AvatarAn evolving series of algorithmic compositions for any number of improvisers



GANGAN SERIES started last July 2007 at Mag:net the Fort in conjunction with the “Happy Tengal Day” and “The Galleon Trade” art exhibit. Originally named the MOTZKIN GANGAN ENSEMBLE, it was created to perform the piece initially called “The Rotation of 9” that was created by Tengal, with the ensemble under the conductorship of Tad Ermitano. Since then, new ideas and concepts were introduced into the repertoire of the ensemble that gave birth to a series of new performances known now as THE GANGAN SERIES.
The GANGAN ENSEMBLE is a free improvising ensemble composed of any number of musicians/sound artists performing under the direction of its creator, Tengal.

For the GANGAN SERIES II, Tengal has incorporated a video graphic score created by Tad Ermitano and has created a new set of rules for it. Tad Ermitano’s video graphic score, VOLUME CONTROL, was originally composed for his (now defunct) “noise gamelan” with the same name. With the permission of Tad Ermitano, Tengal created a new concept and algorithm to go alongside the existing video graphic score to be performed by the GANGAN ENSEMBLE.

The GANGAN SERIES was created by Tengal and Tad Ermitano. We aim to have each performance different from the previous one; constantly improving and adding on the algorithms and concepts of previous performances.


The score is a visual graphic score composed by video artist Tad Ermitano using the Adobe flash program. Aptly named, Volume Control, the score simply determines player dynamics (the loudness and softness, and the intensity of the playing of performer), but not what to perform or which sounds to use. The score is subdivided into 6 panels (three main panels containing the interactive score and three small ones for a small timer countdown that appears on top of the three main panels).
The countdown’s purpose is to cue the players to either to start performing or to stop performing.


Inside the three main panels are animated pulsating balls that grow big and small, bounce from multiple directions and off each other. These balls determine the dynamics: the bigger the ball, the louder the sound, and vice versa.


Inside these three main panels, alongside the pulsating balls are three animated running men. The pacing of their running determines the intensity of the performance. If they run faster, the tempo is faster and the playing is more agitated. It is the opposite when they run slower.


The piece has four reiterations and each time it is varied. In between the reiterations is a brief pause composed of a flurry of random abstract images, before the piece continues again.


The total video score runs for about 15 minutes. The score can be looped to play for as long as the conductor wants. However, it is recommended to have a performance’s duration at least 30 minutes long.

In totality, the video graphic score is just a visual guide for determining player dynamics. However, it does not tell the player what to perform, which sounds to choose, and how to interact with each other.


The conductor’s job is mainly to assist the players with the panels they decide on choosing and performing as well as ensuring that everyone in the ensemble follows the score properly. The conductor has the right to remind a player if he/she is playing too loud or too soft, depending on the total macro sound of the ensemble. The conductor is also left with the challenging task of remembering each player who performed in which panel, to ensure that each player doesn’t perform on the same panel consecutively for each reiteration of the score. If the score determines the dynamics of each player, or the micro sound, the conductor interacts with the score acting as the main guide to control the total dynamics of the whole ensemble, the macro sound.


Each player concentrates on one of the three main panels while performing. They can choose to play at whatever panel by cuing the conductor with the corresponding lettered panel called Panel Cards. This is done before playing and before the score starts its next reiteration. The players have absolute freedom on choosing with panel to perform at. However they cannot perform on the same panel consecutively.

Each player has three colored panels in front of them with letters A, B, C. Each letter corresponds to the main three panels. Its purpose is to let the conductor, themselves, and the audience, know which panel they are playing at.

Also in each panel there should be at least one player assigned to it. Every panel should not be left empty. For example: Since there are 6 players in the GANGAN ensemble for the GANGAN SERIES II, there should only be a maximum of 4 players in one panel, so the rest of the 2 remaining players will each be assigned to the remaining panels.


The tempo, timbre, content, method/technique of playing is left to the discretion of the performers.
The aim of each performer is to collaborate, interlock sound textures with other performers and make the totality of the ensemble’s sound organic as possible. The idea is to make the ensemble sound as real and organic as sounds evolve, intertwine, interlock, and change and move forward.

Almost all improvisational processes consist of these following steps:

1. Listening
2. Reacting
3. Augmenting (adding a sound to any fragment of what others were doing)
4. Creating new sounds, or fragments to explore

These steps in and of themselves might constitute a composition or plan of action for an improvisation using ANY sound source.

The two keys that are necessary to improvise successfully in an environment where ANY sound, is fair game are: listening and patience. You must listen to comprehend the dynamics of the sounds relationships being explored by other performers, and carefully chose a moment to make a contribution after having been subsumed by the experience.


There are basically two main types of improvisation: one is “idiomatic” and “non-idiomatic” (borrowing the terms coined by Derek Bailey). Idiomatic improvisation is mainly concerned with the expression of an idiom (i.e. jazz, rock, flamenco, Indian music, etc) and takes its identity and motivation from that idiom. Non-idiomatic improvisation concerns itself with the so-called “free improvisation”, while highly stylized, is not usually tied to representing an idiomatic identity. Most often experienced improvisers in this type have developed their own language or vocabulary in their playing that it is idiosyncratic.
Much of what the GANGAN SERIES is concerned with is non-idiomatic improvisation. However, that does not mean it is forbidden to perform under an idiom. It’s unlikely that a jazz guitarist will ignore performing his roots; however it is strongly encouraged for all the players to GO BEYOND their idiomatic playing.

Tengal, Manila, January 2008

The Birth of the Gangan Series

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

The piece was initially called "The Rotation of Nine" but Tad Ermitano and I decided on calling the ensemble of nine, The Motzkin Gangan Ensemble, and in turn called the piece the "Gangan series." In math, Motzkin numbers enumerate various combinatorial objects; while Gangan is a Japanese onomatopeia which can mean a clanging sound, or a headache, or a ringing in your ears; and as I am a sufferer of Vertigo syndrome, I found the name convenient.

The birth of the Gangan pieces started when Rock Drilon, owner of the Mag:net Cafe Art Spaces, asked me to curate a sound exhibit during the grand opening of the Galleon Trade Exhibit last July 24. Subsequently, it was also a day after my birthday and I decided to call the event "Happy Tengal Day."

To compliment the exhibit opening, I decided to pit 9 sound artists (incl. myself) to improvise for 90 minutes following time specific rules as represented here in this chart:


The numbers on top of the horizontal bar represent the total duration of the piece; the number represent the numbers in minutes. The bars represents each performer of the ensemble.

The piece is basically an organic rotation of 9 individuals interacting with each other thru time-restraints.

The rules are simple:

1) Each player plays for 9 minutes only, then stops and waits for another 9 minutes before they resume playing.
2) Each player should play 3 minutes apart.
3) They do this for 90 minutes. However, during the 87th minute, everyone has played four times – and to keep the rotation going, everyone will be playing 20 seconds apart from each other during the last 3 minutes starting from player 9 to player 1. (The Conductor will be cuing the players).

The tempo, timbre, content, method/technique of playing is left to the discretion of the performers. However, each performer should not repeat what he/she did on the previous 9 (or 3) minutes section. For every new 9-minute section, each performer should change and explore ideas differently depending on the new sound textures and ideas made available by the rest of the performers at that time.

The aim of each performer is to collaborate, interlock sound textures with other performers and make the totality of the ensemble’s sound organic as possible. The idea is to make the ensemble sound as real and organic as sounds evolve, intertwine, interlock, and change and move forward every 3 minutes or so.

To avoid confusion on the part of the performers, there will be a prompter to make sure each performer is following the rules, by giving hand or card cues (and whatever means) to ensure the fluidity of the performance.

Cuing System

Tad Ermitano explains the cuing system we used on the first performance as taken from his blog:

"As most of the band members would be seeing the score for the
first time on performance day, Tengal and I spent a good bit of time working out a simple and unambiguous way to cue the players. First, we gave each musician had a written schedule of when to play. (So Player 1 had text that told him to play from minute 0 to minute 9;minute 18 to minute 27 and so on.) I also set up a laptop running a stopwatch connected to a monitor visible from the stage. This gave each player a copy of the big picture, and allowed him to watch out for his own entrance points. Aside from this, we broke down the score into a set of 29 cue cards (one for every 3 minute interval of the first 87 minutes) showing which player was supposed to start/stop playing. I had thought of doing this with hand signals, but we figured it was better to be safe and explicit. The last three minutes were the busiest, as it required people to come in every 20 seconds. Another thing I was concerned with was keeping everybody playing softly so that there was enough headroom to get loud during the crescendo. We decided that it would be simplest for me to just do this last bit with hand gestures."

The Motzkin Gangan Ensemble:

Player 1: Lirio Salvador on a self-made touch-modulated synthesizer

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 2: Inconnu ictu on Alesis Airsynth

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 3: Ria Munoz on Kaoss Pad and contact mics

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 4: Chris Garcimo Roland SH-101 synthesizer

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 5: Caliph8 on Akai MPC Sampler

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 6: Erick Calilan on self-made circuit-bent devices

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 7: Jonjie Ayson on a scrapmetal bass (created by Lirio Salvador)

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 8: Blums Borres on electric guitar

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Player 9: Tengal on drums, panart, various objects


Conductor: Tad Ermitano

Motzkin Gangan Ensemble

Avenues for Future Exploration/Adjustment: The Birth of the Gangan Series

After rethinking my initial ideas of the piece after its first performance, new ideas, problems, realizations, as well as the comments from the audience needed to be brought into light. Tad and I discussed the possibilities of future improvement and explorations of the piece and we came up with these: [taken from Tad's blog]

"Dynamic Control: The lack of dynamics made the piece feel overlong to some. Local sound artists seem to think that noise has to be loud. Either most are still unaware of the dramatic possibilities of silence and/or sudden volume shift, or some may (consciously or unconsciously) equate improvising with soloing or domination, a possible consequence of primarily performing solo. In the absence of a shared vocabulary of dynamic effects, the next performance should incorporate structures for cuing volume levels. I once created an animated video loop to the cue performance dynamics of the (now defunct) noise gamelan Volume Control, but a video doesn't incorporate changes easily and graphic design perhaps ought to be left out of the picture at this point. It would be more elegant to do the cuing as flexibly and with as little technology as possible.

Increased Readability: The audience often had trouble knowing who was playing/making what sound. This is a fundamental problem with electronic instruments, whose sounds are not easily correlated with the player's physical behaviour. Tengal is thinking about using lights in some form (perhaps blinking LED necklaces, if they are still available in Quiapo) to mark the players. In addition, there perhaps ought to be an introductory section (like the Alap of Indian Raga performances) during which each player basically showcases his instruments' range of sounds."

This blog is a dedicated blog site for the Gangan performances, its updates for future performances and documentation, as well as provision for comments and feedback from the performers and the audience.

Pictures of the first Gangan performance here.
An essay of the the first Gangan performance written by Tad Ermitano here.
A newspaper article about the first Gangan performance can be found here.
Audio and videos of the first Gangan performance will be uploaded shortly.