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April 2020
Naarm/Melbourne, Australia

PREMIERE: Monash Electronic Music Ensemble (Nov. '21)
Day of Play  Festival, Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University


FORMAT: collaborative improvisation for Zoom meeting
DURATION: variable (this version ~ 20 mins)
SCORE: prose instructions
PERSONNEL: ensemble of 2+ people, each with access to smart device
ORCHESTRATION: voice, computer percussion (keyboards, etc.), office stationary (optional), other instrumentation (optional, at players' discretion)

Program Notes

Arising during the depths of Naarm/Melbourne’s 262-day Covid-19 lockdown, Chatting is a structured ensemble improvisation - conducted entirely via Zoom-call. The piece highlights and interrogates the distinction between the disparate physical locations of each participant, and the communal virtual environment in which the collaborative work takes place. Usually, we focus on just one of these zones, apologising for any overlaps which may arise – be it leaving the room to take a call or else muting ourselves while we shut a noisy window. Chatting synthesises these spaces, inverting the “real” and the “virtual” and inviting participants to consider how sound, gesture and human interaction may be articulated in the abstracted world of online communication. This inversion operates on a number of levels. Most straightforwardly, participants by turns describe sonic events using words, and try to reconstitute these prompts vocally. The identification of real versus imaginary content is now problematised at both the ontological (Is a sound any less real when heard in a virtual space instead of in my physical environment? Does a sound lose its meaning when I don’t know who in the conversation verbalised it?) and semantic levels (What is the real interpretation of this prompt? Is it that which the chatter heard originally, or is it any way I real-ise it from the prompt?). At a more advanced stage, when Variation #3 is used, participants extend their sound-world beyond that of purely incident ambient noises. The prompts themselves can now be entirely imaginary, and their only “real” sonic constitution comes by means of the virtually-hosted performance. The various “images” of participants’ lived geographical spaces increasingly blend together, coalescing into a surreal and disjointed sensory experience which reflects the bizarre detachment of a life in lockdown, conducted entirely over screens. Chatting is an exploration of the affordances of a communal digital landscape which many have no choice but to inhabit. Whereas musicians typically resort video-calls only as a poor substitute for physical rehearsals, Chatting embraces and exploits the foibles which characterise the necessary technologies of our time.



This piece is for two or more performers. Each performer must have access to a video calling device (computer, phone, tablet) and a video calling platform (skype, zoom, messenger). It will be useful if all participants have the same video calling platform, since trying to conduct a video call will necessarily be a little difficult otherwise.


The piece begins when the first person begins the video call. Participants can be anywhere – at a desk, in bed, sitting in the park, walking their dog.

As participants join the video call, they should all ensure that their audio is turned on and that the chat function is visible.

As participants hear sounds in their environment (ceiling fan, kettle, cars going past, dog barking, taking a sip of tea, door unlocking, leaves rustling, loud wind, rain, “dinner’s ready”, “unstack the dishwasher”, “who the fuck forgot to flush the toilet”, “where the fuck’s my bike helmet”), participants should write that sound into the chat.

When somebody sends a sound idea to the chat, other participants should replicate this sound using their voice. Participants should continue this gesture until another sound is messaged to the group.

The piece comes to an end when one of the participants needs to go to the toilet. They should announce “dammit, I gotta go!” All participants should then sign off, and the piece concludes.

Variation #1

Participants can, at any time throughout the piece, return to a previous sound idea.

Variation #2

Participants can incorporate instruments.

Variation #3

Participants can invent their own imaginary incidental sounds.

Variation #4

The ensemble can decide to combine any, all or none of the above variations.

Suggested Sounds

The following is a list of sounds that participants might like to find/consider in their own environment, or else contribute as imaginary incidental sounds (see Variation #3).

Prompt #1: It’s worth thinking about the register of sound: Do we already have lots of high, short sounds (clicks, snaps etc)? Do we have many longer phrases? Are people talking (using recognisable words) a lot?

Prompt #2: Consider sounds that are currently dormant, but could be converted into interesting vocalisations. What about a serial number, found on the barcode of a household product? Could different participants read the number out - in sequence, but out of phase? How might this create interesting rhythmic patterns, variations, homogeneities or collaboratively-developed vernaculars?

Consideration: If your sound goes for a while/is loud, consider stepping back from the mic so quieter sounds can also be heard!

  • clock ticking

  • dog barking

  • by the seaside ringtone

  • pen clicking

  • flipping book pages

  • rustling a bag of chips

  • stapler/holepunch

  • drum roll

  • number string (see Prompt #2 above).

  • floorboard creaking

  • um/err

  • “miss, can I please go to the bathroom?”

  • “oi dad what’s for dinner?”

  • “get out of my room!”

  • “what? I can’t right now, I’m in class”

  • gurgling mouthwash

  • setting glass on a table

  • door opening/closing

  • key turning in lock

  • slurping drink

  • snapping/closing plastic container

  • squeal

  • toilet flushing

  • laughing hysterically

  • “close the door behind you!”

  • “hey, is my microphone working?”

  • “who left the toilet seat up?”

  • scissors cutting paper

  • coughing


Click here to download a PDF version of the above information.

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