Bastard Assignments is a group of four composer-performers: Tim Cape, Edward Henderson, Caitlin Rowley and myself. We are a continually morphing group that commissions other artists and composes for and with each other. We perform at live events like concerts and festivals in the UK and Europe. We have a shared creative practice that we began developing in 2017 and have been working together since we met in 2013 at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. Our members are British, Irish and Australian and born between the years 1973 and 1991. 


“FEED” (2019)

What I enjoy, and what the group (Bastard Assignments) allows me to do, is to be the ‘project lead’ for a piece that we are making together - ‘project lead’ is a term that we use for the main composer - and to also be a performer within that piece. I can step out, watch and comment, effectively behaving as director or movement director, then slip back into the group to continue the rehearsal and subsequent performance. This is an implicit boundary, useful for clarifying everyone’s position within a process; there are no limitations on suggestions and ideas but when the rehearsal is over, the final call lies with the project lead. This is a concrete example of the composer-performer practice in action; within the same rehearsal session, I move along the continuum freely and regularly. 

“FEED” is a fifteen-minute live stage work, with prerecorded audio, video projection, and four performers, that we developed at Snape Maltings in UK. The performers do, by and large, silent movements in sync with particular sounds. We use no instruments, set or objects except for one instance where we use torches. We are lit only by a video file projected onto the stage. The final order of the thirteen scenes became a decision of the group. 

The “Muybridge” scene was devised by the group using a method I call ‘framing’, which is not to be confused with frames as used by Auslander in previous chapters. There is no score for “FEED” and never was, commensurate to my work with Bastard Assignments. The nearest to a score we get are these lists of words (Feb 28, 2019) that correspond to scenes and actions and are nothing more than aides-memoires; we do this piece from memory because music stands would simply be impractical and we are representing characters at times.

To make this scene, I came to the workshop with the audio and video layers already made. I knew the effect that I wanted, which can be seen in the final outcome, and was unsure that my method was going to produce the result. I imagined one movement, readable as something real like swinging a Golf club, to be divided into four freezeframes that each of us would embody. 

I knew that there were going to be many freezeframes, or images - as shown in the diagram, there are twenty different images (Pint, Wolf, Gun) each with four corresponding positions - and I thought it would be quicker to build this as a group. This was true not only because I had three extra minds working on the problem but because it turned out that my colleagues were solving the problem using their own creativity rather than simply imitating and learning a position assigned to them by me. If we think about it, these are two completely different tasks to an ostensibly similar end: one is creation and imagining and the other is copying. Because they have imagined and then embodied their mental image of their particular stage of ‘smashing an electric guitar’ for example, it took less time and energy for them to memorise, making the process faster. The task was for my colleagues to effectively create their own part within very clear parameters and limits to achieve a clear goal, in that there was a section of a piece to devise, with a slightly unknown outcome. I call this method, which has emerged from this research period, ‘framing’ or ‘creating a frame’. 

The experience of making the “Muybridge” scene was an example of Sawyer’s collaborative emergence. The activity had rules, an unknown outcome and had no script aside from the premade audio and video part. Each person’s action depended on the one preceding in that each action began with Caitlin and we each would have to devise an action that logically follows from the person before us. In this way it made sense for Ed, the tallest member, to be last; his size would often make his actions seem the most extreme while for Caitlin, the opposite was true. The interactional effect of the four freezeframes was integral to the success for the portrayal of the intended image; each part of the image reinforced the previous one and helped fortify the overall meaning. Each of us contributed equally, directly because we each had to devise our own part. Our parts were wholly our own; Tim made the movements that constituted his part and so it was his part. Each part was always a quarter of a whole image and just as important as every other; they were contingent.

This was an experiment to see whether this actual process would work at all. Although I was confident that the scope of the task was appropriate for my colleagues to undertake, and I was unmotivated to create and teach around eighty freezeframes by myself - the group would have found this boring too - I was not certain that this would work. I knew that the whole piece could not be created in this way. Richard Sennett’s idea of the “flagged passage” applies here if we consider this instance as not just a section of one piece that we are devising and rehearsing but as an instance within the practice of the group (Sennett, 2021, p.17). Sennett’s term is typically used to describe a kind of ritual as undertaken by an ensemble where a moment within a score is used, or flagged, as an arena to not only discuss a technicality of performance or interpretation but it also acts as a moment of discovery for the group: “Writing on the rehearsal practices of a string quartet, Sennett suggests that rituals such as the ‘flagged passage’ enable a dialogic exchange between players that not only establishes the performance issues in relation to the expressive gesture under discussion, but also ‘conveys to other musicians what kind of player you are, how you tend to bow phrases or shape dynamics: colleagues will intuit what you are likely to do in other, un-flagged passages, which can remain unrehearsed”. (Sennett, 2021, p.17). Again, I use this idea to illustrate an instance within the entire practice of the group, not just within one workshop for a single piece of mine. It is a collaborative composition toe-dipping, built on a history of experiments that have incrementally, through successes and failures, invited the group into compositional thinking.

From the experience of making “FEED”, I was able to isolate several advantages to this method of devised work over, say, a more didactic composer and performer relationship: 

1.     Memorisation came more easily when the material originated from the person who needed to memorise it.

2.      Feedback could be offered and implemented immediately.

3.   Efficiency and speed increased because there were more people making the material and for the reasons above.   

4.   The resulting images looked better because that body had created it—better meaning that it looked like the movement had originated from that body, that it was natural to that body—and so that body was better at it.

In his article “Group Flow and Group Genius” Keith Sawyer outlines his “Ten Conditions for Group Flow.” He is interested in whether a flow state is achievable as a group and how to achieve it. Sawyer summarises flow, quoting Csikszentmihalyi: “…extremely creative people are at their peak when they experience ‘a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future.’” (Sawyer, 2015, p.32)

Sawyer continues: “Flow researchers have spent a lot of time studying the individual creator, but people don’t play pickup ball because of individual flow—dribbling the basketball or honing their shots—after all, you could do those things by yourself. They play because they love the high that comes from group genius. In fact, Csikszentmihalyi found that the most common place people experienced flow was in conversation with others…Conversation leads to flow, and flow leads to creativity. What happens, I wondered, when flow emerges in a group activity?” (Sawner, 2015, p.42)

Csikszentmihalyi’s remark concerning experiencing flow in conversation before producing creativity is significant for me and perhaps offers a reason for my preference of orally transmitted information with my collaborators over using a written score, for example. This emphasis on conversation accounts for my observation around working with Oli Dawe, that follows later in this chapter, who prefers to spend some time in conversation, getting everyone involved on the same page and establishing a shared vision.

This state of group flow is something that I am often aspiring to with Bastard Assignments and my strategies are often on course for producing such a result. Sawyer writes that “Group flow increases when people feel autonomy, competence, and relatedness.” (2015, p.38). He also remarks on the fertile paradox between having a goal and total freedom, similarly having control and flexibility. The task I set for the group was a problem-solving creative task. And for Sawyer, the group members “are more likely to be in flow while working toward such a goal if they’ve worked together before, if they share a lot of the same knowledge and assumptions, and when they have a compelling vision and a shared mission” (Sawyer, 2015, p.38).


From Sawyer’s list, point seven stands out: familiarity. Sawyer means here that there is a shared language and understanding of rules between participants of an activity and usually a shared history: a tacit knowledge, be it basketball, driving, sex or playing music together. But would familiarity also describe the relatedness of the group and each individual’s understanding of another individual’s strengths in an activity? The success of the task I set the group was because of my familiarity with them. By inviting my colleagues to devise their own parts for themselves within clear parameters, I demonstrated an understanding of them and their strengths and of how I could use their creativity to create simple choreography that looked good. I got the group into flow and was able to observe the advantages to working in such a way.

Familiarity also appears in step two of Creamer’s (2004) four part sequence of collaborative steps; here it describes the process of engagement and the learning about partners’ expertise. With a continued relationship, familiarity with partners can increase. The other steps include dialogue, collective consciousness and engaging in different perspectives (Roe, 2007, p.30). Familiarity then should be understood as an important part of relatedness.

For Alan Taylor (2016), using his typology, the process for the “Muybridge” scene was made up of collaborative and consultative working. This is because at times we evaluated ideas as a group but ultimately the evaluation fell to me. Hayden and Windsor’s typology is harder to apply to “FEED” owing to their focus on the score, however our sessions spent creating the piece could be termed largely “interactive” and sometimes “collaborative”. For Torrence this section put my colleagues activities towards the categorisation of devisers. The following statement by Taylor rings true for my experience and even infers the continuum nature of the composer-performer practice: “Artists certainly switch from working in one way to another during a project, and often do so, but I suggest that it is inescapable that ideas are imagined by one person or emerge from interaction between them, and that the evaluation of ideas is shared or it is not.” (Taylor, 2016, p.5).

The “Muybridge” scene is one example of framing and allowing the group to devise their parts; other sections were more directive. The contrasting nature of the actions in the scene, from sweet and funny to violent, was an idea that emerged from this interaction that I would not have had on my own. On a larger scale, I invited the group to decide upon the overall structure of the piece.


The following examples from November 29th 2019 in London show my colleagues assuming the role of movement director; we comment on each other’s movement.

“PrEP” (and “Comedown”) 2018-2019

Prior to and concurrent with “FEED”, we in Bastard Assignments were working on an instrumental piece called “PrEP” for which I was project lead. 

In late 2018, we recorded an album at Snape Maltings, UK where we had a residency. During this period of five days, we recorded material for about nine different pieces, of varying numbers of tracks, using different constellations of the group playing a variety of instruments. Not everything that we recorded was used on the album. As well as loose ideas for tracks, I brought objects and instruments.

We have spent a lot of time working on “PrEP”, and just like “FEED”, this piece received several iterations and performances. “PrEP” became a live piece in 2019 when Snape Maltings wished to commission us to create something as a group for the Aldeburgh Festival of that year. I will talk about the genesis of both pieces and “PrEP’s” development into a live improvised piece.

I group both “PrEP” and “Comedown” together because they clearly demonstrate the group’s post-instrumental approach to working. It is a meta-instrument, a practice built from many different experiences of using objects and instruments that each contribute to the broader practice. Learning these instruments however, and the particular ways we found to play them that became integral for the piece, were specific to this piece. Håkon Stene articulates this well: “A traditional technique does not necessarily aid one’s ability to play these pieces. The technical skills required by such compositions cannot be reduced to common, general exercises practiced separately in order to support one’s fundamental ability to perform them. Their diversity and contextual specificity elude a reliable overall definition and application. Hence, we arrive at the concept of work-specific technical practices that I propose as one of the key concepts defining post-instrumental practices.” (Stene, 2016, p.39).


Shown here are the brass instruments played by Tim, Ed and myself; these are what I brought to the sessions.


It should be observed that I prepared these instruments by deciding that we would play them using mouthpieces and reeds borrowed from clarinets and saxophones. At this time, Caitlin was already interested in exploring the viola, which she had begun to learn as a child before pursuing the flute. This created an equal footing in that we were all exploring our instruments. Sawyer (2015) notes that group flow is more likely when all members of the group have comparable skill levels. The brass instruments are extremely limited and unstable in nature and really required each of us to create our own synergy with them; to learn to play them actually. In doing this, we discovered the material that was available to us. Pitch was extremely limited whilst volume was quite dynamic. Articulation was quite difficult and it took practice to achieve control.

This was all within the capability of the group because we are all instrumentalists, used to the idea of practice, and we are all wind-players. It was sufficiently challenging for us such that the sessions were interesting and we were frequently in Flow. It is through my familiarity and intimacy with Ed, Tim and Caitlin that I was able to ‘pitch’ the difficulty of the task appropriately for what was required.

In 2019 we began to practice the piece and treat it as a rehearsed improvisation. On a train-journey back from Manchester on 13th April 2019, Ed and I also came up with the idea of adding a backing track that would be simple and create a layer of sound that the live improvisation would sit on top of. 


At Snape Maltings on May 13th 2019 we created a diagram of the shape of the work amounting to some kind of score. Interestingly, it was Ed who initiated this. But it turned out to be a method for visualising what we were discussing. We concluded that the changes in the backing track would guide us, behaving as a system of cues. This is one example of ‘talking in text’. To quote Heather Roche (2011):  “‘Talking in text,’ in terms of the composer-performer relationship, refers to the way that the composer and performer speak using cues taken from their own training in music, from their professional experience, from the development of their own personal relationship and from their understanding of the other’s work.” (Roche, p.13). Roche is quoting from Scholar Mary Alm’s “The role of talk in the writing process”. Talking in text is evidence that participants are engaging in a synergistic relationship (Alm, 1997, p.132). Applied to our situation, where the composer and performer binary is less applicable, score-writing demonstrates an aspect of our training that we all have in common. In this example the act of score-writing was not led by one person but shared between us. What might be clear from this example is our tendency towards a library of shared jokes as well as preexisting terms like ‘valley structure’ that pushes this towards John-steiner's ‘family collaboration’.

“Comedown” (2018)

For one session in our recording week in late 2018, we experimented with some small glass bottles that were leftover from my sister’s wedding. We played them with soft percussion sticks. We had no clear goal for the bottles except the idea of ‘the album’ and this decision to pick them up and improvise emerged. These points put us into flow.  Because we were in flow, my memory is unclear around the details of what happened. We established a unison texture that was very striking because we discovered, as a group, that we could control the pitch of the glass. Although no one was really in charge of this, least of all me, I would credit Edward with this discovery if I had to credit someone. It should be said that my intention for the bottles was much less clear than with the brass instruments for “PrEP” simply because the brass instruments are already  instruments and the bottles are not; it was not immediately obvious how to play the bottles. We recorded a couple of takes of a repetitive phrase, as demonstrated by Tim in the video, without knowing what to do with it. It happened so quickly and naturally that I did not think to document this conversation. The video below demonstrates the gesture.


The composition happened in the editing and it was largely left to me but I share the numerous edits and suggestions in the form of email conversations with the group below. The group offers bold and significant contributions that pertain to the track as a whole, rather than small details. At some point in this to-and-fro, my feeling was that my colleagues knew more about where and how I should steer this piece for the album than I did. In this way, this collaboration was ‘integrative’.

With “Comedown” and “PreP”, I was asking what will the outcome be if I avoid composing anything? Simply, someone ends up proposing something in the space that emerges, as was the case with Ed’s discovery in “Comedown”. Or more holistically, my choice to bring objects was already a compositional proposal. This choice then became a ‘frame’ for the group to work in; a problem to solve.

These accounts illustrate a progression or trajectory. From this position, in 2019, I was planning to invite two new collaborators (Oliver Dawe and Alan Fielden) for a project at Snape Maltings that got cancelled due to the pandemic but represented a development of the trajectory. If we view my own position within this narrative as one of pulling back and handing over control, firstly in “PrEP” and “Comedown” where I simply ‘composed’ the instruments by bringing them and secondly in “FEED” when I began inviting the group members to devise a portion of their own parts, then my next idea would begin and end by ‘composing’ the project’s personnel. My choice to invite Oliver Dawe and Alan Fielden, who appear later in this RP, would have been a compositional one. The resultant piece would be an outcome of the very wide frame that I would establish. From that starting point, the usual conversations would - and indeed did - begin and centred on early ideas, possible processes, and what the eventual production might look like as well as practical issues such as which institution could partner us. Paul Roe writes about this early stage of a project as conceptually ambiguous that “offer opportunities for collective invention and innovation” through dialogue or “processes of orality” (Roe, 2007, p.46). He also quotes Tim Steiner who calls this the act of “talking something into existence” (Steiner, 1992, p.3). Below are the finished tracks.