Commissioned by Thomas R. Moore
Co-produced by MATRIX [Centre for New Music] & the RCA Guitar Ensemble
Premiered on 3 May 2021 at the ARIA Seminar: Framing the Normal
six to five employs marching strategies in order to perform audio mixing live, using human performers and their bodies-in-space as a substitute for the digital and technological tools typically deployed to create real-time stereo or surround sound. Like the entrancing patterns of marathon runners’ legs and parading bands, it clearly draws on an American style of minimalism with glacial movements in sonic material mixed in with sudden shifts in visual and audible patterns.
20 guitarists take to the floor, moving sometimes in unison and creating formations of circles, lines and squares. They are directed by a conductor who sometimes follows and sometimes chases them about the space. Marino’s playbook, in short, does all of us faders make.
The physicality of a conductor placed between the audience and a group of musicians is inescapable. The person is present, moving, and carries a boatload of traditional expectations for those watching – both on stage and in the audience. I have discovered in my research and artistic practice that this has been a great source of inspiration and frustration for many composers and artistic directors. Often this statement, made by my friends and colleagues, Stefan Prins and Pieter Matthynssens comes to mind when preparing new scores, ‘[The conductor] is a visual element. So if you program concerts in which you think the visual element is really important, then putting it simply, with a conductor, you have a dancer on stage’.  Driving the point home, percussionist and conductor Tom De Cock said:
Conducting is like percussion. Every small thing that you do, everybody sees it. If I put a stick down in the wrong way, everybody sees it. It can be clumsy. This is something I took with me to conducting. Every small detail that I do or give, it also has to be beautiful. Perhaps not beautiful, it can be awkward, as well. But it must be thought through and have intention – Like a dancer. 
So when it came time to commissioning a work to further develop and instrumentalize the role of the conductor, who better than Jessie Marino? Her whole practice is centered on ‘scaling musicians (…) making the performers as physically similar to one another as possible’ as a way to ‘[erase] certain kinds of visual information from an audience’s standpoint’. I wanted to explore ways to exploit the physicality of the conductor and Marino’s composition style is well suited to the task. Her works help an audience to zero in on ‘the little things that are not erase-able in a human person’. She has demonstrated in her series of table pieces that an audience ‘can actually start to see, as if under a microscope, the tiny little differences’ in her performers on stage. Her method has often been to uniformize the musicians as a ‘way of scaling that makes very small things much bigger than they normally would be’. 
When we sat down to talk about the commission, Marino and I originally looked for ways that we could ‘aggressively re-contextualizes the act of listening to explore new places where sounds and bodies meet’.  She admitted to never having written for a conducted ensemble, but was eager to tackle the form, deploying ‘the body of the conductor, employing choreographed gestures, emotive body language, and vocalization to show both the performers and the audience new ways of listening and responding to one another’. 
I personally was keen to tackle role-specific questions during the process. For the students, I was also a teacher. But was I also a performer, a facilitator, or a combination of the two? By commissioning Marino, I also was looking to put into practice the theoretical knowledge I had gained through research into artistic practice, and especially aimed to gain a better practical grip on the role I could play in bringing a new integrated piece to the stage.
Toward the end of the Cold War several NATO nations set up the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) to train their military pilots to work cooperatively towards common goals. The school was set up to meet ‘the need to generate leaders for challenging multinational air defense and air strike missions’.  Those leaders were trained to be rapidly deployed by NATO joint command, should the need arise to defend themselves against a possible attack from the USSR. The TLP’s mission is to train officers from different nations to step in and perform a leadership role for a short, well-defined, multi-national operation. While Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri may not have had military stratagems in mind while writing their manifesto Assembly, they did very similarly and succinctly describe that same specific motivation, calling for leaders who could be used as ‘a weapon to wield and dispose of as the situation dictates'.  This creates a colorful allusion: only under the most dire circumstances and should the need arise, the pilots would be brought forth from their host nations to create a kind of multi-faceted shield protecting the allied nations from the red violence. Those leaders would be tactically deployed to operate according to the strategy of the moment and then, having subdued the beast and fulfilled their mission, ‘discarded’ and sent back to their normal duties.
According to the website dummies.com, strategy is the ‘what’ and tactics is the ‘who and how’.  In the context of business models, Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Joan Enric Ricart define tactics as the ‘residual choices open to a firm by virtue’ of its strategic choices.  If we apply this to our pilots above, those leaders would then represent the ‘residual’ tools left to NATO after having chosen to employ a particular model, a joint allied defense program.
Though not necessarily a weapon ‘to wield and discard’, conductors are also employed as tactical leaders, being deployed ‘à la carte’ for specific pieces and programs based on strategic and (sometimes) specified motivations of the utilizing actor, be that as artistic director and/or composer.  For example, Alexander Khubeev, to tell the story of the rise and fall of a dictator in Ghost of Dystopia, required a bound conductor; his strategy was the story, and his residual weapon of choice, an instrumentalized conductor. 
In the early fall of 2019, I commissioned Jessie Marino to compose a piece for an (as yet) unspecified ensemble and with a special role for the conductor. Based on the definitions above, the details of the commission represent our strategy. So what are the ‘residual choices’ for the special conductor’s role I, as the author of the strategy, left to Marino? These I did my utmost to leave as open as possible, meaning that I did not overtly define any specific role I wanted the conductor to play. I did, however, share my research (both reading material and my published articles) in a hope to nudge her to explore the subject somewhat further and continue to develop the instrumentalization of the conductor. Throughout this paper I will chronologically describe the creation process of what would become the composition six to five. I will attempt to ascertain the manner in which, if at all, Marino deployed me, the conductor to meet her artistic goals in each step, testing if they rise to the level of instrumentalization. And finally, I will determine whether the conductor (my role) in each phase represents a tactical leader.
download paper via: Role Playing in six to five
performed by the RCA Guitar Ensemble on the 3 May 2021 within the academic conference Framing the Normal