EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Morphological Notation for Interactive Electro-Acoustic Music

Kevin Patton

MEME-Department of Music
Brown University


Interactive electro-acoustic music that alters or extends instrumental timbre, samples it, or creates sound in real-time based upon data generated by the performer creates a new series of issues for the performing musician. Because much interactive music - unlike tape music - can continuously vary its response, performers who are unaware of how specific computer processes work are unable to predict how the computer will react. Many scores, if not most, include no visual representation of how the computer may affect the sound of the instrument.

Providing performers with a readily accessible visual representation of the sound possibilities of interactive computer music, and their relationship to it, will provide a conceptual framework within which performers can understand a piece of music. Interpretation of this type of notation by the performer will provide a perspective on how their acoustic instrument relates to the digital instrument. This can be especially important when improvised or aleatoric methods are called for in a piece of music.

This paper outlines a system of interactive computer music notation that links specific computer processes with the system of spectromorphologies suggested by Denis Smalley. The notation uses these morphologies and adds a z-plane and color to the well-established time vs. pitch schema. The graphic representations draw upon the experiments of composers Earle Brown, Karlheinz Stockhausen, R. Murray Schaffer, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Mauricio Kagel, Sylvano Bussotti, Buguslaw Schäffer, and Luigi Nono - to name but a few. The proposed system will take full advantage of current technologies and allow for the specific mapping of real data to the graphic representations. Ideally, the system will at once represent real, specific data, and be an intuitive picture of the sound possibilities.

A successful implementation of such a notation scheme will have numerous positive effects. Performers will have a way to relate to the sound without memorization. Composers who wish to include interactive computer sound in their music, but are not technicians, will have a notation method. Students will have a record of a composer’s conceptual and formal considerations in the score. The audience for interactive computer music may even grow, given an intuitive entry point into “the bewildering sonic array.”