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An Accumulation Score for Ensemble Movement

Many people are acquainted with the notion of conventional musical scores, which describe what musicians should do to perform a song/piece. No matter how specific the instructions, it can't be perfectly complete. It's always necessary for the person performing the score to make choices of their own - particular emphases and cadences and whatever it is that establishes what the performer expects is best to realize the piece. At the other end of the spectrum, improvised pieces can have scores also. Those scores don't generally use standard notation, but instead describe some parameters of the piece in some way, leaving many aspects up to the participants. This accumulation score is one such movement improvisation score.

I don't recall where I first learned about it, nor do I recall the exact instructions I received in the various times I've been exposed to it. The ones below are my own take on it, but I expect they're similar to those that many others have also developed.

The structure involves successive rounds in which gradually increasing numbers engage, starting from brief solos to pairs, trios, and beyond. It's helpful for someone to take responsibility for tracking the progression and announcing the changes from one phase to the next, so everyone is on the same track.

Here’s the sequence:
  1. A few or three rounds where someone (self selected, in the moment) ventures into the space and moves solo, watched by the rest of the group.
    • Depending on the situation, the mover takes enough time to establish themselves in the solo, but not too much time - two or maybe three minutes max. (Varying the amount of time for any part of the score can serve various purposes.)
    • A suitable number of solos depends on the size of the group and the total amount of time available. Three or four might be a good number, to adjust depending on the situation.
    • Each person moving in to solo waits until the prior soloer exits.
  2. Once enough solos have happened, we go into the first round that involves partnering of 2. This is announced by someone responsible for marking the progression.
    • It starts with someone venturing in to do a solo. They are given at least enough time to establish themselves.
    • Once that happens then someone else who is moved to do so enters the active space and moves in some way that is informed by what the first person in was doing. How exactly it is informed is up to the mover. It can be similar and/or contrasting, specific or just a feeling. It's up to the person joining, and it's an opportunity for them to develop their intuition and compositionalsense. The first person continues moving, factoring the presence of the second person into their movement however they wish. It’s improvisation...
    • After the pair has had some time to develop a duet (in whatever way it is a duet) one or the other exits, in whatever manner they feel is appropriate, returning to the watching group. The remaining person continue improvising enough to get a sense of the new situation – to establish themselves, and then they also exit.
    • So this phase of the "accumulation" is from 0 to 1 to 2 to 1 to 0.
    • It’s important that all involved maintain awareness that this round is one of several. They have the opportunity to establish and develop something, but also the opportunity and need to be somewhat concise, so there’s time for other rounds. This time sense is an improvisation skill.
    • Similarly, it’s important for those witnessing to stay focused on what’s happening. This  is to support the whole endeavor – consider how you feel on those occasions when you do your best but nobody is paying attention! – and for their own eventual participation to be informed by what has been happening.
  3. Once all have exited from this round the person responsible for marking the progress notes that a round of three is next.
    • The round of three is like the round of two, with the addition of a third person entering after the second has entered and established something with the first. So, first 1 then there’s time for 2 to establish, and then someone who is moved to do so joins.
    • Once the three have accumulated and had some time to establish and develop, one of the three recognizes that it’s time to part, and gradually exits. After the remaining pair has had some time to explore the new situation one of them exits. The final member remains in the resulting situation enough to establish what it’s like, and then also exits.
    • So the round is from 0 to 1 to 2 to 3 to 2 to 1 to 0. All “drain” before the next one happens.
  4. At this point the pattern should be clear. You can continue in increments of 1, or skip from 3 to 5 to 7, or whatever is conducive to getting to the point of an accumulation that includes everyone who wants to actively participate. You can also accumulate to an agreed number and then open the situation up to an ensemble jam, agreeing that people continue with the option to exit and enter at will.
Though it's so different each time, I love what tends to happen with this score. I find that it calls for a few things – in particular, focused witnessing and stepping-up to the challenge of improvising while being witnessed – that often fosters really vital and satisfying improvisation.

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