Interactive improvisation makes us all composers. – curious arts


C’mon Festival 2016

This weekend will see the fourth annual C’mon Festival take place at Studio 96.

The unique festival seeks to blur the lines between classical music and other genres along with an element of audience participation.

Nicolás Arnáez (’14 MMus, Composition. Currently working on his PhD) returns to the festival this year with the premiere of a piece commissioned by the festival. The commission has been specifically composed to also include elements of dance and live electronic improvisation.

We caught up with Nicolás to ask him a few questions.

black and white photo of Nicolás Arnáez in front of a sound board

Nicolás Arnáez

What was your inspiration for the Music this year?

Nicolás: Lately, I have been very interested in using the concept of interactivity in music. Let me dig a bit in the concept; on the music we normally hear, there is a linear hierarchy from the composer (on top) to the audience (at the bottom) that runs as follows: the composer tells the performer what to do, how to do it and when to do it; in the action of doing this, the performer is the agent that tells the audience what to hear, then the interactivity does not exist, there is always somebody telling the other what to do or hear. These ones listening have no chance of expressing an influential feedback.

There are some composers that challenge this hierarchy by giving the performer the option of choosing some (or all the) material to play (techniques are various, like indeterminacy on the scores, graphic or text notation, amongst many others); thus, the performer is interacting with the piece and with the composer…. This interactivity makes the performer somehow, also a composer. There are also artists that create sound installations, where the audience, by their presence and decisions, create the input; therefore influencing the composition. In these cases, the audience can also be seen as a performer and, why not, as a composer.

As you can see, interactivity in these cases is what makes the music to happen, to exist. The music depends on meaningful, influential and engaged feedback to become art.

The idea on the piece I will be presenting this time (called “Emergiendo” which is Spanish for “Emerging”), is to use a network of interactions that will determinate the music to be heard. In this case, performer, audience, composer and dancer will influence each other in an net of interactions, with no hierarchies, just regular humans beings deciding and enjoying 10 minutes of unheard music.

Dancer behind another dancer, holding her waist. Together they form a unique shape.

Kiera Keglowitsch & Kylee Hart from Citie Ballet. Photo by Martine Martell

U of A Student andCitie Balletdancer Kiera Kleglowitsch also talked about the complexities of performing in such a piece.

Kiera: Performing in improvised pieces is challenging because it requires heightened awareness of what is going on around you. Instead of only needing to focus on yourself and potentially other dancers around you, improvisation forces you to pay close attention to each of the live musicians, audience interaction, and the space in which you’re moving. It is a very challenging process but also incredibly fun because it gives you  total control and freedom over your art and what you’re doing.

Can you tell me a bit about the interactive portion of the piece? Will the audience be a part of the music?

Nicolás: The audience will participate by recording some audio prior to the performance of Emergiendo (they will be asked to meet me before they get into the hall on Friday show, my piece is performed on Saturday). Basically they will give their thoughts about certain images and videos and I will record them. Those recordings will be used to fill the blanks on an uncompleted pre-made history that runs throughout the piece, shaping the narration in a way that not even I will know the outcome.

The other agents are also interactive. The performers have graphic notated scores that requires them to choose notes to play, rhythms to invent, etc., based on both what they hear in the story and by following the dancers’ sonorous cues. The dancer will improvise movements while hearing the story which will be used as inspiration; also the movements of her arms will produce variations on the music sounding in a five channel sound system that surrounds the audience. The sounds to be processed are the narrator, the audience recordings and what the musicians play. As you can see, the network of interaction travels in all directions.

Nicolás Arnáez

Photo by Nicolás Arnáez

What is it like composing for musicians, dancers and live electronics all at once?

Nicolás: It is both extremely challenging and completely exciting. The challenge is to use technology as a tool for music making, which involves hours and hours of testing, software creation, sensors measuring, computer stability and eloquent use of the resources. On the artistic side, I believe the trick is to have a good balance between technology and art, I am not a fan of creating music that is just a display of technologic advances, the content is crucial to have meaningful music. When the decision making of the sounds go beyond the composer, the stability of the art can be challenged, so more than a composer I consider myself in this case, an inventor. I have created a system that is similar to a language for others to use. If my language has failures, there will be no communication and it will be a failure.

On the other hand, the engagement of the involved parts is different, when people hear themselves on the speakers, or the dancer has the freedom to manipulate the music that she is dancing to, or when the instrumentalists can make their aesthetic values present because of the openness of the work, the result is an unseen commitment that gives, as a result, a new manner of music listening.

What do you hope the audience takes away?

Nicolás: That is a question that should be asked to all involved parts, I haven’t composed a musical piece, I have created an non-hierarchical system of art…. the lack of the image of the traditional “composer” does not allow me to respond to this question. Composers and audience are all the parts involved. Each individual decision will be private, and what those acting as audience will take, is so intimate that it passes the boundaries of my desires of transmitting something.

The only thing I can say, is that the goal is to create an atmosphere of communication and freedom, that hopefully will be understood as art.   

Kiera: I think the entire weekend of performances is going to be really amazing and interesting for audience members. Emergiendo in particular will be a very unique experience for audience members because it is rare that an audience can be directly involved in what is happening on stage. They will be able to actively participate in the artistic conversation and be impacted by and also have an impact on the performers and the direction of the piece.

The entire festival is full of amazing art that will challenge, inspire, and engage audiences in unconventional ways.

Read about Kitchen bells by Nicolás Arnáez from last year’s C’mon Festival

Event Title: C’mon Festival
Dates: Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17 at 3:00 p.m.
Venue: McCauley’s Studio 96 (10909 – 96 Street)
Tickets: Admission by donation
For full details, see

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