Structures for Freedom: Graphic Scores and In-Performance Communication by Traditional Musicians, Lori Watson

5. PLAYING | collaborative experiment

Workshop approach and creative process

In the Team A workshop, which lasted approximately two and a half hours, the three original scores for Pieces for Four Traditional Musicians were explored in rotation through performance ‘takes’ interspersed with discussion. In total, Team A performed four takes of Scores I and II, and three takes of Score III.

Before discussing the Team A workshop and its outcomes, I include here the main objectives for intervention with these scores:

  • Construct a forum in which readers and non-readers can be immediately creative
  • Encourage ‘own voice’ or ‘traditional voice’ improvisation and expression
  • Encourage musical dialogue between musicians
  • Challenge performer and listener (and composer) perceptions of what traditional music can be


I wanted to give the players an opportunity to explore and interpret the scores for themselves without my input. This was to encourage the musicians to act as a group and observe their reaction to, and interpretation of, the scores. It was also to test the logic of the chosen visual information on the score and see what music would be produced from it. The initial performances/takes of all three scores sound markedly different from the post-discussion takes.

At first, the team approached the scores holistically as whole images, rather than playing the parts, although these were still represented in some ways. And I felt, both structurally, and in terms of the details in the scores, that the scores had not been fully performed in the initial attempts.

Following this, I explained how the scores came about and the reasoning behind some of the elements I had included. I described how I imagined aspects of the pieces might sound and answered some questions from the musicians.

Timeline for Team A workshop, highlighted sections have been included in this exposition:

Figure 5. Team A workshop structure

Figure 6. Team A, from left to right: Martin Green (piano accordion), Aidan O'Rourke (fiddle), Catriona McKay (Scottish harp), Kevin Mackenzie (guitar)

Figure 7. Score II as presented in the workshop with Team A

This transcript features annotations in square brackets and bold, italic text. These annotations include my own interpretation of key themes, topics, and specific ‘insider’ information as a participant in the room. The bold, italic text relates to the analysis of the score performances for this exposition. Performer comments that I wish to highlight in this research are highlighted in yellow.


[Track 1]


LW Will we have a go at no. II?


AO Oh. Hmm.

[reading score]

KM Are we just going?

MG Can I count the things and then go? Is that all right?

LW Well, feel free to discuss it if you want, just don’t ask me.

[Encourage discussion between performers]

AO So, the strathspey bit’s in eight sections.

MG And then in the reel bit.

AO It’s in fifteen isn’t it?

[Interpretation problem – miscount]

MG Is that what it is, but the first five are in a box and the next ten aren’t.

AO Is that intentional?

[Score problem]

MG We can’t ask Lori that. Oh, right well I’m wondering because it tapers, the line at the bottom is thin, let’s assume that that’s a . . .

AO Just a . . .

MG Thingy [an irregularity in the hand-drawn graphic].

AO Thing yeah.

MG Okay. I’m gonna be fucking loud in this one.


AO Can we discuss what we think the symbols mean or do you think just get on with it?

[Discuss? No discussion]

MG Will do one without discussing it and then do one with discussing it.

AO Right, okay.

MG The circle is an accordion solo, so is the arrow.



[PLAY SCORE II – take 1]


[Performance problem – didn’t reach the end again]

AO I was nowhere near the end.

MG Neither was I.

CM No, neither was I. That’s ok though.


MG That was the first time we all got a gap.

KM I was kind of there so I was doing the second one down.

MG I was before the fourth circles.

[Performance problem – different tempos, different lengths]

KM I’ve got those blank bits so I was kind of, I could be at the end.

CM Oh.

AO Oh I was a couple of sections before that but there was a gap.

MG I got to the first place where we’ve all got a gap and I thought that’s remarkable but then I just didn’t have the balls to come back in.


AO I was the same yeah, I was just about to lash back in.

MG And I’ve got tons of reels as well it’s a shame [joking].

AO I was going to come in with Dinky’s [Dinky Dorian’s is a well-known reel].


[Interpretation problem – Catriona read it like a piano score, not four parts. CM seems to pick and choose or opt in and out of score sections. Is this related to free improv experience with GIO?]

CM I tell you what I did though, I didn’t choose a line, I read it just like a whole thing.

MG Oh fair enough, like a piano score.

CM Yeah I just went along the four lines for the strathspey and then I just did the first line of the reel but I was intending to go the rest of the four lines.

AO I just picked a line again and . . .

MG I went for the top line.

AO I went for the second line.

KM Lateral that is.

LW Kev, how did you approach it?

[Kev and Aidan both took no. 2

Interpretation – Kev tuned to drop D because of D in line 2’s first box

Interpretation problem (symbols, need a key really or explanation)

Kev ignored some bits – opted in and out]

KM Eh, well, I kind of very loosely interpreted line two as the . . . well I had a D at the start so I tuned my bottom string to drop D, which is literal. But then I kind of was thinking about directions and I was thinking about the circles as being like, kind of, like in a long, like using a chord and holding that and then but then I was kind of . . . I was kind of skirting around a bit and ignoring bitsand I wasn’t going at any particular tempo at all. So, I wasn’t even picking bar measures or anything like that.

[Communication/listening was impaired by the score and visual concentration: Aidan and Kev didn’t realise they were playing the same part, I don’t think Aidan noticed that Kev had started the score rather than checking his tuning or similar, Aidan thought he was starting]


MG Did you count it quite literally? Yeah so did I.

AO And I kind of led with a D like a D chord thinking that if there’s going to be any interaction at least people will know I’m on the second line.

MG Ah, you see?

KM That’s why we were playing exactly the same chord.

AO We should get a band [Aidan and Kev are ex-bandmates].


[Interpretation problem (symbols again)]

AO And then eh, I don’t know, it’s kind of like to read the arrows as dynamics and then the circle as being more of a kind of rounded tune. Like a melodic line but then I got to the double arrows and I thought: ‘can’t be up and down at the same time’. So, I tried to be. Gave myself a headache.


AO And then I started thinking it looked a little bit like an anchor so I started playing a hornpipe.



KM The circle was a Mexican.


AO I wouldn’t mind trying that one again.

MG How did you interpret your arrows and circles?

[Reacted to the score depending on what the ensemble was doing, interpreted arrows as pitch and movement of music, and tried to hook in with other players at points]

CM Me? Well, I interpreted them as I felt like interpreting according to what was going on around, going on or sometimes I chose like maybe a little melodic thing and then transfer it down the harp but if there was something interesting going on I maybe chose to hook in with somebody and then do something that was still moving like this arrow.

CM What about you?

[Interpretation – Martin took the circles as the same kind of chord, right hand only]

MG All the circles were the same in that they were all [plays dissonant chord] but that was pretty random, but they were all consistent.

AO So, the circle.

MG But when it was an arrow I played down in terms of pitch and when it was up and down, I played up and down.

AO And the circle was [the dissonant] chord [just demonstrated]?

MG Yeah, the circle had no left hand but I don’t know why not but they were all the same.

[Interpretation – tempo]

AO And how did you feel if there was a kind of tempo set between Kev and I?

[Performance assumption based on common knowledge]

MG I assumed there had to be a tempo, I took that strathspey and reel as like . . .

KM Yeah.

AO It had to be kind of metered.

MG Yeah. I kind of assumed that we would all play it that way. It would be fucking hard not to apart from anything else.

KM . . . I mean I kind of got into little riffs at times where it kind of went into some sort of tempo but.


[Interpretation (symbols – question mark)]

MG Did anyone get to a question mark?

AO No.

KM I got to a question mark.

CM Yeah.

MG And what did you choose?

KM I just wondered.


MG You sat and thought about something.

[Interpretation – empty boxes]

CM What about the empty spaces, the empty boxes?

AO I sat out.

MG Yeah, I did.

AO But that’s . . .

. . .

CM What did you play?

[Kev played empty boxes as pauses, not silences]

KM Eh, I kind of used them as sort of like . . . some of them I used as like pauses where I would just hold a thing for a bit, but then because I wasn’t really going at any sort of tempo it was kind of . . .

[Interpretation (comparison to jam session, different roles played by musicians, leader to follow, etc.)]

AO I was kind of thinking of it like we were having a kind of session like a jam and therefore there was a section where, you know when someone’s playing a tune you don’t really know where you could kind of jam along a wee bit but not really take the melody.

KM I guess the thing is because we didn’t . . . because it’s not discussed, any of these are valid. Is that the way you wanted it to be?

. . .


[Track 2]


. . .

[discuss choices in style and approach in Score II, related to identity in different contexts]

MG I know what you mean though because I’m going to try and do an impression of a contemporary free musician. You know what I mean?


MG And that is unnatural.

LW Well what I’m interested in is traditional musicians improvising and sounding like themselves with traditional ornaments and phrasing.

AO So, what you were doing in the first take, you felt unnatural? [to Kevin]

MG I’m going to try and be Simon [Thoumire, concertina player mentioned in section 2. MEANING] but an octave lower.


AO I’ve heard you, I don’t think that’s unnatural to you, I’ve heard you do that lots of times in front of public people.

MG I think what I mean specifically is dissonance, you know [plays some], something that comes out when you do these sorts of things that isn’t part of traditional music.

KM Yeah, whereas I would say that free improvisation doesn’t and in no way has to be dissonant. I think it can be tonal.

AO Aye absolutely.

KM But it’s just a difference between improvising with . . . I mean total free tonality improvisation is one thing but I think we can improvise within a . . .


[Martin is drawn to dissonance when there’s less structure to follow, but also uses it in his regular concert set with band Lau]

MG Yeah but it’s just something that I personally feel I veer towards in anything that isn’t structured harmonically.

KM But I mean in the stuff that you do with Lau [band], sometimes you go off and you do . . .

MG That’s mistakes.


. . .


[Track 4]



LW So, will we move on to the second one?

[Everyone’s cold]

. . .

[Discuss Score II]

[Key signature]

LW So, this one. I didn’t give you a key [for symbols]. The D, you can choose to ignore it if you like but I thought that would give you a [musical] key to play in.

MG Everyone?

LW It’s up to you guys.

MG I took it specifically to mean not being D.


MG Because otherwise everyone would do it, know what I mean?

AO Love when I have a session with you, he’s in E and F


LW And, eh, you miscounted the blocks [boxes] – there’s eight and then sixteen. So, its meant to be a strathspey and

AO one, two, three, four, five, . . . sixteen!

MG Right.

AO Frick! So, it is.

LW Yeah and so it’s like a timeline but there’re no tempos, it’s up to you guys.

MG So you expect, it’s not obvious for me. Do you expect eight bars of strathspey?

AO No.

[Planning length of boxes and thinking in terms of tunes]

LW Or maybe each block [box] is two bars or . . .

MG Do you expect once through a strathspey and twice through a reel?

AO I was imagining like a four-bar, twice round a tune?

MG Yeah that’s what I was thinking – four times, well not four times.

AO So it would be like . . .

MG We all stopped here anyway.


AO So it’s like, I imagined it twice round a strathspey.

MG Twice through a strathspey.

AO Just one strathspey and then . . .

MG Four times round a reel.

AO Or two reels.

LW Yeah, well I’m not gonna disagree with that.


[Lori explains what symbols mean.]

LW So, it’s parts. So, you would pick one and again it’s communication so the arrows mean that you’re listening to that other player and playing along with them.

MG Oh, I see.


KM Is the third . . . ?

[laughing] ‘Aw’ [‘pennies dropping’]

[Questions about symbols, etc.]

MG I thought that was dynamics!

[Aidan plays a phrase from The Trumpet Hornpipe, comedic]

KM So does that mean 2 and 4 are together and . . .

LW Yes, so if you’ve got nothing in your box you’re not playing and the circle is everybody all together with the group

[Unintentional misdirection: In this workshop I wrongly interpreted the circle as playing together, when you can see from the sketch in 4. MAKING that I had originally intended it to represent solo playing. This misdirection seemed to be understood by the performers and likely influenced Score II, takes 2, 3, and 4 towards more cohesive, ensemble playing. Take 1 occurred before the misdirection was given. I chose to reinstate the circle as solo playing in the ‘final’ score, providing a key on the score.]

MG Okay.

LW You’re meant to try and come together and play something that sounds like a strathspey [very loosely] that might be the same and when it’s both ways it means that you’re . . . like if you were 2 Martin . . . you would be playing with Aidan and Kev but not paying any attention to Catriona.

MG Now you’ve said that . . . I hadn’t understood that. I thought the arrows . . . okay.

KM If you’re number 4 and you’re going both ways, are you going to 1 and 3?

AO To 1.

LW Yeah, and the question marks are kind of . . .

AO Danger zones.

LW Free cards.

CM What’s that? So the arrows . . .

LW You choose which one to do.

CM The arrows . . . you’re playing with the person that the arrow, the number that it’s pointing to, the person beside you. Right ok.

MG Okay.

[Lori explains some of the inspiration and the strathspey to reel change etc.]

LW And in my mind when I wrote this, I had that, this is kind of, I suppose they’re all sort of slightly inspired by session playing. But not necessarily pub session playing except the third one [score III], which obviously does have connotations. But it’s that moment when you burst out of a strathspey into a reel and that kind of massive boost of energy that happens when everyone fires into the reel.

AO Mmhm.

LW I was thinking it would be great if I could get that in the piece.

AO Right. So . . .

LW Which is why everybody’s . . . it’s really busy at that point because obviously communication’s really important so you all go into the reel, ‘bang’.

[Kev decides they need to decide tempo and the length of each measure/box]

KM Know what I’m thinking? It’s a tempo thing then and then we need to decide whether each section is one or two bars or . . . Do we?

MG Yeah.

LW As long as you’re all playing with the same idea in mind then . . .

MG Well yeah what if we say, twice through a strathspey and two times through two different reels?

KM Okay.

LW So, four blocks [boxes] is the strathspey so you’ve got . . .

CM What does that one count as like? Four bars per box?


MG & LW Yeah.

CM Right and same with the reel.

MG Yeah but or half that or double that or whatever.

[Catriona compares the piece more literally to listening habits in a session.]

CM And you know because the arrows are saying communicate with that person but if you’re playing in a session you’re always never really playing, you’re always for the common goal, so in lines 1 and 2 say deliberately play, do we then not deliberately?

MG There’s no one else playing at that point is there? So, they just need to play with each other.

[Aidan comments on session listening/interaction

Kev suggests it might be because of the tune that they are locked into approximately the same thing]

AO But even in a session you’ll lock into, you know you can lock in to.

KM Yeah but the difference with a session is that you have a common theme which everybody locks into and that I think is the tune.

AO Yeah.

KM Whereas this . . .

AO There’s no tune.

MG Ah.

LW We’re not trying to recreate a session in this.

MG No, no but there’s a certain . . .

LW It was just slightly inspired by that.

MG . . . feeling between strathspey and reel yeah.

KM Okay.

LW You can think of it as a bit of a fucked up session if you like.

KM A really, really, really drunk session.

LW In an alternative universe.

[Decide on pulse and tempo]

AO Okay so, what number and what’s the pulse then if its four bars: 1 2 3 4 or a-1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4? The second one? The faster pulse?


MG I dunno I would have the slower strathspey just for the . . ., but that’s just, that’s aesthetic. That’s not . . .

AO A slower strathspey.

MG Yeah than a reel.

AO Yeah okay.

MG I don’t know.


KM So, shall we go numbers? Consecutively again then?

MG Yeah.

LW Feel free to mark on the page by the way, scribble away if you want.

MG Pardon?

LW Feel free to mark on the page.

MG Thank you.

CM What was it 1, 2, 3, 4 (numbering people).

AO Or whatever is that . . .

MG yeah that’s cool.

. . .

1 – KM

2 – MG

3 – AO

4 – CM


LW So . . .

CM Four bars per box.

MG Kev will count because he’s 1.

[Count in? No, Martin just start]

KM I’ll count and then not play at the start.

MG Oh right, it’s just me, cool. Maybe it doesn’t matter then.


[Track 5]



[PLAY SCORE II – take 2]


. . . (silence)


AO Do you get the PRS on this?

MG That was cool.

AO Yeah.

[Approach and interpretation to symbols and interaction in Score II]

MG There wasn’t much difference in my approach between a double arrow and a circle.

AO How do you interact with someone who’s not playing?

MG Oh is there, where does that happen?

AO Like my third arrow in the reel, I’m interacting with you.

MG What were you?

AO Number 3

LW Yeah

AO So I interacted with Martin who was not really doing anything, so I didn’t really do much either.


LW Fair enough.

AO Well, I did some, just not as much.

LW But it creates kind of a build-up, because if you’re [explains how each player influences the next player without interaction in that passage, which could

create an interesting effect].

AO Right, yeah.

KM I did this twice as fast as I should have done.

. . .

MG Oh right, I got, okay I thought it was quite fast.

LW What did you do at the question marks?

MG Oh I went [plays trill].

AO I, eh just, it was open really to see what happens and [I] entered into it with an open mind.


[Liked it]

KM I thought there were some really good bits in that.

AO Yeah.

[Performance – strathspey to reel transition could be more definite]

LW I loved all of that I just think the move into the reel could have been a bit smoother.

MG Yeah, well I think we all . . .

. . .

AO That’s what Pro Tools [audio editing software] is for though.


[Performance – tempo difference]

MG Did I start twice as fast as you thought I was gonna?

KM Eh mm, I don’t know. I just got to the . . . I thought I was with you man.


LW Will we have a quick coffee and then . . . ?

AO That would be cool and then we’ve probably got about another forty minutes after that.

LW I’d quite like to get another run of that one and then try the third.

[05:50, Break for coffee]

[Catriona suggests trying Score I again as a slow piece and everyone agrees we should try to fit it in before finishing.]


[talk about phoning a taxi for Catriona etc.]

. . .


[Suggest a cue for join between strathspey and reel]

LW We’re gonna go for piece two again [score II] and Catriona had suggested some sort of cue for the reel so that you’re all aware of it.

CM Or if we all just cue.

AO There was a cue though wasn’t there? There was a kind of like . . .

MG Oh well I certainly felt that.

LW I definitely saw you gesture to Martin but I don’t think everyone picked up

on it.

KM It should be alright, because if we all know the kind of tempo and the . . . it

should be alright I think.

[Change parts/numbers? Or do a similar version but more polished?]

MG Will we keep the same parts or different parts? Do you want us to do a similar thing but tighter so that you’ve got like a decent recording of it?

LW Yeah, I’d quite like a decent recording of it [meaning a recording fairly representative of the score].

MG So, shall we do the same, do what we just did.

AO Would it not make sense for Kevin to be D, 2.

MG Yeah.

AO But then that’s not the start of the tune then is it.

KM I think it worked all right like that, it's just that I was taking it too short.


[Change tempo?]

MG Will we do it a bit faster, the strathspey, or was that all right?

AO Too slow to do a schottishe [a popular social dance especially in the Highlands of Scotland].

MG Were you trying?

AO Inside, gives me indigestion, internal schottishe.

[Discuss strathspey to reel changes as traditional musicians]

CM Are we just going to go straight into the reel eh?

KM Yeah.

CM There’s no . . .

MG Yeah.

AO Like a natural kind of . . . It usually just pulls back slightly before you . . .

MG Yeah but we should all be together playing the same ‘tune’ by that point anyway.

LW Yeah.

[Change key? Or contrived?]

MG Can we decide to change key or is that contrived?

LW I don’t have any objection.

AO It’s not generally the way of it, strathspey, the reel would be in the same key.

MG No, but the two reels.

AO Oh right, yeah, let’s do that.

MG Or maybe someone should shout the key. That would be what would happen.

AO Can I have a pee? [meaning a pen]

LW Well, you’ve got a bar [box] of nothing.

MG Is the bar of nothing the last bar [box] or the first bar [box].

. . . [talking about trainers]

[Score – heavy line, irregularity in score]

AO That heavy barline after 5 really throws me.

MG No it is confusing, it is, strange innit.

AO Ignore [writing on page].

. . .

AO Yeah, someone shout a key.

MG Whoever shouts the key the loudest.



[Mark the score at the point of ‘reel change’]

KM What am I marking? Halfway through?

[performers mark point on page where they will change key]

CM If you want to mark halfway through just for the second reel.

AO I’ve already done it. Mmmm . . . Okay, lets do it.

[Changing key? Might do.]

CM So, is there a decision about changing key or?

MG I think someone might shout a key.

CM What numbers are we?

[1 – KM

2 – MG

3 – AO

4 – CM]

. . .

[ENDS 11:52]


[Track 6]



[PLAY SCORE II – take 3]


MG It was a little bit like Bagpuss [children’s TV show with folk music theme tune] at the end, do you remember that?


[Performance seemed too fast]

AO That seemed to move too fast for me that time.

MG That was fast wasn’t it?

AO So each section is like one do nee naw an do nee naw . . . second section.

CM Yeah, but it didn’t quite happen right. Did it?

AO No, I think I maybe . . .

[Performance problem – drifted but found way back]

KM I think we got a little bit, we kind of went away a bit I think and when we came back . . . We seemed to kind of drift and then come back together. I think we all came back together when it went to all the circles.

AO But there should be a complete four bars of silence before the key change.

CM Shall we do it just from 4?

KM Em. Well, no, not from, oh from you?

[Missed box of silence . . .]

AO From everyone, there’s a section where nobody plays.

KM Oh and did . . . ?

AO No.


[Counting sections again]

AO . . . It’s like eight sections in, isn’t it? So, it kind of feels weird because it’s . . . it should be the four-bar build before the key change but it’s actually not. Do you know what I mean?

KM How are we doing for time? Have we got time to do it once more?

AO Do it once more then we’ll tackle the other one.

LW Yeah.

MG I didn’t change anything because no one shouted a key.

AO Neither did I.

CM No.

AO I don’t want to change key, I don’t want to shout key [correcting himself]. I want someone else to change. I did it.

[Decide to change key but not agree what it should be]

KM Lets change key but nobody shout a key.

MG Yeah, great but you have to play a different key, yeah lovely. Everyone’s gonna change to G. I can feel it.


KM I want to go to a sharp key.

AO Did you bring a capo?


KM Eh yeah but I’m using it.

[ENDS 04:39]


[Track 7]



[PLAY SCORE II take 4]


[Performance problem – got lost again]

AO I think I lost the place again.

MG No idea.

[Check length of sections]

KM So how, how many, what length is each section in the reel because I don’t


CM 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4. That’s what I thought it was but then.

KM Yeah, that’s what I thought as well.

[Check pulse]

AO Because it’s a kind of fast pulse isn’t it?

KM Yeah, I think it went out again but . . .

CM Yeah.

AO I mean what do you want to do? Before Catriona has to go?

[Decide to move on to Score III]


[Track 11]


LW So last question, did you like the sounds that came out of it?

AO Yeah.

KM I did yeah.

MG Some of them yes.

KM I really liked number II and I really liked no. I after we played it a little bit. I thought when we first played it, everybody just went mbuchchchchch [explosion sound] . . . but I thought later on . . . I thought the last time we did it especially was great.

MG But as a group I thought we got better.

KM Yeah, we did, becoming used to the way things were sounding.

MG So, yeah, I think the bits towards the end . . . The last couple of takes of II and the final take of I were particularly nice.

AO Same. (Team A 2008)