RADAR and Rova's Development of Language for Structured Improvisation
-- essay by Larry Ochs (1999)

Table of Contents:


For the sake of this essay, the following terms are defined as follows:

Framework = a basic structure (as of ideas)

Structure = something perceived to be arranged in a definite pattern of organization

Strategy = a careful plan or method

Event = a musical moment of unpredictable duration, often monochromatic and inherently recognizable in terms of sound and/or predictable in terms of process.

Game = a framework the structure of which can be varied according to its own set of rules. The set of rules create the possibility of different strategies from one play of the game to another, thus allowing for more than one possible role for an individual player and/or more than one possible interaction between individual and ensemble.

To compose = to form by putting together; to create by mental labor a form for a piece of music

To improvise = to fabricate out of what is conveniently at hand

To fabricate = to construct from diverse sounds (noise + pitch) and silence

Cue = a visual gesture that signals a change in either process or content (or both)

Variable = a musical quality that can change (or be cued to change) from moment to moment, such as dynamics, pitch etc.

Radar is a structured improvisation consisting of an ever-evolving set of strategies. In any given performance (and at its most basic level of understanding), the players take turns cueing in one of these strategies; the new cue takes over from the previous cue to become the main focus, the primary cue. While Radar always is composed from the same set of strategies, not all the strategies will be used in one performance, and the length of time (or number of times) that any strategy will be used is not predetermined. Therefore each performance of the piece is unique and will never be repeated.


Since late 1977, the musicians in Rova Saxophone Quartet have developed a set of strategies -- "games", "events’, "variables"-- for use in structured improvisations. The goal of each structured improvisation is to compose a coherent piece of music as a group. In other words, the newly created piece, even though created spontaneously, should have an inherent logic to it, an audible architecture which facilitates and influences the ebb and flow of sonic materials. To say it in another way: In a structured improvisation, a framework is provided within which the musicians improvise; this framework defines the piece and influences its shape and feeling.

I describe structured improvisation in this way to differentiate it from free improvisation which is most often a process-music without structure that focuses on the moment, and from through-composed music, in which the musicians can neither improvise nor contribute to the form or material-selection of the piece since all the musical decisions have been made in advance by the composer.

Radar is a form of structured improvisation. But what really differentiates it from most structured improvisations and thus makes Radar unique is that the structure is created by all the performers as the piece is being created in real time. The exact mood of the piece at any given moment and the overall musical feel is never known beforehand. The flow of sonic materials is decided in real time. Content is open. The method of construction for each piece of music will depend on the choice of strategies and the order in which they are cued in; this might be thought of as similar to a child playing with an Erector Set or Lego Set in a free-form way.

To repeat (in variation, for the sake of clarity): the overall set of "games," "events," and "variables" is known in advance, but the choice of which ones to use for any given piece is left open, and the order in which they are employed is determined in the moment by the ensemble members. Thus the construction of the framework – the form of the piece - will be influenced by the order in which these strategies are cued during any one performance. And because the over-arching goal is to create a coherent composition, the sound or content of the piece will also be influenced by the order in which these "games", "events’, and "variables" are cued in.

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Radar is the title for the current form within which Rova employs its ever-evolving sets of games, variables, and events for structured improvisation. Although I introduced Radar to the group, I wouldn’t take credit for the piece. Radar is the most recent development in an evolution of structured improvisation that began in year zero of Rova’s existence; it is a group composition.

The first set of group improvisations that were bound by formal structure were the Trobar Clus series, two of which are recorded on the first Rova recording. (Cinema Rovate/1978). But even before that there was a desire to verbalize what we were hearing in Rova improvisations. The individuals in the group were all interested in structure right from the beginning. Part of this desire was in reaction to a lot of self-indulgent concerts taking place in that period; we’d all been hearing too much of that. So we wanted some rules to work with. But since we wanted to create our own sound, we felt the need to make up our own rules; inventive forms would facilitate inventive (if not wholly original) sound.

These attempts at invention were also heavily influenced by the music we were hearing at that time from new music composers and the left-wing of jazz. Both cadres took it for granted that part of the creation of music included inventing the form or framework for the music to be played in. Both groups explored many constructs that had little or nothing to do with traditional jazz forms.

The Trobar Clus series was our first attempt at a systematized construct. These pieces consisted of about 4 to 20 events. These events were pre-ordered. A lot of time was spent perfecting their sound. It might have been that, having just discovered a lot of these ideas, we then wanted to sculpt the sound rather than leave it more open to spontaneity. Exact pitch was generally not determined, but sound-blocks were pretty carefully defined at the macro-level. And with the events being pre-ordered, the pieces were pretty well known beforehand, even if the exact choice of note or sound at any moment was improvised.

The pre-ordering and the careful honing made for some great pieces, but they also limited the life-span of the pieces. By the time of Trobar Clus 9 and 10, we had even introduced notated music into the mix. What was left open was so finite that – despite the success of these pieces – they were less than completely satisfactory as a vehicle for exploration and discovery, because the "final sound" of the pieces was too soon known. A piece of music is dead for improvisers once the "possibility" (potential for new discoveries) has been squeezed out of it.

Maintaining the Web Under Less Than Obvious Circumstances (or, more conveniently: "The Web" ) was the title for the next set of structured improvisations. Between 1983 – when the last Trobar Clus was composed – and 1986 – when "The Web" was officially introduced – we took a lot of the ideas we had used in the Trobar pieces and re-analyzed them, giving names to the games or events that we hadn’t already titled, in order to keep them around. We also created new ones in this period. Not coincidentally, in the early ‘80s, we first performed one of John Zorn’s game pieces as a quartet (Curling). When it came time for "The Web", we invented visual cues for each game, some of them at first being three-dimensional props designed by visual artist Lori Lorenzo.

Now we had the basis for a music piece whose form on any given night would never be known in advance. And the choice of which game to play and "when" to play it would also effect how a specific game was heard in any rendition.

"The Web" was premiered in a special quintet performance with saxophonist John Zorn, a master of game composition, who particularly favors sudden change and jarring juxtaposition. It’s no surprise then that "The Web" was characterized by aggressive cueing and generally hyper-active musical landscapes. On the other hand, despite the fact that games were influenced to a degree by the order of cueing, Rova’s group memory was powerful and the brevity of any given cued game or event necessitated that the character of specific cues sound somewhat similar each time they were cued as the material sound of any given cue – in real time - needed to be established very quickly.

"The Web" had a good life. It was well over five years before the piece began to go stale. And if we were to revisit the piece now it would surely be fun to play again.

From ‘89 to ‘94, Rova got away from the game pieces to a degree as we got more seriously into other things (collaborations, commissions, and a series of pieces called "Sports"). However, it was during this period that Steve Adams composed the structured-improvisational piece called Cage. The piece consisted of 11 visual cues each of which forced a player – when cued - to do what he was ordered rather than to do what he wanted when he was ready to do it. This was the opposite of The Web , where cues were given by a player when he, himself, was ready to actualize the cue. Some of the cues from Cage are explained in detail below; these are the cues that are relevant to general improvisation .

Then, in 1995, I suggested getting back into a variation of "The Web," namely Radar.

The most significant change to the rules of "The Web" was that one would not be allowed to cue at any time. Instead an order for cueing would be determined before each performance. Once the order was determined, no one could make a "primary cue" out of turn. As well, when each player did cue, the cue he gave – the primary cue – was the only primary cue he could give in that turn.

This little change means a lot. (see rules). Now the player whose turn it is to make the next cue gets to decide alone how long the current cue will be allowed to last. As we were interested in allowing for more compositional integrity in any given piece, the tendency is to allow primary cues to exist long enough for a section to develop, to get from its starting point to some other place, some other musical properties, before a new cue is given.

Radar is not an improvement over "The Web," but it does result in a very different musical outcome and for more lielihood of a "difference-in-feeling" from one version of Radar to another. When I first introduced Radar, it was with the idea of pre-ordering the actual strategies to be employed, and then performing the piece, allowing players to decide only when to cue-in the selected and pre-ordered strategies. But we dropped the pre-ordering component of the idea immediately. Much better to allow the group to compose the piece as it goes along (or in a variation, a group could decide to choose one person to give all the cues, but still choosing those cues only in real time, as the piece itself develops.)

Rova performed Radar in this format until we recorded multiple versions of it in late 1998. I’m suggesting several variations on the original rules. See variations following the definitions of the strategies below.

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Primary cue = the first cue (and the main cue) given by any player when it is that player’s turn to conduct a portion of a new version of Radar.

Secondary cue = a cue that effects the process or sound but does not alter the intent of primary cue, except temporarily (and briefly)

Process Cue = any cue that changes tha process under which the players are operating. Actual sound quality may or may not change.

Sound-specific Cue = any cue that initiates a sound area that has characteristic and recognizable qualities whenever it is cued in

  1. The order in which members of the ensemble will make the next primary cue is determined before each performance.
  2. Once the order is determined, no one can cue a primary cue out of turn. As well, when each player does cue, the primary cue he gives is the only primary cue he can give, and that event or game continues until the next person scheduled to cue makes a new primary cue.
  3. Primary Cues consist of "events, games, or strategies" (explained below); these are also process-oriented or sound-specific cues (or a little of both), and are explained further below.
  4. Secondary cues can be cued by anyone at anytime during the piece.* One set of secondary cues – called "variables" – are cued to influence the sound: such as cueing to play at a specific dynamic level. (see below). * with exceptions… In certain strategies, it’s best if only primary cuer gives the cues.
  5. A second set of secondary cues are called "interruptors." Interruptors are self–referential cues that literally interrupt the primary cue for a brief period. Interruptors are cued in AND out by the cueing player; they should be brief events. After the interruptor is cued out, the group returns immediately to exactly what they were doing at the time of interruption.
Games, Events, Variables

The improvisational strategies that are listed in the Game or Event categories can also be classified in terms of the predominant size of the performing group involved. Solo = for one player or for more than one player but all working independently; duo = for two players, or for more than two players grouped into duo sets; ensemble = for the entire group of performers (--however, the entire ensemble might very well not be playing at the same time-- "ensemble" only indicates group-involvement in the section.)

GAMES (defined as a set of rules that allow for (1) more than one possible role for an individual or (2) more than one possible interaction between individual and group during any one cueing of the game.)

ensemble games

hand game




x-factor/virus (needs name)

tuttis w/ soloist

quadratic trioism (trios for quartet)

duo games

duo game 1 and 2


chord game

fierce story

duo/trio game

These games are considered duo games because the players involved are grouped in pairs. However, the games – when cued as primary cues – involve the entire ensemble.

EVENTS create a "soundscape" with very specific rules defining how each musician can proceed during the life of the event. More often than not, the soundscape is static, or monochromatic, or recognizable in terms of process from piece to piece.

multiplayer events


machine sound




giant steps

multiphonic swells

tag team

duo rhythm w/soloist

solo events

unaccompanied solo

giant steps

multiphonic swells

interruptors are special events that interrupt other games and events and point to themselves briefly before returning to the game or event that was interrupted.

1. intercut

2. sound block

3. solo over group

4. memory cue

VARIABLES are secondary cues that effect games and events.

freeze = repeat what you’re doing until cue is taken off

tempo = slow down or speed up tempo as cued

dynamics increase or decrease = raise or lower volume as cued

halve density = halve what you’re doing; play half as much sound, twice as much silence

fade cue = fade out to silence over 4 to 10 seconds

do something else = within the context of the current primary cue, change what

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Definitions of the cues listed above follow.

A fuller glossary of cued events employed by Rova over the past 20 years is being compiled. Those listed below are the ones regularly used in Radar over the past 5 years.


ensemble games

hand game ( a process cue)

"A set of four cues with which the improvisers can cue a solo, a duo, a trio and a quartet. A solo or duo can be cued anytime. A duo can be fom a solo (by addition) or a trio or quartet (by subtraction). A trio can be cued from a duo (by addition) or quartet (by subtraction).A quartet can only be cued from a trio.

The first player (who has cued the game in as a primary cue) enters as a soloist. A second player can either enter as a soloist or as a duo with current soloist. If the second player cues in the duo option, then any third player can choose to enter as a soloist, as a duo with the last player in, or as a trio with current duo. If the third player chooses to cue in the trio option, then the fourth player can enter as a soloist, as a duo with the last player in, as a trio with the last two players in, or as a quartet with current trio. The choice of how to relate to the existing music when entering is completely open. (In a quartet ituation, if all four players are in, any player can cue the next combination from solo to trio. In a larger ensemble, the largest number of players would be five.

free ( a process cue)

No limits to possibility. Relationship to existing music upon entering is open. Enter and exit at will.

cage (a process cue)

Originally a set of eleven cues designed so that the improvisers can give directions to all the other players, but cannot determine things for themselves after being cued in to play. A player must continue working with the cued instruction until re-cued by another player. He cannot cue a change for himself. He cannot stop playing unless specifically cued to do so. He can alter what he is playing within the context of the cue under which he is operating if musically suitable to do so. The cues of Cage that are used in Radar are: (1) Do something else (2) Stop (3) Play outside outside (4) Play inside inside (5) Play behind (6) Play in front (7) Halve what you are doing (8) Fill the silences (9) Play with only one pitch, two pitches or three pitches (as cued) (10) Join a specific person (as cued) in what he is doing.

tuttis with soloist (a process cue)

When cued as the primary cue, the leader designates a soloist. On cue all the rest of the players follow the leader and play as an ensemble. All events and variables played by this ensemble are determined by the leader although choice of exact pitches or sounds are open to the individual within the limit of whatever the leader instructs the ensemble players to work with. The player chosen by the leader as soloist plays a solo over the ensemble activity until a new soloist is cued or the section is cued out.

quadratic trioism (trios for quartet) (a process cue)

Actually this is for any size ensemble. Only 3 players can play at a time, and no fewer than 2 at any time. Players not invovled can come in during any silence of any length, thus replacing in the trio whichever player has paused (even for the briefest moment). One can enter into a trio for any length of time as well, and thus the probability that at some points duos will occur. However, when there are only two players, those two must continue to play (unless they end the piece).

x-factor/virus (a process cue, but almost sound-specific as well, this primary cue combines one game and one event, which are cued in aurally, and can be interchanged at will.)

1. rules of x-factor game: all players have a choice of playing a long-tone (chord-tone(s)) or playing a sound-block of short duration. When a player enters with a long-tone, he holds the long tone until a sound block is played by a following player. As soon as this short sound block ends, the chord tone(s) end with it and a short silence ensues until the next player (in turn) plays a sound block or new long-tone. Sound blocks are always followed by silence. If three players in a row enter with sustained chord tones, the fourth player must play a sound-block, and when he does, the three players holding chord tones join him for a loud sound block.

2. virus = a repetitive riff that, if repeated long enough, stays in your mind all through the night. In the context of this game, any player can introduce a virus at any time, at which poing the next player must imitate the virus as closely as possible. Other players can choose to initiate chord-tones or play the virus. A sound-block by anyone ends everything in silence. If all players play the virus, then the player who initiated the virus cues a group sound block, ending in silence.

All things in this game happen rapidly.

Cumulous (sound specific cue*)

Pick a set of one to four pitches, or a simple sound++. Repeat in variation and with special attention to the silence in the line, between repeats of the line or sound, and in the group sound. Repetitions in variation should occur over relatively long lengths of time. When a player chooses to move on to a new set of pitches or sound, the player should - more often than not - include a silence of some length before coming back in with the new sound-set. ** Dynamically, this game is very quiet unless the variable involving dynamic level is cued and a different volume level is indicated.

** As always, when rules such as the one in the starred sentence are given, they can be over-ruled by the dictates of the music as it is being made in real-time. Think of this as a general guideline to getting at the sound-specific event as it was originally conceived.

* "Cumulous" is also known as the "Feldman area," and it was originally an adaptation of the perceived area that many of Feldman’s later works for small ensembles get at. While this "event" is as much a process cue as a sound-specific event, it’s the feeling of cumulous – the limitation to use of 1 – 4 pitch "phrases" that differentiates it from other events (like "machine sounds") more than the process itself.

++ The use of "simple sounds" in this game should be done sparingly. Primarily use pitch.
duo games

duo game (a process cue)

Duo game 1- for two or more pairs of players, one person of each pair plays a rhythm that the other player imitates. (Pitch selection is open.) From then on either player of the pair can change to a new rhythm, and then the other member of the pair must imitate the newly introduced rhythm. All duos play at the same time. At any point a solo can be signaled by any player and played over the other remaining players’ rhythmic material. When a solo (which should be brief) occurs, the rhythms must freeze for the duration of the solo. At any point, a duo can be cued to silence by either member of the pair.

Duo Game 2 - for two or more pairs of players. One person from each pair plays a freely stated idea that the other player takes over on cue and continues or varies as the music or the player’s imagination dictates. Only one player of each duo plays at a time. Length of playing time is determined by the entrance of the other player in the pair. When the other player in a pairing enters, a player must stop whatever he is doing and listen to his partner and the relationship of his partner’s music to the other pair’s music..

fierce story ( a process cue)

a musical dialogue between or story made up by two (or more) duos. On cue from Player 1, player 1 and 2 play expressively with Player 2 fitting his music to that of Player 1 (imitation is not necessary however.) They continue until cut -off by cue from Player 3. Prior to cut-off of first duo, Player 3 signals whether Player 3 and 4 together or Player 3 or 4 alone will continue the musical story or dialogue immediately upon cut-off of duo 1. The process continues in this manner as the two duos take turns listening and playing. The piece is called "fierce story" as the idea originally was to create a highly energized thread of sound with quick exchanges (or short bursts) of sound back and forth between the pairings. However, the choice of dynamics and content is technically open.

x-game (a process cue)

a series of cued events for two pairs in which one pair makes pivot cues with chords and sound blocks while the other pair goes through a series of duo and solo events. (or in large ensemble, the entire ensemble can play the pivot cues.)

1. When chosen as the primary cue, the leader designates the pair of players who will play solos and duos (as described below) while the rest of the ensemble makes the pivot cues. 2. X-game begins on cue with an open forte ensemble chord by all players (unless leader indicates a different dynamic level using variable cue). 3. As chord is cued out, player A of designated pair solos, playing a motif or recognizable riff (in slight variations). 4. On cue, ensemble plays an open chord or other cued event (see below). All these events are "pivot cues," a term I first heard from Zorn, indicating that on cue the current game pivots between the sounds currently being played by player 1 and the next event. (see Rule 5) 5. On pivot cue 1, Player B enters imitating the riff or general sound area that player A established prior to pivot cue. At the same time Player A goes to any new musical idea and solos over Player B. 6. On the next pivot cue both Player A and Player B move simultaneously to 2 new sound areas or motifs and play as a duo. 7. On the next pivot cue Player A stops and Player B sets up a solo sound area or motif. 8. On the next pivot cue, Player A enters imitating the sound area created by Player B in the previous section. . At the same time Player B goes to a new musical idea and solos over Player A. 9. On the next pivot cue, both Player A and Player B move simultaneously to 2 new sound areas or motifs and play as a duo. 10. Then the entire cycle (2-9 above) repeats

The pivot cues can consist of sustained chords at any dynamic level (as cued), any number very short pips in any register (as cued), sound blocks, interruptors, etc.

chord game (sound specific cue)

For any number of pairs. The two players of any given pair change long tones simultaneously . Either player in a pair can visually cue to change the chord tones. The duos are independent of each other, playing simultaneously.

duo-trio game (process cue)

only three players can ever play at the same time but trios can only occur by addition from a duo; no "replacement option" allowed in this game (as in "quadratic triosim" above)

EVENTS create a "soundscape" with very specific rules defining how each musician can proceed during the life of the event. More often than not, the soundscape is static, or monochromatic, or recognizable interms of process from piece to piece.

ensemble events

field (sound-specific cue)

A static soundscape introduced by primary cuer. Each player following the primary cuer adds something simple and repetitive to the group sound creating what we call a "field of sound". The primary cuer can re-cue the field at any time and with each new cueing, he changes his original input. Then in any order (or in turn) each player volunteers a new addition to the field thus changing the "field of sound" to a new static soundscape. (There are many variations of this event. One of the oldest strategies that Rova works with, it was probably inspired by Xenakis’ stochastic music concepts and by painters such as Monet in his later periods.)

machine sound (sound-specific cue)

A more specific-sounding field: each player in turn chooses a brief sound motif which repeats periodically. (Pitch-centered motifs are generally avoided.) The focus is on the sound and duration, rather than on internal rhythm. As an ensemble, a layering of these periodic sound-events creates what we call a machine sound. Each player repeats one sound-event for enough time so that it sets up against and can be heard in relation to the sound-events of the other players. Any player can introduce a new sound-event at any time, but should then repeat that new thing for a reasonable duration against the other "parts of the machine." Dynamics are open and it’s advisable for different players to introdcue these little events at different dynamic levels, much as a machine’s internal workings will make noises at various volumes.

Wave (sound-specific cue)

Another field: For four or more players. The players determine before the piece starts or at the time of cue what the order of entry into the "wave" event will be. On cue, the primary cuer (or the person indicated by him) plays a sound-event that is repeatable and – in general – deals with timbre, contours such as trills, wide vibrato, or glissandi, and other expressive sounds. Rhythm is generally not a focus, but it is not excluded. Then the player next to the primary cuer, imitates the idea. The players continue one at a time to pick up the idea from the person next to them until all but the last of the players is in. Then the "last person" introduces a new sound-event. After it is established, the player who was the last to join the wave begun by the primary cuer, switches from playing the sound-event begun by primary cuer to the sound-event begun by "last person." Each player after him – in turn – changes to the sound-event of the "last player" but as it is heard by the player who is just next to him. When the wave returns to the primary cuer, he stops altogether and allows the second wave to sound before entering with a third sound-event (begins the third wave) which then goes back in the other direction towards the "last player." And so on. Dynamic default level is fortissimo for this sound- event.

Drone (process cue)

Set up a sustained sound which becomes monotonous when played over a long period of time. In the context of this piece, a drone can be any sustained sound.

Microdrone (sound-specific cue)

A sustained sound that wavers in and out of tune around a center pitch. Usually, the primary cuer chooses a pitch, and the rest of the ensemble chooses pitches within a minor third of that pitch. All kinds of pitch bends are permissable. Prior to beginning a take of Radar, it’s okay to specify more about microdrones. Could specify a specific pitch or register or that everyone play in octaves; or you could have cues to indicate which version to employ.

giant steps (sound-specific cue)

All players allow a silence. Then enter in any order with a small part of a spontaneously composed group-gesture. A silence ensues. The silence has a certain weight to it which should be felt (or heard) by each player. At any time, any player can end the silence with what will become a second group-gesture, again ending in silence. And so on.

Multiphonic swells (sound-specific cue)

Create a sound with multiple pitches; decrescendo and crescendo. Meld in with the rest of the ensemble in terms of dynamic level. However, the crescendos and decrescendos do NOT have to line up

tag team (process cue)

divide into two groups. Group A makes a collective statement followed by Group B answering, commenting, interrupting, etc. This is similar to "fierce story" above.

duo rhythm w/soloist (process cue for four players)

Player 1 sets up rhythmic figure that is imitated exactly or added to in a complementary way by player 2. Player 4 solos. Eventually, Player 4 ends solo and goes to new rhythmic figure that Player 3 imitates or complements. Player 1 drops out and Player 2 solos. Then Player 2 plays new rhythmic that Player 1 imitates or complements; Player 4 drops and Player 3 solos. Then Player 3 goes to new rhythmic figure that Player 4 imitates; Player 2 drops out and Player 1 solos. Repeat cycle if possible. (Also good for 3 players, and a lot simpler pattern to follow).

pygmy game (process cue that is somewhat sound-specific)

primary concern is rhythm. On downbeat by primary cuer, all players play a repeatable rhythmic pattern, usually pitched. Whenever one player changes his rhythm, all others also change immediately, then adapt slightly so that overlaid group-sound is working together. Variants: take turns in specified order changing rhythms; take turns changing but not in any specified order. Discuss before performance or create secondary cue to indicate which variant to employ.

solo events

unaccompanied solo as a primary cue, this indicates that the primary cuer will play an open solo until the next primary cue cuts it off

giant steps see above; in this case it’s possible to create these gestures on one’s own. (Not a cued event in Radar)

multiphonic swells see above (Not a cued event in Radar)

INTERRUPTORS are special events that interrupt other games and events and point to themselves briefly before returning to the game or event that was interrupted.

1. intercut -- indicates that some interruptor will now take over from primary cued event. A second cue must be given to indicate the kind of sound event that will act as the intercut. In fact, "intercut" can be seen as a synonym for the word "interruptor".

2. sound block -- loud event made up of unpitched sounds (unless otherwise indicated)

3. solo over group – cuer plays solo over all other stuff going on. Other players must freeze during duration of solo, which in general should be brief.

4. memory cue –- when cued the first time, all players memorize what they are playing and how it relates to what other players are doing. [There can be more than one memory cue given in aany given version of Radar, so each time the memory cue is made (actual visual cue = point to side of one’s head with index finger), the cuer also signals a number.] Then(for example): when memory cue #1 is re-cued later in the piece, all players switch immediately to the memorized music being made when cue was first indicated. Memory cues cannot develop. They just exist as when memorized (like a tape loop) until cued off. Memory cues can be re-cued more than once in a piece (but do not carry over to a second version of Radar).

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Using the games, events and variables listed above, Rova has performed Radar for the past 5 years. A glossary of many other structured improvisational events that Rova has created over the past 20 years is being compiled for publication, and will be sent to the Rova website when completed.

To stay interested in an improvisational structure such as Radar after all that time sometimes requires a freshening up of the form. "To improvise = to fabricate out of what is conveniently at hand" (Webster’s Dictionary)….. One way to read that definition is to admit that each improviser has only a certain amount of vocabulary at his or her immediate disposal. So, if the same four players are to continue surprising themselves playing Radar after 5 years, something other than the improvisational vocabulary must be changed.

Listed below are two variations on the rules of Radar. Rova has worked with both variants, and each does significantly alter the tendencies of the players, leading to different frameworks, different compositional architecture within which the same improvisational vocabularies yield fresh (if not wholly original) results. As a performer of the piece, the "possibilities" increase exponentially using Variation 1. But I prefer variation 2 in that it really focuses the ensemble in a unique way. (If you’re going to try playing Radar with your own ensemble, it’s really best to get into it playing it the original way first.)

Macro Variation 1:

1. Main cues still cued in pre-arranged order, each person getting his turn. However: a) once a player has cued in an event, he can RE-CUE that event at any time during the rest of the piece. b) Once the RE-CUE is made, the player making the RE-CUE cannot cue in any other primary cue, nor can he cue out the RE-CUE. c) RE-Cue continues until a new primary cue is given. This primary cue would be given by the player whose turn would have been next had the RE-CUE not been given. For example, if Player 3 has cued in the primary cue that is being performed when Player 1 RE-CUES, that means that the next primary cue will be given by Player 4. d) all secondary cues can be made during a RE-CUED event. (Note: Re-Cues should be thought of as compositional devices.)

2. (optional:) addition, in this variation, when a player gives a primary cue, he is allowed, during that same turn as primary cuer.to change to a new primary cue at any time he deems it musically

Macro Variation 2:

Another way to group the strategies is as process cues or sound specific cues…. Process Cue = any cue that changes the process under which the players are operating. Actual sound quality may or may not change…… Sound-specific Cue = any cue that initiates a sound area that has characteristic and recognizable qualities whenever it is cued in.

Sound-specific cues

machine sound
giant steps
multiphonic swells
Process cues
hand game
tuttis w/ soloist
quadratic trioism
duo/trio game
x-factor/ virus
tag team
duo rhythm w/soloist


Macro Variation 2 rules:

1. Pick one or more Sound-specific Cues (see below) – but limit the number to be employed.

2. Pick a limited set of Process Cues (see below), with the understanding that cues during this piece will only be chosen from these set(s) of sound specific and process cues.

3. When a new primary cue is made, the cuer can either cue in a process or a change in sound-specificity. But he can’t cue in both


  1. No multiple cues by single cuer in a given turn

Micro: specific examples of Macro Variation 2

Variation One:
  1. limit sound specific cues to microdrone, multiphonic swells
  2. limit process cues to double duo, drone, hand game, Cage
Variation Two:
  1. limit sound specific cues to cumulous (pitch and periodicity); pygmy (rhythm and pitch only ), cloud crystals (quiet sound or pitch; periodicity), machine sounds (sound only; periodicity)
  2. limit process cues to Fierce Story, trio/duo game, hand game; and the process common to all the sound specific cues above, – which we will call "recycling riffs" (with 3 variations as to method of change: (1) change in specific order, one at a time; (2) change one at a time but in any order and at any time; (3) when any one player changes, all others change immediately upon perceiving the change.
  3. add new "free" secondary-cue which allows free use of sound within the given process or free use of process keeping to the given sound-specific cue (rather than complete freedom) // also add new secondary-cue as to which way players take turns changing during sound-specific cues given above
  4. employ the interruptor cue "solo over the rest"
  5. These variations are examples of how to vary the process of the piece and thus guarantee a different kind of interaction in the ensemble, and a different musical outcome.

    Finally, it has also become clear that some of the events listed above have options that Rova never fully exploited. I think most specifically of "Field" which has many, many more possibilities for group interaction and potential sound quality. So stay tuned for further change. But then "evolution" is what structured-improvisation and improvisation in general are all about. As we experience, we learn, and hopefully we remain interested and open to change.