the performance in Berlin in November, all being well…