Catherine Pancake

updated 9.1.2013 by rrs


The following interview was conducted via an email questionnaire in mid-2013 by Ryan Ross Smith.

RRS: When did you start using animated notation in your work?

CP: I began to work with the idea of using visual imagery to provide a complicating influence for improvised music in 2009. From 1998 to around 2004, I was involved in weekly to monthly sessions of playing improvised music in private and public sessions. In 2006, I released a feature documentary film that absorbed much of my creative energy. In 2009, I began efforts to re-connect with improvised music using visual imagery as a complicating factor with musicians I had previously improvised with. I had become interested in the visual experience of watching rhythmic or irregular patterns found in natural/banal settings (water, fire, toy lights) that I would transform to abstractions in High Definition video. These visual patterns were very internally resonant with my experiences with improvised music. I then wanted to join the two experiences. In 2010, I presented the 'Optical Scores' at a venue called 5th Dimension in Baltimore MD. The musicians involved were Susan Alcorn, Liz Downing, Andy Hayleck, Katt Hernandez, Shana Palmer, Miranda Bushey, and a band called The Violet Hour.

RRS: What was the first piece you created using animated notation?

CP: The first piece that I created was called "B/W." It was HD video of the lights from a children's toy. I processed the video footage to distill the image to a contracting/expanding organic abstraction with a vague pattern and no narrative course. The score was projected on a 10'x15' screen and the musicians were asked to play "in the presence" of the score. They could choose to interact with it however they saw fit. The image was projected so that the musician was aware of it all times. Although no rules were set to define the success of the score, it was clear to the musicians and audience when the musical performance reached a symbiotic state with the score and the live experience was heightened. For some performances, no symbiotic experience was reached and the musicians and audience felt frustrated and reported the set was a "failure." The failure generally occurred when the musician attempted a literal translation of the score, instead of interacting with the score in a more sensual and intuitive way.

RRS: What led you to start using animated notation, and where there any particular influences?

CP: As per the above, I began to use the optical scores in an attempt to participate in improvised music with a complicating visual agent instead of a musical instrument after a hiatus from the scene as a musician. I was influenced by Dan Conrad's light works and canonical experimental film works by Paul Sharits and Tony Conrad.

RRS: How would you describe your current work with animated notation, and where do you see it going?

CP: I am currently not producing any additional Optical Scores, but hope to perform the current scores in 2014 in Philadelphia (where I now live) in the context of a larger exploration of the evolution of "Visual Music" and how the scores might fit in to that aesthetic idea.

I will probably continue to produce scores for improvisation over time. Although I am interested in interactive media, I will probably keep this project focused on a more purely intuitive and interpretative color/light space for enriching or complicating improvised music (not composition, notated, or recorded music.)

RRS: What potential, if any, does animated notation have for future work IN GENERAL?

CP: I have recently been working on an event featuring Bhob Rainey's electronic music. His work with artificial intelligence and how irregular or unpredictable AI scripts impact "sound modules" for live performance are very interesting to me. If something similar could be achieved with a live generation of visual imagery for use with live improvisation, I would investigate that path. The interaction or symbiosis of irregular/unpredictible visual IA events with live improvised music would be an interesting next step. Again, this would not have anything to do with technological "interactivity," just the generation of images which musicians would interact with intuitively.

Catherine Pancake is an award-winning filmmaker and sound artist. Her work has been presented nationally and internationally in a wide variety of venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Academy of Fine Arts Prague and Big Screen Plaza, Herald Square NYC. Her awards include the Paul Robeson Independent Media Award, Jack Spadaro Documentary Award, Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, the Silver Chris, and Edes Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her films have been broadcast in the U.S.A. and Great Britain and are distributed by Bullfrog Films and the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. Sound art releases can be found on Ehse Records and Recorded in Baltimore. Pancake completed her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2012. She is currently a member of the Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia, PA, and is an Assistant Professor in the Film and Media Arts Program at Temple University. "[1]

1. "Bio,", accessed November 30, 2013,


  • Visit Catherine's website

  • Check out Catherine's article on Optical Scores in Leonardo Music Journal

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