Otis Lineham, Conductor of BCMG NEXT 22-23 writes about the challenges and processes of learning Artificial Life by George Lewis for our upcoming NEXT concert on 19th Nov

Opening the score to Artificial Life 2007 for the first time I was instantly worried. I personally find text scores the hardest of all the music I have approached, and where I feel least confident. Luckily, I’ve found this process has gotten easier and not harder, so here are a few thoughts I’ve had on understanding this for myself!

After reading through the whole piece I remember feeling like I needed to do some proper research to better understand where the piece and Composer George Lewis were coming from. During this time, I found a video on YouTube with the composer talking about the piece. 

George Lewis on Artificial Life 2007


One thing I found especially useful was the concept of ‘composing behaviour’. In most standard repertoire, we are used to the composer creating a score which equates to very specific sounds. In other words, the composer’s focus is on controlling, and specifically choosing certain sounds that create ‘the piece’ and its characteristics.

In Artificial Life 2007 instead of being given specific sounds, we are given tasks to perform which have musical outcomes. For example; Long: Repeat a single short phrase for a relatively long time.

Whilst the sound produced is still very important to the piece, the focus becomes the task of doing as much as the effect. There are still some limitations imposed, such as being aware, and contributing to the general sound world and feeling in the room, but this means performances can vary massively in terms of how they sound. 

Other instructions directly ask the performer to imitate another group/person or interrupt them, so you're given interaction as well as personal tasks. On page 2 of the work, Lewis introduces a whole new element of non-verbal signalling. So, when you come and watch us on the 19th Nov, expect to see us attempting to communicate tasks and instructions between performers, maybe successfully, and maybe comically badly!

As a performer, this type of score took some getting used to, and we chatted about this for a long time as a group. One of us commented that seeing these types of text scores as ‘composed behaviour’ was something they had never come across before, and they were super useful in understanding our role. 

George Lewis on composing behaviour


A lot of the time I feel that restrictions help me narrow down what is being asked of me in performance, and have struggled with the un-specific nature of text-based pieces. When you deal for 95% of your life with a very specific notation, the openness of these pieces can bring out insecurities about whether you are ‘getting it' or just sitting there feeling a bit stupid!

I found the shift to focus on relationships and behaviour very liberating, I feel I am contributing to something with real intention. I think for an audience it will be really interesting and fun to watch these dynamics play out on stage between the ensembles, and we’re excited for you to join us!


Book your free Ticket to BCMG NEXT | George Lewis & Elliott Carter



Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire join forces yearly to offer a unique training programme for music students and professional musicians looking for a career as performers of contemporary music. As part of this, our talented early career musicians perform throughout the year along with our BCMG Musicians, come and support the next generation of musicians. Read more about BCMG NEXT.