A Composer-Performer Collaboration

by Knut Vaage and John Ehde

Roles – process - result

What happens to the roles of composer and performer when cooperating closely?

The common work division composer-performer of creation and interpretation was challenged in our project. This happened as we developed our method that we called “comprovisation”, borrowed from Richard Dudas (Dudas: 2010). Dudas used the term for music made by a mixture of composition and improvisation with electronic elements. We stretched it to also include our purely acoustic work, in addition to “comprovised” hybrid music with a mixture of acoustic and electronic elements


Our process of “comprovisation” can be described thus:

1. First encounter: idea (dialogue)
2. Improvisation (composer and performer play together)
3. Video recording
4. Second encounter: watch video together (dialogue)
5. Making of impro-score, extracted (homework of composer)
6. Third encounter: adjustment, dialogue and new impro over the first version of the score
7. Editing and printing of score (homework of composer)
8. Fourth encounter: concert/video recording of the piece


Our etudes were all made from this method. The scores for the etudes were compressed onto one page for each. For each performance they were unfolded into musical structure based on improvisation. More or less, we can say that the creative force was divided 50/50 between composer and performer. Traditional roles disappeared and were replaced by equality and dialogue. The performer was forced to be active in making sounds and form, while the composer had to play an instrument, first during an improvisation, then during the performance of the etude that evolved from the extracted score. We tried to bring out strong and interesting ideas, reflecting the best of our experiences as musicians. Our cooperation was a rare and valuable meeting point for fruitful idea exchange. For more detailed information, look at example “Etude No. 1”. 


Some of the etudes we played for the group, others at concerts. These can be found on

YouTube (chose Etude, teaser starts automatically).


Our method varied for each new piece. Towards the end of our process, we made pieces that were more conventionally divided between performer and composer. In the process of notating “Night Song” and “Night Song 2”, we cooperated and had dialogue on some parts, and a couple of earlier findings were reused, but there is very little improvisation implicit in these two scores.

The process of “Night Song”:

1. Composing, including transcription of “Nightingale Song” for cello
2. Dialogue, trying out some quotes into a loop pedal sent to a transducer on the cello 
3. First version, score
4. Dialogue about score, adjustments
5. Printing the first score version of “Night Song” (25‘)
6. Score study and interpretation with video recording and dialogue
7. First performance, festival in Denmark
8. Idea of a shorter concert version
9. Composer’s homework, reducing the score of “Night Song 2” (10’)
10. Working sessions, trying out ideas and dialogue, use of video to help our discussion
11. New interpretation
12. Concert performances


“Night Song” includes an "easy-to-carry” setup with electronics - a loop pedal and a transducer attached to the cello body, making the instrument resonant instead of being amplified through a loudspeaker. Some parts of “Night Song” were used in the closing concert for the research group project. There we improvised over the chosen quotes in the score together with the other group performers. 


Listen to “Night Song 2” on YouTube


“Hybrid Spectacle” combined all the elements we had explored during our research period and formed a high point of our collaboration together. All our collaborators during the whole period were involved in this sixty-five- minute piece for solo cello, sinfonietta, electronics and visuals. We wanted it to be a creative loop where all the elements from compositions and workshops enriched each other in one massive spectacle.


The electronic parts were based on three hybrid techniques (assisted by John Hegre and Thorolf Thuestad):

  • Instrumental sounds sent through transducers into a resonant instrument, such as harp, piano, or percussion – all functioning as loudspeakers. The transducers (small vibration speakers) could transform almost any material into an object of sound.
  • Real-time computer manipulations of acoustic instrumental sounds. Barely audible instrumental sounds were greatly amplified and then manipulated electronically.

  • Effect- and loop pedals, equipment normally used on electric guitars, were activated through close contact mics. A transducer transferred the cello sound into a nearby drum in the beginning and end of “Hybrid Spectacle”.


Video artist Birk Nygaard designed “Hybrid Spectacle” visually together with Vaage. Small cameras showed the connection between what we could see and what we could hear. The video parts included references to futurism. The use of laser as light and sound resource created a creative loop between the visual effects and the sound material, all projected onto three big screens placed behind the ensemble.


The process of “Hybrid Spectacle”:

1.Idea, development, discussion with collaborators; application for extra financial support

2.Workshop, electronics, and visuals; video documentation

3.Development of workshop scores for BIT20 Ensemble (divided into groups 2-5 musicians)

4.Workshops for the groups from BIT20 Ensemble with electronics; video documentation

5.Workshop for solo cello and electronics; video documentation

6.Composing “Hybrid 1” for solo cello and electronics (based on workshop findings)

7.Performing “Hybrid 1” - exploring possibilities for solo cello and electronics, trying out visuals

8.Series of workshops on the visuals

9.Preparation, analysis and creating a soundtrack from the video documentation

10.Dialogue with conductor, sound, and video artist

11.Composing “Hybridization” for ensemble, electronics, and visuals

12.Performing “Hybridization” - exploring the possibilities for ensemble with electronics and visuals

13.Preparation, analysis and creating a soundtrack for Hybrid Spectacle from the video documentation

14. Dialogue with the conductor, soloist (Ehde), sound and video artist

15.Composing “Hybrid Spectacle” for solo cello, ensemble, electronics, and visuals

16.Performing “Hybrid Spectacle” - recording for radio, and a multi-camera video production for TV



How is the term “unsettling” related to our project? We feel that our project is fundamentally unsettled. We unsettled our roles as composer and performer by mixing them into “comprovisation”. We unsettled our scores with the use of extended techniques and improvisation. We unsettled our sound by blending acoustic sounds with electronics. We unsettled our placement in the room by sending the sound from our instruments through a transducer into another instrument (In “Hybrid Spectacle” we transferred the cello sound into a resonating piano frame placed behind the audience). We are happy to keep on unsettling, and to stay unsettled. Our rehearsals are not a process of settling our result, but a refinement and a development of being unsettled.



Do we have a style? If so, we have made our own style. All our music was created during our project period. We do not claim that what we did was fundamentally new, but we combined elements in our own way. We did not focus much on comparing our style with those of others. Our music evolved as a result of a process of mixing improvisation and composition, acoustic and electronic sounds. If we have a style, it is a personal one. Dialogue was extremely important in all parts of our project. All participating artists have influenced our style, from Ehde’s way of interpretating a solo etude to the Valen Trio’s way of interpretating the same material. Another example is Einar Røttingen’s performance of the piano solo piece “Rabalder”. “Hybrid Spectacle” combined the efforts of the BIT20 Ensemble with conductor Trond Madsen, John Ehde, John Hegre, Thorolf Thuestad and Birk Nygaard. All this gets boiled into what we might call a style. Will it become a style, or is it a process of ever-changing, unsettled, sound landscapes?


Results, production

This list contains the scores of the pieces made during our project. (Click on titles will link to PDF-versions of the scores). The scores can be ordered at the National Library in Oslo.



  • SVEV - Chamber Works by Knut Vaage - LAWO Classics, LWC1199


Online videos:

From “Composer-Performer Collaborations”

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Foto: Bente Elisabeth Finserås