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Études for the beginning of an online practice 

by Josh Spear

The Covid-19 pandemic of early 2020 has had huge and wide-reaching effect. My group made up of four composer-performers called Bastard Assignments was not exempt. We were pulled to continue to make work, the difference now is that we are online at our individual homes and meeting each other on Zoom.


Zoom is a company that has been around since 2011 and a lot of us have recently become familiar with it to celebrate birthdays at a distance, catch up with friends, or conduct our business. It was setup by a Chinese computer scientist who only after the ninth attempt at the application did he secure his visa to live in the USA.


Since the beginning of 2020, the worldwide usage of Zoom has risen 67%, its use diversifying from corporate communications to domestic and arts activities.1


My compositional and performance work with Bastard Assignments is rooted in collaboration, devising, and group creation. It favours memorisation over the use of musical scores, emotional presence over reproducibility. As we take our work together into a purely online workspace, important questions arise. Through a new way of working online, does our adaptability bring about a new form? How will we understand this online work when and if normalcy returns? Skills that we learn as composer-performers are dropped, remade, and tested during this period, how will our practice have changed?


Eliane Radigue’s compositional work over the last ten years demands that the musicians commissioning her must unlearn parts of their “good” technique in order to access new sounds and ways to sustain them on their instruments. The development of this kind of performance practice mirrors that of the composer-performer whose own reflexive practice and workflow means that often the distinction between creation and rehearsal is blurred,  fluid.


1. Danny Vena, "Zoom Is Helping Schools Closing Due to Coronavirus -- for Free", www.fool.com, March 14th 2020,  https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/03/14/zoom-is-helping-schools-closing-due-coronavirus-fo.aspx