a manifesto for participatory music-making

We all whistle an ear worm and sing in the shower from time to time. And some of us have sang along to our favourite band playing live. And these musical acts are just as valid as the performance by the band themselves, or someone shredding a Bach violin solo at Carnegie Hall.

Participatory music-making is about celebrating the process of music rather than the product. 

It’s about musicking; the verb ‘to music’, and thinking about music not as a thing, but a thing we do.

In our society we give people who make music labels: musicians, DJs, producers, composers. But when you think about how and when these people get these labels, you realise that these titles are often self-given, and describe only a very particular thing that the person wants to be known for.

Usually, we use titles that represent the thing we are paid to do. But there are so many other things we do, so many other verbs that define us beyond the title attached to our job and source of income. 

Our education system breaks the world up into subjects, and teaches us that things you might like doing aren’t valid until you get a title for it.

making -> engineer
cooking -> chef
musicking -> musician
doodling -> graphic designer
cleaning -> cleaner.

The work of the professional is valued more than the amateur.

Because of this we grow up thinking that there are musicians and non-musicians. Which is nonsense. Everyone has the capacity ‘to music’. And there are people who music everyday who will claim, when asked, that they are not a musician. 

head here to read the manifesto for participatory music-making:

sketching with code

In order to create interactive music experiences that require minimal technical training or specialist music equipment, I have been creating sketches using p5.js, ‘a JavaScript library for creative coding, with a focus on making coding accessible and inclusive for artists’.

I have created a number of experiments starting with some very basic visuals and interactive mechanics.

The demo experiments with instructions on how to use them can be found here. These can also be duplicated to your own account and remixed to create your own working sketches.

These have then informed a few finished tools that are available on my website.

experiment 1 – drumset:

experiment 2 – xylophone:

experiment 3 – string wobble:

experiment 4 – mousebounce synth:

experiment 5 – bowie lip sync:

experiment 6 – synth:

experiment 7 – loop station:

experiment 8 – generative music video:

experiment 9 – interactive music video (not complete):

Meredith Monk ft. Squarespace

The idea for this desktop performance came from a challenge I had set myself earlier in that day: to log all of the ‘noise’ I heard that day; sound that I hadn’t intentionally created myself, in both physical and digital spaces.

I failed to complete this challenge as I got side-tracked and made this remix instead.

Sqaurespace ads had been popping up on Youtube on every video I tried to watch, which were mainly songs by Meredith Monk.

I decided to force the two to collaborate, embracing the disruptive nature of the advert that we try to skip as soon as possible, and using it to create an on the fly remix between Squarespace advert audio and songs from Meredith Monk’s album ‘Lady of Late’.

The process was more difficult than I thought it would be. Or at least, I spent more time experimenting and playing with the performability of the videos than I thought I would.

Try it yourself

Have a go at making your own with the two videos below.
Top Tip: find interesting points in the track to move back to to create repetition in the performance.

cyclobusking w/ Utililux

Cyclobusking is a collaborative music project ran by Utililux. To join in, you simply arrive at a rehearsal with a song, at any stage of completion, and an instrument.

In the spirit of making music as a social practice I have been keen to get involved in these rehearsals. I arrived to a rehearsal with a Casio synth and a two hand piano hook and baseline.

The song was then jammed out and recorded, later to be edited for documentation purposes into the following video.

car jam

This was a quick experiment I did during a car journey between Wrexham and Newport. The idea was to celebrate an act of musicking that many other people do: singing to the radio.

I have been trying to find ways to explore the idea of musicking (that music is not a thing but a thing you do), and produce things people can relate to, that may not normally be considered as performance or composing.

This is something people do everyday and chances are, many of them will not consider themselves as musical, and will deny any musical ability.

It is my aim with future projects/ideas to blur the barrier between musician and non-musicians so that acts such as singing to the radio can be more widely accepted as musicking.

‘reptilian parametric’

This is a new song I created using some samples I came across yesterday. In the spirit of making fast music quickly I chopped the samples up in Ableton and created this track on the train journey home to Newport from Cheltenham (1hr).

I aim to perform this track live as part of my Salon performance next week with some interactive elements for the audience.

‘tour in a day’

‘tour in a day’ is a project that highlights how, for many people, everyday listening experiences have become more passive in recent years due to the increasingly pervasive use of internet platforms and social networking sites that favour visual content over audio. (This is because you can consume lots of pictures and tweets in the same time as it would take to listen to a single piece of music all the way through.)

To highlight this, and to give people an interesting active listening experience, I booked a tour of micro performances that took place in a single day in a number of locations across Newport. The idea is that if people haven’t got the time to go to see live music or to mindfully listen to an album all the way through, I could go to them, and in the time of the average interaction on Instagram, they could conveniently watch some live music.

Performing in these everyday spaces where people are already, plays to the topical idea of convenience – if they can’t come to me, I’ll go to them. It’s only a short amount of time, again convenient, and roughly the amount of time people spend on Instagram in a single interaction. The ‘tour in a day’ idea reflects the notion that experiences are becoming condensed: read the summary of a book in 15 mins (blinkest), get your toothbrush delivered the same day you order it (Amazon), watch a whole TV boxset in a weekend (Netflix). In condensing a tour, something that usually happens over an extended period of time, into one day, and with these gigs being streamed online, it would also allow people to watch me, replacing one of their many smartphone interactions with a bitesize performance.

The performances are 1-2 minutes long and do not require any tech support; it is a completely mobile setup, in the effort to be as convenient as possible. 

These are the venues I performed at in Newport:

Hortons Cafe
Kettle Cafe (10-11)
Aladdin’s Cave (11:30)
St David’s Hospice
Tiny Rebel (send email)
Vacaras Fish and Chips
Hounds Barbers (text a time)
Holy Cheesus (before 12, after 2)
Rogue Fox
GCM Coffee (Cheltenham)
Salon, TC202 (University of Gloucestershire)

After the success of the ‘tour in a day’, and a proof of concept, I approached the organiser of Art on the Hill, Newport and asked if I could use the festival as a platform for another tour. I was given access to a variety of public and private ‘venues’ to perform in, which was documented well by a friend, resulting in a documentary style video (found here).