Case Study 2

This part of the exposition highlights a bricolage-like dialogical composition process with the double bass player Nathan Thomson. The starting point for the work was the materiality of the double bass, prolongated to the technological mediums of video and spatialised sound. The process resulted in "Tapage Nocturne" a 20-minute piece for double bass, video projection and electronic spatialisation involving audiotactile vibration driven into the public seating. The piece has been performed at two occasions at the Helsinki Music Centre in 2015 and 2016.


The argumentation aims to bring forth a more complex and networked setting of bricolage than the one depicted for Motet. The process of bricolage in "Tapage nocturne" involved two persons, the double bass, plus a set of technological augmentations. The exposition expressely focuses on the interactions between the composer, the player and the instrument, leaving aside the technological layers involved i the piece. In order to highlight the shared nature of the process, the author interviewed Nathan Thomson for this exposition. Extracts from Nathan's interview are placed on the blue zone on the right of the page.





During the studio sessions, the author and Nathan Thomson set out to map a range of sonic possibilities, or "extended techniques" on the double bass. The process downplayed the traditional composer-musician setting by engaging both into a common venture into sonic exploration marked by a shared fascination and enthusiasm for the sounds being discovered.


Typically, the author would suggest a gesture, Nathan would try it out, play with it and confront it to the materiality of the double bass. After a few iterations and recombinations, often this exploration would lead to an unforeseen - but often fertile - result.


The whole process was gesture-based and video notation was used to record all  pieces of material judged to be potentially interesting. Video became the firsthand tool for scoring and presented a number of advantages: it recorded perfectly the gesture-sound couplings involved (which were of primary importance for the work), it would offer a detailed instruction for reproducing a desired sound, it was easily shareable via internet.


Below are four examples of the original video recordings, which illustrate the "bricolage-in-process" between the composer, Nathan and the double bass. The shared exploration proceeds through intuition, discussion, trial and error towards the discovery of salient gesture-sound couplings. The co-work is marked by a shared fascination and the joy of discovery.



Following a piece written for cello ("Full contact", 2014), the author had a glimpse of an ensemble piece for six double bass players. The initial idea involved prominent, menacing physicality as well as a noise-centered approach to the double bass inspired by Helmut Lachenmann's 1969 masterpiece "Pression".


From the start, the production of the piece involved bricolage-like processes, first in the form of  economic constraints: there was not enough funds to pay six double bass players, hence the idea of using video replicas instead. Afterwards, the specificities of the video format reduced the number of bass player replicas from five to four. The actual musical process started when the author met Nathan Thomson and agreed on a series of studio sessions in order to explore the double bass' sonic palette.

A set of materials from the video explorations was chosen and organised as events in time. A simple score was drawn, referring to the recorded gestures and with a main purpose of acting as a memory helper in the live concert situation.


The resulting piece is 16 minutes long, with solo double bass, video replicas of the player, electronic sound processing and structure-borne audio diffusion into the public seating. Tapage Nocturne's use of structure-borne sound has been analysed in detail in my Organised Sound 2018 article Composing the Context: Considerations on materially mediated electronic musicianship

Considerations arising from "Tapage nocturne" in relation to bricolage:



 In the example of "Tapage nocturne", bricolage appears as a heterogeneous network of dialogue, comprising an intersubjective dimension in parallel to the realms of materiality (double bass), sound, audio technology and sonic spatiality. The case study shows that the process of bricolage can be cooperative, involving a number of human actors, working on the same set of objects (double bass + technology) and events (sonic material). The dialogue with the material then becomes more complex than the one-to-one setting described for "Motet" as well as in L'evi-Strauss' "Savage mind", as multiple interpretations and meanings arise from different persons.


key elements for a functional shared bricolage are human qualities of empathy and acceptance, they enable a shared unforeseen situation to unfold without hinderance. The human relation that forms through the working process can take a predominant value, as expressed in Nathan Thomson's interview.


The diversity and flow of ideas point towards group creativity and even group cognition. A shared bricolage process may widen up the scope of possibilities and is a potent vector for genuine discoveries as well as for enlarging one's artistic vocabulary and identity.

The studio sessions gave rise to a large number of similar video clips as depicted above. Each video recorded an iterated exploration of a given gesture-sound coupling. A systematic view of the elements at play and their looping iteration could be presented in the following manner:



Tapage Nocturne for double bass, video and electronics

Shared bricolage: video footage of sonic exploration on the double bass from the "Tapage nocturne" composition process

Recorded on video as potential compositional material

Video documentation of the piece. "Tapage nocturne" performed by Nathan Thomson at the Helsinki Music Centre in 2016. The piece does not translate entirely in video documentation as the audiotactile sensation from the structure-borne sound is missing, as well as the overall spatial qualities of the piece.

channelled through the player's corporeality




Intuitive ideas, in a two-person dialogue


confronted to the double bass' materiality

My memory of the process is that of Otso proposing techniques to try out on the bass, going towards particular sounds that use the bass more like an object - less about the notes on the strings.


Quite quickly, through the act of trying out these ideas, unexpected things popped up, opening up an interesting territory and making me think of my instrument in a different way.


Like the ricochet techique between the bass body and underneath the strings was fascinating to me - a new sound from the instrument I know so well. The resulting rhythm patterns and chaos made me think of a powerful experience of hearing Wolof drumming in Gambia - it connected to something meaningful in my own history.


New ideas span off from of the initial ones, drastically changing the shape of the piece. We would bounce off from each others' propositions and there was an acceptance of new directions from both sides. 


In this process, the player becomes more and more an insider, an owner of the piece.


In order for this process to take place, a number of human qualities must be present: trust, respect, listening, space for each other's thoughts and ideas, as well as an open dialogue.


These qualities allow to let go of one's built-in aesthetic conventions and preferences. Even if the starting point does not feel right, trusting the process might allow to make a positive discovery.


It is a process of letting things emerge, and at the same time a possibility to discover more of one's own voice. It is a shared, gradual uncovering of the piece.


The dialogue with another person with different ideas creates more possibilities to uncover a wide variety of unexpected things. It's a different picture than when one works alone, in solo. Together, there is a shared flow of ideas, diversity and collaborative creativity. To me, the process was more about the human dialogue than about the music itself.



Nathan Thomson; extracts from an interview on the "Tapage Nocturne" process

Nathan Thomson performing the premiere of "Tapage Nocturne" at the Helsinki Music Centre, 2015

Tapage nocturne score