Immage v.s. text

Use of images and text in a music score

When writing contemporary music using an extended instrumental technique, the question often arises whether it is better to use imagery or text for explanation. Here is a simple example:
The opening measures of Hilmar Thórdarson, Kuuki no Sukima 3rd. movement.
In the beginning, the string instruments play bartók pizzicato a knock on instrument body and a pizzicato. These actions are notated first with the common sign of bartók pizz. (circle with a line) then a special notation for the knock on wood with texted explanation and finally the standard pizz. articulation sign. This is a perfect example of a combination of the use of “classical” signs and newer notation (knock on instrument body) that needs to be explained with text. Although explained in the instruction page at the beginning of the score it still needs to be explained at the beginning of the passage. This has to do with the fact that there is still no standard notation for the knock-on instrument action. The performer needs to have it explained in text the first time the technique is introduced and depending on the frequency of use it might or might not need to be repeated. On the fourth beat of the first measure, the string instruments play double-stop harmonics from the highest possible notes of indicated string. This action is indicated with a texted explanation (Double stop harmonics…) and graphically notated notes consisting of arrow notes (indicating highest notes) and diamond-shaped notes (indicating harmonics). Since both of these signs, the arrow, and triangle-shaped notes have now become part of the standard notational library the texted explanation is not necessary. The composer has chosen to emphasize the technique as the continuation is somewhat special.

Empirical studies of ConDiS Conducting

My composition “Kuuki no Sukima” for nine instruments is specially written for use of my artistic research project ConDiS – Conducting Digital System. There the conductor wears a digital/ analog glove that can control the overall volume of the outcoming electronic sound, the overall tempo of the performance and synchronization of the live instruments and the computer.

Original idea was to have the conductors role a bit larger by allowing him to control electronic sonority of individual instrumental groups as well as give him control of other features such as panning of the sound (move the sound in space) and the sound timber (sound color) by opening and closing spectral filters, changing reverb and delay time and envelopes etc.

All these things are available, the conductor can control individual instrumental groups by using signs of one, two, three, four and five fingers (see Notation and control from March 13, 2017.

Comparison of performances

The following is a comparison of the conductor’s use of ConDiS between performances in Harpa, Reykjavik and Schæffergården, Copenhagen.

Example 1.

Instructions from measure three of the opening of the 1st movement.

Conducting at Schæffergården.

Comparing the opening of the 1st. movement shows that the conductor has an identical way to conduct. Not to surprise since the use of ConDiS is written in the score.

Conducting at Harpa.

Example 2.

Now compare:

Conducting at Schæffergården.

Conducting at Harpa.

Although not written in the score the conductor in this example activates the volume value control at a very similar point. At the Harpa concert, the conductor activates the volume value control a bit earlier then decides to wait till after the Flute has ended. Then similarly to the Schæffergården she activates it again just before the Horn but deactivates it sooner in Harpa. It should be noticed that the Harpa concert was the first of four concerts and Schæffergården the last one. For me, it is obvious that the conductor has become much more comfortable with the ConDiS system.

Example 3.

Again the conductor follows instructions written in the score.

Conducting at Schæffergården.

Conducting at Harpa.

Example 4.

And the closing measures of 1st. movement. The conductor follows written instructions identically.

Volume value Control – 3rd. movement

Continuing to analyze the conductor’s volume controlling gestures using the ConDiS conducting digital system. Now looking at 3rd. movement of Kuuki no Sukima. The first instance of volume value controlling happens around measure 29. As can be seen in this example from the score there are no written instructions, therefore, this is totally the conductor’s decision to control the electronic sound.

Example 1.

From the video clip below the conductor adds electronics at the end of the piano phrase or where the horn makes increasing air sound. The conductor is here consciously conducting the electronics and the acoustics the same way as she would be conducting transformation of one instrumental sound to another. It is important that the conductor has now become so familiar with the ConDiS system that she is now using that tool as she does when conducting the performers.

Example 2.

The following example shows measure 41-44 although the video clip starts about a measure earlier and ends a measure later. The main reason being a page turn that was not easy to copy an paste into such a small frame. In the missing measure before the conductor has to press the 3rd button to stop the DAW and then in measure 41 press the 4th button to have the DAW to jump (if it were off) and synchronize with the score at the beginning of that measure.  At the same time, the conductor decides to activate the volume value control which is not a bad idea but let’s take a look at how it did go.

The following video example shows the conductor making a slight mistake but corrects it on the fly so to speak. There she has to stop the DAW and jump to next marker (buttons 3 and 4), she decides to close her hand for volume control but realizes that it was a bit too early, corrects it, does the button 3 and 4 and then she activates the volume control. Important to notice the flow of the correction how “naturally” she opens her hand again, presses the buttons and then activates the volume control.

Example 3.

The following example showing measures 54-63 is a very good example of the use of the ConDiS system, as the conductor needs both to stop the DAW and synchronize and then set a new tempo (metronome 92). Immediately she then activates a volume value control to reduce electronic sounds, although not written in the score.

The accompanying video with the same measures as above shows clearly how the conductor reduces the volume value of the electronics, probably because she has found the echo effects following the Pizzicato (plucked strings) to be too strong. Soon, she then decides to increase the strength so that the echo comes in. This is still a very good example of how the conductor himself determines the balance between the sound and electronics. It was my intention to keep the echo effect strong at the beginning of this pizzicato section, but I have to confess that the conductor’s interpretation is very good and gives the music a lot more life. There again comes to the conductor’s role in the music movement. Even if generally accepted that the conductor’s job is to put themselves into the mind of the composer and interpret music from it, then it is inevitable that the conductor sets his mark on the performance. The fact that the conductor puts his character in the composition is for me, as a composer, very important. That way the music comes to life, from being black dots on the manuscript paper to a sea of sounds, tones, and chords.

Example 4.

The following example from measure 82-87 again shows the conductor decides to activate the volume value control and add a bit more electronics to the performance. This section is very soft very subtle and therefore since all the electronic sounds are directly connected to the sounds of the instruments, so are the electronics. Still, we can hear that there is a very subtle change of tone color as the conductor raises her arm. A very beautiful movement in the piece and for me shows clearly how the ConDiS system can be used to make little nuances that are so important for my music.

The following video shows the performance of the above score. Notice how the conductor decides to add more electronics to the mix and how ads a slight color change to the harmonic spectrum.

Example 5.

Another example of how the conductor decides or makes a musical decision to take over the volume control and lower the electronics just before the piano enters. The conductor definitely feels that the electronic level need to be decreased so that the piano entrance is more clear.

Volume value Control – 2nd. movement

In my last blog, I went through analyses of the conductor’s volume value controlling gestures. Now, let’s take a closer look at the second movement where there is more complexity in musical action and therefore less time for the conductor to adjusting the electronic volume.

Example 1.

After a fermata and a jump forward (button 3 and 4) there is a left-hand pizzicato in the Double Bass a high note in the Violin and then a short Flute motive. Shown with red arrows in the illustration below.

Although, I personally would have liked to have a bit more volume on the Double Bass electronics I must confess that the conductor does a quite interesting job by not increasing the volume until the last sustained note of the flute. Let’s take a look at the performance.

Listen how the sustained note of the Flute gets an extra space when the conductor decides to add more volume value to that note. Keep in mind that this is not written in the score, here it is a musical judgment of the conductor to do so. This is very much to my liking and proofs for me the artistic value of the ConDiS system. It comes natural, it ads natural feeling to the flow, it is spontaneous and therefore an extension of the interaction between the acoustic and the electronic sounds. This could never happen except with the ConDiS system, which gives the conductor the ability to shape the music through her musical experience and knowledge. It gives the conductor a tool to express her musicality to the whole performance, not only the instrumental part.

Example 2.

The next example is from measures 16 – 21 where the left-hand pizzicato motive from measure 11 is repeated. Again nothing is written in the score for the conductor to adjust the electronic volume value. It is, therefore, her musical judgment to add more electronics to the pizzicato. By doing so, the conductor brings out slightly variated repetition causing a very interesting effect, making the repetition much more effective.

Conductor ads electronic volume to the pizzicato motive of the Double Bass.

Example 3.

In example 3 there is a written instruction to the conductor to raise the volume. It should probably be to increase the volume by raising her arm. there is also an OK sign there that is probably a leftover from earlier versions when the conductor could also activate panning and effect control with thumb up sign. Control that I decided to leave out firstly since it was not part of the traditional conducting job and secondly since it was too much task for the conductor. I decided to leave the OK sign there for the conductor to make absolutely sure that the volume value control would be activated and also just to find out her reaction.

Volume value Control

What I want to focus on in this blog is the conductor’s use of her arm to control the overall volume of the electronics. As I did show in earlier blogs she does at the beginning adjust the overall volume but does she adjust it again?

Kuuki no Sukima 1st. movement

The answer is Yes she does and by looking at performance in Copenhagen we find out that she does it seven times during the 107 measures of the first movement. I choose to use the Copenhagen concert since it was the last concert of the four during the Nordic Tour. That means the conductor had got more acquainted and experienced with ConDiS and was using the glove’s possibilities in a more relaxed, freer and natural way than at the beginning.

Four of these seven volume controls are written in the score. Why? They are written in the score as part of my research to find out how the conductor responds if volume control values are written in the score. It should be stated that I did not ask the conductor specifically to make changes there but told her that these could be interesting spots in the piece to adjust the balance of electronics and live instruments. I wrote them there yes as said before because these were good places to adjust or even play a little with volume value changes. Perhaps I wrote them there so the use of the ConDiS could be a bit more noticeable for the audience. Perhaps I was being a little bit show-offy. Let’s look at these places in the first movement and see and hear how they work.

The first volume control is written in the score at measure 3 and 4, see illustration below. It is well illustrated in my former blogs and does therefore not need more explanation.

Example 1.

Here is a video clip from the same spot of measure

Example 2.

The Bass Clarinet comes in with a combination of irregular key slap and trill and soon after the Horn plays a note that has a crescendo from p (soft) to f (loud). At the same time, the conductor decides to give the Horn a bit more electronic support as can be heard in the below video clip.

The electronic effect can easily be heard as the conductor raises her hand and therefore it is clear that she is affecting the overall value of the electronic sound. Since the conductor opens her hand in the topmost position of the arm the electronic value stays at a high value until she does the next adjustment which occurs only a measure or two later (approx. measure 24) as can be seen in the next example.

Example 3.

Video of the same measures.

It is clear that the conductor decides to lower the electronic sound value when she hears that the strings are getting a little bit strong and then after the clarinet comes in decides to give it a bit more electronic sound value by raising her arm up to almost top position but then decides to lower it a little bit and deactivates the volume control around 75% of the total value or with the arm just above the middle level. It has to be pointed out that the position of the arm and volume value can vary since it is all based on the relative position meaning that the arm position value is based on the last arm position value. This means that if the conductor deactivated with 75% volume value with her arm about 2/3 up from the lowest position she will keep that value as a starting point next time she activates the volume value control no matter in what position her arm is at that moment. This had to be done since otherwise there would be an audible jump in the volume when she activates the volume value control since the arm is most likely not going to be in the same position as the last time she deactivated the control. There is more written about this and other technical issues in the technological chapter of this essay.

Similar things happen in the next example from measure 63 – 68.

Example 4.

Video of the same measures:

Back to score writing and sonic analyzes

This last week I have been proofreading through the final version of Kuuki no Sukima. As recommended by conductor Halldis Rønning I did write two versions of the score, one with all the electronic graphics and another without except audio graphics indicating the overall volume. The score with all the electronic graphics is named Composer-Conductor and the other one Performance Score. Instead of adding all instructions to the score as is the tradition i.e. instrumentation, notation, instructions etc. I decided to make it as a separate file (book)  since the score itself is already quite many pages and therefore big and heavy. It also helps to have the instructions separate since, in my opinion, it adds to the clarity of the work. To keep the music and technical/technological information separated has an aesthetic value.

Sonic analyzes cont. from a blog with the same title.

Measure 37 – 49

After the fermata in measure 36, the Score and the DAW get synchronized before the flute comes in. Here we can easily hear the electronic effects of delay and reverb as the flute continues to play (and sing). The electronic effects get even more audible as the strings and the clarinet enters with an increasing delay, reverb, and granulation. This part is one of my favorites since it sounds very close to the sonority that I had in mind and ads a very elaborate sonic cloud to the chord progression.

The diagram above shows measures 37 – 49 and the connection of the Score to DAW. As can be seen, the volume of the electronic effects increases greatly when the when the multiphonics begin. This comes true when listening to the video recordings below.

It is particularly interesting that the electronic sounds are very clear even though the volume of the instruments, which is the power source of the electronic sounds, is very weak. The main reason is that the effects are very open or strong f (about 85%). It, therefore, seems necessary to increase their strengths very much if low play. It is also unlikely that both the number of acoustics and a large spectrum in the sound will help create this sound-wall of acoustic and electronic sounds.

Synchronization points

Interview with Halldis Rønning (part 3)

Question 10. The written musical Score

The complexity of the Score and writing of electronic sound information?

The use of colors in the Score?


The size of the Score – the reduced Score?

Is there a need for visual aid such as iPad screen etc.?

Interview with conductor Halldis Rønning (part 2)

Question 2.   What does the conductor do differently with the music when able to conduct the electronic sound as well as conducting the traditional way? Is there a feeling of fusion of the roles of the conductor and performer?

Question 3.   How does the conductor feel using the ConDiS, does it feel natural toward her way of conducting?

Not hearing the source of her insecurity at the beginning.

And a bit more on that issue… The importance of being able to have more than one concert to get more acquainted with the music, the conducting glove, and the stage setup.

Did a different location of the loudspeakers make a difference? During the “Nordic Tour” performance took place in different “concert” halls with different placements of the ensemble.

Did a different location of the loudspeakers make a difference?

  1. Did a different resonating hall make a difference in the performance? Did a different location of the ensemble make difference for you?
  2. Ensemble located on stage behind the front speakers. (Harpa)
  3. Ensemble located on stage with front speakers on their sides. (Nordic House and Christians Church, Klaksvik)
  4. Ensemble located on stage with front speakers behind. (København)

Did a different resonating hall make a difference in the performance? Probably the piece and the Glove benefits from some space.


How can I improve the Conducting Glove “ConGlove”? Page turning!

What musical parameters should the conductor be conducting? Volume, tempo, spatial sound location etc.…

Interview with conductor Halldis Rønning

The following blog is based on an interview I did with conductor Halldis Rønning soon after the Trondheim Sinfonietta, Nordic Tour. Halldis conducted my work, Kuuki no Sukima at concerts in Harpa in Reykjavik, Iceland, Nordic House in Torshavn and Christians church in Klaksvik, Faroe Islands and Schæffergården in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Since the conductor and the art of conducting is one of my focus points in my ConDiS project interviewing Halldis is one of the key points of my artistic research and reflections.

The Interview is based on the following questions:

  • What is your opinion about the idea of expanding the conductor role by conducting the electronic sounds rather than a sound engineer? Is there an Artistic need?
  • What does the conductor do differently with the music when able to conduct the electronic sound as well as conducting the traditional way? Is there a feeling of fusion of the roles of the conductor and performer?
  • How does the conductor feel using the ConDiS, does it feel natural toward his way of conducting?
  • What musical parameters should the conductor be conducting? Volume, tempo, spatial sound location etc.…
  • Is there too much information in the written score (Partitur), too many parameters to control, is it complex or simple enough.
  • During the “Nordic Tour” performance took place in different “concert” halls with different placements of the ensemble.
  1. Did a different resonating hall make a difference in the performance?
  2. Did a different location of the ensemble make difference for you? Can you describe the difference?
  3. Ensemble located on stage behind the front speakers. (Harpa)
  4. Ensemble located on stage with front speakers on their sides. (Nordic House and Christians Church, Klaksvik)
  5. Ensemble located on stage with front speakers behind. (København)
  • Has your opinion of using the ConDiS system changed from the day you were introduced to the technology and its possibilities to now when you have had five performances
  • With more experience and practice using the ConDiS system, has there been any changes in your use of its possibilities?
  • Is there anything that should be added to the ConDiS system or score writing?

Question 1.   The idea of ConDiS? What is your opinion about the idea of expanding the conductor role by conducting the electronic sounds rather than having a sound engineer doing it?

In the above video conductor, Halldis Rønning says “it is a good contribution…to the music field or conductors job” These positive reactions are very important for my research because they mean that Halldis has experienced positive experiences with using ConDiS. Therefore, it can be concluded that my attempt to create a simple device for controlling electronics while managing acoustic sounds have been successful. She did not have much time to take on this instrumental tool but seemed to be quick to catch up with it and perceive his necessity.

Is there an Artistic need?

As stated in the above video interview, Halldis believes that “all integration of electronics and live controlling or having an impact on  the actual electronic sound combined with the acoustic sound is very nice, very fruitful I would say.”  I think this is an excellent proof that ConDiS is a fairly simple and manageable “natural” system, though it may undoubtedly improve it in the future.

The positive respond of Halldis where she agrees with my opinion that there is a need for a new conducting tool and there is an artistic need to expand the role of the conductor led to a question to even expand the role to conducting other media such as video or film.

Controlling Video?