Archive for April, 2013

Views on ways of working together

The term collaboration has been used to describe a wide variety of working relationships. Collaborations are sometimes described as being hierarchical, or alternatively as immersive. This variety of usage suggests that it would be worth examining the term, and asking whether its general usage covers several different types of working relationships.

The justification for such an investigation is that the ways composers relate to performers and other artists have changed through history, with the concept of the composer as a separate role being of relatively recent development historically. Understanding the nature of the working relationships is necessary before carrying out successful experiments in different ways of working with performers and other artists.

There has been too general a tendency to label any joint working as collaboration. This uncritical use of the term has obscured the actual nature of the working relationships, and therefore potentially impeded the development of innovative forms of working relationship.

An important distinction has been made, for instance, between ‘… collaborative learning and co-operative learning …’ (Seddon, 2006, 274/5). This is based on the view that:

‘Collaboration is more a philosophy of interaction with participants making a co-ordinated effort to solve the problem together whereas co-operation is a specific interaction designed to accomplish an end product through the division of labour.’ (Rochelle and Teasley, 1995, 75)

Barrett (2006) also distinguishes co-operative relationships in which ‘… each make specific contributions to a shared task …’ (2006: 12) from collaborative relationships where ‘… participants see themselves engaged in a joint task …’ (2006:13)

Makelberge (2012) defines collaboration as opposed to individual working as requiring interdependence or reciprocity (2012: 28). He distinguishes collaboration in artistic creation from co-operation and from collective creation, noting that these there terms are often used interchangeably. (2012: 28). He writes:

‘… we will see that the three terms – collaboration, co-operation and collective creation – all spread out along an axis of less or more reciprocity.’ (Makelberge 2012: 28-9)

By ‘collective creation’ he means sampling and quoting from works produced by other artists in order to remake them or use them as building blocks for new work. This seems to me to fall outside the scope of a study on collaboration, since there is no reciprocity or even contact between the artists concerned in such cases.

Collaboration has also been described as

‘… a process by which individuals negotiate and share meanings … a co-ordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem.’ (Dillenbourg 1999: 70)

Distinguishing four types of working together

This discussion of attempts to define collaboration and related forms of working relationship suggest that there are two separate dimensions to the question.

The first is the presence, absence, or extent of the division of labour. People may carry out a task of artistic creation together. They may divide the separate parts required between them. They may develop an overall conception of the artwork together, but then create the distinct elements separately.

Second, there is the existence or otherwise of hierarchy amongst the participants. One or more people may make decisions in relation to the contribution of others, or all participants may be participants on an equal footing.

Using these two dimensions – hierarchy and division of labour – the following four types of working relationship can be distinguished:

Hierarchical working. Hierarchical, division of labour. Tasks are divided between the participants, but one or more participants make decisions on the contributions.
Co-operative working. Non-hierarchical, division of labour. Tasks are divided between the participants, but decisions on the contributions are taken as equals.
Consultative working. Hierarchical, no division of labour.The participants all contribute to one task, but one person makes decisions on the contributions.
Collaborative working.  Non-hierarchical, no division of labour. The participants share the project as equals, both the tasks themselves and the decisions on the contributions.

Activities which have been described as collaborative may in fact fall under any of these headings, though not often under hierarchical working.

There will be many cases where the participants move between the different types of working as they move to different phases of the project they are sharing. For instance the conception of a combined artwork may be shared, but the execution of the distinct parts may be carried out separately.

For instance, the scenario for Appalachian Spring was produced by Copland and Graham jointly. Graham proposed the subject, and a scenario was developed between them. The draft scenario was sent back and forth between them until it was agreed (Robertson, 1991: 8). Copland then wrote the music. Graham subsequently produced the choreography.

I plan to use this four-way framework to examine descriptions of collaborations involving composers. It will be particularly important to examine the different stages of the processes involved in the project concerned in order to identify possible changes in the working relationship and the project proceeded.

There will also be cases where the exact nature of the working relationship changes from moment to moment. However, it seems to me that at any one moment a decision is either taken by one participant or is shared, and that tasks are either divided between participants or carried out jointly. I therefore regard the four types of working relationship defined above as separate categories, and not as a continuum.

Hierarchical working

This is the familiar situation in most workplaces, though it is less predominant in artistic activities. A composer may be the lead artist in a shared project, making decisions on the contributions of others. For instance, a composer may reject a libretto as unsuitable for setting, or require changes. (See for example: Adams 2008, 221).

Alternatively, they may find that their contributions are subject to the decisions of another person, the lead artist. This can be the situation for composers writing for film and dance. They commonly have no say on the film and dance. They may be asked to write musical accompaniment, and their music may be accepted or rejected as unsuitable.

Consultative working

Consultation, by definition, implies one person or group seeking the views or contributions of other people, and then deciding whether to take account of them or not. For instance, a composer might ask a performer what they think of a draft piece, or might seek suggestion for motivic or structural ideas. The lead composer, however, decides on whether to incorporate the suggestions made, or to make amendments in the light of the comments received. (See for example: Rizzardi,1999 on the work of Luigi Nono)

The lead composer sits at the apex of the hierarchy, and seeks the views of others, which they may or may not take on board. Those consulted have no redress if their ideas are not taken on board, and comments made in this context would always be given on the basis that they might be discounted.

Alternatively, there may be a lead artist such as a film maker or choreographer who seeks the composer’s opinion on the type of music which might accompany the film or dance. The music is then written, and there may be further consultation leading to amendments. The composer has a say, but is not the decision maker.

Co-operative working

Co-operation involves two or more people working together on separate parts of a project, but as equal participants. Co-operative working may be based on a prior agreement on the nature of the tasks and the framework within which they are to be carried out. The tasks then might be carried out concurrently. I will call this pre-planned co-operation.

Alternatively, there may be no prior agreement on a structure or framework, and the tasks might be carried out in a way where regular discussion is required, or through an interactive process where a step by one of the co-operators is followed by a step by the other. I will call this interactive co-operation.

Collaborative working

Collaborative working in artistic creation should therefore be defined as the equal sharing of the process of the creation. This is relatively common in literary or academic writing. Examples are described by Fontaine, and Hunter (2006). In non-verbal arts a truly collaborative form of working may be harder to achieve, partly because the mode of expression in the art-form is likely to be different from that used for discussion. If the artists imagine and create non-verbally, then it become harder to share the process.

It also requires that the speed of execution of the creative activity to be sufficiently fast for this to take place while working with someone else. Choreographers commonly invent on their dancers, and the dancers affect the choreography. However, if the choreographer remains the decision maker, then I would classify this as consultative rather than collaborative working.

Composers are much less likely to carry out the process of the invention and structuring of musical material whilst inter-acting with a collaborator. The slowness of the process of musical invention would be an impediment to this.


This four-way framework, distinguishing different types of working relationship, provides a basis for analysing published accounts of composers working with others, and also for my own experiences. It offers a basis for innovation in the nature of such working relationships, since it enables one to enter a relationship with another artist in an awareness of the character of the relationship as it develops, and therefore the ability to develop the relationship in new ways.


Adams, John, 2008, Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American life. London, Faber and Faber

Barrett, M., 2006, Creative collaboration : an eminence study of teaching and learning in music composition. Psychology of Music, 2006 ; Vol. 34, No. 2, 195-218

Dillenbourg, P. 1999), What do you mean by ‘Collaborative Learning?’ in: Dillenbourg, P. Ed. Collaborative Learning: Cognitive and Computational; Approaches. Amsterdam, Pergamon, Elsevier Science

Fontaine, S. I., and Hunter, S. M., (2006) Collaborative Writing in Composition Studies, Boston MA, London, Thomson Wadsworth

Makelberge, Nicolas, 2012, Rethinking Collaboration in Networked Music , Organised Sound / Volume 17 / Issue 01 / March 2012, pp 28 – 35
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1355771811000483 (About DOI), Published online:14 February 2012

Rizzardi, Veniero, (1999, pp47-56), Notation, oral tradition and performance practice in the works with tape and live electronics by Luigi Nono, Contemporary Music Review, Vol 18, Part 1, 1999. Abingdon, Routledge (reprinted 2004.) Originally published 1999 by Harwood Academic Publishers.

Robertson, Marta, (1991) Musical and Choreographic Integration in Copland’s and Graham’s Appalachian Spring, The Musical Quarterly, 83/1, pp 2-27

Rochelle, J., and Teasley, S., (1999) The construction of shared knowledge in collaborative problem-solving. 69-97 of O’Malley, C. (Ed) Computer-supported Collaborative Learning, New York, Springer-Verlag

Seddon, F. A., (2006) Collaborative computer-mediated music composition in cyberspace, British Journal of Music Education, 23/2, 273-283


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