Can You Feel it? Dancing through Scores, Maps & Raves

Matt Fuller argues that language itself embodies a pull towards standardisation (2007), it is this act of standardisation that was manifested in the process of printing focused on by Marshall Mcluhan in his obituary of aural culture, The Gutenberg Galaxy: “The invention of typography confirmed and extended the new visual stress of applied knowledge, providing the first uniformly repeatable commodity, the first assembly-line, and the first mass- production” (McLuhan 1962:124). In the long history of music, staff notation has emerged as one of our standardised objects. In this narrative, the relationship between the production of sounds and the development of forms of notation has been far from linear and the production of notational forms by new technology doesn’t necessarily facilitate radical new musical approaches, in many cases it may just reassign old formations. Thor Magnusson, developer of the ixi lang programming environment, built on top of SuperCollider, offers a useful definition of musical-score that supports many the above, but also argues the case that software code is interchangeable with traditional staff notation:

This is enabled in the output of production as notation, as code that not only creates a product, but also enters into an active life beyond its initial implementation (Yuill 2010: 3).

Yuill’s argument unfortunately misfires when he begins to draw connections between live-coding and some of the so-called Free-Jazz movements of the United States in the 1960’s. Jazz is principally an action- based, aural art form and as such stands in opposition to notated traditions.

The eventual rejection by Cardew of the political pretentions of some of the musical projects he was involved in is very important. His disillusion demonstrates that just as his work exposed the inadequacies of traditionally accepted conventions of notation, it also managed to expose the inadequacies of notation as a tool for political change. The significance of Cardew’s legacy in regard to notation lies in that it illuminates the powerlessness of musical notation, and art and music in general to facilitate political change but the great potential that notation has to facilitate new, powerful, collaborative ways of working.


An interesting and significant recent development in the global live-coding scene is that of Algorave, named as such as it unashameably combines the musical aesthetics of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) with algorithmic computer composition. In Algorave the DJ is replaced by a live-coder, whose command line is commonly projected onto a screen as part of the performance. Here we find the same emphasis on musical quick thinking, audience response and virtuosity commonly found in Hip-Hop and Jazz. However, unlike with the common ventriloquial act experienced as part of most laptop based performances, the visual evidence of the performer’s virtuosity are as important as the sounds produced. There is considerable emphasis on the production of the score, which operates as an artifact of the musical event, reinforcing the skills of its producer. Algorave’s power therefore lies in its ability to affectively combine the sensibilities of western art music, which has an emphasis on the visual object in the form of a score, with vernacular popular musical traditions which emphasize the importance of the event. Algorave perhaps points the way to future possible scenes wits a fully automated DJ/Coder.

Delegating notation

In regarding current creative possibilities of coding environments such as SuperCollider, Max/MSP and Pure Data, Camacho-Hübner and Bruno Latour's contextualisation of our current relationship to maps is useful:

“While in pre-computer times (`BC', as geeks say) a map was a certain amount of folded paper you could look at from above or pinned down on some wall, today the experience we have of engaging with mapping is to log into some databank, which gathers information in real time through some interface (usually a computer). Printing has become optional. The paper map, which was so central to the mapping experience, is now just one of the many outputs that the digital banks may provide, something we can switch on or off for convenience just as we do with our printer but that no longer defines the whole enterprise.” 583 November V, Camacho-Hübner E. Latour B. 2010

Here we can see a parallel with our historical relationships to music notation and other associated musical compositional tasks. Just as GPS has taken on responsibilities relating to the production of maps and navigational processes, the software interfaces and environments discussed above have been “delegated” (Latour 1996), music-compositional tasks, such as drawing note stems on staves, splicing tape or patching synths together. Alves de Oliviera et al., writing on the history of maps, point out “the requirement to establish new routes led to the development of new techniques to establish one’s location” (Oliviera et al 2009:6). Not only does the development of new systems of notation reflect a thirst for the creation of new musical “routes” but also that new notational forms can re-determine our modes of perception through the use of technology.

In his work, Graham Harwood (2002), reconfigures William Blake’s London inside the programming language Perl. The piece relies on the potential for the code to calculate the lung capacity of London’s homeless children in 1792 and to transform this into a scream generated through the city’s outdoor public-address system. A realisation of the work would however depend on the existence of the fantastical code module; this module would set off the London public address system Vortex4 129 Db. The power of Harwood’s work lies in the improbability of it ever being fully heard, because although the work may never be realised, it can still be imagined. It is the existence of the immaterial score in the form of PerlScript that facilitates the conception of sounds in our imagination. Harwood’s work tells us that despite the standardisation of sound through measurements as identified by Kittler, notation, even in the form of computer code, can still produce musical space. The existence of this work in the form of a “score” that may never be played, as such, is what seems to give it greater agency, leading us to consider the materiality of sound itself and perhaps a return to the “musical space” of pre-nineteenth century.

Alves de Oliveira, Elvis. Boa Ventura, Oliveira. Alexandre, Walter, Fernando. (2009) ‘GPS as an interdisciplinary tool in telecommunications theory’, GNSS Laboratory, Sao Paulo: Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica.

Cardew, Cornelius. (1971), Treatise [Music Score], London: Peters Edition.

Fuller, Matt. (2007) Media Ecologies, MIT Press.

Fuller, Matt. (2007b) ‘art for animals’, available:, [12/11/2009].

Harwood, Graham. (1792-2002) LONDON.PL, PerlScript, London:

Kittler, Friedrich. (1986) Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, (Trans. Geoffrey Win), Stanford Press. Latour, Bruno. (1996) Aramis, Or the Love of Technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Magnusson, Thor. (2011) ‘The musical sore: The system and the interpreter’, ISEA 2011 (International Symposium for Electronic Arts) [online], available:, [19/01/12]

McLuhan, Marshall. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: the making of typographic man, London: Routledge.

November, V. Camacho-Hübner, E. Latour, B. (2010) ‘Entering a risky territory: space in the age of digital navigation’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, 28, pp. 581-599.

Yuill, Simon. (2010) ‘All problems of notation will be solved by the masses, ‘Mute: culture and politics after the net [online], available:, [10/08/2012].