Musical Authorship & Norns Scripts

There have been some incredible scripts released lately - I’m thinking of Raindrops, Fall and 0-0-0 in particular. I’m blown away by both @ambalek and @infinitedigits’ ability to coax such beauty from code. Chapeau, folks!

These scripts have brought to my mind questions of musical authorship - they’re beautiful to listen to but if I were to use them to produce “my own” music, I might not feel it was “my own”. That said, the creators of these scripts have provided many configurable parameters and midi/crow functionality. So, is personalising those parameters and/or using external sound sources enough to make it “my own”? Where is the line? Where/when do we go from something we can reasonably define as a tool (e.g. Ableton Live, DX7, TB-303) to something that feels more like a piece of art in the form of a script for the Norns platform than a music making tool for others?

This is interesting to me.
I wonder whether any of you have been thinking about this, too.


When I feel like owning a sound I make (usually when I’m happy with how something I worked on for a long while sounds!) I try to think of John Cage talking about sounds that are in love. It helps me kind of think of sounds as the sounds and not my sounds.

I have to revisit this idea constantly.

I think in our times the default way to interact with anything, life, is in the context of property and ownership.

Edit: this is a great topic! FWIW I don’t mean to suggest my approach is the only valid approach, just sharing my thoughts.

Edit 2: another thing my thoughts don’t capture at all is something @donnachacostello called out in the original post and I don’t want to get sidelined because it’s very interesting: how does authorship translate when it means mechanisms and not just sounds themselves.

Edit 3: For my own part as someone whose musical practice is primarily procedural and the output sometimes is just software and no sounds… if anyone won a grammy with my software I’d be happy but would never try to claim that I won the grammy actually because the tool I created was used for the music.

I actually don’t personally draw a line between sampling a record I made and sampling a software tool I made: both are totally cool with me. If someone wins a Grammy because they sampled my tool, nice! I’d love to hear that totally unlikely news. In that totally unbelievable scenario some famous Grammy person using my software would just be press for the nonsense I’m doing already, so it seems like a win-win? I donno.


I’ve been thinking about this question a lot over the past couple of days. I don’t really have any answers yet but I do know sometimes when I put time into some of the scripts you mentioned it gets me thinking about how much I’m actually doing. Although ultimately my goal with some of these scripts is to mangle, twist & destroy the output so it may not even matter.


I’ve wondered this as well @donnachacostello thank you for asking, especially since so many of the tools created nowadays have such an immediate sound and highly curated presets right out of the gate.

This made me think of the ‘awake’ script on Norns as well. It’s immediately recognizable, and if I heard just that recorded and distributed it would definitely feel wrong.

@dailybells thank you for reminding me of that Cage piece


i understand the sentiment here and actually grappled with a similar train of thought while using some ciat lonbarde instruments and other synths w/ easily identifiable characteristics

in the end no sound you ever produce is your own
it’s a delusion/illusion

whether it feels like your own is another matter entirely and if doing things a certain way makes you feel more in control (than you are) and by extension more proud of the results then you should pursue or avoid any method as you see fit

listeners too might pass judgement but i think your feelings matter more


This might be of interest.

I was trying to find something I vaguely remember as a comment by Brian Eno about using recordings of the output of the Bloom app, but found this instead.

Granted this is about a program that creates music using chance operations, and presumably not all norns scripts do so.


another thought popped in my head

if you can set tuning for both norns scripts mentioned here (and nearly all the sequencers no matter how esoteric the UI might seem)…how are they NOT just tools like the 303, DX7, or any ableton vst?


Interested to see where this thread goes. This is something I’ve thought about with Marbles as a sequencer too. I will say I’ve shared some VCV patches with friends and the way they ultimately use the patches I’ve set up is so different from how I envisioned them being used that it’s obvious there shouldn’t be any question of authorship. It’s a fun, unique collaboration to have friends use your patches though, especially patches with sequencers included.


I’m glad I started this conversation :slight_smile: Nice responses so far, thank you!

Anyone who has been around electronic music long enough knows that the idea of releasing an album that takes a different form each time it’s played (through whatever process that occurs) has been a perennial theme. Autechre discussed it in Sound on Sound or Future Music 15 or 20 years ago but said that ultimately they couldn’t get around (or, perhaps get their heads, or someone else’s heads around) the issues of ownership and copyright obtaining from such a system. Minidisc by Gescom was supposed to be played in shuffle mode, and I think there was another album like that by one of my Mille Plateaux or Ritornell colleagues back in the day - I’m thinking of Selected Random Works by Random Industries a.k.a. my old friend Sebastian Meissner. And, of course, Cage and others pre-date all of this.

I think the current situation is interesting, though. I’m reaching for some kind of comparison with genetics/epigenetics here. The scripts contain the DNA for “Raindrops tracks” or “o-o-o tracks” and the interventions by users like us determine how the DNA is read to produce different outcomes.

Time spent with the scripts to make them do something interesting and unique feels like time well spent, and I could listen to the output for hours. I couldn’t see myself recording that output and releasing it as “Donnacha Costello” material. For that reason, I instinctively put them in the category of interactive art, rather than music-making tools. I’m not implying that one or other category is superior, by the way. In any case, one could always argue that such distinctions are arbitrary and in reality the space is boundless.

Barely formed thoughts, expressed in real time :slight_smile:


this sums up how I feel when using some scripts, though in terms of music-making tools they can be great for gestating ideas if I’m stuck, or as the basis for scripts that I then personalize/customize to better fit how I want them to work.

in any case, much respect to everyone who has created and shared a script.


Thanks for putting this question into words.

It was in my head too.

I had my norns running o-o-o with random connections and then later dronecaster and then later I listened to the dronecaster based album 12,000 by @infinitedigits.

I started thinking: who’s music is this? Am I making this music? If I press play on a recording I’m making that music happen but it’s not my music because I didn’t create it. If I load a script I’m making that music happen and it could be my music because I can make creative decisions but I didn’t create the script. So when does it become my music?

Thought experiment: a person records and releases an album of unaltered norns scripts running their default starting sounds, who does it belong to?

What would make you change your answer?

My current take is that authorship and I are both limited maps claiming to be the territory.

I am not an individual: that which cannot be divided. I am a dividual: an infinitely divisible collective of selves. I am everyone I’ve ever met, I’m my 4 year old self, I’m my vision of my 70 year old self. I am a complex waveform of self creating narrative.

Under these conditions every person and object I have ever contacted is my co-author. So nothing can be excluded from the category of authorship so it’s meaningless.

Of course a body must eat discrete bits of actual food so it’s useful to average out the fiction and talk about authorship so people can make a living. Delighted to respect that reality for the benefit of others.

So until I charge money for music I’m content to let my own authorship exist in a nebulous cloud or endless spectrum and simply enjoy the sounds that are happening.


oh, absolutely.
As I’ve said above, “I’m not implying that one or other category is superior” and recognise that even identifying those categories could be considered arbitrary or meaningless :slight_smile:


Love this…

I think to some extent we’re witnessing the birth of a culture, an aggregation of multiple inputs from multiple individuals joining together to form a collective expression that is more than the sum of its parts.

I need a norns…



Super interesting thread. A couple of things I thought relevant:

  • the questions around ‘is this something I’ve made myself’ are questions for the artist, not for the listener? If these listener doesn’t know that the sound is effectively the raw output of a Norns script, then what does it matter? A long time ago I absolutely loved the piano loop on the white label version of 40 Miles by Congress, I didn’t known it was basically a direct sample of Better Days by Jimi Polo etc.

  • plus, isn’t this effectively the Duchamp/R.Mutt question, but recast (sorry for inadvertent pun) with the scripts actually being decent ‘art’ as opposed to a mass produced pisser.

Not answers, but thoughts.

@donnachacostello - love your work by the way, good to see you here.


Great question!

My thinking too! Is the street photographer less of an artist because they framed an existing scene? Is the frame the art piece instead? What’s your favourite dronecaster moment?


Unless the individual completely removes themselves from the process there will always be an act of editorial influence present, and therefore potential for creative output.

Side-note, when growing up my father vehemently maintained that all work produced via computer was ultimately derivative.


Theres a great Herbie Hancock quote where, responding to someone asking about the authenticity or ‘playedness’ of drum machines, he said something along the lines of “Well someone has to turn it on!”

In my opinion the musical tools we use are better thought of as collaborators. By the same token the people who made those tools are collaborators too! The question of “is this my own?” is utterly futile. Nothing and nobody emerges from a vacuum. I don’t really like the sentiment and I don’t really think it’s true (at least not in the way that I’m going to word it here) but in the context of capitalism and a conversation about “authorship” and “ownership” it might be easiest to say that everyone is indebted to someone.

I think that art in the world belongs to the artist about as much as it belongs to anyone else. Art (whether it’s a norns script, the amen break or notes toward a supreme fiction) is always the material for more art. Maybe the uses to which that material is put are in bad faith (just running awake and calling it a day) but in that case I would just say that’s bad art that happens to be made out of good art.


Somewhat related, there are growing discussions around ownership of work created with machine learning algorithms. The majority of these systems are trained on existing datasets, so can literally represent a sumation of the creative work of others. And, as these tools transition from research to curio to commercial, increasingly the “operator” also becomes separate from the author of the dataset and/or software using these datasets.

Many creators are starting to take the position that there’s an act of co-creation between the ML tool and the artist. However there have recently been several rounds of legal findings, across multiple jurisdictions, which block “AI’s” from holding the role of “inventor” (1, 2, 3) in patent applications, effectively taking the co-creator interpretation off the table (at least from a legal perspective).


scripts I wrote were mentioned and I would just like to say: I consider those scripts as totally different sound objects in the hands of anyone other than me. those sound objects are authored by you, not me, even if it uses a tool I made.

because basically I consider scripts as tools for creating music and those tools reflect choices you make with them (even when there are few choices to make). even if the set of choices was prearranged by another, no one can actually make the choices for you. i.e. the same tools in different hands will not end up with the same result. your choices are a representation of you so it should be your “authorship”.

if for any reason you feel like the music isn’t yours until you build the script, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to take the script and manipulate it - whether that’s changing one line or two lines or the whole thing. (I’ll be your guide if you ever need help doing this)

^I like these lines of thought and questions - it gets really philosophical! the questions quickly becomes “what is art/music/process?”

I can’t speak to it philosophically - but personally I think there’s authorship in the art all the way down, at each point of “release”. there is art in designing tools, an art in using tools, and an art to capturing the result of tools. each result is due to a specific entity which could be considered an “author”. example: there’s attribution in the art of the building of a guitar, there’s attribution in construction a chord progression, there’s attribution in a rendition of playing someone’s chord progression on the guitar someone else made, and there’s even attribution in the listening of the playing of someone else’s chord progression on the guitar someone else made (i.e. rock critics).

in norns world there’s also quite a few layers with artistic attributions - circuit manufacturers, all the fabulous work of monome folks, open-source contributors, script authors, the musicians using the device. all artists. all making art. all “authoring” in their own way. all the way down!



Great topic!

Sometimes I’m in the mood just to listen to awake/o-o-o/fall/raindrops without touching anything. They can be beautiful all on their own. And… they are also more than that.

As a source for a recording, to me, they overlap with the the concept of sampling. It’s much less like recording a stock sequence on a synth or using a pre-recorded loop. Though, it’s somewhere in between. Norns scripts seem to differ by the level of control one has to adjust the final output (e.g., changing parameters, feeding the data to another source). The more manipulations and decisions, the more I suppose it begins to feel like your own. At the least, one must decide when to capture the audio (Eno: Composers as gardeners).

Any tool or process used to create art may enhance or diminish the judgment of its value. On a different level, the question seems to be related to the statement you wish to make as an artist and whether a particular process helps you achieve that.

Personally, it can be distracting when I am listening to something and find myself suddenly acutely aware of the source of a sound. At least, in terms of how it can take me away from feeling to thinking about the tool/process instead. I appreciate experiencing something enjoyable with little idea of how it was made. To the extent that it’s possible I’d like to try to capture that feeling when I’m creating something. Though, it seems that the more one knows about production tools and techniques, the less that is likely.

Finally, I think this underscores the importance of giving credit when you feel that someone or something has made a valuable contribution to your work.