A sonic community coheres around commonly recognized notions of sonic and gestural convergence. What might be called music’s “protocompositional” footings share interactive dynamics with nearly any reciprocal social exchange. And generally, people have to mutually acknowledge some area of commonality in order to interact at all.
In playing music “together,” some sort of connective thread, some way of “reading” each other’s actions, some kind of referential context has to be developed in order for each participant’s moves to make sense – not only to each other, but for oneself in relationship with that context as well. However provisionally, a system of mutual expectations about each other’s sonic behavior becomes established. In a duo context, for example. the relationship formed by consensus and mutual regard would constitute a third member of the band – and all three would be gauging their adjustments toward whatever the sonic image happens to be doing.
Two very, very green, rookie guitarists who are trying to play together for the first time either already share musical ideals that they hope to emulate and realize — or if they don’t, they’re soon enough going to have to arrive at some kind of working agreement about what it is they’re doing together — that is, if they’re to continue playing. Foundational social accord precedes the exact particulars of whatever sonic image emerges out of musical collaboration.
A compositional design manages to find itself sounded through alliance with a specific social milieu. This happens because actual performers are always going to have to fill in whatever gaps manage to perforate whatever body of compositional indications. No matter how well described, mapped, illustrated, demonstrated or explained such messages may be, performers have to bring yet something else that’s not (or can’t be) indicated by the compositional information being circulated. They add whatever they have to in order for the music to palpably sound. And, because the ways a gap can be filled is so susceptible to variation, the interpretive community a composer collaborates with makes an important difference in terms of the music’s resulting sound. A composer has to be able to account for – and count on – the way one’s collaborators process musical information.
The shared understandings around which these social cooperations gather aren’t at all so incidental to a music’s composition. Both the working assumptions and social interactions are influential constituents of a music’s construction. A coordinator of sounds (which is what’s ordinarily meant by the word “composer”) has to therefore consider and incorporate a specific community of practice into the music as an inseparable component of its sonic design. In coordinating a sonic event, a composer collaborates with a range of customs and conventions that shape what might be called a music’s metacompositional structure.
Metacompositions are socially shared pools of musical behaviors, assumptions, practices, techniques, experiences, methodologies and expectations that have been evolved through trial, error, experiment and circumstance by a multitude of musical participants over time. They function as compositional commons, as templates that are both everybody’s and nobody’s. They’re “what everybody knows” (or is supposed to know) while contributing to a sonic event.
Metacompositions encompass all the compositional decisions that are accepted in advance as a context within which the act of composing (which is the choosing among sounds) can situate itself. In other words, most of any musical “composition” has already been composed collectively by a sonic community’s coordinating conventions before a specific composer has even begun.
An individual composer may be able to noticeably tweak, influence, deconstruct, expand and, to some extent, transform elements of a metacomposition: but a metacomposition’s more or less autonomic footings network a complexity that’s way too dense for any individual composer to completely reinvent (or bother with reinventing) from scratch anyway. A composer’s sonic influence in ensemble music is conditional and subject to conventional practices already in circulation
In a very, very rough analogy with verbal language, metacompositions articulate core conventions of a sonic community – as equally in the root senses of convenience and gathering as in the sense of common practice and assumption. Where the structure of a commonly spoken language can’t help but influence the structure of interactants’ exchanges; a composer can’t avoid absorbing metacompositional decisions into one’s own composing.
One could think of “metacomposition” as a relatively vast musical composition that’s able to host very particular compositions or compositional acts. As a collectively formulated artistic “work,” it already poses an aesthetic statement before any particular composer even begins to associate with it. A composer’s choice of metacompositional context likewise voices aesthetic statement and compositional decision; and the individual responsibility a composer assumes for a metacomposition becomes as if one had composed it oneself. Such are the paradoxical wages of participation in communal creativity.