Connecting through the score

The starting point for this post lies in discussions I’ve been having with Simone O’Callaghan on her use of two-dimensional barcodes (QR codes) to expand her print artworks into the digital dimension. It’s got me thinking about how we composers could use this technology to improve on the standard print-score-or-audio-file offerings which to my mind limit the options we have for promoting understanding of our music.

QR codes provide a link to a particular web address. You use the camera on your phone (or your laptop’s webcam), together with a decoder app such as i-nigma: Scan the barcode via the app and it will take you off to the website. No typing required, just snap and go.

It would be an easy matter to set up a dedicated page or site section for a piece containing extra information which might be useful for people looking at a score and have that content accessible via QR code. The question is, what information or interaction could be provided that might help listeners understand more, and encourage performers to take the plunge and perform our work?

I came up with the following fairly random list. Some things are eminently achievable, others a bit wacky and out of the realms of probability but I wanted to try to stretch the idea as far as it would go and see if any of the ideas sound feasible to implement in the here and now.

Most basic, requiring only initial posting and subsequent updating. No real interaction:

  • Link to a recording of a piece, which can then be updated as better performances occur and are recorded
  • Provide recordings/scores of variant versions of a piece which might provide insight for users preparing a performance or interested in the process
  • Analysis and full programme notes for the piece – content that is more detailed or longer than is appropriate for brief front-of-score notes, but which may aid with understanding the work.
  • Pre-recorded rehearsal parts (e.g. the piano part for a song cycle, orchestra part for a concerto) for download to help with learning the piece and help amateur players create a performance even if they don’t have access to other performers.
  • Pieces requiring tape parts could have the performance-quality tape part available for download in a variety of formats, whether as the primary method of distribution or as a backup for a physical CD version
  • Information about performances and recordings, both archived and upcoming

Slightly more advanced, requiring more active/regular participation from users or the composer:

  • A forum where performers and listeners can raise questions specific to that piece, which the composer can respond to. This then provides a further resource for future visitors
  • Updates to the score or variants may be produced based on forum feedback or to respond to specific requests. These new versions can then be uploaded to the site.
  • A list of blog posts relating to the creation of the work – for me, I track my work on pieces most days I’m working on them via One Creative Thing. I don’t always go into a lot of detail, but possibly some of it could be useful and could give a good idea of what else was happening at the time to influence the development of the work. Many composer-bloggers will talk about their work in progress to a certain extent and simple tagging of posts with a composition name can give an opportunity to easily provide a list like this.
  • Ability for site users to list a performance of a work

More advanced and probably cloud-cuckoo-land, requiring a full community using and connecting through the system:

  • Users able to upload audio/video recordings of their own performances of a piece. I can see this being of most use to amateur performers in terms of feedback on their performance – but it could also then be a great resource for the composer, who could then contact a performer who produced a particularly good interpretation and ask to use their recording on the public site.
  • Performers connecting with each other: Sort of a personals column for musicians – “I’m a flautist in London and I really want to play this piece, but I don’t know anyone who could play the viola or piano parts – anybody interested?”

Not sure whether I’ll actually do anything with this yet, but I’m thinking about it…


Do you know anyone who’s doing something like this? Is there anything you think might be useful in such a system? Let me know in the comments!

2 Replies to “Connecting through the score”

  1. Hi Caitlin,

    I think this is a fascinating idea, and one with real potential!

    I think it could easily be possible to link a QR code, printed on a published score (or on scores created by composers and self-published) to an huge online music community/database. Each QR could relate directly to a page, with information about the music, that could then have sub pages housing recordings, forums/potential for messages, areas the composer could have access to to edit and update etc.

    Implementation would be the trickiest thing. Such a site would not only have to be developed and implemented (using some kind of social community code? Some kind of wiki? I don't know)… but publishers/composers who produce their own scores would have to get on board to use the system, and put the barcodes on their works. However, if you got past the tricky implementation stage, I think it could potentially be a fabulous resource – especially for contemporary music where there can be so much discussion about how it should be interpreted.

    1. Thanks Jenni – yes, that could be an amazing thing. I agree though that buy-in from composers would be the sticking point in particular. Without publisher buy-in the pages could still be accessed by browsing the system, but without composer buy-in, forum questions would go unanswered and content pages would not be maintained, which would frustrate users of the system.

      Another issue is that it's yet another place to post sound files and list performances which could be frustrating for composers – at the moment I'm on here, and SoundCloud and Composition Today (not to mention Twitter and Facebook and the Australian Music Centre and Sound and Music) and even thinking about trying to keep them all in sync makes my head spin.

      What would be way cool is if it could be done in such a way that the composer just installed some sort of plug-in or open-source software within their normal website but which then sent back data to a central location for maintenance of single URLs for the QR codes while the composer just carried on uploading stuff to their site and tagging it to include it. Hmmm. Suspect that would require more techno-geekery than I have brainspace for…

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