GruntCount is an improvised piece for computer and solo instrument.
Whilst GruntCount is described as an improvisation, it is also to some extent a repeatable and rehears-able piece of music. Notation instructions have been replaced by a pre-defined structure that is learned as the player rehearses. However, the duration of the piece and the sounds the instrumentalist will play are largely open and versions of the piece could be configured to last anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes depending upon the needs of the performance. Such extremes are possible (and permissible), because this is part of the fundamental concept of the piece. Not only should this piece of computer music be accessible and reliable enough for players to be able to rehearse alone, the player also gets autonomy to change the scope and scale of the piece by changing the number of ”grunts” to count before the piece finishes. A player who has rehearsed the piece several times will develop an understanding of how the improvisatory tension develops and will give the player confidence to find musical solutions to some of the unexpected events the computer may throw up as the piece runs.
The computer responds to the player by being pushed through a map of interleaved presets with each sound (or grunt) the player makes, no sophisticated score following algorithms are used. The computer part responds to the live input if sound input crosses a threshold specified in advance. Close integration between player and electronics is achieved by connecting the threshold crossing event with a range of interconnected parameter changes that are nested within one another. Unless the settings are configured to remain the same when the threshold is crossed, any sonic event will result in a change across multiple parameters leading to a discernible sonic result. The responsiveness of such a system offers the player chance to respond back. To add to the excitement, a few parameter changes are not absolute, rather a change may simply offer permission for a meso-sonic sound element to be randomised.
GruntCount was designed so that the computer plays its part unassisted. The computer will ideally be present on stage and the player will start the piece off who then must leave the computer alone until the preset map is complete. The computer will dutifully stop making sound once the journey through the preset map is complete. Because there is no score, there are no limits as to how much input is enough to push the piece along and this leaves enough of a certainty vacuum to justify its status as an improvisation.
The flute version was developed in June 2011 with the extraordinary improvising flautist Anne La Berge. Her visit was supported by the University of Edinburgh, School of Arts Culture and Environment research fund. I learned many things from this collaboration and used this time to refine the approach that might be used to make future versions. A piano version has been devised with pianist Karin Schistek (September 2011), a bass clarinet version with Pete Furniss will be made in March 2012 and I’m hoping to squeeze in a trombone edition for a concert with John Kenny in November 2011.