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A growing body of contemporary composers produces audio scores where sound is an integral mediator/translator between the artist and performer. While many musical scores deploy some form of symbolic visual representation of sound, audio scores represent information and instructions in the same domain as the performed product.

This article aims to survey the affordances and limitations of audio scores which employ recordings as their primary means of communication. Within this field, we identify two primary sub-categories associated with the temporal relations between performer and audio score: reactive and anticipatory.

Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies 1-3 is posited as an example of a reactive audio score. Each performer listens to a different recording on headphones and alternates between vocally imitating and verbally describing what they hear. The performers are asked not to familiarize themselves with their audio scores beforehand; rather, they spontaneously react to the often unpredictable changes and transformations between sounds, lending an improvisatory quality to the performers’ efforts.

A representative example of an anticipatory audio score is Carola Bauckholt’s Zugvögel. In contrast to Laughter Studies, the players’ interactions with the audio score occurs well before the performance. Each player learns to imitate recordings of bird song as closely as possible. Through this process, the recordings provide a multidimensional account of the source material with a specificity that a conventional symbolic representation could only approximate.

These primary sub-categories may be combined and hybridized to varying degrees.

Finally, we propose some further avenues of exploration for creative practice.


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  • Event date
    • 10 November 2018

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • 'Presenter Biography:


      Charlie Sdraulig composes social interactions in music at perceptual and physical thresholds. In addition, he researches timbre perception and contingency in musical contexts. He is a Doctoral Candidate in Composition at Stanford University.

      Chris Lortie is a Doctoral Student in Musical Composition at Stanford University. His compositions regularly involve the use of live electronics as a means of augmenting and disrupting both sonic and visual cues; as such, Chris’s music often explores the subjects of trickery, deceit, and illusion in the electroacoustic domain.