New Artistic Possibilities with

The Max Maestro - An Animated Music Notation System

for Non-Professional Performers

2. Animated Music Notation

For composers of western contemporary art music the notated score is and has been for a very long time the main tool for communicating musical ideas to the musical performers. The western music notation system is a very rich and complex system, which can communicate - to a well-trained performer - everything from rich harmonies to several layers of rhythmical structures and information about dynamics and precise articulations. Due to its complexity and the time-consuming process needed to learn the system, it is necessary to have well-trained musicians who can read, and perform, an advanced notated score.


In the 1950s composers like Earl Brown (example: December 1953) and John Cage (example: Fontana Mix) experimented with graphic scores to be able to communicate new musical ideas to the performers. The use of extended performance techniques, non- western instruments and electronic sounds needed new notation to accurately represent these sound worlds to be produced in live performances [3]. While the western music notation system gave performance instructions in detail for a fixed composition the graphic scores were more open for interpretations, which often resulted in so-called open compositions. The graphic scores invited the performers to interpret the scores both in terms of the musical material and the musical form, which as a result allowed and made them open to different interpretations from ensembles and performers of different musical backgrounds. However, as a consequence the final-sounding results of a graphic score could be hard to determine in detail by the composer as opposed to the sounding results of a traditionally notated score.


The development of technology has led us to the possibility of having moving graphic scores, so-called animated notation. […Scores that “move” on a computer screen provide opportunities for composers to engage in new paradigms of music creation.] [4]. For instance this opens up possibilities of synchronising non-pitched abstract sounds between musicians in an ensemble by using moving graphics presented on a screen. Furthermore, animated notation could facilitate performances of a fixed composition, but still communicate musical ideas, not routed within the tradition of the western music notation system.


In recent years animated notation has become an emerging field for dedicated composers and researchers, with an ambition of developing new composing and performance practices for contemporary art music. In the web forum Animated Notation Dot Com [5], created by composer/ researcher Ryan Ross Smith, an attempt to gather information about this field has been made. The Australian-based composers/researchers Cat Hope and Lindsay Vickery together with Decibel new music ensemble have developed The Decibel Score Player [6] software that enables synchronised scrolling graphic scores and parts on multiple computer tablets. It is designed to facilitate the reading of graphic scores in rehearsal and performance and can be used to create new works, as well as to interpret existing works. Located in Reykjavik, Iceland, the composer collective S.L.A.T.U.R [7] have been working on various kinds of musical experiments since 2005, including animated notation using computer graphics.


Shane McKenna discusses in a paper for ISEA2011 his use of animated graphic notation to encourage collaborative music making for a wide range of performers with different musical backgrounds. He states that: […performances and recordings have shown that animated graphic notation is an effective way of creating a shared musical experience through creative collaboration][3]. McKenna has also used animated notation for educational purposes as in DabbledooMusic (Shane McKenna) [8], a music education application for primary school children.


With The Max Maestro the aim was to further explore the artistic possibilities with the use of animated music notation. More specifically, having non-professionals as performers of advanced musical structures as primarily an artistic method. As inspiration for the development of The Max Maestro, other animated notation/real-time score systems collected on the Animated Notation Dot Com site by Ryan Ross Smith were observed. Most of these systems made by composers were, though, mainly developed for professional musicians dedicated to performing contemporary experimental music. Most of them were also created for solo performers or small ensemble settings. This is why The Max Maestro seems to be quite unique in its appearance with the ambition of enabling performances of advanced music textures with non-professional performers in large groups/crowds, but still mainly to fulfill an artistic vision/idea.


Other terms like Real-Time Scores, Screen Scores and Real-Time Screen Scores are to be found in different articles describing similar notation systems, but the term Animated Music Notation was chosen for The Max Maestro because of its appearance and because the ambition was not to primarily design a score, which would be changeable in real-time. Even if The Max Maestro was developed to be controllable in real-time with the possibility of enabling tests of artistic ideas during rehearsals, the main aim was to develop a system which could conduct the artistic ideas of a fixed composition.


[3.] McKenna Shane, Animated Graphic Notation – Paper at ISEA2011 Istanbul (International Symposium on Electronic Art)

[5.] Smith, Ryan Ross, <>

[6.] Hope, Cat/ Vickery, Lindsay, Decibel Score Player (2011), <>

[7.] S.L.A.T.U.R, <>

[8.] McKenna, Shane/ Redmond, Killian – Dabbledoomusic (2012) - Animated notation application for children - <>

[4.]  Wyatt, A. K., & Hope, C. (2013). Animated music notation on the iPad (or: Music stands just weren't designed to support laptops). In Proceedings of the 2013 ICMC Conference. (pp. 201-207)