ERC funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the DigiScore project, grant agreement No 101002086

Friday, November 26, 2021

Communication and dissemination

 In EU research funding jargon, a distinction is made between dissemination in the research community and communication with the public at large. In fact, it is not quite as straightforward as that, because dissemination should be publicly accessible and the communication plan inevitably requires academic involvement. But the main distinction is the target audience: in the case of dissemination it is primarily academic, whereas in communication it is primarily non-academic. Much depends on the media used, so dissemination will often involve conference papers and journal articles, whereas communication tends to involve websites and broadcasts.

Similar issues arise in 'Digital Syzygies'. Craig Vear has written that:

"The core purpose of a digital score is a technically mediated communication interface between the creativity of a composer, the creativity of a performer, and the creative mind of the listener. The core function of this communications interface is to represent the ideas that happen inside the mind of the musician using digital technology in such a way that they are capable of being translated into sound during performance through the technique and creative interpretation of another musician (human or machine)" (Digiscore - about this research). 

There are two components here, from a research perspective. On the one hand, the "communication interface" is really a dissemination mechanism, since it involves communications between peers (i.e. those taking part in the "musicking"). It is publicly accessible, but is not necessarily aimed at a general public. 

The same may sometimes be said of a performance, but unless we are only to engage in private performances there is always an element of public communication. It is highly likely that a general public will not care greatly about the intricate workings of the digital score and be much more interested in the resulting musical output.

This crystallises into a simple question: does a digital score need a performance?

Of course, the answer depends a lot on the nature of the digital score. In the case of Digital Syzygies we do not yet know what form the score, or scores, will take exactly. We have our digital environment in the Audio Orchestrator, but await the creative input of the participants to see how these interface may represent the workings of their minds in such a way as to produce sound.

We have received an instruction not to allow this to "drift into becoming an installation". How we interpret that instruction remains to be seen, but the notion of a time-limited event seems to be inherent to a non-installation. In traditional terms, we would call this a performance.

This discussion reminds of the music of Christian Wolff, which I have performed quite a few times in the past. The notational system is quite intricate and beautiful, resulting in a very rewarding experience for those taking part in a performance. However, audiences often feel excluded by the knowledge that the musicians are sharing something to which they do not have access. This is food for thought...

Sunday, November 7, 2021


An early decision was that all the participating artists will be d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing or neurodivergent. One of the 'Digital Scores' project's high level objectives is to find out:

"how new computational technologies, integrated as innovative music score systems, can lead to the communication of innovative music ideas, new music experiences, novel compositional approaches, new performance opportunities and music-making engagements, and broader accessibility for musicians of traditional and non-traditional backgrounds"

My own work with Aural Diversity and on Spectrum Sounds arises out of my hearing loss and autism, so this just seems natural. I am also interested to test the "double empathy" theory in a musical setting. In creating Spectrum Sounds, I found some examples of what I perceive to be particularly effective communication between autistic musicians and myself. I wonder whether that is just something that applies to me, or whether it could operate between other autistic musicians too.

All this led to a crucial decision about the identities of the participants, with which I have been grappling for the past month or so. The budget allows for three or possibly four others apart from myself. I'm not greatly involved in the music business, so I know relatively few people anyway, which narrows the field. However, making the right decision has been very difficult. Part of me wants to work with people I already know well, for security, but another part of me wants to break away from that and do new things. 

To resolve this, I made a spreadsheet of a 'pool' of potential participants, indicating their status as autistic or not, hard of hearing or not, what instruments they play, whether they are composers, and any other relevant notes about them. This is where the novelty of the digital score really began to hit home, because some would be relatively new to anything like this, while others would have more experience but might still have difficulties with the approach.

I initially drew up three scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: I create the score(s) and the musicians only perform.

In this scenario I would only use people who play instruments. Composers would be used only for their instrumental abilities.

  • Scenario 2: form a composer’s ensemble and have everybody compose scores

In this scenario, it’s a question of who would be the right composers and also who would play the music? If it is the composers playing their own music, then will that work well?

  • Scenario 3: work with one other composer and two musicians only

The advantage of this is that both composers would have some good specialist musicians to call upon.

In the end, I have settled on a different scenario again, and plan to invite two composer-instrumentalists and one instrumentalist-only. The desire to work again with people I already know has won out, because I need to have confidence that they will be able to adapt to the requirements of the project. These individuals may yet decline the invitation, so I am not naming names at this point, but I have fairly high confidence that they will participate. One is an autistic instrumentalist, another is not autistic but has severe-to-profound hearing loss and is a composer and instrumentalist, and the third has heightened listening differences, such as hyperacusis, due to autism.

Some of the others on my list were fascinating and terrific artists, but coming from a tradition of contemporary classical music that shows little evidence of engaging with the digital world. These artists write or perform "dots" scores in a way that is well established and traditional. I didn't want to exclude this group completely, so one of my chosen artists is a well known performer of that type. It will be interesting to see how that artist responds to the challenges. 

The other two can inhabit that world of contemporary classical music, but also work in a variety of other ways including improvisation and digital composition. They exist more on the margins of established musical society - to some extent they are outsiders, which I also consider myself. Finally, the sonic palette available across this quartet is satisfyingly broad, so the potential for many different forms of musical experience exists.

Audio Orchestrator

 The BBC Audio Orchestrator is freely available as part of the BBC R&D's Connected Studio Makerbox It was produced by the Audio Team to enable users to create immersive, interactive sound experiences. Users may connect their laptops, tablets and mobile devices to make any audio project into 360° spatial audio that envelops listeners in sound from above or behind, in order to tell a story in a new and unique way. It may be used at home or as part of an event. 

The software is designed to enable experimentation and creativity in the delivery of an audio experience. However, it is conceived principally as a novel dissemination platform. The idea of this project is to engage with the creative spirit of the software by identifying and exploring novel ways in which it may become a digital score. This may repurpose the built-in functionality of the Audio Orchestrator in a way that takes it beyond the re-purposing of work originally intended for more conventional linear broadcast.  

The project builds on my previous work with the Audio Orchestrator: Spectrum Sounds. That project was essentially a remixing of compositions originally created for conventional stereo listening. In Digital Syzygies the focus will be on composing for and in the Audio Orchestrator form the outset.

Digital Scores

A digital score is not a singular, identifiable creation, nor is there an exemplar for what one might be. Nor are they dominated by the single sense of sight (symbols on a page). In fact, computation and digital media facilitate the communication of ideas across a range of senses. These could be embedded as visual, acoustic, tactile, robotic, or sonic and involve an equally wide range of materials such as text, movement, sound, code, image, haptic objects, as well as the sense of time, presence, and co-operation. 

Digital scores communicate contemporary ideas between musicians that would be difficult (if not impossible) to achieve using existing score-systems. They do this by enabling such ideas to be contained and packaged in a combination of hardware and software and re-presented for live realization in performance. A defining feature is they benefit from the usability and functionality of dynamic technological environments at some level, and are responsive, evolving as the performance progresses and operating on a level of interactivity more in common with gaming and immersive new-media art. Crucially, their language of communication is not bound up with traditional training and constructs (although it could be), making them an ideal cross-/ multi-media platform for inclusive music-making.

Digital scores are as much about the creative potential of the medium as the technological solution and what these combined can deliver in no other way. Therefore, when a musician is interested in something that the technology is capable of creating through and with the technology - without which it couldn’t have happened - then we can call that a digital score. For example, a composer writing a composition in scoring software as they might have done if it was on paper, is not creating a digital score. This is a traditional score produced using digital technology. However, if the composer was to employ some of the functionality of the software, such as advanced technological features or use a plug-in that can distort or transform the notation, then suddenly this starts to become a digital score.

General Description

This blog will document Digital Syzygies, which is a Case Study of the Digital Scores research project, funded by the European Research Council. The project is led by Professor Craig Vear of De Montfort University, Leicester, in partnership with: Monash University, Melbourne, Australia; the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China; Concordia University, Montreal, Canada; and UC Santa Barbara,  California, USA.

The Digital Scores project began on October 1st, 2021 and will run for five years. Digital Syzygies is the first in what will become a series of five Case Studies, each lasting 6 months and each based in a different centre. The Case Studies involve a series of semi-structured monthly interviews with practitioners of digital scores, augmented by theories of musical representation of self and others in joint action (e.g. Keller et al 2016), social cognition of interaction through music performance (e.g. D'Ausilio et al 2015), Empathetic Involvement (e.g. Carr et al (2003)), Embodied Music Cognition (e.g. Leman 2008), and Player Involvement (e.g. Calleja (2011)). The primary theoretical source is the book Digital Scores by Craig Vear (Routledge 2019).

Digital Syzygies will run from February to August 2022 and will be led by Professor Andrew Hugill. It will address the central challenge: how may digital scores stimulate new relationships between musicians and open up the possibilities of novel creative experiences? Hugill will work with three other musicians to create several new digital scores and associated performances. The project will use and adapt a new computational technology - the Audio Orchestrator - created by BBC R&D.

A primary aim of the project will be to focus on the accessibility of digital scores for d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing and neurodivergent artists and musicians. The digital scores will be created by co-located performers linked together in a network and will focus on solutions for organising, sharing and distributing compositional materials for the enhancement of collective musicking. An additional aspect to the project is the extent to which double empathy may be observed in the relationships between autistic participants and those between autistic and non-autistic participants (see Milton 2012).

The scores will be created and performed using an iterative loop process of design, development, testing, and refining. This will be supported by a critical reflection process comprising discussions and interviews addressing questions such as what does it feel like to perform with digital scores streamed across a network of co-located performers? and what are the differences in musicianship when networked digital scores are 1) autonomous, e.g. the digital score is generated at each site and its operation is independent of the others; 2) shared, e.g. each site shares the same score and this might be distributed across the network from a common source; or 3) hive, e.g. each site creates its own interpretation of the digital score and shares its interpretative parameters amongst the network of machines? The finished digital scores will be working prototypes rather than fully finished commercial compositions. However, they will be performed to a 'live' audience where appropriate.


Calleja, G., (2011). In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation, USA, MIT Press Carr et al (2004)
Carr L, Iacoboni M, Dubeau MC, Mazziotta JC, Lenzi GL 'Neural mechanisms of empathy in humans: a relay from neural systems for imitation to limbic areas'. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Apr 29; 100(9):5497-502.
D'Ausilio, A., Novembre, G., Fadiga, L., & Keller, P. E. (2015). What can music tell us about social interaction? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(3), 111-114
Keller, P. E., Novembre, G., & Loehr, J. (2016). 'Musical ensemble performance: Representing self, other and joint action outcomes'. In S. S. Obhi & E. S. Cross (Eds.), Shared representations: Sensorimotor foundations of social life (pp. 280–310). Cambridge University Press.
Leman, M. (2008). Embodied music cognition and mediation technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Milton, D. (2012) On the Ontological Status of Autism: the ‘Double Empathy Problem’. Disability and Society.  Vol. 27(6): 883-887.
Vear, C. (2019) Digital Scores: Creativity, Musicianship and Innovation. New York: Routledge

Final Session

The final session completed successfully with all the musicians agreeing that the results are fascinating and musically powerful. To summari...