Score Mechanical Asynchronicity Martin Scheuregger 2 2

Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity

Mimesis and (non-)repetition through notation and performance

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In this article we present Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity through a series of discussions and demonstrations, combining documentation of the work itself and explorations of the issues and ideas with which it engages. We explain the practical context of the project, then discuss the early work and its context in ideas of appropriation and transcription; the use of scores, framed by discussions of mimesis; and lastly a discussion and demonstration of the repetitive, iterative performance process that the project uses. Performances of the work are presented as videos alongside online-specific interactive and concert versions of the work.
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Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity (henceforth simply Score: MA) is a collaborative project between visual artist Danica Maier and composer Martin Scheuregger (the authors of this article) that has been driven by – and, in turn, examines – processes of iterative transcription and reinvention that may be considered mimetic. Through our own creative work, we have come to view this mimetic quality as a form of, and variation on, repetition. Ideas that we have discussed and explored throughout the project include iteration, transposition, transcription, appropriation, repetition and non-repetition, glitch, asynchronicity, copying, creation and recreation, and mimesis. These ideas have run on parallel and often overlapping tracks throughout our creative process. Through various public iterations of Score: MA we have explored the visual-musical possibilities of these ideas.

In this article, we present Score: MA through a series of discussions and demonstrations, combining documentation of the work itself with explorations of the issues and ideas we are exploring. We encourage you to listen to and watch the examples of the project alongside our discussions. First, we explain the practical context of the project, then move on to three main areas of discussion: the early work and its context in ideas of appropriation and transcription; the use of scores, framed by discussions of mimesis; and lastly a discussion and demonstration of the repetitive, iterative performance process that the project uses. From here we offer some conclusions before full versions of the work – as performed across the project – are documented alongside two bespoke online versions of the work.

Project overview

Score: MA has its roots in work from 2017–18, with the main period of the project (funded by Arts Council England) taking place across 2018–22. The project takes a single historical lace draft from the Nottingham Lace Archive as the starting point for new live and installation-based visual-musical works. This lace draft – seen in the iamge below – would have originally been used to programme a mechanical lace machine and is, in essence, a set of graphical instructions. For this project, it has been repurposed to create instructions – in graphic and traditional notation – for a group of musicians.

Historical lace

Maier and Scheuregger each created an individual score by working with the draft in different ways. We refer to these as Side A (Maier) and Side B (Scheuregger) to reflect the dual but interlinked nature of the project – the existence of one side (one score) is contingent on the existence of the other. Drawing onto long semi-transparent sheets of mylar, Maier dissected the original lines found on the draft onto four different overlapping linear elements that are each used as a graphic score for the different instruments. Each drawing was given to the musician for them to practice and annotate directly – these notations form a new collaborative drawing with the musician. Each instrument’s graphic score is layered over the top of the other creating a new whole – together they can also be shown as a drawing in exhibitions. The scores for Side A can be seen below with each instrument's part placed side-by-side: note, the musicians' annotations can be seen here, too.

Score MA Side B scores

Scheuregger’s score (Side B) was developed through a process of iterative transcription – explored in further detail below – that links the material back to the original lace. The score is presented as a continuous strip of almost five metres, folded to create four two-page spreads. Players move through the same score, each making their own independent decisions as to how they navigate an array of branching motifs. The input (the score) is the same for each musician, but the outputs (the performances) can be quite different: the result is an intentionally asynchronous performance with a tension between similarity and difference. This score can be seen below in a video (no audio): you can move left to right in the score by moving the video forward and backward.

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Working with four musicians (flute, clarinet, violin, cello) from Dark Inventions – a specialist new music ensemble – Maier and Scheuregger’s individual scores have been recorded and cut onto both sides of four vinyl records. The very object of the record is inherently both singular and collaborative, in a way that reflects the project as a whole: we retain this in our labeling of the scores as Side A and Side B.

In its totality, the work includes four vinyl records, played on four record players, and four live musicians. From these components, multiple versions can be experimented with and played: a solo live musician can duet with themself on vinyl; two live musicians with one alternative instrument on record; two live musicians with alternative instruments on two records; no live musicians and a combination of the four records; one live player and all four records; and so forth. The work, therefore, exists as a set of components that can be reassembled to create many variations of the same material and can, furthermore, be presented in concerts, exhibitions and in workshops. As the documentation of the work in this article shows, these musical components are supplemented further with the videos and the physical objects of the work (the record players, records, and scores) that can similarly be used in a variety of different ways when presenting Score: MA. This lack of visual and musical fixedness is crucial to the work’s identity as an ongoing iterative process more than a final product.

Early experiments: appropriation and transcription as process

Our early experiments in this research grew from the artistic research project Bummock: The Lace Archive in which Maier was working with historical lace drafts found within the Lace Archive held at Nottingham Trent University. The historical lace draft – discussed and seen above – has echoes of musical lines and suggested a score. Maier took this image to Scheuregger, and we began working on a visual-musical response to it. The technical drawing is, in effect, a form of tablature: it does not show us how the final lace will look, per se, but instead provides instructions on how to programme the machine in order to achieve the correct finished product. A process of intabulation had first taken place to move from the desired lace to instructions for the machine operator (in the same way polyphonic music was intabulated for the lute and other instruments in later medieval and renaissance music). We wished to appropriate these visual instructions for our own musical purposes, keeping the notion of transcription at the heart of our work. We were also interested in the mechanical nature of our visual source and the manner in which complex overlapping lines are brought together to create visual patterns. Beyond these conceptual concerns, we found that details of the original historical lace draft suggested musical textures, as seen in the images below (see captions for explanations of each image).

Some elements suggest a single monophonic line, echoing early forms of notation
Parallel lines suggest a held chord
Parallel motion
Combinations of lines suggest parallel motion in multiple musical voices
Contrary motion
Some lines move in contrary motion
Combinations of lines represent polyphony

In the first public presentation of this work, we explored three sets of ideas: transcription and appropriation; mechanical processes; and synchronicity and musical textures. In her work, Maier translated the lines found in the technical drawing into a single line of a music box punch card, echoing the process of machine-made lace in which mechanical punch cards would also be used. Her piece – simply titled Score – was a sculptural-music object and performance, which quite literally transcribed the lines of the technical drawing into data that could be read by a programmable music box, to render the appropriated image into sound. This process of intabulation gave us the most literal manifestation of the original lace draft in sound. In the two audio files below, you can hear the audio element of Score: the same punchcard is passed through a twenty-note diatonic music box, and a thirty-note chromatic box to create two interpretations of the same data.

Studio recording of 'Score' (20-note diatonic music box version)

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Studio recording of 'Score' (30-note chromatic music box version)

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Scheuregger took the idea of synchronicity, creating an audio installation – Mechanical Asynchronicity I – that would be heard next to Maier’s work in the same space. Taking J.S. Bach’s chorale harmonisation Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod (which features as Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück at the end of the St John Passion), the four parts – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – were performed by a marimba player who repeated each line for around twelve minutes as they were recorded. These recordings were then layered back together without any attempts to resynchronise them. The original music relies on the precise interlocking of parts to generate the carefully controlled ebb and flow of harmony, but here this is disturbed. A glitch has placed each part in its own separate time, unaffected by the others, yet the soundworld of the result still points to some kind of Bach chorale. This work demonstrated the creative possibility of desynchronisation as a way of exploring this technical drawing. The audio recording used in the installation can be played below.

Mechanical Asynchronicity 1, audio from installation at Backlit, Nottingham, UK

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Detail of music box performance

Although there is a rich tradition of music that relies on desynchronised performers/elements, this work was not created to explicitly engage with that area of practice and thought. Nevertheless, works by Henry Cowell that employ open or elastic forms, such as 26 Simultaneous Mosaics (1963), are a precedent, whilst approaches to individual player freedom, most notably in Witold Lutosławski’s use of controlled aleatory, provide a close model which becomes even more relevant in Score: MA, Side B. The performance practice issues that arise from working with the non-prescriptive scores of Score: MA are discussed in more detail below.

Score and Mechanical Asynchronicity I were installed at Backlit Gallery, Nottingham (January–February 2018) as part of the Bummock: The Lace Archive exhibition. Score was performed daily on either the diatonic or chromatic music box, and Mechanical Asynchronicity I was played on a loop over headphones. Images from this installation can be seen below.

Score was further developed into a durational sound and film performance, Score No. 2. This work sees the artist playing the 20-note music box followed by the 30-note music box while watching a film of the historical lace draft from which the punch card was derived. The film slowly zooms into a small detail of the lace draft and then out again over an hour-long performance in which each iteration lasts for 30 mins. The contrast between the diatonic and chromatic rendering of the same punch card data demonstrates the tablature-like nature of the work as – like the original lace technical drawing – the punch card provides naïve data that needs to be read to be understood. The process of appropriating from technical drawing continues as the punch card is further sonically appropriated in different forms. The mimetic quality of this process is one we pick up in Score: MA, in which the two elements of our individual explorations came together.

Backlit installation
Backlit installation detail of Score and Mechanical Asynchronicity audio installation
Backlit installation detail of Score 1
Backlit installation detail of Score 2
Backlit installation detail of Score 3
Backlit installation detail of Score 4
Backlit installation live performance
Backlit installation performance of Score photo credit Lucy Renton

Reading between the lines: mimesis and creating (with) the scores

After the period of early experimentation, Score: MA moved through two connected but creatively distinct stages: creating the scores, then creating the music. Of course, with many forms of compositional practice, this is a common process: a piece is written, and only in rehearsals and performance does it “become” music through sound (to oversimplify a rather more complex issue). However, we see the second of these stages (in which the performers are involved) as a conscious continuation of the compositional process, as we have purposefully considered the scores as only a starting point for creating the work. The performers’ individual and collective interpretation is, for us, an explicitly creative act that feeds into the final work. Score: MA is, in fact, not a musical work that is captured in a score, as it does not exist in the notated text alone. 1 Instead, we consider the work intrinsically to include public-facing parts of the process (the open workshop/rehearsals that often come before a performance), and to rely on the presence of the visual elements of the video, scores, performers and record players. Even in its most concert-like form, we consider Score: MA to be closer to an installation. 

The creative – compositional, even – role of the performers in Score: MA can be usefully understood through the lens of Adorno’s concept of mimesis in relation to musical performance. Given this idea entwines performance and notation through ideas of interpretation (as performing involves copying, repeating and miming elements of a score), it is particularly beneficial for us, given the importance of the score as a part of – but not the end of – a creative process. Some introduction to Adorno’s ideas in this area are necessary first, before their implications for Score: MA can be fully explored.

Max Paddison explores mimesis in terms of the aesthetics of musical expression (2011), at various points discussing the notion of imitation – of nature, emotions, and so forth – that art may strive to achieve. Paddison discusses Adorno’s most extensive, but not fully completed, text on musical performance – Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction – which puts forward his particular view of mimesis in music. Paddison summarises three important aspects of Adorno’s view on this:

(1) that the performance of music is the purest manifestation of the mimetic impulse, free of any need for denotation; (2) that in an essentially score-based tradition such as that of Western art music, it is what he calls the ‘neumic’ aspect of notation (as opposed to what he labels the ‘mensural’ and the ‘idiomatic’ aspects (2006, p. 67) that retains the otherwise suppressed mimetic element within the context of the reification of music that the score represents; and (3) that it is the work as image that the performer seeks to represent – to imitate – beyond the score as such.
(Paddison 2011, 138)

This final idea, in particular, is one that Score: MA subverts: we will return to this presently. Adorno identifies three elements in his understanding of notation: “mensural” aspects are the unambiguous instructional elements of, for example, pitch and rhythm; “neumic” aspects are the less clearly defined aspects such as phrases, gestures and structures which are implicit in a score; and “idiomatic” features relate, in simple terms, to the individual interpretation of a performer. As Alessandro Cecchi discusses, early western neumic notation gave the shape and gesture of a sung line, but did not specify pitch or rhythm (at least in their early form): this idea “helped Adorno to identify the mimetic root of notation in historical terms”. (2017, 133) Neumic manifestations remain in modern notation through, for example, “‘phrase marks’ intended as a ‘tools’ [sic] to identify ‘units of structure’”. (Cecchi, 133, quoting Adorno 2006, 94) It is these elements that are considered gestural and mimetic according to Adorno. Related to mimesis is Adorno’s “x-ray” model of musical interpretation/performance which features “all aspects of context, contrast and construction that lie hidden beneath the surface of the perceptible sound”. (Adorno, quoted in Castro-Magas 2016, 19) Elsewhere the term “subcutaneous” is used to refer to the non-mensural elements of a score that are more difficult to define, identify and bring out of the score in performance (Cecchi 2017, 133). At its most fundamental, Adorno’s view is that neumic, mensural and idiomatic features have a particular interrelationship when it comes to musical performance.

These ideas do not necessarily form part of a coherent theory of musical performance from Adorno, however: Jeffrey Swinkin sees Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction as “fragmentary and incomplete…often abstruse… [and] handicapped by a dearth of music-analytic detail”. (Swinkin 2019, 221) Similarly, Alessandrom Cecchi has misgivings, repositioning the relationship between the mensural, neumic and idiomatic in a way that we can adopt in order to frame the processes at play in Score: MA:

If according to Adorno’s aforementioned definition the “task of musical interpretation is to transform the idiomatic element into the neumic by means of the mensural”, I suggest to add – or even replace – the following formulation: The task of musical performance is to transform the mensural element into the idiomatic by means of the neumic. In other words: the unintentional, symbolic level of the score (mensural) is transformed during performance into a meaningful and intentional social practice (idiomatic) through the interpolation of a mimetic level (neumic) to be intended as an imitation not of the score, but of the ideal of sound that the performer has creatively “inferred” from the score.
(Cecchi 2017, 136; italics in original)

This last point is particularly relevant to Score: MA where “creative inference” is central to the way the music is performed. Moreover, the social nature of the performance (echoing Christopher Small) is crucial to how the musicians “made” the music together in the recording, rehearsal and performance processes. And it is important to note that the performers were not recreating the scores – as, to varying extents, the scores do not have direct equivalents in sound – but creating music as a result of the score. (This echoes the original lace draft which is instructional and tablature-like rather than representational.) This process does, however, imbue the scores with new neumic meaning, especially once an approach to their performance was established through the recording of the material at the start of the project: the regular revisiting of this “canonic” reading of the scores (due to the replaying of the recordings as part of every performance) gives a very literal, audible benchmark against which the live performance may be compared. With Cecchi’s important rearrangement in mind, we believe it is useful to frame some understanding of Score: MA through the use of Adorno’s terms (although we are happy to remove them somewhat from the associated baggage of Adorno’s theories – whether complete or half-baked – of performance and interpretation).

At the heart of Score: MA is an exploration of how we, as composer-artists, are able to repeat, adapt and mimic the original source material on which our scores are based, and then how the musicians with whom we are working add further layers of interpretation and, importantly, the ways in which they must strive to (re-)create – or mimic – the scores we present them with. But, whereas Adorno is referring to a fairly generalised array of western classical music in his conception of mimesis and performance, we are dealing with a work that self-consciously explores the tension between mensural, neumic and idiomatic aspects of notation and performance. Moreover, the project is all about imitation and repetition in such a way that mimesis moves beyond uncovering the neumic elements of a piece hidden by mensural notation (which, as Cecchi (2017, 133) highlights, is Adorno’s idea) and becomes the raison d’être of the work. The “subcutaneous”, neumic elements are actually at the surface of Score: MA, constantly and consciously in the minds of us, and of our performers: the music is to be found to a significant extent in what is not present in the scores.

The video below shows a transcription of one of the segments of the Side A clarinet part alongside the original score and the audio performance: even in this fragment, we can observe the level of creative input needed, and the number of compositional decisions handed to the player in order to effectively (re-)create the score. (And, of course, the transcription here only shows some of the information of the performance.)

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It is worth dwelling for a moment on the idea of neumic and mensural elements in the scores for Score: MA to establish exactly what we do and do not give our players. The mensural aspects of the work are fairly limited and only present to any meaningful extent in Side B. Here, players are given pitch-class, rhythm and tempo indications, but articulation, dynamics, phrasing and octave are decided by the performers individually. The instructions – given on the first page of the score – form another mensural layer so that even when there is a degree of player freedom in terms of the route through the score, there are still defined limitations being imposed. Side A is far less prescriptive, with mensural elements extending only to instructions about the duration of sections (each line is 30 seconds). There is technically no instruction to specify that the y-axis relates to pitch (although the connection between height and pitch is so hardwired as to be taken for granted).

Many more elements of both scores are clearly neumic. This is abundantly clear in Side A, which is entirely neumic. Indeed it presents the performers with nothing more than a line that suggests undulations of pitch in a manner that is immediately redolent of early western notation. There is even a single red line – borrowed directly from Guido d’Arezzo’s eleventh-century invention – that represents a “middle” point of the instrument’s register. At first glance, one might assume Side A was generated with knowledge of Tibetan musical notation (which, we think, is visually the most similar) or at least with a nod towards early western forms of notating pitch. However, as discussed elsewhere, this score is a direct transcription – perhaps a transliteration – of data that previously had no musical connection. Understanding the technical drawing data is therefore mediated by the performers’ awareness of broader notational practices: or, to put it in Adorno’s terms, this is an “idiomatic” element of the notation.

We might most usefully consider the interplay of the musicians in performance as an element that is neumic or perhaps idiomatic (although Adorno’s definition of “idiomatic” is perhaps too vague to tie to this idea). The manner in which the rehearsal and performance process shaped the work is discussed next, with the following images (taken from the workshop/rehearsal at the Ruskin Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary) showing some of the rehearsal and workshop process.

Workshop images from Ruskin Gallery 

Ruskin Gallery 1
Ruskin Gallery 2
Ruskin Gallery 3
Ruskin Gallery 4

Workshop images from Nottingham Contemporary

Nottingham Contemporary 2
Nottingham Contemporary 1
Nottingham Contemporary 3
Nottingham Contemporary 4
Nottingham Contemporary 5
Nottingham Contemporary 7
Nottingham Contemporary 6

Play it again: repetition and the rehearsal and performance process

Repetition is central to Score: MA at all levels: across the project, full performances and installations have been repeated; in an individual event, versions of each side are repeated with different instrumental combinations; within each side, live players repeat what the vinyl records play; and within each part, cells and motives are repeated. At all of these levels, repetition is tied to variation, and it is the changing nature of each iteration (again, at all levels) that we are exploring through Score: MA. Tim Howell provides an insight into varied repetition in relation to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s writing on the subject. Howell concludes that “[a]n alignment between repetition and novelty, instead of its more typical associations with sameness (and even monotony), offers an interesting perspective.” (Howell 2013, 102) Although writing in relation to the music of Brahms, these ideas of repetition can be used to help frame Score: MA.

Howell focuses on the temporal qualities of repetition in his discussion of Brahms’ Drei Intermezzi, op. 117. In particular, he focuses on the idea that “[d]ue to the passing of time, our perception of earlier events will change”. (2013, 101) Through Kierkegaard, Howell discusses how repetition need not be associated with sameness, but can be a source of novelty (102), and returns to the idea of “dynamic repetition” throughout his study. Given the importance of varied repetition in Score: MA, it is worth noting Howell’s take on this idea at length:

It may be rather surprising that the concept of ‘sameness’ can occur in so many different ways, but philosophically speaking – given the distinction between re-experiencing something, rather than experiencing it again – this is not so unusual. By acknowledging that things cannot actually be the same again, even if they appear to be so (which is not to deny the psychological comfort to be gained from this illusion), then repetition becomes a catalyst for change. (It really isn’t the same as we thought it was.) Kierkegaard’s distinction between ‘repetition’ – as a dynamic force – and ‘recollection’ – as a point of stasis – offers us a useful starting point. Essentially, he sees recollection and repetition as the same movement, but in opposite directions. From a musical perspective, these insights may help to inform the distinction between ‘circular’ and ‘linear’ time; circularity is associated with temporal stasis, linearity is characterized by dynamism.
(Howell 2013, 104)

Howell’s description of the benefits of repetition informs how we conceive of repetition in Score: MA. The project is entirely built around various forms of repetition: within a concert performance of the project, this is very much apparent. Each performance involves a day-long collaborative workshop to inform the resulting performance. These differ for each outing and venue creating a newly site-specific piece that is based on the same components yet is distinct each time. The concert – which is around an hour and a half but can vary in length – involves two halves in which we hear Side A in the first, and Side B in the second. The vinyl recordings are between seven and ten minutes long, with each repeated a number of times during each half of the concert, each time with differing combinations of live instruments and vinyl recordings. (This can be seen in the documentation of live performances towards the end of the article.)

For Maier, the starting point for the score was a drawing, directly based on the initial historical lace draft. Lines found within the historical diagram – originally used to determine the placement of thread – were meticulously dissected, copied form the original, and redrawn. Using appropriation as part of the process, rather than forming part of the outcome, this “drawing-as-score” is newly made yet still a copy. As art historian Slobodan Mijuskovic says in relation to visual artists working with appropriation: “It appears that a copy simultaneously presupposes and excludes both identity and difference, that it must be, at the same time, identical and different from the original.” (2009, 144) Kierkegaard's ideas of repetition as dynamic and creating variety are echoed in the drawing of the score here.

The video below shows an extract of the score for Side A, with each instrumental part added and then removed to demonstrate the layering process.

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This process sees the lace stripped back to its individual threads, and highlights the path each takes within the finished product. Now dissected and transposed onto four different scores – that if overlapped become the “whole” again – the thread line of the lace becomes sound. It is interesting to note that there is an innate rhythm and pattern to the sound produced that has its legacy in the origin of the lace. There is an element of intersemiotic translation found within the process here as the lace is taken through a creative step to offer its embodiment in the different medium of sounds. (Campbell and Vidal 2019) As Madeline Campbell says, “Instead of focusing on the translation of sense or meaning, the [artist/composer] effectively plays the role of mediator in an experiential process that allows the recipients (viewer, listener, reader or participant) to re-create the sense (or “semios”) of the source artefact for themselves.” (2019, 179–80) This again speaks of a kind of repetition. Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on mechanical reproduction are appropriate here, in relation to how variant iterations of an original can draw attention to new considerations of the copied object: “Above all, it makes it possible for the original to come closer to the person taking it in, whether in the form of a photograph or that of the gramophone record.” (Benjamin 2008, 6)

Linear repetition – where one element is heard again sometime later – has been the focus so far: however, in Score: MA, Side B, we explore simultaneous repetition. Each player performs from the same score (with some octave transposition in the cello part) and moves through a series of four double-page spreads containing various cells. Players are given the following instructions in the score:

Cells are assembled into groups through which there are multiple paths. The first cell of a group is outlined in green; the last, in red. Red cells must only be played once. All other cells may be repeated as many times as desired or played once. Once a red cell has been played, move on to the next green cell on the page leaving as much or as little space as desired: if there are no further green cells move to the next page. Where chords are present, the player may play all notes (if possible on their instrument) or choose one. Octave transposition may be used throughout for technical or interpretive reasons. All dynamics, articulations, etc are left to the discretion of the player. Metronome marks apply for the whole of a given group of connected cells unless a new metronome mark is given. The quaver pulse remains the same when moving between compound and simple time signatures. Each double page should last no more than two minutes but may be shorter. The total duration each player performs for should be approximately 7–9 minutes.
Instructions from Score: MA, Side B

The elements of player freedom mean that a performance is never really going to involve absolute synchronicity; instead, players will naturally move in and out of sync. IN rehearsal and performance, the beginning of each double-page spread was often a place for synchronisation, as players would take a natural break to turn the page and find that the different character of the new material would act as a cue for the other players. (Similarly, hearing new material on the vinyl records could prompt a player to move more quickly to get to the next page turn.) The interest in this work comes from this tension between similarity and difference: as with Howell’s Kierkegaardian reading of repetition as generating novelty in the music of Brahms, so here it is the differences between the simultaneously repeated versions of the score that generate the interest of the piece. And like Maier’s intersemiotic translation with drawing, the different instruments here are reading the same source, but speaking with different dialects.

The use of pre-recorded material brings a further dimension of repetition to both Side A and Side B. When performed with all four records and all four musicians live, we are hearing two versions – or sets of versions – that are separated by time. The recorded versions on vinyl represent a particularly naïve version of the music. Players were recorded separately without any time spent together in rehearsal: they could not compare interpretations or strategies for moving through the notated material. The most recent performance of the work (at the time of writing) was in January 2022, over three years since the recording in December 2018. So, whilst they are performing from the same source, their performances have been mediated by their changing relationship with the music, their experience of having performed it multiple times, and the rehearsal time they have spent discussing and performing with each other. Returning to Brahms’ use of repetition, for a moment, Howell’s comments are pertinent here:

At a certain point, the listener becomes aware that this ‘newness’ is the direct result of revisiting an earlier event that has been displaced in time. It is actually a different kind of ‘sameness’: a dynamic repetition. In temporal terms, what seemed to be circular turns out to be linear: a perceptual transformation has occurred.
(Howell 2013, 116–117)

Whilst in this case we are dealing with the displacement of repeated ideas in time measured in seconds and minutes, the very same effect is apparent in the performance of this work by our players, only measured in months and years. But, whereas this newness is felt through the linearity of a performance of Brahms, the effect is achieved through simultaneity in Score: MA. Images of the most recent workshop and performance – in which the players were at the furthest end of this repetitive journey – can be seen below.

Rehearsal and performance images from Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall

Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 1
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 2
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 3
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 4
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 5
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 6
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 7
Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall 8

Reflections and conclusions

In the above text we first explained some of the practical elements of the processes of developing Score: MA and, in doing so, have given some insight into the ideas and ways of working that have informed the creative process and product. Next, we offered some more distanced critical perspectives, placing Score: MA in the context of transcription, translation and appropriation (in reference to the creation of the score); and mimesis and interpretation (in relation to the creative work with performers). These contexts all relate to repetition in a variety of ways, from a local level – in, for example, the simultaneous repetition of musical material by record player and live performer – to the large-scale repetition seen in the multiple performances over the project’s duration. Repetition becomes iteration, as we and our collaborating musicians have seen our working processes develop over time. With this in mind, we now turn to documentation of some of the performances of this project.

The framing of our work in terms of mimesis and repetition, and the theoretical considerations made elsewhere in this article will only go so far in offering insights into the creative work itself. Experiencing the work in the context of our discussions is the most useful way of understanding the ideas we are exploring. Indeed, there are many issues we have not discussed here which are implicitly – sometimes explicitly – explored in the work itself. And so below we present documentation of three live, in-person performances from across the duration of the project. After this, we present two versions of the work created specifically for online consumption: a full-length video concert, and an audio-only version of the work in which you are able to manipulate individual elements yourself. We hope you find it instructive to cross-reference these versions, and watch and listen to them in the context of the discussion we have provided above.

Documentation of live performances

January 2019: Ruskin Gallery, Cambridge

Both artwork and performance were part of the Bummock: The Lace Archive exhibition at the Ruskin Gallery, with the live performance taking place on 31 January 2019. Both scores were exhibited alongside audio versions of the pieces which could be heard on two sets of headphones. Maier’s visual work combines four overlapping drawings that have been annotated by each musician as they rehearsed and “learned” the piece. Together these drawings form a new whole incorporating the collaborative process Maier took with the musicians. It is a visual version of the same sonic work: both have linear elements; combined and singular moments; and details, glitches, and repetition. Scheuregger’s score reaches five metres in length, filling the gallery wall. The score, created from transcribed fragments of the original music box piece, visually evidences choice-based elements and the encoding process. The live event took place within the gallery as a performance and installation. It was preceded by a day-long public rehearsal during which Maier and Scheuregger worked collaboratively with the musicians to develop the evening’s performance.

Running order:
Side A: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl

Performed by Dark Inventions:
Neil Smith – flute
Jonathan Sage – clarinets
Rebecca Smith – violin
Cecily Smith Nesbitt – cello

September 2019: Nottingham Contemporary

The live event took place as part of public programming for Still Undead; the Nottingham chapter of the Bauhaus Imaginista international project, on 28 September 2019. The two-hour evening concert was preceded by a daylong public rehearsal during which Maier and Scheuregger worked collaboratively with the musicians to develop the evening’s performance. The final installation of the piece includes four musicians, four record players and records, and two projected films.

Running order:
Side A: live music box
Side A: live flute, basset clarinet, violin and cello
Side A: live flute, basset clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl
Side A: live basset clarinet and violin – flute and cello on vinyl
Side A: live flute, basset clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello
Side B: live flute and cello – clarinet and violin on vinyl
Side B: live basset clarinet – clarinet on vinyl

Performed by Dark Inventions:
Dana Morgan – flutes
Jonathan Sage – clarinets
Richard Powell – violin
Anna Menzies – cello
Danica Maier – music box
[Musicians on Vinyl: Neil Smith, flute; Jonathan Sage, clarinet; Rebecca Smith, violin; Cecily Smith Nesbitt, cello]

January 2022: Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, UK

The live event took place as part of programming for York Concerts at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York on 28 January 2022. The two-hour evening concert was preceded by a daylong rehearsal during which Maier and Scheuregger worked collaboratively with the musicians to develop the evening’s performance. The final installation of the piece includes four musicians, four record players and records, and two projected films.

Running order:
Side A: live flute – cello on vinyl
Side A: live clarinet and violin – flute and cello on vinyl 
Side A: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello
Side A: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello on vinyl
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello
Side B: live flute and cello – clarinet and violin on vinyl
Side B: live clarinet – clarinet on vinyl

Performed by Dark Inventions:
Neil Smith – flute
Jonathan Sage – clarinets
Rebecca Smith – violin
Cecily Smith Nesbitt – cello

Online concert and interactive work

Spring 2021: Lockdown performance

During the UK's Covid-19 lockdowns, it became impossible to come together for performances. During this time, musicians were experimenting with online performance, with many realising that the time delay inherent in online communications made synchronous playing impossible. We reacted to the reality of this situation by embracing the asynchronous possibilities of distanced performance, asking each musician to film themselves performing their individual part whilst listening (via headphones) to their recording originally made for the vinyl records. These videos were taken as source material to create a full-length concert that mixes the recordings in a variety of different ways. 

The non-live aspect of this performance marks it out as quite different from the other versions of the work: whereas we found the musicians would work very closely even when performing non-synchronised music live, when working separately in their own homes this was not possible. However, moments of synchronicity are still found, and the performances are highly musical. The practices associated with the performance of Score: MA – which were developed over the prior performances and rehearsals – undoubtedly fed into the final results here. As a consequence, the constructed performances still retain a level of musicality and togetherness that might otherwise not have been present.

As well as presenting versions combining the “live” performers and audio from the vinyl records, we also took the opportunity to creatively re-mix the video material in a way we could not do with a live performance: this can be seen and heard in the final version of Side B performed in the video.2

Running order:
Side A: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello pre-recorded (from vinyl audio)
Side A: live flute and cello – clarinet and violin pre-recorded (from vinyl audio)
Side A: live violin and cello – violin and cello pre-recorded (from vinyl audio)
Side A: live clarinet – clarinet pre-recorded (from vinyl audio)
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello – flute, clarinet, violin and cello pre-recorded (from vinyl audio)
Side B: live flute – flute pre-recorded (from vinyl audio)
Side B: live clarinet and violin
Side B: live flute, clarinet, violin and cello [re-ordered performance]

Performed by Dark Inventions:
Neil Smith – flute
Jonathan Sage – clarinets
Rebecca Smith – violin
Cecily Smith Nesbitt – cello

Now: your performance

The vinyl audio from each side of Score: MA is presented below. In each version, you are able to manipulate the level of each instrument in order to hear how the parts interact.

Side A

00:00 / 00:00
A] Flute B] Clarinet C] Violin D] Cello

Side B

00:00 / 00:00
A] Flute B] Clarinet C] Violin D] Cello


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Campbell, Madeleine, and Ricarda Vidal, eds. 2019. Translating across sensory and linguistic borders: intersemiotic journeys between media. Palgrave MacMillan.

Castro-Magas, Diego. 2016. “Gesture, Mimesis and Image: Adorno, Benjamin and the Guitar Music of Brian Ferneyhough.” Tempo, 70 (278): 16–28.

Cecchi, Alessandro. 2017. “To imitate all that is hidden. The place of mimesis in Adorno’s theory of musical performance.” Aisthesis 1(1): 131–38.

Howell, Tim. 2013. 2013. “Brahms, Kierkegaard and Repetition: Three Intermezzi.” Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 10(1): 101–17.

Maier, Danica and Martin Scheuregger. Forthcoming. Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity. Nottingham: Beam Editions.

Mikuskovic, Slobodan. 2009. “Discourse in the Indefinite Person // 1987” In Documents of Contemporary Art: Appropriation, edited by David Evans, 142–48. London: Whitechapel Gallery Ventures Limited.

Paddison, Max. 2010. “Mimesis and the aesthetics of musical expression.” Music Analysis 29 (1–3): 126–48.

Small, Christopher. 1998. Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

Swinkin, Jeffrey. 2019. “Paratactic Performance.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 50 (1/2): 221–54.


15 February 2023
Review status
Double-blind peer review
Cite as
Maier, Danica and Scheuregger, Martin. 2023. "Score: Mechanical Asynchronicity." ECHO, a journal of music, thought and technology 4. doi: 10.47041/NRKT8828


  • 1 This is the case with any musical compositions, but heightened here – as in other aleatoric or open scores – as the scores themselves do not prescribe how the sounds fit together, or even exactly what the sounds are (in the case of Side A).
  • 2 In this version, the order of the recorded sections is reversed so that we first hear material from the final pages, and end with the original opening motifs.

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