The constraints, aesthetic implications, and creative strategies of composing for networked music performance
Performing music together over a public network while being located at a distance from each other necessarily means performing under a particular set of technical and performative constraints. These constraints are antithetical to—and make cumbersome—the performance of tightly synchronised music, which traditionally depends on the conditions of transmission stability, ultra-low latency, and shared presence. These conditions are experienced optimally only when musicians perform at the same time and in the same place. Except for specialized private network services, public networks are inherently latent and unstable, which disrupts musicians’ ability to achieve precise vertical synchronisation and create an environment where approaches to music performance and composition must be reconsidered. It is widely considered that these conditions mean that networked music performance is a future genre for when network latencies and throughput improve, or one that is currently reserved for high-end heavily optimised networks afforded by institutions and not individuals, or one that is primarily reserved for improvisatory or aleatoric composition and performance techniques. I disagree that networked music is dependent on access to advanced Internet technologies and suggest that music compositions for networked music performance can be highly successful over regular broadband conditions when the composer considers the limitations as opportunities for new creative strategies and aesthetic approaches. In this exegesis, I outline the constraints that prove that while networked music performance is latent, asynchronous, multi-located, multi-authorial, and hopelessly, intrinsically, and passionately digitally mediated, these constraints provide rich creative opportunities for the composition and performance of synchronised and resonant music. I introduce four aesthetic approaches, which I determine as being critical towards the development of networked music: 1) postvertical harmony, where the asynchronous arrival of signals ruptures the harmonic experience; 2) new timbral fusions created through multi-located resonant sources; 3) a contribution to performative relationships through the generation and transmission of vital information in the musical score and through the development of new technologies for facilitating performer synchronisation; and 4) the post-digital experience, where all digital means of manipulation are permitted and embraced, leading to new ways of listening to and forming reproduced realities. Each of these four aesthetic approaches are considered individually in relation to the core constraints, through discussion of the present-day technical conditions, and how each of these approaches are applied to my musical portfolio through practical illustration.