New Artistic Possibilities with

The Max Maestro - An Animated Music Notation System

for Non-Professional Performers

4.The Max Maestro

4.1 Artistic Ideas


The artistic ideas for The Max Maestro were obviously a reflection of the artistic ideas, experience and knowledge of the author as a composer. More specifically, the idea of creating large musical textures in multiple parts, by organising various individual sounds made by non-professional performers: What do hundreds of children humming “Mmm” in their lowest possible pitch sound like? or: How does a crowd of non-professional performers screaming together with an electronic music part sound? and so on. These artistic ideas of using large textures in multiple parts as musical material were introduced in the 1960s by composers like Györgi Ligeti [16] [17], Iannis Xenakis [18] and Krystoff Penderecki [19]. Ligeti coined the term micropolyphony [20]. Xenakis talked about his sound-clouds, while Penderecki was working with tone-clusters. These approaches of using large musical textures in multiple individual parts were one of the main artistic ideas to explore with The Max Maestro. Other ideas were related to non-professionals as performers and simple-to-perform individual sounds as sources for advanced musical textures. The specific artistic ideas related to the development of The Max Maestro were divided into three sections:


1. Performers: Groups/Crowds (20-20,000) of non-professional performers

2. Instruments: Easy-to-use instruments (human voice, single percussion instruments, handclaps)

3. Musical material:

    3.1  Polytempic/Polyrhythmic textures

    3.2  Static and moving approximate pitch cluster textures

    3.3  Noise formation textures

    3.4  Rhythmic text canon

    3.5  Rhythmic accents


1. Within the field of contemporary art classical music the compositions are predominantly created for specialist highly-skilled and classically trained professional musicians. They are often very difficult to play and place high demands on the technical skills of the performers. As in all kinds of musical genres the choice of performers and the performers’ musical background of course also affect the artistic output in different ways. There are several advantages of having highly-skilled musicians specialised in a certain field for the performance of a new composition: - They can accomplish almost anything with their instrument, - They have a great understanding of musical concepts connected to the classical tradition, - They often have a will, a curiosity and are dedicated to developing the music within the field, and of course - They are experts on interpreting musical scores rooted in the tradition of western music notation. The advantages are many, but there could also be situations where the artistic musical idea would be better executed with performers from other backgrounds. For instance; a crowd of non-professional performers would probably better suit performing textures of screaming voices than a professional choir, since the choir would probably not risk their voices in the same intuitive manner. Multiple layers of individual “simple-to-perform” sounds with an attended raw and naïve expression would probably result in an interesting artistic output if performed by non-professional performers. However, at least twenty individual non-professional performers - and preferably hundreds of them - were sought as needed to accomplish an interesting artistic output. Mainly because one of the overall artistic ideas included creating large musical textures divided into multiple parts.


Having non-professional performers to enhance artistic expression was seen as an interesting and unique idea within the field of contemporary art music, at least when it comes to performing advanced musical structures. It was hard to find other research or artistic projects which have used the same or even similar approaches. However, these ideas could be connected to the concepts of audience participation. In Glimmer [21], a composition for chamber orchestra and audience by Jason Freeman, the audience members become musical collaborators, who actively shape the musical composition in real time. Freeman was also involved in the development of massMobile [22], a client-server system for large audience participation in live performances using mobile devices. Other examples of audience participation can be found in the music of Harris Wulfson, described in the article LiveScore: Real-Time Notation in the Music of Harris Wulfson [23]. All these examples describe an approach to audience participation, where the audience is affecting the musical form by interacting in different ways, but not actually taking the role of musical performers. The music is still performed by professional musicians.


Another aspect of audience participation, which is similar to the approach of having non-professional performers for an artistic purpose, is when audience members become the performers, creating some or even all of the music [24]. Examples which could be linked to this approach are Moths (Hasse 1986) [25], where the audience whistles as directed by a conductor and a graphical score and La symphonie du millenaire (Chénard 2000) [26] where the audience members rang handheld bells at designated times. However, these two examples of audience participation are probably more about participating in an event than a method to achieve an interesting artistic outcome.


2. The idea was to use “simple-to-perform” instruments as musical sound sources in compositions involving The Max Maestro, mainly to enable anyone regardless of their musical background to participate in the performances. However, it was also seen as artistically interesting and challenging to work with “simple-to-perform” sounds to create unique advanced musical structures. For instance: – How to create varied and interesting musical textures with only the sound of handclaps? The limitations of the sounds were deemed likely to inspire and facilitate innovative use of them and result in interesting artistic expressions. The three compositions featured in this exposition all included different sound sources. The human voice was used in Voices of Umeå III: Everybody Scream!!!, various small percussive instruments were used in Animated Notation for Mixed Orchestra and handclaps were used in Put Your Hands Together.


3. The musical material which The Max Maestro was built to visually conduct was divided into five sections: 3.1. Polytempic/polyrhythmic textures, 3.2. Static and moving approximate pitch cluster textures, 3.3. Noise formation textures, 3.4. Rhythmic text canon, 3.5. Rhythmic accents.


3.1 Polytempic/Polyrhythmic textures. Polytempo is a term used to describe music where two or more different tempos occur simultaneously [27]. The idea is to apply the parameter of tempo in similar ways, applying the compositional techniques of polyphony when creating polytempic music [28]. Classic examples of implementation of polytempic structures in music compositions can be found in Gruppen, by Karl-Heinz Stockhausen [29] and Rituel: In memorian maderna, by Pierre Boulez [30]. Other examples include composers such as Conlon Nancarrow, Henry Brant and John MacCallum. Polytempic textures could also be found in previous works by the author. In the composition Music for ensemble and five electronic conductors [31], a chamber ensemble was conducted by five electronic “conductors”, which displayed individual tempos for the performers. Moreover, Polyrhythm is a term used to describe musical patterns, where two or more conflicting rhythms are used simultaneously: e.g. triplets over eight notes.[weblink]


3.2 Static and moving approximate pitch cluster textures. (Only when using sound sources with adjustable pitch.) Pitch cluster or tone cluster as a musical term is when a thick stack of several continuous pitches (close to each other) are played simultaneously. The term was originally invented by American composer Henry Cowell and appears in many of his piano works from the 1910s to the 1930s. One of his early compositions using the technique is The Tides of Manaunaun (1917) [32] and many contemporary composers such as Charles Ives, John Cage and Igor Stravinsky have also adopted the technique, which can now be seen as very common in contemporary art music. One famous example of using approximate tone cluster textures is found in Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima (1960) by Krystoff Penderecki [19].


3.3 Noise formation textures

The technique of making noise sounds with traditional instruments or the human voice is common in contemporary music and used by many composers like Helmut Lachenmann, John Cage, R. Murray Schafer and Luciano Berio.


3.4 Rhythmic text canons (only when using the human voice as sound source)

Creating a rhythmic canon by having a group/crowd reading a short text divided into multiple parts following a common pulse.


3.5 Rhythmic accents

Accentuate the musical material performed by an additional professional orchestra or an electronic music part. 

[16.]    Ligeti, György, Atmospheres, (1961)



[17.]      Ligeti, György, Volumina, (1966)



[18.]      Xenakis, Iannis. Metastasis (1954)



[19.]    Penderecki, Krzysztof, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, (1960) <>


[20.]    Bernard, Jonathan W. "Voice leading as a spatial function in the music of Ligeti." Music Analysis 13.2/3 (1994): 227-253.

[21.]    Freeman Jason, Glimmer: “Creating New Connections” in Transdisciplinary Digital Art. Sound, Vision and the New Screen by Randy Adams, Steve Gibson, Stefan Muller Arisona (Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2008) pp 270-283


[22.]    Weitzner Nathan, Freeman Jason, Chen Yan-Ling and Garret Stephen (2013). massMobile: towards a flexible framework for large-scale participatory collaborations in live performances. Organised Sound, 18, pp 30-42


[23.]    Barret G. Douglas and Winter Michael (2010) LiveScore: Realtime Notation in the Music of Harris Wulfson, Contemporary Music Review, 29:1, pp 55-62


[24.]    Freeman Jason and Godfrey Mark (2010) Creative collaboration between audiences and musicians in Flock, Digital Creativity, 21:2, pp 85-99


[25.]    Hasse Jean (1986) Moths – for a few hundred whistlers,



[26.]      Chénard, M. The Millenium Symphony: A work for the Beginning of Time; Part I: The Musical Challenge. La Scena Musical, Vol. 5, No. 8, May 2000.


[27.]    Greschak, John, Articles on Polytempo (2001)



[28.]      Kocher, Philippe, Polytempo Network: A System for Technology-Assisted Conducting, (2014, Proceedings of the ICMC/SMC/2014 conference)


[29.]      Stockhausen, Karl Heinz, Gruppen (1955-57) <>


[30.]      Boulez, Pierre, Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (1975)


[31.]      Lind, Anders, Music for Chamber Ensemble and Five Electronic Conductors (2009) <>


[32.]      Cowell, Henry, The tides of Manaunaun (1917),  <>