Here are a few ideas specifically related to sound as an approach to composition and group work.

Circle Tones: 

This is a common exercise that can be facilitated in many ways.  We’ve tried it with up to 50 people, but it can be done with just a few.  I don't know where this tradition comes from, but many use it in theater training.  The group lies down in a circle on their backs with their heads facing the center.  If possible their shoulders should be touching.  The group starts with a simple tone vocally and lets it develop over time.  It gets the group listening and responding to one another and opens up good discussions about sound composition.   


[inspired by Hildegard Westerkamp]

Hildegard is an accomplished sound artist and co-founder of the World Sound Project who leads sound walks for small groups. In a soundwalk, we are guided through an area without talking, only focusing on listening to the soundscape of the environment. After the walk each participant does some free writing about the experience followed by a discussion. This can lead to projects based on the walk, including mining ideas from the text recorded after the walk and producing sound compositions by creating field recordings of the walk.

Deep Listening:

[inspired by Pauline Oliveros, et al.]

Deep Listening is the process of attenuating our listening to begin noticing more detail and with greater clarity. A group can sit or lie in any environment. They are invited to ignore all sounds except the sound of their breath. As they focus on their breathing they are invited to notice just the sounds that are immediately around their body and/or coming from their body. They are then guided to pay attention subtle distances further from their body: arms-length; 6 feet away; to the edges of the room; beyond the doors, windows and walls of the room; as far from their body as they feel they are able to perceive sound. They are then brought back into the room, to their arm's length distance; and again their breath. They can then explore extending and contracting their perception. At the end they should take a moment to write down specific sounds that caught their attention. Everyone can share sounds that stood out for them and compare who else noticed them or not.

How Music Works [David Byrne]:

[from Cory Doctorow]

Article by Cory Doctorow who talks about David Byrne's book 'How Music Works'.  This is a great text for ideas!

There were so many times in this book when I felt like Byrne's observations extended beyond music and dance and into other forms of digital creativity. For example, when Byrne recounted his first experiments with cellular automata exercise for dance choreography, from his collaboration with Noemie Lafrance:

1. Improvise moving to the music and come up with an eight-count phrase (in dance, a phrase is a short series of moves that can be repeated).

2. When you find a phrase you like, loop (repeat) it.

3. When you see someone else with a stronger phrase, copy it.

4. When everyone is doing the same phrase, the exercise is over.

It was like watching evolution on fast-forward, or an emergent lifeform coming into being. At first the room was chaos, writhing bodies everywhere. Then one could see that folks had chosen their phrases, and almost immediately one could see a pocket of dancers who had all adopted the same phrase. The copying had already begun, albeit in just one area. This pocket of copying began to expand, to go viral, while yet another one now emerged on the other side of the room. One clump grew faster than the other, and within four minutes the whole room was filled with dancers moving in perfect unison. Unbelievable! It only took four minutes for this evolutionary process to kick in, and for the "strongest" (unfortunate word, maybe) to dominate.

contributing music (Improvisation)

[from Mike Vargas - Notice & Contribute]

Here is a collection of guidelines that represents the kinds of strategies I use when making music on the spot—with improvised dance and sometimes with other improvising musicians:

Allow more silence • Avoid too many easy cultural associations • Balance the range of dynamics • Be inconclusive • Be well-organized • Change physical location • Contribute freshness • Emphasize subtlety • Encourage open-endedness • Include contemplation • Include multi-layer, multi-energy collages • Indicate connection with dancers/room • Less overt emotionality • Less pulse • Less pushing • Less theme and variations • Maintain stylistic variety • Make eye contact • Match intentions in room • More unfamiliar material • More unpredictability • Mystery (unknowability) • Occasional humor • Occasional surprises • Offer challenges • Pepper in friendly discontinuity • Play quietly often • Provide contrast • Respect self and others • Sometimes “non-music” • Sometimes less perfect • Subtract narrative content (not all “saying” implies saying something) • Support concentration • Support imagination • Take an extra moment • Use different rates of change.

Studying Sounds of the Everyday

[From Linnea Gwiazda]

This exercise is good for observation as well as generating ideas for a sound-based work.

  • Seperate, find a space by yourself, either inside or outside, and sit down with a notebook.
  • Listen and write down all sounds you hear for anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. 
  • Observe things such as texture of sound, pitch, direction.
  • Try to not list the source but rather the sound itself. 
  • If possible, do this exercise twice. Once in a busy location and once in a quiet one (ie. a stairwell).
  • Return to your group and share your findings.
  • Discuss the most prominent sounds, the most subtle, the most mysterious.
  • What did you think about while listening to the sounds? What did you discover?