Assembling Online: Thre(e)scapes

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The Assembled is an ensemble based at the University of York. It was formed in 2011, by Catherine Laws, with the aim of providing a context for students from undergraduate to doctoral level to explore collaborative processes of creating new, experimental performances. The group operates at the intersection of experimental music and devised theatre practices, sometimes devising collectively and sometimes working from open scores of any kind. All members contribute to ideas through group experimentation, discussion and review. There is no specified instrumentation and no conductor or other non-playing leader. The personnel is often international, with diverse musical backgrounds. Finally, attention is always paid to the ensemble’s relationship to the ‘space’ of performance, often with physical movement or aspects of instrumental gesture developed in relation to the sounding content.

With the COVID pandemic, these processes have been transferred – or ‘translated’ –online. Performers have been locked down across the UK and in Singapore, Italy and Austria, with varying connectivity and network speeds, some with limited access to technology, instruments, and/or workspace. There was no possibility to invest in new hardware or software. Likewise, given the limitations of bandwidth for many performers, there was no point trying to adopt some of the freely available software for reduced latency online group music-making; all such options required network speeds beyond those available to most players. Nevertheless, we took an early decision to continue working collaboratively and in real time, rather than assigning tasks for recording and subsequently editing these curatorially. This has involved embracing, creatively, the contingencies of latency, sound quality and overall connectivity, rather than trying to minimise or conceal these issues. Similarly, we decided to explore both the possibilities and limitations of video conferencing platforms: given the ensemble’s interest in the ‘space’ of performance, and the relationship between what we hear and what we see in live performance, we have inevitably attempted to work creatively with the screen in relation to sound, within – or where possible exploiting – the considerable constraints of the designated platform.

This presentation will include a live performance of Thre(e)scapes (if possible – see below) – a recently devised piece, performed by The Assembled on Zoom in March 2021 – and a short paper examining the issues that arise in ‘translating’ these processes to the online context.

Underlying the ethos of The Assembled is an emphasis on creative process over product, with rehearsal functioning as the primary site of creativity rather than to hone an interpretation of an extant musical text. Collaborative devising is, as Mermikides and Smart (2010) note, characterised by playfulness and openness to the unexpected, by creative risk and experimentation. However, this is generally predicated on in-person interaction in a shared physical space: on the familiar physical conditions of the rehearsal room, which afford fast, embodied action-perception loops and rapid verbal and non-verbal interactions. How is this transformed by an online context characterised by the vagaries of sound quality, unpredictable delay, and differently mediated embodied presence? How have subtle software updates in recent months afforded different creative possibilities?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2021
EventNetworked Collaborative Processes - Online
Duration: 25 Jun 202126 Jun 2021


ConferenceNetworked Collaborative Processes
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