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Methods of Electronic Musician Collaboration

September 28, 2004

I’ve been monitoring the discussions I’ve started on various electronic music related bulletin boards. So far, I’ve identified several different distance collaboration modalities between artists. Check out the rest of the article to read on…

[Listening to: funkyar (Limbik Frequencies – Deep Elektro[u]nique) – SpaceTime Continuum – (0:-1)]


The first and simplest method (in the context of electronic music) is the mix/remix method. This involves one artist completing a song, and another artist (usually with the permission of the original artist) remixes the song by breaking it down into individual components. Sometimes these components are small sections of the whole song, and other times they are sections of an individual track. The key feature of this method is reinterpretation. The collaboration involved is very loose, and does not require communication from the second artist back to the original artist. It also means that there are 2 distinct, finished songs. Several times, musicians will help to finish other artist’s tracks for them, such as in the case where the original artist is deceased.

The next method is the track mail method. This can be thought of as a conversation between two artists where one creates an individual track (drums, rhythm, etc..), and sends it to the second. The second artists adds one or more of his own tracks and perhaps alters the first. He then sends it back to the initial artist and the process repeats until both artists decide the track is in a finished state. This method usually involves long delays between sending and receiving the tracks (some people burn their tracks to cd’s and use normal mail, while others send and receive using the internet).

Another method is the bulletin board method. This method has become popularized through the use of all inclusive DAW software applications such as Ableton Live and Reason. Using these applications, individuals post small patches for instrumentation or sequencer information. In this sense the information posted is not strictly audio or note based, but can take the form of settings for waveform generators and samplers.

One other method uses a shared midi space, where artists create individual tracks using a sort of chat client, and build up a song progressively with each member contributing a different section of music (drums, lead, etc.) The Res Rocket DRGN network is a good example of this, and enjoyed a small amount of attention from new media sources before they closed their doors.

The next couple of methods are experimental in nature, and as such have not met with widespread acceptance in the electronic music community. However, they are interesting in their own right.

One such method is the Real Time Collaborative Wave Synthesis method, such as the method utilized in the paper entitled “A System for Collaborative Music Composition over the Web” by Sergi Jordà and Otto Wüst. This method enables real time control of waveform parameters for mulitple individuals in real time over the internet. However, due to the latency introduced by current internet protocols, not every form of music works as well. Most of the success of this method of collaboration has been in the creation of synthesis “droning” songs (similart in concept to gregorian chant) that aren’t as sensitive to discrepancies in timing as other forms of electronic music. The failure of this method of collaboration to catch on could be due to the relative unpopularity of this form of electronic music.

Another method that is rapidly gaining awareness among the electronic music crowd is the “exquisite corpse” method of song creation. This method of audio creation takes its name from a similar method of artistic collaboration. Examples of this can be seen here. This method is similar to the mix/remix method, but it differs in terms of number of particpants and method of source alteration. While mixing/remixing is a popular method, it usually takes the form of a single individual or band altering the source individual or band’s material. Rarely will a third party come along and alter the remix (However, multiple artists altering a single artist’s source is very common). The exquisite corpse method usually involves a central repository, and a set sequence of individuals. The first individual composes a brief (1-2min long) segment and passes it on to the next. The song is considered complete once the final individual has finished his segment. The method of segwaying from the previous artist’s work into the next is left completely to the discretion of the new artist. This method of collaboration is unique in that participating individuals are able to express themselves distinctly in the song, and that everyone has an equal role.

All of these roles deal with the temporal problems associated with collaboration across sizable distances (and timezones), but the methods of collaboration are by far less iterative than actual physical copresence. This may be seen as a benefit or a drawback to the creative process.

From → Capstone

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