Composing for improvisers : information flow, collaborative composition and individual freedom in large ensembles

Freed, Moss

December 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Moss Freed. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Rooted in the lineages of European ‘free’ improvisation, jazz, the New York ‘Downtown’ scene, Chicago’s AACM, and various ‘indeterminate’ approaches, this research project deals with the creation and evaluation of a portfolio of compositions, each of which explores particular facets of the open-ended and interpretable links between composer, performer and piece, exploiting interactive and real-time elements inherent in collective music-making. The compositional models I have developed here focus specifically on large groups of improvisers, and aim to function malleably in ways that encourage collaboration and prioritise the freedoms, personal voices and creative powers of all involved, whilst maintaining a degree of compositional integrity.

Following an iterative methodology of experimentation, performance and reflection, this portfolio evolves, via several pieces that each focus on particular criteria, towards 'Micromotives', a collection of pieces designed to be collectively constructed in real-time by a large improvising ensemble. 'Micromotives' provides a modus operandi that is largely consistent with that of free improvisation, bypassing fixed authority figures, timelines and personnel groupings that are common yet arguably problematic staples of many comparable approaches that have emerged since the 1960s (Butcher, 2011; Stenström, 2009). Instead, performer obligations are removed so that predetermined materials can be referred to as and when they are desired. Any player can try to instigate collective action at any time, and is able to communicate detailed information in real-time by way of a series of bespoke hand signs. Underpinned by an ethos of invitation, as opposed to direction, 'Micromotives' allows larger numbers of improvisers to maintain high levels of individual freedom whilst simultaneously enabling constituent pieces to be distinguishable from one another, encouraging modes of collective synchronicity that are virtually unheard in large ensemble free improvisation.

Department of Music, The University of Hull
Mackay, Robert, composer; Elsdon, Peter
Sponsor (Organisation)
North of England Consortium for Arts and Humanities
Qualification level
Qualification name
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