Architectural Model Making for Another Timbre

Improvised electronic music, Bonnie Jones & Tim Albro, Elektronmusikstudion EMS, Stockholm, 2014. Commissioned by Another Timbre, artists were asked to realize composer Sarah Hughes’ score “Architectural Model Making.”

Read more information about Sarah’s score:

Interview and Notes about “Architectural Model Making”

At first glance Architectural Model Making appears to be fixed and certain. The blocks, numbering of the rows, and the triangular shape of the graphic suggests a linearity in the time and shape of the piece. It suggests that a realization of this score could be solid, certain, whole.

My first attempts to realize the piece as a single player immediately revealed an interesting and challenging aspect. Things that appear to be solid and certain within the score become immediately unstable when directly interpreted. By unstable, I mean the results felt forced, flat, and too constrained. I found myself trying and abandoning several approaches including reading the score from left to right with a decreasing density of the sound, adding/subtracting individual layers of sound over the 16 minutes, placing microphones in separate rooms and activating them along the 16 minute duration, various approaches to making sounds that rise/fall in dynamic. I couldn’t say exactly why I thought these early attempts were failures, only that I knew this wasn’t the music the score wanted to make with me.

I decided to extend the realization to include a collaborator, Florida-based musician Tim Albro. We met in Stockholm, Sweden at the EMS studios to discuss the score.

Tim: I definitely feel like the score is a guide for an improvisation

Bonnie: Yea, it’s interesting for me to struggle between these implied rules and the fact that once you dig into the score it feels completely open in all directions – more akin to improvising.

Tim: Maybe that’s the aspect of improvisation that’s being expressed here.

Bonnie: Knowledge – structures, shapes, patterns – that are developed and accumulated through playing music but that cannot be understood unless you forget what you know? A paradox.

We talked a lot about the history of experimental, electronic, and improvised music, about time and space; about the part of the score that notes “attention drawn to the existing environmental sounds” and the dynamic progression which always starts from a silence. We thought the score was always pointing towards a space that was not immediately evident; a physical, intellectual, and historical space. Arriving there was not a direct path but the score suggested a route would be possible through a process of thinking and playing.

Our first attempts kept moving towards that space by exploring the progression of a line. The music though, two of us moving stolidly in unison from point A to point B, didn’t have the intangible qualities of improvisation that speak to presence. Presence, which seems so important to this score, how can we as players act and be present within this whole space of 16 minutes?

We spoke again about the shape of the score:

Bonnie: The arrows going in both directions, up and down, seem to suggest that the starting point is open. Also, there’s a question of density that seems interesting…

Tim: What if we think of the triangular shape as a 3-dimensional object? As if we were wrapping the end to the beginning.

Bonnie: That would be an interesting way to think about space in this score. Also then it seems we would be free to move in either direction at any starting point.

Tim: So let’s read the horizontal as something simple – each line is a sound / sound gesture, #1 is F and #4 is p. We’ll start together but at a different ¼ section of the score.

Bonnie: Ok, so how about I start with the area that has 2 lines/8 squares and that will represent 2 sounds, one mp and one p.

Tim: Right, and I’ll start with 1 line of 4 squares with a p sound.

Bonnie: Then we move in opposite directions? I go to the right and you go to the left? This seems like might allow the vertical density of sounds to be a bit more open and more responsive to the overall shape of the piece. We could play the density that occurs when we both add and remove sounds. The addition and subtractions isn’t the same for us within each ¼ section of the piece.

Tim: Yeah, I think that resolves really nicely the tension between how we might play the space/plane while following the line.