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What I’m doing when I do what I can’t do

Conference paper
Authors Per Anders Nilsson
Published in Interference #5, Inter Art Center (IAC), Malmö 16-18/1 2018
Publication year 2018
Published at Academy of Music and Drama
Language en
Keywords Improvisation, game design, artistic tasks, music software
Subject categories Music


An aesthetical idea that has been used in various ways in post-World War II avant-gardist and experimental musical practices is to give performers insolvable or contradictory tasks. One of the first to employ this strategy was probably John Cage, who in turn was inspired by Zen-Buddhist practices, such as its short Koan forms, which most likely are contradictory with respect to content. Another example is the British composer Brian Ferneyhough who deliberately makes his scores partly unplayable, in order “to consistently overstep the bounds of the human possible”, and consequently mistakes and erroneous playing become an intrinsic part of the performance. Another example is Miles Davis who routinely gave his musicians contradictory instructions. One reason for these strategies is to force performers to think and reflect in order to make up their own conclusions, and another is to change playing intention, from expressing something to solve a problem. A software, a Max patch called Chasing Chords, is one attempt to apply this strategy. Chasing Chords is a simple musical game that is inspired by first shooter person video games. In essence, it asks a drummer and a piano player to guess and to play in sync with sounds randomly replayed by the software: a sampled bass drum hit and a piano chord respectively. The given task, to play simultaneously with the randomly-generated events, are impossible to solve, the intention to do so however, creates a certain attention at the participant players, which in turn creates a unique quasi periodic texture mediated by the randomly generated events. The emergent texture is, in essence, the identity of the piece. In the presentation a percussionist and a piano player perform live with the software.

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