Improvisations in Polyrhythmic Spatiality

This research is situated within an evolving field of creative practice that is situated between the domains of music and spatial design. Through a generative process of mass improvisation on the digital drum kit, I have first sought to understand the ‘referent’ patterns and phrases that form the foundations of my own drum kit practice as a means of understanding myself. Drawing on the tools, media and methods of spatial design, a new 3D spatial drum notation has been developed that offers novel insights into the polyrhythm, micro-timing and velocities that define my ‘style’. This 3D Spatial Drum Notation has been applied to the analysis of the improvisational styles of other drummers and in the notation of my own drum-based ‘Digital DrumScapes’ compositions.

My creative practice then explores creative works in the domain of improvised polyrhythmic ‘DrumScapes’ to create vast electroacoustic spatial soundscapes. Using the similar musical data sets, my creative practice then explores the novel spatial design opportunities inherent in improvised digital drum-play as a generative tool for speculations in polyrhythmic spatiality. My intention is to bring these research elements together into new ‘musico-spatial design’ creative practice that explores the possibilities of improvisations in polyrhythmic spatiality in both music and spatial design contemporaneously.


Polyrhythmic Explorations Pt 3

We are now looking into ways of relating this capacity to generate liquid architectural forms (to quote Novak) derived from improvisatory processes on the digital drum kit to quasi-architectural settings. Initial investigations are into a walkway linear type structure founded on lofted drum geometries…

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Polyrhythmic Explorations Pt 2

The next stage evolved the scrip to represent the overlay of a multi-layered composition derived from improvisation. This is an abstracted form that represents how 5 layers of drum solo’s work together to form a complex, polyrhythmic composition…

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Polyrhythmic Explorations

The project has progressed towards the exploration of liquid form-making derived from drum-based improvisation. Although this is currently focussed on drum improvisations already recorded, the focus will shift to the concept of working in both music and spatial design domains contemporaneously- as an integrated ‘Musico-Spatial Designer’.

These are the initial images that demonstrate proof of concept…More to come!

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Paper accepted for presentation at the 2017 TENOR conference in A Coruna, Spain (
This research has evolved from creative practice focused on inter-disciplinary positioning between the domains of music and architecture. Through engagement in the theo-ries and practice of architectural representation and the computational tools of spatial design, a spatial drum notation is presented. This notation seeks to overcome the limitations of traditional drum notation in relation to a theoretical ‘musico-perspectival hinge’ between the nota-tion and the meaning of the notation. A representational schema of the spatial drum notation is discussed in rela-tion to the development of a lexicon of referent drum patterns and phrases that constitute a drummers playing style and in the notation of a multi-layered drumscape. Further speculations are discussed in relation to the po-tential of 3D printed scores, scores in Virtual Reality and a merged musico-spatial design creative practice.

Drumming Referents

This video shows how a drummers ‘go to’ riffs, patterns and phrases (Referents) can be visualised in 3D, plan and elevation. Nuances of micro timing, slurs and velocity variations can be visualised through a the use of Rhino3D Grasshopper definition.

Solo ‘Referent’ Patterns

100 ‘referent drum solo samples were taken from longer drum improvisations. These represent my personal drumming style that has evolved over years of playing since 1982. These have been visualised in plan, elevation and 3D using a Spatial Notation schema using Rhino3D Grasshopper.

‘Beat and Fill’ Referent Patterns

100 ‘referent samples in the context of ‘Beat and Fill’ were taken from longer drum improvisations. These represent my personal drumming style that has evolved over years of playing since 1982. These have been visualised in plan, elevation and 3D using a Spatial Notation schema using Rhino3D Grasshopper.

The 2016 QCRC & QCGU Higher Degree Research Symposium The Next Generation of Music Research: In & Beyond the Academy

Title: Drawing on Spatial Design to Understand Musical Creative Practice


I am an architect and a musician. For thirty years I have had practices in spatial design and as a percussionist specializing in the drum kit in contemporary music. As a practitioner in both domains, I have always had an interest in how these domains intersect. As a Phd candidate, I have been given the opportunity to undertake a deep investigation into the bringing together of separate practices into what I call an integrated ‘musico-spatial design practice’ through creative practice.

My presentation will outline the first project of my PhD. The first ‘ImprovScope’ project adopted a generative process of mass drum improvisation across three contexts of contemporary performance to generate a large data set of MIDI drum improvisations that emulate the contexts of contemporary drumming performance. Referring to the work of Pressing (1987) on methods and models of improvisation, the phenomenology of Cobussen, Frisk et al. (2010) ‘Field of Musical Improvisation’ and Breithaupt (1987), Benson (2003), Brown (2006), Berliner (2009), Braasch (2011), the project initially focused on improvisation and the discovery of my personal set of ‘referent’ (Pressing 1987) drum patterns and phrases within a ‘closed (i.e. without significant external stimuli) solo performance context. ‘Referent’ patterns and phrases (riffs) are the ‘go to’ repertoire that has been learnt, referenced, adapted, built up, evolved and stylized over the players’ career.

The founding question to this project became: ‘How can I represent my drum improvisations in a meaningful way to reveal the elements of my individual style?

The research was informed by Pérez-Gómez and Pelletier (1997) concept of the invisible ‘perspectival hinge’ between the representations and the artifact and Gibson (1979), and later, Norman (2013) concept of ‘affordance’ as visual cues as to the function of objects. I developed a series of ‘affordance experiments’ to find ways to understand my drumming creative practice. The project resulted in the creation of a sample set of 170 one-minute drum improvisations across the three contexts. Tracks were recorded, exported in MIDI, .wav and into traditional notation in Musescore. The intrinsic qualities of these media provide limited affordance for facilitating understanding of their meaning, temporal and performance qualities. Traditional notation, in particular, is limiting when it comes to polyrhythmic and complex drumming- especially to someone who has limited traditional notation reading capacities.

The affordance experiment under discussion involved the use of parametric CAD from the domain of spatial design software to provide affordance to understanding my improvisations and to bring into the spatial domain the outcome of split-second decisions on timing, drum selection and phrasing, complex overlays of polyrhythms and subtle velocity changes on the digital drum kit. We developed a Rhinoceros3DTM GrasshopperTM (GH) plugin to build a spatialized notation system that enables spatialization of MIDI drum improvisations in plan, section, elevation, perspective and isometric projections. Parametric digital design, unlike other forms of 3D CAD modeling, (in this case) is based on basic user defined mathematical rules, which can be manipulated to alter 3D virtual objects. These basic user defined mathematical rules are based on the parameters within raw MIDI file reformatted into a comma separated value (.csv) file using the open-source Sekaiju application.

As spatial designers, we interface with design information visually and spatially every day- in the form of drawings, models, written notes and in Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Whilst it is entirely natural for an architect to design an artifact using a hybrid media process (Bermudez and King 2000) of drawings (plan, section, elevation, freehand sketch), physical models (models “of” and models “for” (Kvan and Thilakaratne 2003)) and 2D and 3D CAD, these concepts are novel in the musical where musical notation remains largely in the 2D.

Further research will be discussed wherein the basic spatialized notation system is utilised to compare the improvised drumming responses of drummers from diverse musical backgrounds and experiences. It is contended that, by bringing drum-based improvisation into the spatial domain through parametric CAD software, significant insights are afforded that are otherwise unavailable. The parametric model, as a tool for analysis has a refined capacity to reveal the finer elements of music that constitute an individual’s musical style. Through a process of reflection on ones own practice, the extension of the model to the examination of others and the further extension of the design research into Virtual Reality and 3D printing, a contribution to knowledge is afforded that draws upon the skills of the spatial design to develop understandings of music.


Repetition over 3 Guitar Tracks

This context of the research is founded on the playing of repeated drum improvisations over three separate guitar track improvisations (by Red Whyte). Through the Spatial Notation system, the improvisational approach is able to be spatialized in three dimensions concurrently.