Amanda Bayley, Michael Clarke

Interactive Software as a Means of Researching the Creative Process in Free Improvisation

This paper demonstrates how interactive software can provide new ways to analyse creative processes in improvised music. Using software to analyse sound and video recordings as texts, addresses the multi-dimensional, non-linear and social aspects of music produced in unconventional ways, for example, involving the intersection or blending of acoustic and electronic sounds.

Rather than using conventional methods such as annotating scores, the ERC-funded project, Interactive Research in Music as Sound (IRiMaS) uses software to engage with sound directly and to enable the linking of analytical outcomes to ethnographic investigations as well as creating dynamic ways of navigating the complex and rich libraries of resources resulting from such investigations. IRiMaS is developing a software toolbox designed to facilitate the musicologist’s analytical process and the manipulation of all kinds of materials (sound files, sketches, filmed conversations between co-composer/performers) across a range of repertoires. It also encourages non-linear exploration of the results, enabling external users to navigate flexibly through the musicological resources and findings.

This paper focuses on one strand of the project which is looking at free improvisation. Notation and fixed graphics are often too rigid and static to provide a full account of the subtleties and complex transformations of such music over time. Using examples from two improvisation case studies it will both discuss the creative process in these works and illustrate how such software can enrich research into the creative process of this repertoire. The case studies are: Matt Wright’s Trance Map (2011), co-composed with Evan Parker; and a project between Wright and Stefan Östersjö and Nguyễn Thanh Thủy of The Six Tones: Red, Yellow and Green Music (2018-2019).

Trance Map is produced from Parker (soprano saxophone) and Wright (live sampling, turntables) improvising around archived samples of found sounds on records from Parker’s collection: ‘the studio becomes the arena for an expanded method of improvisation where successive layers of sound making are built up, revised, scrapped, edited, revisited…’ (Parker, Wright, 2011). The software will provide a spatial map of samples, suggesting potential routes for non-linear navigation through the materials and will also facilitate navigable archives, giving new life to sources that would otherwise erode with time.

In Red, Yellow and Green Music Östersjö, Thanh Thủy and Wright create the first project that brings together ‘red’ music from North Vietnam (vinyl records in red sleeves), with ‘yellow’ music from South Vietnam, the ‘green’ music being fieldwork. Software will be used to analyse audio and video data from conversations, rehearsals and performances to study the development of ideas across time and between group members and to present the results of this research.

Both studies raise questions of material and cultural significance. An important aspect of the analytical approach being demonstrated is interactivity and ‘play’, the software inviting readers to participate actively in the analysis.


Bath Spa University, UK

Amanda Bayley is a Professor of Music at Bath Spa University where she leads an interdisciplinary research group on Intercultural Communication through Practice. She is editor of The Cambridge Companion to Barto#k (2001) and Recorded Music: Performance, Culture, and Technology (Cambridge University Press, 2010) for which she received the Ruth A. Solie Award from the American Musicological Society in 2011. Developing her research on composer-performer collaborations and rehearsal analysis, recent publications include ‘Cross- cultural Collaborations with the Kronos Quartet’ in Distributed Creativity: Collaboration and Improvisation in Contemporary Music (Oxford University Press, 2018), and ‘Developing Dialogues in Intercultural Music- making’ in the Routledge International Handbook of Intercultural Arts Research (2016). She is humanities editor for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies and a Co-Investigator on two ERC-funded projects: ‘Beyond East and West: developing and documenting an evolving transcultural musical practice’ (2015-2020), and ‘Interactive Research in Music as Sound’ (2017-2022).

University of Huddersfield, UK

Is a Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, UK where he leads the ‘IRiMaS’ project funded by an ERC advanced grant. He was previously Dean of the School of Music, Humanities and Media at Huddersfield and before that Dean of the University’s Graduate School. He is a composer, developer of software for music and a music analyst. Much of his work is in the field of computer music and many of his recent compositions feature multi- channel 3D spatialisation. In the analysis of electroacoustic music he has pioneered a new approach ‘interactive aural analysis’, using software to engage with the music and its underlying technology. He has won international prizes both for his compositions and his software, and worked at major studios abroad including: EMS, Stockholm, IRCAM, Paris, Simon Fraser, Vancouver and SARC, Belfast.