Paul Turowski

updated 10.8.2013 by rrs



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

RRS: What was the first piece you created using animated notation, and what led you to start using animated notation in the first place? [This could be aesthetic/artistic concerns, technological experimentation, a bet and/or dare, etc.]

PT: The first piece I composed for acoustic instrumentalists reading animated scores was Study no 2 for flute, bass clarinet, violin, and cello. This piece was premiered by the Verge Ensemble on 2011.02.24 in Charlottesville, VA.

I have been composing works that involve acoustic instruments and live computer processing since 2004. In the subsequent years of my musical experimentation with the digital medium, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the experiences my pieces were affording. I wanted the performers to be more deeply aware of the present rather than worrying about trying to realize some ideal version of the work. While any musical performance involves listening carefully and being in the moment to some degree, I felt that my compositions could more actively enforce this by being flexible and unpredictable. In other words, I wanted to more explicitly include the element of surprise for both the performer(s) and the informed audience (including myself.) Animated notation seemed like a novel solution to the problem.

RRS: Where there any particular compositions/notational approaches/technologies/video games/etc. that exerted any influence over your [early and/or present] work?

PT: Some exposure to Zen Buddhism informs my compositional goals. I'm not a strict practitioner of any particular religious discipline, but I find the ideas of no-mind, liberation from one's ego, and keen awareness of the present to be extremely relevant to the type of music I strive to create. My most profound and inspiring musical experiences could all be described, at least in part, as involving these ideas. I've had similarly profound experiences while playing certain video games (e.g. Super Stardust HD, Dyad), and this similarity inspired the current focus of my academic research, which is generally the ways in which video games can inform musical composition and performance.

Of course, these ideas are not new in the musical world - even when only considering the limited scope of Wester "serious" music - and many composers have explored various degrees of indeterminacy to these ends. For example, the composers of the New York School were inspired by the same ideas 50+ years ago. What I find particularly interesting is that most of them would eventually abandon their "open" notational techniques (e.g. Feldman and his graph scores) because they had the potential for "bad" realizations - i.e. realizations that failed to meet the composer's desired sonic goals.

I've found that animated notation allows for a unique compromise between improvisation and composition. It allows for very specific musical ideas to be expressed while potentially enforcing spontaneity in ways that fixed scores-even those that include improvisational sections-typically do not. For example, a jazz lead sheet may include a section where an instrumentalist can solo freely, but the score doesn't actually enforce spontaneity; the performer may just play a solo that he or she prepared ahead of time. In other words, animated scores can introduce noise into the performance system in a very controlled manner.

Another interesting benefit that computers offer is their ability to accurately and discretely measure aspects of the performance (i.e. "keep score"). This allows for the notation to change-potentially in a complex way-based on choice, and is one area of development I'm currently working on.

RRS: How would you describe your current work with animated notation?

PT: Lately, I've been working on incorporating more video game--like interaction into my compositions. My most recent work (GENIV, for electric guitar quartet, 2013; see below) involves using tablets as interactive scores, which are all connected via a LAN and regulated by a server. Each performer's audio signal (post effects pedals) passes through a software patch built in Max and returns to the performer's amplifier. The Max patch records audio buffers, then plays them back, often with effects such as delay and pitch shifting. The progression of the score is based on the performers' real-time choices, physics simulations (Cocos2D-X + Box2D), as well as a composed sequence of global events.

GENIV features more goal-oriented control schemes than my earlier works by "keeping score"; it measures the accuracy of the performance (via amplitude tracking) and sends pitch information to the tablets according to player rank. For example, in Stage 1, the players quickly strum the given pitches at a dynamic level equivalent to the position of an oscillating vertical bar. Their accuracy is measured and the players are ranked accordingly. The tonality of the rest of the piece and the distribution of the parts in Stage 2 are determined by the player's rank from the first stage. Eventually, the winning player enjoys a solo at the end of the piece after others have gradually faded out-again, according to rank.

RRS: Where do you see your work with animated notation going in the future?

PT: I'm constantly trying to find the right balance between performer agency and compositional control (to allow for specific musical ideas that I want to express). Right now I'm developing pieces (one for vocal ensemble and one for indeterminate ensemble) that will implement some new ideas for goal-oriented control and hopefully achieve a more balanced experience. Basically, I want the performance experience to be more fun (i.e. "pleasure with surprises"-an idea from Schell's Art of Game Design). I want performers to play and I want the audience to experience the joy of play sympathetically.

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

PT: The most important benefit of animated notation for me is that it allows for surprising moments within a controlled system. This keeps the work fresh for performers and makes each performance unique, while retaining the essential quality (e.g. a mood, an idea, etc.) I'm seeking for that piece. Furthermore, displaying animated notation (or a corresponding visual representation) to the audience seems to contribute positively to the perspicuity of the musical process.

With the proliferation of mobile digital devices, I can imagine that animated scores will be increasingly easier to distribute and transport in the future. I'm excited to see how animated scores might evolve when virtual/augmented reality inevitably becomes more readily available.

"Paul Turowski likes making things in the space between music, video games, animation, and films. "[1]

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


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