Totalitarian Scoring Workshop

Benedict Eris Carey, Ryan Ross Smith

In most musical performances, the performers and audience members are often subjected to opposite sides of the traditional entertainment social construct: a one-way flow of information from performer to audience.

While this dynamic is often challenged through the use of audience interaction and other methods, the traditional audience performer dynamic is generally maintained, as the audience adopts the “performer” label, but only within the context of “audience as performers.” The role of the performer is still present as the primary source of musical information, even when the performative expectations placed upon them are derived from audience choice.

totalitarian score

With Totalitarian Scoring we approach this particular dissolution of the performer-audience dynamic by completely occupying the performers senses, effectively removing any sense of audience from the performer’s perspective, an isolation tactic that is explicitly known to the audience.

Taking this to extreme levels, the VR goggles are a blindfold, the headphones are ear plugs. The performer sees only what is channeled to them via the composition system, and interaction with other performers is only allowed when the system determines it.

Participants are effectively in a form of notational solitary confinement, which enables the creation of interesting experimental musical games. This process is reminiscent of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, but on a much smaller scale.

Many proponents of experimental music have experimented with the hierarchy of composer performer and audience hierarchy of course, such as Luigi Nono, Louis Andriessen, Charles Ives, Alexander Mosolov and Kevin Baird to name a few. 3D music notation has also been demonstrated (by Dimitrij Hmeljak for instance), but as yet without an attempt to capitalize on the sensory deprivation afforded by Virtual Reality, which is primarily different to what has been referred to in a recent Time magazine feature article as “Real Reality” or RR1 and Augmented Reality (AR) due to this immersive quality. It allows us to engineer synthetic worlds that enforce a totalitarian hierarchical structure between system and user due to the introduction of this concept of immersion to notational practice.


The use of VR in a performance setting introduces new concepts of not only the function of the score, but the social constructs associated with traditional performance practices. The isolation of the performer within the virtual space contrasts sharply with the (often) more inclusive social aspect of conventional performance situations. To this end, we believe it is important that workshop attendees have the opportunity to explore the virtual world as a performer would in performance, as two-dimensional conventional presentation methods would only hint at the immersive qualities of the work. We hypothesize that this approach will make a significant impact on the perception of the score, and will help to alleviate any preconditioning that could lead a conventional interpretation of any otherwise unconventional scoring method. This would aid in the deconstruction of the implicit performer-audience hierarchy that reinforces the role of the performer as interpreter, or more cynically, as little more than a representative of the composer in the concert hall. It is not unlikely that with such a system the role of the audience is no longer as important or distinguishable from the role of the performer, solving the much debated “audience problem” facing the contemporary music community.

VR allows for less mediated interactions between these two groups by introducing a simulated environment, where social norms are not yet established, in contrast to the well known concert scenario of one group sitting in silence while the other creates sound. We suggest that this doctrine is perhaps in place for the pragmatic purpose of discouraging interruption to the flow of the music being performed, in addition to it’s primary function, which is enforcing a strict hierarchy to aid in the process of organizing sound in the presence of others. Conversely, due to the possibility of near total control over the participants’ senses, they may for the first time experience an ideal version of the opposite of this scenario through becoming completely locked out of any distracting external realities in the RR space surrounding them, to the point where the system provides the participant a true zero stimulus scenario, a kind of more intense and powerful version of the musical symbol of a rest.

Assumptions of hypothesis

VR can be used to create a notated musical experience that is fully externally controlled (by a preconfigured system), with only minor control given to the user. This situation of strict control over the users’ senses is designed to encourage adherence to the musical material presented for performance (see VR). To this end we have drawn compositional and visual (specifically the rollercoasteresque quality of the tempo lines) inspiration from Smith’s Study n. 55 in which performers must follow the score with unwavering eyes in order to adequately realize the malleable pulse relationships designated by the score.

In the domain of Virtual Reality, if the wearer of an HMD does not have control over what is being fed to them through the system, they are voluntarily relinquishing control over this aspect of their perception to a foreign control source. A handy way to conceptualize this is via the “HMD as blindfold” metaphor. A virtual score might merely be a traditional score ported into virtual reality certainly, as is already possible with the NetScore package for example. However, once the entire simulated environment that performers or audience see is controlled by a compositional system, this system can automate what “gaps” in the blindfold are made visible to the user i.e. what data is allowed into the system. This may influence the users’ perception of basic parameters such as time, and lead to increased rhythmic accuracy in performance scenarios. To strengthen this effect, we have used gravity as a parameter as well as motion.

VR scores may limit a performers freedom but the performer is totally open to look at the score or to focus their attention elsewhere, and there is evidence to suggest that in the heightened state of perception experienced in performance, the slightest interruption can have a devastating impact on the concentration of the performer and audience alike. Totalitarian scoring can hopefully be expected to encourage and regulate higher levels of control over the user than traditional scores can, due to the increased concentration and as a result increased performance_efficiency.


duration description
40mn Install w/participants Organizers will need to install the app on participants Android smartphones
40mm System Presentation In-depth explanation of the methodology and technology
20mn Performance 1 Participants experience the system for the first time. Performance details will be determined based on personnel
30mn Feedback session 1 Participants talk about their first experience with the system as a group
15mn break
30mn Performance 2 Participants perform with the systemt
30mn Clossing discussions


Benedict Carey

Benedict Carey is an Australian composer, performer, programmer and technician, who has worked across a wide variety of projects in the creative arts communities of Europe and Australia. He has performed contemporary ensemble and solo repertoire including his own compositions (electronics, live scoring) with groups such as the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, TonArt, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Offspring, Duo Soie and the Decibel Ensemble. His works have been played on radio in Australia and Europe many are available on YouTube. In 2015 Benedict relocated to Germany as a doctoral student and researcher at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater to focus on the combination of real-time composition and systematic musicology to create interactive spectral music experiences. He is currently working on his VR opera “Motherese”.

Ryan Ross Smith

Ryan Ross Smith is a composer and performer currently based in Fremont Center, NY. Smith has performed throughout the US, Europe and UK, including performances at MoMA and PS1 [NYC] and Le Centre Pompidou [Paris, FR], has had his music performed throughout North America, Iceland, Denmark, Australia and the UK, has presented his work and research at conferences including NIME, ISEA, ICLI, ICLC, SMC, SMF, the Deep Listening Conference and Tenor, and has lectured at various colleges and universities. Smith is best known for his work with Animated Music Notation: Research Website (visit Animated Notation for more regular updates). Smith earned his PhD in Electronic Arts from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY in August, 2016, and is currently teaching Audio Arts at SUNY Oneonta.


  • Participants should bring their smartphones with them, as we will be installing a custom application on their phone.

  • We will provide the Google VR headsets and earbud headphones that will turn their phones into Head Mounted Displays.

  • There will be support for Android only, please check instructions for download and install instructions prior to the workshop.

  • We will make a request prior to the conference that attendees bring their instruments if possible, but as this is not always possible, we will provide a wide array of simple percussion and wind instruments for the entire group.