Video scores

Video scores

A video score is a type of musical notation that uses a camera, video or film as the basis on the musical instructions.  Video scores embrace somatic forms of communicating and representing embodied knowledge. Video scores can use graphics and animation but there are many more approaches such as using dance and the body in relation to a camera. Below you will see a range of a range of examples as well as some historical links to important works from the past.

cope-make short video

Copy-make (seen above) is a video score process that involves the physicality of sound and proposes new methodologies of working relationships between composer and performers in an open and visually centred collaborative approach. You can read further about this project here in a paper published in Leonardo Music Journal, Volume 30, 2020 or see further documentation on this website.

The video above is a video score that was used by the Adelaide Philharmonic Choir. Link to work. Full programme notes here

This video score which uses archival footage of Australia’s cartography practices from the 1960s are transformed into a video score for a performer to engage with by tracing the movements of the people in the video. Read more here

Serpentine is a multimedia piece for erhu, percussion and spoken word. The vertical grey line is the full length of the “A” string on the erhu. The player follows the yellow dot as it moves up and down. The small moving yellow dot is the position along the string at which the player makes contact with in instrument and produces a sound. The result is a series of short glissandi fragments at different rates and positions. Read more

The circle on the left is for the left hand and the circle on the right is for the right hand. When the arrows land on an instrument the performer strikes that instrument. The performer aims to vary the timbre for each strike such as hitting the metal rim on the snare drum the first time around then striking the centre of its skin the next time. Dynamics and mallet choice is written in an additional part of the score. The performer varies the dynamics from ‘pp to mf’ with ‘p’ being the base line.

Historical links:

Mauricia Kagel – Ludwig van. Homage from Beethoven

Mauricio Kagel produced a video score out of his fi lm Ludwig van (1970), which consists of staged footage inside Beethoven’s music studio, and the performers play musical fragments in the sequence of their appearance on screen. Some score fragments are missing clefs, key signatures and tempo, with different degrees of clarity from the camera’s lens, and some fragments are upside down. The piece functions differently from the video score in Mapping Australia, concerning more the transference of a line of movement on screen to a location on the piano’s surface. However, both pieces include similar ideas of flipping, inverting and stretching musical fragments through visual representation.

Mauricio Kagel was an Argentine-German composer and academic born in 1931. He was a professor for new music theatre at the Cologne Conservatory from 1974–97. Some of his pieces give specific theatrical instructions to the performers, such as to adopt certain facial expressions while playing, to make their stage entrances in a particular way, to physically interact with other performers. For this reason commentators related his work to the Theatre of the Absurd. He has been regarded by music historians as critically interrogating the position of music in society.

William Forsythe – Alien:a(c)tion 

A video score was used as part of the process of choreographer William Forsythe’s work Alien:a(c)tion (1992) involving scenes taken from the film Aliens. Velocities, orientations and directions of the actors in the film are used as directions for movement by the performers—similar to Mapping Australia. Images are also broken down into words and letters, where each letter has its own semantic meaning (for example, a cat in the video would represent the movements associated with the letters C, A and T)

Still images from the film Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott, the scene with Jonesy, Ripley’s cat.

Movement alphabet’s are made in connection with the kinesphere — the total volume of a body’s potential movement. Dancers are always conscious of their kinespheres, which exist in the air around them. I argue that musician’s also have a kinesphere as well as a aurashere  the total volume of the sound’s potential. 

Jennifer Walshe – dirty white fields

dirty white fields (2002) uses video, images and text as a compositional process. Walshe provides audio and video clips and poetic descriptions of sounds to establish an idiom of what an imagined scene looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, etc. The performer then uses this to make specific technical instrumental choices. See below an example from the work.

one: fizzing bruised white


Very cold day, biting wind. Sitting by the sea, on rocks. Everything is white and grey, occasional splotches of green, but always mottled with grey and white and dirty white. Listening to the waves coming in and going out, the white noise sound in different parts of the space. 

There is a wave that is starting next to me and then receding at an angle to the rear left distance. There are bunches of fizzy white noise in the rear-right corner and to my left. Now and then a plane or a train in the far-distance. Perhaps not even this.

The sound abruptly diminuendos when I jump off the rocks and turn my back. You can hear my foot-steps fade up as I walk away. Then cut.

violin sounds

Strings usually muted using the fingers of the left hand (place gently on strings). These are

“white-noise” sounds.

  1. Bow on shoulder of instrument, hard and soft pressure.
  2. Bow in dip of instrument.
  3. Bow on shoulder, left-hand side, hitting IV from time to time.
  4. Bow on bridge, keeping pressure light.
  5. Bow on I, both straight and elliptically.

voice sounds

Air sounds, coloured and dirty. All long, drawn-out sounds. Intakes and expellations on all sounds.

  1. [s] s as in sue. Bring tongue back a little – high-pitched whistling sound
  2. [ ss ] ss as in mission. Low in mouth. Can push to whistling noise.
  3. [ ci] c as in cat, i as in slid. Slightly low in throat.
  4. [co] [ po ] o as in hot, p as in push. Low in throat.
  5. [ poo ] [coo ] [foo ] f as in fat. Bring lips into pout, amplify air sound against them.
  6. [f] Low in throat. Bring bottom lip up to meet front teeth – spitty, fizzy sound.
  7. [di] [du] d as in door, u as in thud. Tiny tips of tongue, as if bursting spit bubbles.

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