Scott Mc Laughlin

‘Enrolling Forces’: Non-Hylomorphic strategies for Composition

This paper proposes non-hylomorphism as a category and strategy for the creative process in composition; as an entwining of human and material agencies, a multiple of stratified but porous processes where individuated strands spin-off a central thread to instantiate specific output ‘pieces’. The paper examines two case studies which enact strategies that can be considered analytically as ‘passive’ and ‘active’ respectively, against the ground of a dynamic central thread of related ideas. The case studies are supported by short exposition on non-hylomorphic theory centred on the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold, and drawing on Karen Barad’s ‘agential realism’ and the ‘material agency’ of Andrew Pickering.

Hylomorphism is discussed by anthropologist Tim Ingold as a creative model that distances minds and makers from the processual material world: ‘in the making of artefacts, practitioners impose forms internal to the mind upon a material world [that is] ‘out there’” (Ingold 2013, p. 21). While this approach is perfectly valid for some, there is also the option of non-hylomorphic strategies which take the materiality of the object (and subject) as the primary interface and driver. In this authors’ case at least, this leads to a creative process where the same process is re-iterated over a changing material environment, often with a recursive feedback element where the changing interaction with the environment (what Pickering describes as an ‘open-ended modelling process […] reciprocally and emergently defining and sustaining each other’ (Pickering 1995, p. 17–19)

Case study: [REDACTED] outlines a passive strategy where consequences of material agency are captured as electronic prolongations: contingent harmonies frozen in time. Following Bruno Latour’s entreaty that in order to ‘enrol a force we must conspire with it’ (1988, p. 161), this piece is one instantiation of a strand of pieces over several years that explore (a) the material indeterminacy of complex inharmonic sound-sources via (b) performative game-strategies involving listening and responding.

Case study: [REDACTED] uses a more active strategy wherein the emergent material- indeterminacies control the direction of the unfolding performance. Any given cymbal, when bowed, will produce a range of behaviours across a continuum of noise/multiphonic/stable-pitch-percept/pure-harmonic. Cymbals are extremely rich sources with many overlapping vibrational-modes that can be accessed by the bow, and the bow’s dynamic interaction with the object allows for great variety in nuance of energy-input. The piece enacts Pickering’s system that recursively and emergently defines itself by setting up an environment of material-indeterminacy where players explore the cymbal using the bow. A prose score sets out strategies where players take on different roles either to (a) sustain any repeating tone (‘negotiating’ (Pickering 1995) the material agency of the cymbal to repeat the same pitch), or (b) attempt to match the pitch of the other cymbal by exploring and revealing the different modalities of this cymbal.



Ingold, Tim, (2013) Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture (London: Routledge)

Latour, Bruno, (1988) The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press)

Pickering, Andrew, (1995) The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science (London: University of Chicago Press)


University of Leeds, UK

Is a composer and improviser (cello, live electronics) based in Huddersfield, UK. He studied BMus (Uni of Ulster), MA/PhD Uni of Huddersfield (PA Tremblay, C Fox, J Saunders, B Harrison). Scott lectures in composition and music technology at the University of Leeds;he leads the MMus Critical and Experimental Composition, and co-directs CePRA. His research focuses on contingency and indeterminacy in the physical materiality of sound and performance, combining approaches from spectral music and experimental music with physics and dynamical systems theory to explore material agency and recursive feedback systems in constraint-based open-form composition.