Thursday, February 4, 2010

Still more notation

The more time I spend looking at alternate musical notation, the more I come to Graham Collier's statement about jazz: all that matters is the performance. Notation always leaves something out, although classical musicologists might like to think otherwise. Recent entries around the blogosphere provide more evidence, or at least food for consideration.

Composer, educator and writer Kyle Gann had a crise de conscience a few weeks ago, publicly wondering why he persisted with blogging. Heartened by comments, he found that one reason to continue was to share a wealth of music that's not in general circulation and "whose score notation, if it exists at all, doesn't adequately represent it." This is a long post, with musical examples — both scores and mp3s — from Meredith Monk, Robert Ashley, Mikel Rouse, David First and Glenn Branca. Money quote:
Perhaps we can begin by de-fetishizing the printed score and admitting that it is only a tool, and not always a complete or even necessary tool, that it can sometimes be thrown away once the music exists.
One of the comments to this post calls the faith in notation "scriptism" and points out that it already represents the minority practice in contemporary music.

Meanwhile, over at the Rambler, Tim Rutherford-Johnson is engaged in a three-part round table discussion with members of the ELISION ensemble and associated composers (Liza Lim, Richard Barrett and Evan Johnson). Part one focuses on interpretation, and the participants present the their multiple perspectives. I especially liked Johnson's statement that the goal of composition is "to present a textured and bounded space for interpretation." I'm not terribly familiar with the ensemble or its composers — a cursory listen makes me think they incline towards more complex music than I usually like. Part two of the discussion aims at extra-musical influences and whether they foster the creation of a new program music; the ever-fascinating conceptual composer Peter Ablinger features heavily here. Part three went up this morning, dealing with Klaus K. Hübler and radical instrumentalism, but I haven't had time to digest this part yet. All worth reading.


Aleksei Stevens said...

The notation question is a good one to ask. I spend a lot of time developing notation for my pieces, even (perhaps especially) for improvisatory works. I don't understand this term "scriptism". Why should the value of a score be judged against the value of a performance? They're different things. As a composer, I can create two types of artifacts, two concrete objects to leave to posterity - scores and recordings. Recordings are good, but you can't study a piece with a recording alone. You can do alright, but to really get inside the composer's head, you need to look at the score. Perhaps its presumptuous to think anyone would ever "study" one of my scores (other than someone who's learning the piece), but scores exist for an important reason that has next to nothing to do with instructing a performer, namely they're the document a composer leaves to posterity, do with it what posterity will.

Caleb Deupree said...

Hi Aleksei. While I was thinking about a response, I started Nicholas Cook's book, Music, Imagination, and Culture, dealing with exactly this subject. My post on that book fits in this discussion. Thanks for your comment.