George Lewis: Artificial Life 2007
Created for the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, Artificial Life is a schema for collective improvisation – and collective silence. No musical material is prescribed; the principle is rather that of stimulus, and the medium that of verbal instructions that could give rise to radically different results, depending on the performers taking part.
There are just two pages of these instructions, which may be followed separately, in either order, or together. Page 1 is to be read by musicians acting individually or in groups, and is the same for everyone: a set of sixteen words, some of them suggesting kinds of sound (“smooth,” “soli”), some having to do with how one soloist or group might respond to another (“end,” for example, asks for an imitative response to another group, starting immediately that other group has come to an end). Page 2 also consists of single words or very elementary directions, and proposes several groups (at least three), each creating its own pathway either in relation what is happening or independently. Lewis further suggests that moments of silence will be needed – not empty silence, but a silence filled with listening and decisionmaking as the musicians prepare to contribute to the artificial life that is their joint creation. “The success of the performance,” the composer finally notes, “is not so much related to individual freedoms but to the assumption of personal and collective responsibility for the sonic environment.”