Apparently using her imaginary iphone

How (not) to compose music

I made a profile in, and by chance, I saw this article:

How to Compose Music

The people who have written it out have really done a lot of effort, including pedagogical graphics like this one:

She looks friendly
YOUR composition teacher

Unfortunately, the text is a tour de force through all the typical misconceptions you would meet in any presentation about music and composition in education. It seems futile to start and edit the article, – after all it is conform to the most widespread ideas about the subject, so my only reasonable option was to give this comment in the discussion:

“This article is a brilliant example of how to confuse people and block their musical creativity. It stems from the misunderstanding that the analysis of existing music, underlying what we call music theory, IS in fact music

However, music does not come from nowhere, it is embedded in a CONTEXT.
Explaining people how to compose by showing them scales, chords and instruments is like explaining someone how to communicate with another human being by giving them an alphabet and asking them to know the sequence of the letters by heart.

This musical autism is lamentably very widespread, and it is reproduced in education all the way to the conservatories. Being at a higher level of studies does not bring clarification but simply adds complexity to the same confusion.

Using sound as a means of expression MIGHT involve instruments, chords, scales, tones etc, but basically the capacity of composing is rooted in our everyday lives. Composing is something that we humans do all the time. As a collective we build a common world, an assemblage, and one of the most fundamental means we possess to that end is our ability to use language.

In language, we are capable of expressing and perceiving the most minuscule nuances in our interactions through sound.

THIS should be the message to someone asking how to compose music, that you are doing it already, and you can depart from this activity and prolong and extend it into sequences of sound. Use all kinds of existing music and sounds around you, choose according to your intuition, be a whole human being, use your voice and body as impulse giver. Remix, reuse, hack your way into existing technologies – digital as well as acoustic instruments, and build forms in sound inspired by everyday life events, social scripts and narratives.”


Thanks for a very intersting text! And well written. Your debugging of the musicotechnophilia is indeed very important.

In musical education in Scandinavia, you have a trend for the moment I would call ipadialisation, where technoenthousiasts praise the possibilities in a software like Garageband. It simply, – this is their claim – enables the kids to express themselves musically in a natural way.

This is where your criticism about the inbaked bias of the technologies hits bulls eye: no technology has ever been or will ever be value free or neutral.

This is also why, by the way, that it is not a big surprise that the tools are eurocentric. Actually they SHOULD be centered in the culture in which they exist. If exported to other cultures, each local culture should then reinvent the technologies or make new ones according to their context. The REAL problem is that the tools are not eurocentric enough.

The current technologies are build on abstractions like scales, chords, metrum, notes etc., this being reinforced by techniques like autotune, quantization etc. These abstractions come from an analysis of what we used to call music.
They are based on music theory, which is to say that they are focused on an end product, viewed through certain filters, and that they completely overlook 1) the embeddedness in real life materials, – the resistance of musical instruments, of the human voice, of space and of context in general, and 2) the potential generation of new elements to be included in what we might consider as musical, ie noise, gesture etc. and not least 3) the non-conformity of actual musical practices with what musicologists and others have zipped into these abstractions, basically driven by a logico-deductive approach, – probably in an attempt to legitimize the field of study called musicology.

Real eurocentric digital technologies would
A) take the technologies themselves seriously, and use the new media in their own right, while allowing them to combine with existing technologies.
B) be sensitive to humanness, be tweakable for to the user, be open for him/her to express the nuances of everyday life.
C) be open to context, be combinable, pluridimensional.

Originally posted on Matthew Thibeault:

I was delighted to be invited to respond to John Kratus’ talk at the CIC/New Directions conference today at Michigan State University.

My response focuses on the importance of a critical perspective and pragmatic approach to technology in music education. To assist those who might like to follow up on some of the ideas, I’ve posted my response, with additional footnotes and references, right here:
Thibeault CIC 2011 Response.pdf

And here’s the picture from the Ellnora Guitar Festival sing-along from my slides:

View original


” The reduction of listening–as an embodied practice–to the quantification and control of the audible spectrum, is, in other words, the history of compression”, – this post is relevant for the discussion about how to store ‘ the analogue’. I would argue that not only the mp3 is an expression of a tendency towards efficiency and making money, – any recording in any format is an expression of an industrial way of thinking. The logic of the recording as a sequence of small bites of information gives us a framework which makes us reproduce an idea of analogue storage as something linear and object like. Storing the analogue becomes an exercise similar to producing a good instead of being a culturally embedded practice, which is open and flexible, allowing for variation, chance and adaptability according to the moment, the use, the participants, etc..

Originally posted on Sounding Out!:

The promiscuity of the mp3. Borrowed from NYCArthur on Flickr.

SO! Reads3The point that had lingered with me after first reading Jonathan Sterne’s essay “The mp3 as Cultural Artifact,” was the idea that the mp3 was a promiscuous technology. “In a media-saturated environment,” Sterne writes, “portability and ease of acquisition trumps monomaniacle attention . . . at the psychoacoustic level as well as the industrial level, the mp3 is designed for promiscuity. This has been a long-term goal in the design of sound reproduction technologies” (836).  A technology, promiscuous? I did not have to look far to find support. Like germs, I could find copies of mp3s that I had downloaded from Napster in 2000 scattered across generations of my old hard drives. Often they were redundant, too – iTunes having archived a copy separate from my original download.

But, for Sterne, mp3s are also socially promiscuous. They accumulate in the…

View original 1,467 more words

Let’s make our basic assumptions clear

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When working with compositional processes, we have a lot of assumptions, – whether we make it clear or not.

Since we have these assumptions in any case, we can as well make them explicit.

How we look at the work with compositional processes differs from person to person, and therefore it makes no sense to search for a unifying theory, a synthesis or an all-encompassing explanation.

When I draw the following assumptions as the basis for a conceptual framework, I base it on the reflections over my own practice. This should not be seen as an expression of an underlying truth, – it is a construction, and as such it can and must be discussed and changed depending on how practice develops.

  1. Compositional processes are part of everyday life. Bringing elements of daily life into play in new ways that can bring about change in the collective is a fundamental human competence
  2. Compositional processes are necessarily embedded in collectives, and unfold with the collective as a framework.
  3. They may unfold with sound as a medium, but also using other media
  4. The choice of media for the processes is related to the type of change that is needed in the collective
  5. Collectives may be more or less culturally sustainable, ie. more or less competent to independently perform transformational processes
  6. Culturally sustainable change happens through successful compositional processes
  7. The relationship between daily life and compositional processes is direct, mimetic and cross modal
  8. Compositional processes draw on forms derived from everyday life. These forms are transferred to other modalities or extended / modulated in the modality it was originally expressed in.
  9. The correlation between daily life processes and compositional processes is symmetric in the sense that daily life relate mimetically to the compositional processes, and successful compositional processes allow a reversal that creates culturally sustainable change.
Compositional processes are cyclical. They base themselves on daily life forms and rhythms and the specific way these unfold in time and space, extracting characteristics of them. These features are processed, prolonged, extended and pulled together and the forms and rhythms are combined in different ways, establishing ‘something else’. And from this something else the rhythms and forms are transferred back to daily life, in a manner similar to the first, challenging, supplementing and transforming the usual forms and rhythms of daily life.

In the cyclic movement departing from daily life across ‘something else’ and back again, it makes sense to speak of three stations or poles:

  • Lived time
  • Script
  • Assemblage

The starting point for the compositional processes is daily life, – lived time. The rhythms, movements, impulses, narratives, etc. of the collective, and how these interact internally and with other communities are the very foundation of our compositional processes.

When we act together in a community, we are guided by different sets of more or less explicit rules or scripts. They can influence back on our daily lives in good and bad ways, but we can be aware of them and use them in compositional processes. Let’s call this process scripting. Good scripting is when one is aware of everyday life rhythms, analyse them well, and draw different ‘composable’ patterns out.

To compose is to put these patterns together in certain ways. A good composition process is when you bring (good) scripts into play, in a way so the process can feed back and create healthy change for the collective.

In the process between assemblage and lived time there will be a reversal, a transferthat can be clarified and strengthened through reflection. The items that are made in the composing towards the assemblage-pole, are being composted, as we move along to the lived time pole: they are broken down into smaller components in a way so that they can be part of a new compositional cycle.

The three poles are to be understood as snapshots. The relation between them is gradient, and they interact with each other in both directions. In this presentation, we assume that these processes are flowing freely in cultural sustainable communities.

There is sometimes a need for the facilitation of the processes. Good facilitation is when the facilitator 1) is able to read the collective’s own natural compositional cycle, 2) take responsibility for identifying controversies / arrhythmia, and 3) provide participants with tools to (re)create a culturally sustainable situation.

Cultural sustainability

 [transcription of a 'dictaphone street improvisation', 2012-10-05]

“When talking about the culturally sustainable processes in a collective, I was talking about two aspects that are characterizing these processes, one being the fact of using what I term as cultural recycling, and the other being shared ownership.

I would like to add to the question about cultural recycling that what is different between a culturally sustainable collective and our current consumer based model is that in the latter there is an abundance of cultural tokens and of works of art, – the market is so to speak satiated by still more and more cultural products.

You see it when talking with people working as artists, that they often feel that their work is meaningless because there are SO many works of art, and so many good ones as it were. At some point they then seem to come up with a very good excuse, and continue producing works of art, – or they simply stop. The river of (divine?) inspiration simply dried out.

In a culturally sustainable collective this crisis simply doesn’t occur, since you don’t have an addition of art works, an accumulation of objects. If we stick to the metaphor from ecological sustainability, you could say that within a culturally sustainable collective, what happens is that you recycle the ‘cultural material’. The composed assemblages consist of ‘degradable’  elements, that are easily broken down into ‘reusable’ constituents. “

Related readings:
Learning from folklore – reversed colonialism 2.0 (
How do we store the analogue? (
Paola Antonelli Discusses R&D at MoMA (

 The logo of Danish copyright organisation floating with an abundance of cultural products, illustration by Casper Hernández Cordes

Bruno Latour: Deployment, stabilization, composition

To be faithful to the experience of the social we have to take up three different duties in succession : deployment, stabilization, and composition. We first have to learn how to deploy controversies so as to gauge the number of new participants in any future assemblage (Part I); then we have to be able to follow how the actors themselves stabilize those uncertainties by building formats, standards, and metrologies (Part II); and finally, we want to see how the assemblages thus gathered can renew our sense of being in the same collective

Bruno Latour: Reassembling the social, p 249

Illustration by Casper Hernández Cordes
Bruno Latour, reflecting on the social

Occupying words for a new framework

How do I construct this framework? I was thinking of the term occupation, and that you could see that this is a sort of occupation of words that have been used in mainstream ways of understanding similar issues, and what I’m doing is to cleanse them from their previous, mainstream connotations, and make them ready for use in this new framework.

In Bruno Latours “Reassembling the social”, he writes about this three step process of deploying, stabilizing and composition. Read the quotation here. When talking about deploying, he refers to the action of taking into account all the actors that we need to include, in order to reassemble the social. This is kind of what I’m doing with the  words that I collect for constructing this framework: I take existing words that I consider still necessary, while excluding other words, that are simply worn out – like ‘creativity’, ‘works’, etc – and then I’m inviting new words to the assemblage.

My goal in making this new assemblage of words is to constitute a framework that is open enough to help us take into account the relevant aspects when working on the facilitation of compositional processes, while helping those who use the framework not to fall back to business as usual

Deploying the components for a new framework for facilitating compostional processes
Illustration by Casper Hernández Cordes

Wet thoughts on a conceptual framework-drying rack

The first obstacle I would like to level out, is the question of what is the framework going to be ‘based on’. Well the simple answer is ‘nothing’!!

Construting a conceptual framework on something implies, within a mainstream way of seeing things, that you refer to Theory, and that you are now going to suggest a new theory. I would then have to call my project “Artistic processes, a new theory on the effects of art on society”. Something like that. That would presuppose, that there is a) something, an essence, we can actually point to ‘out there’ that we can define as ‘art’, b) there is an essence we can locate, which we can define as ‘society’, and c) as an ‘explanation’ of the relation between the two, art / society, we can deduce our way to an underlying theory, the same way as an archaeologist digging out an ancient ruin, and that this work – although tedious, and very time-consuming – will at some point get us to the essence of the question.

I would very much like NOT to fall into that trap.

Instead of departing from a ‘theoretical’ background, discussing the current ‘development’ in music theory, art theory, etc., discussing the scientific validity of each, and then basing a new theory on some resilient new matters of facts, my approach will be different.

The theories of music / art, I have come across simply do not do the trick. At some point they always seem to miss the most important. They might departure from what we call psychology, and ‘explain’ our relation with music in terms of emotions, of affect. In this framework, art and music, is something that we use in our daily life to enrich it, to feel good, to relate to each other, etc. They might base themselves on theories about society, seeing music and art as instruments for different currents in the historical evolution of a society. Or the might simply use art ‘it self’ and music ‘it self’ as their ‘field of study’, and claim that these phenomenon simply do not have anything to do with anything else, that they are free from ‘the political’, and so on.

Common to these ‘theories’ is that they take for granted 1) that there is some kind of essence that can be dug up, – after years of reading and researching of course, 2) that we can identify the different parts of the ‘field of study’, that they are actually there, although maybe not physically, (and that’s one of the main challenges to these approaches), and 3) that the actual processes of music and art making, producing and perceiving is something that takes place in either an individual, – this is when studying perception, and ‘the creative’, etc., and on the other hand on a larger scale, ‘society’, where they look for the changes that art/music is ‘causing’.

The l’art pour l’art theories simply loose themselves in the mist of misty explanations always coming short at some point, where you simply have to accept that ‘art does things’. In an attempt to free music and art from being used as an instrument for political and other agendas, they actually work for the same forces that they want to be an opposition to. These approaches sustain the current state of affairs, because they remove from artistic processes their potential for change. They castrate art as a revolutionary force while allocating the artistic processes to a harmless, abstract, and almost religious sphere.

As a parallel, here is Bruno Latours illustration from a talk where he is doing his ‘critique of the critique':

Move one is the critique of the fetish

Instead of talking about theory, I will be talking about a conceptual framework. Instead of looking into the individual, and look for relations with society, I will take the collective as departure point. Artistic processes are embedded in collectives, in networked relations, not in a sum of individuals.

What I expect from a conceptual framework is that it

  • can serve as a drying rack on which to hang the still wet thoughts, I collect from reading books, talking with other people, and from observing my surroundings
  • is flexible, and can change along the way according to how my thoughts develop
  • is accumulative and hybridising, that it can accommodate thoughts from diverse and contradictory sources, whether academic, artistic, common sense-ish, esoteric, etc.

My current sketch for a framework is a triadic one as opposed to majority of mainstream thinking, which is essentially dyadic, and I will dedicate a blogpost to this question.

Wet thoughts on a conceptual drying rack framework


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