Most online musical activities are unsatisfying, especially compared to playing real music with real people in the real world. The surge of quarantine induced online music activities mostly just reinforce how valuable physical presence is for musical activities.

Are there any aspects of making music together online that that are simply more powerful than their in-person counterparts? What kinds of music and music activities can we do online that are not even be possible in the real world? I think the best way to answer these questions is to experiment.

Rewritten is one experiment that grew out of asking: What can an online music score do that a conventional music score cannot? Usually, I do these kinds of experiments by writing software – but this piece is an exception: no code was written for the piece. It uses a musical score written in a Google Doc. The score invites the performers to re-write the score during the performance.

During the performance, a “conductor” is selected from among the performers. The conductor leads the performance by selecting and underlining text instructions in the google doc. Some instructions are conventional musical steps like “sing a non-pitched sound” or “play a third in G Major”. Other steps instruct a participant to “modify or add” an instruction to the score itself.

I wrote this experimental composition for the Spring 2020 class, Sound: Past & Future at the Media Lab. Rewritten draws on ideas like open form, musical meditations, and process music, used by 20th century composers like Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, and Earl Brown. Some excerpts from our class performance are below:

The piece generates some great timbres, and it was really fun to play, even if it’s probably not the way that online music will transcend the medium.

I want to thank Tod Machover and the Opera of the Future, for encouraging and guiding the class, and for performing in the piece. In particular, I would recognize Aarón Montoya-Moraga, who was was the conductor for our class performance. While working on this piece, Aarón helped me to define and commit to the concept, and also helped me edit the score, drawing on their own surprisingly relevant experience from punk music.